Why Do I Have to Choose Between My Grandmother’s Funeral and a Birthday Party?

My grandmother’s funeral and my niece’s first-birthday party are scheduled for the same date and time in New York. (The baby is my brother-in-law’s daughter.) Neither side will shift the start time by even an hour. We live in California with the rest of my family, so my husband, two children (7 and 9) and I are flying in for these events. I proposed dropping off my kids at the party where their grandparents and another uncle and aunt (not the baby’s parents) could watch them while my husband and I attend the funeral. But my brother-in-law says it’s disrespectful to leave our kids in the care of relatives. I don’t understand this! The party will be filled with people who love my children, and my husband and I don’t think the funeral is appropriate for them. But our brother-in-law wants us to attend the party together or not at all. Help!


Your proposal seems totally reasonable to me, assuming your husband’s parents or his (nonhost) siblings have the bandwidth to keep an eye on your children for a couple of hours. The problem now, though, is that — even if these family members were willing to create a village for you — your party host has rejected your proposal. Frankly, this strikes me as bizarre in light of your grandmother’s funeral.

Still, it’s better, in my experience, to accept the answers that people give us — and move to Plan B — than to rail for different answers. Would you consider sending your husband to the party with the children and attending the funeral alone? (Feel free to say no!) Or, could you leave your children with family or friends in California and fly in for the funeral with just your husband?

By necessity, you are sharing only a small part of the story here, but it seems a little excessive to fly two children cross-country for a baby’s birthday party. Still, I assume you have your reasons. So, I urge you to choose from the options available to you and spend the rest of your valuable energy grieving for your grandmother now.

My neighbor and I are great friends. He has two dogs that I watch happily when he goes out of town. He always gets me a nice gift as thanks. I recently got a new puppy and had an 11-day vacation scheduled. Asking someone to watch a not-yet-housebroken puppy for that long is a huge ask! But my friend was happy to do it. In return, I gave him what he thought was a generous gift. My question: Is it possible to break this cycle of gifts? I’d be happy to watch his dogs just to be neighborly, and I don’t like the pressure of having to match his gifts. Does that make sense?


I am skipping right over the part where you left a puppy that wasn’t housebroken for 11 days. If you had done that to me, I would have expected the first two words describing your thank-you gift to be “diamond-encrusted.” (Just kidding!) (Sort of.)

I think it’s terrific that you and your friend look out for each other. And I hear your issue with the gifts. I would move slowly, though — in case they mean more to him than they do to you. The next time petsitting comes up, say: “You’re my friend, and I love your dogs. So, can we talk about the gifts? If they’re important to you, we can keep giving them. Or, we can simply be friends who do each other favors. What do you think?”

I learned I had gout about 30 years ago. My former college roommate, class of 1973, finds the condition amusing because of its apocryphal association with gluttony. (King Henry VIII had it.) Recently, he boasted to me that he had made fun of his significant other’s daughter for having gout. This is a serious illness! I think he should stop making fun of people and apologize. You?


Gout is a form of arthritis that often causes extremely painful inflammation. (I’m not laughing yet. Are you?) Regardless of the cultural history of gout, once you described your condition to your friend, his decision to see humor in your pain — and that of others — points to a deeper problem: his failure in empathy. Who needs a friend who belittles our challenges?

I am a proud first-time mother of a healthy baby boy. I breastfeed him exclusively, and he’s growing beautifully. He has rolls of skin on his legs as many babies do. Comments from strangers range from “What a big boy!” to “Hi, fat man!” I tend to respond: “He’s healthy!” I realize these comments are probably good-natured, but I feel protective. Is there a better response?


Actually, I love the way you’re responding! No matter what they throw at you, you respond with the facts: “He’s perfectly healthy!” Now, you are also entitled to set boundaries if these comments bother you: “He’s a perfectly healthy baby — and a stranger! Why are you commenting on his body?” But I’d try to keep it light when you are dealing with strangers and have your baby with you.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on X.

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