What's your problem?
INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE
Sunday 10 January 1999
I don't see my grandchildren terribly often but I visited recently for a week. Over the years I have regularly sent them gifts of books: old favourites that their dad loved, like the Narnia books and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I felt very sad to find that all these lovely stories have been relegated to the back of a cupboard, while their shelves are full of ghastly nonsense about American high schools with pupils of dubious morality. Is there any way I can try to reintroduce the children's classics that we all enjoyed so much?
Unhappy grandma, Cheshire
He says: What a shame to find that your presents have not been appreciated. I do so agree that the classics you mention are not only rollicking good tales but also set an excellent example for the young. Take the Narnia books for example: that stiff-upper-lip, play-up-and-play-the-game attitude, if somewhat exaggerated, is indeed one that some of today's whingeing youngsters would do well to emulate! However, I would remind you that giving and receiving are not clear-cut roles. Sometimes the pleasure of the giver is even more than that of the receiver and I would suspect that this is one of those times - you have chosen gifts that give more pleasure to you than they do to the actual recipients, which is not appropriate. You cannot mould children, especially from a distance, and I suspect that the best you can hope for is that they return to the reading matter you approve of as they attain maturity.
She says: Perhaps they are hard-headed realists and they just aren't keen on witchy-warlocky stuff. You could try a different, less whimsical theme: what about Treasure Island? Failing that, you could sock them over the head, tie them up securely, and when they regain consciousness read aloud to them.
This year for Christmas my grandchildren clubbed together to buy me a dress, but I'm afraid that it is still hanging in the wardrobe, unworn, and is likely to stay that way. I know what I like and have made my wishes most clear: a neckline that is sufficiently low so I don't feel stifled, but not so low that my neck is too exposed; sleeves that fit nicely and are not too long but at the same time are not too constricting; a pretty colour, not too funereal but at the same time nothing too young; natural fibres but easy to wash and with a subtle (not showy) pattern that won't show the dirt too much; nothing too fussy that makes me look overdressed but not so plain as to be boring; well-made with properly finished seams and a nice deep hem; and, while not being cheap, costing a sensible amount of money. The dress they have got me is quite inadequate, but they are refusing to take it back and change it on the grounds that I am too fussy. What do you think?
He says: It's admirable that you have managed to cling to such a clear- cut sense of exactly what you want. Many younger people might wish to be the same, given that our sense of our own identity is so closely bound up with our tastes and desires. However, your list of preferences is quite exacting, not to mention rather long; is there no room for a bit of give and take? If your grandchildren have already made an extensive search for the perfect garment, perhaps it just isn't out there, hence their exasperation.
She says: Yes, you are too fussy. Much too fussy. You are an old lady and, as such, decency is the main aim of what you wear: probably no one would notice if you wore a tea cosy on your head as long as the rest of you was covered up.
BRING ON THE BABIES
My daughter has been married for nearly 10 years now and there is no sign yet of me becoming a grandmother. Lots of my friends have got several grandchildren already and they are all so lovely. I don't want to nag my daughter but I'm worried she is leaving things late. Is there any way of dropping a subtle hint or two?
He says: I always think this kind of hinting is something to shy away from. It implies that a woman's destiny is bound up simply in her reproductive capacity. Instead, try to take pleasure in your daughter's other accomplishments.
She says: Take a look at the two letters above. Why on earth would you want to be a grandmother?
For various reasons, I am very much indebted to my sister at the moment and wish to give her a lovely treat to show my appreciation. However, I don't want to spend any money - or at any rate, not very much, because I'm saving up for my holidays. Any suggestions?
He says: The success of such treats does indeed rely on ingenuity and care and thought and effort, not large amounts of cash. Perhaps she has a special favourite food that you could cook, or there is a household task she loathes that you could do for her? Maybe there is a walk you could go on together, a garment she loves that you could lend her? You must come up with something that will mean a lot to your sister but that other people outside your special sibling bond would not know about. I'm sure you will come up with something delightful.
She says: All the treats I can think of are pretty expensive and would involve dipping into your holiday cash, and whatever your sister has done for you she evidently can't compete with that fortnight in Torremolinos. Sorry.
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