Annie Lane is off this week. The following column was originally published in 2019.
Dear Annie: Politics took over as the main topic at our holiday dinner. I don’t mind open debate among parties with differing views, as long as those debating have logical and fact-supported positions. Our dinner usually goes smoothly, as everyone gets along and, despite differing opinions, we all can adequately defend our positions. Dinner will come and go, and all are happy.
This year, my dad’s brother joined us for dinner. He recently got divorced and was angry that he was with us and not his family. He was taking outlandish positions and making up arguments to support himself. He attacked everyone. The whole table was ignoring him, but I couldn’t help it and continued to engage. It made for an unpleasant experience for me and for all involved. What’s the best way to bury my desire to engage with someone like this? — Hoping for a Better Family Dinner
Dear Hoping: As Mark Twain said, “never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Try to bring that quotation to mind the next time your uncle tries dragging you down into the mud for a fight. Another strategy is counting to 10 and, if you’re still angry, counting to 20. If you’re still angry after that, try excusing yourself to the bathroom for a few minutes to regain your composure. As far as including him in future plans goes, though it’s important to support family during tough emotional times, that doesn’t mean enduring verbal abuse. Set boundaries, and don’t feel obligated to extend him an invitation to your next gathering if he can’t agree to behave in a respectful manner.
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Dear Annie: A while ago, you polled readers on whether or not they’d have children if they had it to do all over again. I wanted to share my story.
When I was in first grade, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said a mother and a teacher. Well, motherhood came first. Three years after I married, I started having children, two boys and two girls in five years. I enjoyed it. But there were hard times, too. The worst thing that happened was losing a child. My eldest son died of cancer in my arms when he was 17.
Now to fulfilling my first-grade dream in another way. A year after he died, I went to college and became a third-grade teacher when I graduated. I loved teaching this grade, with the children’s eagerness to learn and their love of their teachers. I taught for 20 years and retired when the new principal and state laws had us only teaching to the tests and it was no longer any fun for the students or me.
Now my three living children are grown. I have six grown grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. After my husband left me, I bought a small farm, and my living son remodeled the pathetic old house for me and bought 8 acres next to me, where he now lives.
So yes, I’m happy to have had children, and even dealing with the death of one, I still have my memories of what a special son he was — a musician, magician, poet and reader with a sense of humor. — 80-Year-Old Happy Grandmother
Dear Happy Grandmother: Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story. It sounds as if your son was a beautiful soul. May he rest in peace. I wish you and the rest of your family a blessed 2019.