DEAR HARRIETTE: I live with my sister and her children in our family home. This morning, my niece asked me a question about the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and I was not sure how I should answer. I feel that my sister should address this issue personally. I don't want to overstep my boundaries. -- Sensitive Times, Queens, N.Y.
DEAR SENSITIVE TIMES: Because you live with your sister's children, you naturally have a greater responsibility for guiding them than you would if you were only peripherally involved in their lives. Your niece asked for your insight because she trusts you and needed support. I understand why you would want to defer to your sister, and the reality is that nobody has a good answer for why such an unconscionable crime occurred. In the moment, though, your niece wanted/needed your guiding love and support.
I would recommend that anyone in your position go ahead and talk to the inquiring child. Listen closely to understand what the exact questions are. Depending upon the child's age, what he or she most wants to know is if he or she is safe. The child wants assurance that someone who loves him or her is present and willing to protect. Children want to erase the scene from their memories.
Your role could have been to answer the question as simply as possible, to tell your niece that you love her and will do all in your power to support her, and to give her a hug. Then follow up and talk with your sister about how to support her. Guess what? It's not too late to do just that.
DEAR HARRIETTE: In your response to a reader who was tired of receiving solicitations by mail, you mentioned "return to sender." That works.
I have been doing this for years. You have to sign your name under "Return to Sender" or the post office will not take the letters. I save a few weeks' worth, then drop them off at the local post office. -- Sensible, Queens, N.Y.
DEAR SENSIBLE: Officially declaring your intent by signing your name is important. Make sure your signature and "Return to Sender" are large enough that that they are immediately easy to see.
These solicitations are a big part of marketing in our country and have been integral to the traditional mail for generations. I will add that occasionally there are deals in these solicitations. So if you decide to dramatically reduce the mail coming your way, make sure that you look carefully to ensure you are not eliminating something that could be of value.
Just the other day, I was chucking solicitations and, on second thought, looked at one group of coupons. Among them was a discount coupon for a parking lot near my office that cut the price by 75 percent. I used it!