Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Allergic Baby Sitter Needs Medication

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a baby sitter who is allergic to cats. For new families, I won't know if they have a cat until I get to the house, and sometimes I'm not prepared with non-drowsy medication. I have had problems when I have gone to baby-sit, and it has caused me difficulty breathing. Then it’s hard for me to take care of the children. Can I ask these families for Benadryl before they go out? I would feel bad rummaging through their cabinets looking for medication while having a reaction. -- Swollen Eyes, Washington, D.C.

DEAR SWOLLEN EYES: Since you know that you are allergic to cats and have already had the occasion to work with families who have cats, it is incumbent upon you to be prepared. You should travel with Benadryl. Keep it in your bag so that you are always ready to take care of yourself. As one who is troubled by many allergies, I can assure you that the best thing you can do for your health is to be proactive.

With that in mind, there are a few other things you should do when you learn that a family with whom you are working has a cat. Ask where the cat sleeps, perches, etc. Determine exactly which furniture the cat uses so that you never sit on it. (I made the mistake of not asking that question once and slept where a cat commonly naps. I could barely breathe when I woke up in the middle of the night.)

Finally, if you do find yourself in a home with cats and you do not have Benadryl, immediately ask if the homeowners have any. It should be a last resort to go through their cabinets.

DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my friends is an incredible pianist. I used to take lessons as a child and have retained barely any information. Can I ask my friend to give me music lessons? I don't want to make him uncomfortable about asking for a freebie, but I don't want to insult him if I offer to pay. -- Wannabe Mozart, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR WANNABE MOZART: How fortunate you are to have a friend who is a pianist. Does your friend teach? As you probably know, being a pianist and teaching others to play the piano are two very different things. If you already have knowledge that your friend teaches, then it could be fine to ask if you could hire him to give you lessons. It is appropriate to ask to pay for professional services. It would be inappropriate to ask a professional to give you services for free.

If you are unsure as to whether your friend teaches, you would be better off to ask for a referral. You can tell him that you studied piano as a child and he has inspired you to take lessons as an adult. Find out if he can recommend a teacher who would be a good fit for you as a beginner. If he volunteers himself, all the better.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)