Answer Lady: July 2009

This month our wise and witty expert takes on in-laws who blow smoke, resume "enhancement," and the pitfalls of 24/7 technology.
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Q. My in-laws, both heavy smokers, go outside to light up when they visit us but smoke inside in their own home. I don't want my family exposed to all that secondhand smoke, but my in-laws would be insulted if we stayed in a hotel. Help!

A. I faced the same situation with my own mother. She went outside at my house but in her own kitchen blithely blew smoke right in her granddaughter's face. "Mom!" I'd yelp, and she'd take one long, last drag and snuff out her cigarette. For an hour or so. We can't visit her anymore -- she died of lung cancer last year. Perhaps the fact that my kids can't remember their grandmother without a cigarette in her hand makes a certain sad sense. They won't need a public-service announcement to tell them the ugly truth about smoking. In your case, since these are his parents, your husband should take the lead. Have him ask them whether they'd prefer to smoke outdoors during your visits or have you guys stay in a hotel. They'll probably be miffed, so he has to emphasize that you want to spend as much time with them as possible and you're just trying to find the best way to do that.

Q. Like millions of other Americans these days, I'm out of work and need to redo my resume. Is it okay to embellish here and there and to leave off certain jobs?

A. If by "embellish" you mean "lie," don't do it. A potential employer will look very carefully at the experience and education you list on your resume if you're among the finalists for a position (which, after all, is the goal, isn't it?). Even if you skate through the hiring process you could be outed down the road and end up in hot water. That's not to say you shouldn't put as fine a gloss as possible on your work experiences -- but do it without resorting to falsehoods. If you want to omit that telemarketing gig or your weekend job cashiering at a local supermarket, that's fine. Just avoid gaping holes in the chronology.

Q. My mom is trying to lose weight -- again. And once again my dad is sabotaging her efforts. He brings home high-calorie snacks and eats them in front of her, insisting that he shouldn't have to change the way he eats just because she's on a diet. How can I get him to be more supportive?

A. If your dad cares about your mom's health and happiness, he actually does have to change the way he eats, at least at home. Remind him that he's free to slurp down milkshakes at work and scarf potato chips to his heart's content at his weekly poker game. But when he's with your mom he needs to stop waving temptation under her nose and belly up to the carrots and celery. That said, you might talk to her about getting more support. She undoubtedly has a tough time passing up bad food choices in other situations, too, and a group like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers could be a big help. Your dad can drop her at a meeting, then hit the drive-thru at Dunkin' Donuts.

Q. Thanks to the miracle of technology I am accessible to everyone -- and, frankly, I don't always want to be. Is it rude not to answer my cell phone or to ignore an e-mail for a day or two?

A. Not only are you not required to answer every call or e-mail that comes your way, it can be rude to do so. Little in this world is more irritating than a lunch companion who checks her BlackBerry or answers her cell throughout a meal -- or a harried mom who takes a call just as she's stepping up to the supermarket checkout when there are five equally stressed people standing in line behind her. Such behavior is bad manners, and it's up to old schoolers like yourself to lead us back to civility. So let voice mail pick up calls and phone back when you can give the caller your full attention. As for e-mails, if the message is not time-sensitive, then answering within a day or two is fine.

Q. My husband is so pragmatic about gift giving that he takes all the fun out of it. He actually asks for links to Web sites with the item I want! Couldn't he surprise me just once?

A. I admit to using this shortcut with my kids when their birthdays roll around. I barely know what some of the stuff they want is, let alone where to buy it (a guitar combo amp, anyone?). Still, it's not unreasonable to expect a little more imagination from your husband. A pair of earrings or even flowers become extra special simply because he chose them. So the next time he asks for specifics, tell him you'd rather be surprised. But this is a clear case of "be careful what you wish for." If he starts showering you with electric knife sharpeners, ugly underwear, or other dubious gifts, you may yearn for the days when all it took to get a nice present was a simple mouse click.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2009.

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