Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: So, my sister's 18th birthday is in a couple of weeks, and my parents are going to surprise her with a trip to Disney! We live about six hours away, so it's not a travel hassle, and we all think it's a great idea, but ... my sister is not good with surprises, and she can be, ungracious. She doesn't want our parents to spend a lot of money on her, so she just wants to see a movie on her birthday, but we all know that would be seriously depressing. My parents say if she isn't gracious about it, they'll cancel the trip, and everyone will then be mad at her. Should I warn my sister in advance, tell her what's going to happen? Or, say nothing, and watch it blow up?
DEAR BROODER: You should talk to your parents about this and urge them to rethink their concept. The idea is to please your sister on her special birthday -- not deliberately choose a high-impact celebration that involves travel and the raised hopes of the whole family. You are already assuming she will disappoint you.
I am someone who doesn't particularly enjoy surprises -- mainly because I spend the dark nights of the entire month of February looking forward to things.
Your sister might feel the same way -- and also feel a little anxious about the pressure involved in reacting to a surprise. Some introverted people simply hate to be the center of a lot of fuss, which can make birthdays excruciating. If your sister is an introvert, she might be reacting to her anxiety in a way that you interpret as bratty or overly dramatic.
Your folks should offer her a choice, telling her, "We'd love to celebrate by doing Disney as a family -- is this something you would enjoy?" If she doesn't like this idea, then they should let her choose something else -- and plan to take this road trip (with you) another time.
DEAR AMY: Can you give me a strategy on dealing with family members who (out of forgetfulness or willfulness) do not acknowledge that I kept my maiden name when I married my husband 20 years ago? Every Christmas I get cards addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Smith; or "The Smith Family." Wedding invitations and thank-you notes are addressed this way. I recently made a joke to a sister that I'm going to send out a memo to everyone reminding them (again) of what my name is. She replied, "Oh, you need to get over it." I manage to remember her recently married daughter's new last name; I remember when someone divorces or remarries and it involves a name change. In fact, everyone in my family remembers name changes that happen through marriage, divorce or remarriage. The only problem they have is remembering that I did not change my name. While I never considered taking my husband's name, I recognize that most women do. I've never made it an issue. I've tried humor and I've tried directness. Your family getting your name right is a pretty low bar to clear, is it not? After all these years it suddenly feels very dismissive.
Not Mrs. Smith
DEAR NOT: I agree that this is annoying, dismissive and rude. I see two possibilities here: Either your family members can't remember your name (which after all is also their surname), marking significant collective cognitive impairment -- in which case you should look on them with wonderment and compassion -- or they have found a way to successfully needle you for 20 years, in which case they seem like a lot of other families.
I hope your friends and business associates are able to respect your choice. When it comes to your own family, you might assume that there is some envy contained in their behavior. Sigh and silently pity them.
DEAR AMY: I agreed with your response to "Proud Mom," whose daughter overheard a hotel guest disrespect her as she was cleaning his room. The daughter did the right thing to stay quiet. Apparently that man wasn't thinking that all she has to do is clean the toilet with his toothbrush. Avid Reader
DEAR READER: Touche!