Submit short questions before noon Chicago time either on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday).
Between noon and 1pm I’ll answer as many as I can, updating as I go.
Comments get turned on once everything is up. Thank you!
Q1: “I just bought lunch for a homeless man, so why do I feel so bad?”
A1: I can only offer wild guesses here, but it might be just one of those passing things where doing *something* feels good but you still want to do more and feel bad because you can’t do everything.
Keep doing the something. Someone got to eat today. That’s pretty cool, and probably more important than feelings.
Q2: Going on a road trip soon to visit friends with kids ages 5 & 2 1/2! How can we be good houseguests to a family, and what are good gifts for parents and kids of that age? Any ideas on how to be a great (fake) aunt/uncle who kids only see occasionally?
A2: That sounds really fun, I hope it’s a great time!
As someone who used to be nervous/awkward around little kids and who now is fine, I have lessons. If you’re not really a kid person, it can help to think of toddlers as being a little bit like cats. As in, when you visit a house where there are cats, if the cats don’t really want to pay attention to you, they won’t, and if they do, they will, and there’s really nothing you can do to make either thing happen. Cat don’t really give a shit and neither do little kids for the most part, so you don’t have to do anything besides roll with whatever is already happening. If the kid drags all the books off the shelf and brings them to you one by one, you maybe read them a story. If they put hats on you and find it funny, you let them put hats on you and you laugh. If they are absorbed in whatever they are doing, you let them do that. If they are in an “ONLY PARENT WILL DO, PREFERABLY MOMMY” phase, don’t take it personally. If they’re doing something that might be dangerous or destructive, you stop them, but otherwise it’s just improv and you can’t go wrong with “Yes, and?”
I don’t interrogate little kids about their hobbies, I don’t give a fuck about what they learned in school that day, I don’t care if they are “making polite conversation” with me as a guest, I generally don’t care if they remember me 30 seconds after I’ve left the room (never mind between visits to their parents). If they want to demonstrate alphabetic or numerical knowledge, I am an appreciative audience for the ABCs and 123s, but I don’t try to get them to count for me or say the alphabet or stuff like that. I say hello and then basically sit somewhere quietly and see if they come to me, and if they do I try to smile and be pleasant and engaged in what they are doing, the same way I would let a friend’s cat headbutt my fist and give it skritches.
Usually after about two hours of this I could use a nap. It takes a lot of energy to say “Cool!” with the requisite amount of enthusiasm when someone has shown you the 100th Transformer-transformation in a row. This is why I tend to bring parents consumable things like BOOZE or FANCY CHEESE when I visit them. 2-5 year old kids might really like blowing bubbles outside, so maybe find an inexpensive kit of wands and bubble stuff? Their parents might appreciate you taking them outside in the back yard for an hour to use said bubble stuff while they take a nap.
My other piece of guesting-with-families-with-small-kids advice is: Follow the routine of the house. The parents are gonna have the kids on a schedule, find out what it is, and help them keep the kids on schedule during your visit. Naptime is sacred, don’t fuck with it. Ask what the family meal-times are and work around that. The parents might be pretty preoccupied with kids and kid talk and kid stuff until after their bedtime, at which time they can emerge as adult-conversation-butterflies. Don’t take it personally if conversations get interrupted or sort of trail off, it’s not the parents being rude, their lives are just Like This for a while and it won’t always be that way.
Q3: A longtime friend (allegedly! still!) supports Trump. I only know from my partners (white cis males talking politics at 3AM). Friend NEVER brings it up, is sweet & kind in person. I pretend not to know, as hostess ignoring awful rumors, but…feel gross.
A3: A lot of my personal “OK, ‘let’s politely agree to disagree’ about politics is for stuff like how to best fund environmental protections, not about who gets to have human rights” stuff from this week is about people who are vocal about what and who they are supporting. And like, I don’t think any of that is easy or there is one solution to everything, but have reached the end of my patience with pretending that there’s a way we get out of this with everyone feeling safe and comfortable and never called to account for what they have enabled. And I am talking about people I LOVE, people who have always been kind to me, openly expressing and supporting shocking bigotry, shocking violence, a shocking abdication of things they claim to stand for (I’m talking about a pastor in the family preaching that the kids in cages aren’t “our” kids and that his Bible, the one that says ‘love strangers and welcome them,’ doesn’t obligate us in any way to their welfare and safety, and it’s like, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW UNCLE LARRY?). Like, I’ve got the same whiplash as every other well-meaning white person who thought some of this shit was getting better. And I have the knowledge we’ve learned in this community that just ’cause an abusive person was always nice to you it doesn’t mean shit to the vulnerable people they target.
I also think that if you’re going to spend precious time and energy trying to convince people or persuade people, you should focus on mobilizing the ones who mostly agree with you to get out and vote (repeatedly contact elected representatives, protest, support protestors, maybe stay home from work in case of a general strike, etc.) and treat the others like maybe they joined a cult and they can’t be reasoned with right now and it’s sad that you won’t see them for a while but you’ve got other shit to do! I think that calls for “civility” right now are utter bullshit. Get every single kid who is in a cage out of that cage and back with their families, let those families come into the country like all the asylum-seekers and migrants before them, allowed to get jobs and find housing and move freely and recover from the trauma of what they’ve been through, get them legal representation so they can navigate the entire process, and then we can talk about civility. Maybe. (And yes I do want completely open borders, thanks for asking!)
So, what do you do about the person who is quiet, especially when we have secret ballots for a reason?
I think your real question here is, “Do I ask?”
And if you’re gonna risk cutting a longtime friend out of your life because of a rumor, maybe risk the ask? They may not tell you, and they may not be persuadable if they do, but if it’s worth possibly ending a friendship, it’s worth knowing the truth first.
And like, if you’re reading this and want to convince me that your personal Trump-supporting-relative is actually really great or they had their reasons, I would beg you, go talk to THEM about it, I’m not the New York Times, I don’t have time to give out individual absolutions even if I wanted to. Your emails are noted (and deleted).
Q4: This question might be tough: How to best support your friend who is taking care of her dying father? He’ll likely die within the next 2 to 6 months, everyone’s resistant to using outside help. Also they’re in a different country. It’s more a “How can I be a good friend” question because I know logistically, they will do whatever, no matter what I say. Also if you have any pointers for the grieving period because I have NO CLUE.
A4: It is tough. You are obviously kind and you want to help, but “you performing good friend” is not at the center of what’s happening, and you are very limited in what you can do.
I’d say, 1) Be available to listen without interrupting if your friend wants to talk and let her take the lead on whether the conversation is a heavy one or a light one 2) Send a care package if you can – stickers, comic books, gift cards, just little things that say I like you and am thinking about you. That can be done without putting an additional burden on her to tell you what she needs. 3) Think long-term. Lots of people cluster around to offer help or condolences in a crisis. The friend who a year from now understands that grief doesn’t have a definite timeline, the person who can listen then, is a pretty valuable friend.
Otherwise, focus on your own life, your own family, your own circle. Don’t set up a situation where you’re like, annoying or overwhelming your friend with your desire to help.
Q5: Moved out a year ago. For family events (Fathers Day) parents make plans at last minute, won’t tell me plans unless I ask (often night before), & get angry if I made separate travel plans (“faaamily”) or say the time doesn’t work for me. What do I do?
A5: I mean, I hope they like seeing you a lot less?
If you tend to be a planner, and they tend to be more of a “we’ll leave the day open and not communicate the plan, but there probably is sort of a plan (in our minds, that we sure hope you’ll read, and be mad if you don’t!)” people around events that you know they usually celebrate, i.e., Father’s Day, and you want to celebrate that stuff with them, then leave the day as open as you can and bug them in advance, like, “Hey, any Father’s Day plan I should know about? I’ve got that day open right now, let me know.”
If they don’t tell you, or the time they have in mind when the plan comes together doesn’t work for you, then say “Sorry, that plan doesn’t work for me, I need more lead time if I’m going to change my work schedule/it works better for me if I ride solo so I can leave when I need to/[or whatever else is true for you and the situation]”, suggest the thing that WOULD work better for you, and then let them be upset if they’re gonna be upset.
Then, try again next time and see if it gets better over time if you’re consistent. You can also in that initial contact be the one to suggest plans that will work for you, like, “Do you want to get together on ____ day, let’s meet at [time] at [place]” and see what they do. Just because they’ve always been the one to plan celebrations doesn’t mean that you, an adult, can’t plan them, too.
Q6: “Months ago I texted close friend that something he said on social media hurt me. He said he would respond later when able to devote his full attention to this but never did. Know I should move on but can’t let go of my anger/desire to confront him. Ideas?
(Tbh I’m not interested in preserving the friendship. just, in a totally childish way, I think I don’t want him to have the last word. Like, he doesn’t get to quit, I want to fire him!)
A6: I almost guarantee he is not still thinking about this, but what’s stopping you from saying “Hey, you promised to follow up with me about ______. Got time to talk about it now?” and seeing what he says?
What’s stopping you from pressing the block button?
(I can’t compose a parting remark for you without knowing what he said.)
Ok, this concludes our shenanigans for today. Thank you for the questions!