Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review July 26, 2001/ 6 Menachem-Av 5761

Grandparents not invited to bar mitzvah; what to do about older sister's foul mouth; nuptial narcissism

By Wendy Belzberg -- One of my children has been completely estranged from our entire family since her marriage. We have never seen our grandchildren, the eldest of whom will become bar mitzvah this year. We do not expect to be invited, but would appreciate advice on what to do about this special day. Do we go to shul (synagogue) then? Do we send a present? My daughter intercepts anything we send before it gets to our grandchildren, so we do not know if they know we even exist.

A: You sound resigned to the likelihood that the rift between you and your daughter is irreparable - perhaps too resigned. But since you did not mention reconciliation, let me address your question.

Go to shul on your grandson's bar-mitzvah day, if you think it would help you feel closer to him. Send him a present if you wish. Most important of all, keep writing those letters. Make copies and file them in a safe-deposit box. You may choose to place your grandson's bar mitzvah present in the box as well - at least then you would know where it is. You may have given up on ever meeting your grandson, but at least he will know that you did not give up on him. When your will is read, your daughter cannot keep from her son what is legally his.

I often see my older sister and her husband when I go to visit my parents. My sister uses language that I consider inappropriate for my 9-year-old son to hear, including profanity and, occasionally, racial slurs. I have casually said, "Watch it" or "Hey, hey," trying to avoid a confrontation. The last time I said something she screamed at me in front of my son and told me I could not tell her what to say. I want her to be more careful. Am I asking too much?

A: Your sister obviously does not place the same premium on avoiding confrontation as you do. Stop worrying so much about her feelings and take care of your own. Discuss your different points of view like adults (a revolutionary thought, I know), and see if together you can arrive at a compromise. People who do not have children of their own often need a diagram of what is and is not appropriate for young people.

Having said this, I have met 9-year-olds whose language would make your sister's seem prudish. It's a big world out there and, unless you mean to be your son's lifetime chaperone, you may want to use your sister as an example of how not to behave.

Finally, there is a big difference between profanity and racial slurs. There is nothing casual about a racial slur. It is not your job to educate your sister, but when it comes to your son, you must show zero-tolerance for any kind of prejudice or bigotry.

My oldest friend is having a "destination wedding." The wedding is being held on a remote island, and the festivities are to last several days. Our children are not invited. Am I missing something here, or is a "destination wedding" the height of narcissism? Do I really have to leave the real world to indulge my carefree and childless friend?

A: If you had included frozen tropical drinks in your litany, I would be volunteering right now to go in your stead.

Spending a couple of child-free nights with your husband on a remote island hardly qualifies as an episode of "Survivor." While you and your husband are remembering what it was like to be carefree, childless newlyweds, you can just happen to drop in on your friend's wedding. There is no law that says you must attend all of the events leading up to - and following - the actual nuptials. If your friend is paying the airfare and hotel expenses, this may be the closest you ever come to winning the lottery. Even without the frozen drinks.

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02/08/01: Bar/bat mitzvah blues, homework he-l, from potty to potty-mouth
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11/08/00: Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law
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07/28/00: Small-city guys, self-centered siblings
07/21/00: When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it
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07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2001, Wendy Belzberg