Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Neighbor's Smoking Makes Baby-Sitting Decision Hazy

DEAR HARRIETTE: On a few occasions, I have asked my neighbor if she could baby-sit my child while I go to work. My neighbor said yes, and that made me happy. I brought my child over to her house, which smelled like cigarette smoke. My neighbor assured me that she goes outside to smoke and it would be no problem to bring my son to the house. I went to pick up my son after work, and he smelled like smoke. I was very upset; she told me I would not have to worry about her smoking. My neighbor really helps me when I am in need, and I do not want to cause any strife between us. How do address the situation without severing our relationship? -- Upset Mom, Chicago

DEAR UPSET MOM: This moment calls for trusting your instincts. When you dropped your son off, you knew the house smelled of smoke. Yes, you were in a bind because you had to go to work, but that doesn't change that you were aware of the smoke in her home. Indeed, she could have smoked outside on that day, but if the house is generally a place where she smokes, the smell probably lingers. That means that anyone hanging out in the house, sitting on furniture, even just being there will pick up that smell.

Bottom line: If you do not want your son in the company of secondhand smoke, do not leave him in her care. Figure out an alternate support system for when you are in a bind. And be sure to thank her for having your back this time as she has in the past. Leave her smoking out of it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I cannot believe that the summer is almost over and I have to go back-to-school shopping for my three children. In a perfect world, I would love to have enough money to purchase the clothing my children really want; however, that is not the case for me. Where can I find clothes that are fashionable that I can afford without embarrassing my children in the process? -- Shopping Mom, Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEAR SHOPPING MOM: Start by taking inventory of what your children have and what can be used again either by the original owner of the clothing or by a sibling. Hand-me-downs are important wardrobe stretchers, especially for families with multiple children -- when it can work.

Determine exactly what your children need -- underwear, a sweater, shoes, trousers, etc. Be mindful of the difference between wants and needs, and discuss this with them.

Now, start looking online. Figure out which stores are having back-to-school sales and what the percentages are for discounts. Department stores often host deep discounts at this time of year. Consider resale shops, including Goodwill and Salvation Army. They often have great finds at low prices.

When you shop, buy only what is a necessity. Remember: You do not have to make all your purchases right now.