DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law and father-in-law are divorced but still live in the same city, about a ten hours drive away from us.
We have three small children (seven, two and one), and when we visit, each parent wants equal time. My father-in-law has a very large home where we have one bedroom and a bathroom of our own and the children have an adjoining bedroom. In case you're unaware, people with small children have an enormous amount of "baggage" to bring along (diapers, portable cribs, bibs, tippy-cups, wipees, medicine, plus).
When we are staying at my mother-in-law's house, she has us sleep in the living room sofa downstairs and all three children in an upstairs bedroom. Her house is filled with antiques and not child friendly. The children are constantly being told to "don't touch." Besides the mere discomfort, the packing and unpacking is simply impractical.
We do not favor one parent over the other, but continuing to move from one house to the other on short visits is annoying. To ask her if we can sleep at her ex's house but still give her "her equal time" is an option, but my husband fears she will be extremely upset and make our visit unbearable. Should we tolerate the shuffling, or is there a nice way to approach this?
GENTLE READER: There are nice ways, but Miss Manners doesn't promise that they will satisfy competitive parents. It is possible that nothing will.
A point to avoid making is that your father-in-law provides your family with more space -- not unless you want to listen to the financial history of their marriage and divorce.
Rather, you should tell your mother-in-law that her house is so lovely, with its many beautiful and delicate furnishings, that you live in fear that one of your children will break something. They are good children (you will say apologetically), but too young to remember to keep their hands to themselves all the time, and you want them to be able to appreciate the beauty of her taste when they are older.
As your mother-in-law is constantly telling them not to touch anything, you may be sure that this will strike her as a reasonable fear. You could then ask her to help you find a solution. Is there an affordable place you could take nearby? Would it be better to alternate years so that you could spend the first of a 10-day stay with her, putting away her priceless things, and the last day helping her put them back where they belong?
Or -- should you use the father-in-law's house as a hotel during her time so that you can spend long, carefree days with her?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend who is very generous when it comes to giving me gifts, despite her meager financial budget, has a habit of leaving on the price tag or somehow making a point of telling me how much money she spent. It's as if she were buying my friendship, which is totally unnecessary, since we have been friends for years, even long before we ever exchanged a gift. Sometimes I wonder if she is doing this to make me feel like I owe her a more expensive gift in return. Should I say something to her or ignore the subject?
GENTLE READER: How about "Oops, you left the price tag on," as you remove it and hand it back unseen? Or replying, "It's worth so much more to me than that because it's you who gave it to me"?
That way, your friend gets credit without your having to use your credit card. And you and Miss Manners will both be spared the unpleasant task of analyzing motives.