When Grandpa Says the ___ Word: Over Thanksgiving my conservative ornery father used a number of racial and sexually oriented slurs. My college age daughter heard him use one, and she called him on it. She said, “Grandpa, those words are offensive, and when you use them, you sound ignorant and bigoted.” My dad blew up at her and kicked her out of the house. This resulted in my family and my brother’s family leaving. My sister and her family stayed. Unfortunately, based on the slurry of emails that have began circling over the weekend, I think this will be a divisive family issue. My sister’s family essentially agree with my daughter but feel that she should have been more respectful. My brother’s family and mine are embarrassed that it took a girl more than half our age to call out our father’s unacceptable terminology. Do you think anything can be done to heal this situation, and who do you think did the right thing?
A: It’s promising that everyone agrees with your daughter. Brava to her for calling out Grandpa. But it would have been more effective if she’d said, “Grandpa, those words are offensive and when you use them it makes me want to leave the room.” That way she would have been drawing attention to the effect of his bigotry on her, not calling him names. Since your daughter sounds like a brave young woman, she might consider being the one to address this issue. She could contact your father and say that while she stands by her objection to use of racial and sexual language, she apologizes for the way she phrased it. That gives Grandpa a chance to lick his wounds and change his ways. And then the whole family can open a discussion about making Christmas a slur-free holiday.
Ah yes, if she had only just phrased it nicer! Nope. That does not work. And actually, the way the daughter phrased her objections were pretty darn generous. She didn’t call anyone a bigot; she said the use of those words make one sound like a bigot. And that is actually true. I know Grandpa is old, but plenty of old folks aren’t n-word-using assholes who kick their grandchildren out of the house for objecting to racist language.
Breastfeeding a Big Kid: Four months ago my brother got married to a woman who has a 5-year-old son from a previous relationship. Since they had a private ceremony, we did not meet his new wife and stepson until Dad’s 80th birthday, when they flew over to see us. Things were going well until my new nephew walked over to where the adults were eating dessert and told my SIL that he was thirsty. She whipped out her breast at the dining table and proceeded to breastfeed her son. Although nobody said anything, she sensed we were shocked and casually explained her son had allergies and this was the only healthy milk option for him. Since our mom is not around, my other brothers and Dad are urging me to intervene. My brother, the one who married her, does not seem to care much. Should I say anything to her? How do I start such a conversation?
A: I’m trying to imagine the shiver that might go through your entire family if your brother ever hosts a brunch at his home and his new wife passes around the cream for the coffee. At the risk of bringing down the wrath of La Leche League, 5 years old is way too old to still be on mommy’s breast. By the time the kid can say, “Mom, you’ve been eating too much garlic and it’s upsetting my stomach,” you know it’s time to throw away the nursing bra. Showing too much cleavage to your new husband’s family would be ill-advised the first time you all met. Lactating at the dessert table takes inappropriate to a new level. You say your brother “does not seem to care much” about this, which doesn’t make clear what kind of conversation you’ve had with him. You need to say, “Bro, we’re so happy you’ve found Fiona. We’re sorry her son has food allergies, but we need to let you know we all have a dairy allergy. That is, we’d appreciate if you’d ask her to breast feed in private.” If he won’t take action, then at the next gathering, as she starts to unbutton, all of you should feel free to stampede away from the table. Let’s hope for her son’s sake she finds him a milk substitute. It would be bad for him socially if she had to come and give him nourishment to get him through his SATs.
I can see how breastfeeding a five-year-old makes other people… uncomfortable. We aren’t used to seeing kindergarteners breastfeed. And clearly the parents here need to think of some other healthy milk options, since the breast isn’t going to be an option for the rest of this kid’s life. But beyond that… so what? I mean, the idea of breastfeeding a child until the age of 5 makes my nipples chafe and is not something that I think I would ever do in a million years, but if some other lady is cool with it, then what’s the big deal? That said, maybe the dinner table isn’t the most appropriate place for it (yes, it’s milk and the kid deserves to eat, but if he’s five he is obviously eating other things and can participate in the meal. I can understand an objection to body fluids in close proximity to food, even though it’s not an objection that I would personally make). But surely if she was just sitting on the couch or something it wouldn’t be a big deal? Unless the objection is to a woman “whipping her breast out” (why always with the “whipping”?), which I suspect is the real issue here. To which I basically think, “get over it.”