DEAR READERS: Because of syndication scheduling, I write and submit my columns two weeks in advance of publication. Due to this time lag, the Q&A's will not reflect the latest information about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic we are currently facing.
DEAR AMY: I recently hosted a birthday party for my preschool-aged son. I invited 20 classmates. Sixteen responded "yes." At the party, several of the guests brought older siblings that we had never met before. This would not have been an issue if this were a party at home or an outdoor park. However, we were at a trampoline park where you have to pay $20 per participant. Non-participants (such as parents) are free. When we received the bill, it showed that we had 27 kids! I felt it impolite to put on the invitation that only the named guest can participate. Is there a polite way to make sure we're not paying for siblings we don't even know when throwing a party at an amusement center?
DEAR TAPPED OUT: I am assuming that parents also accompanied these very young kiddos — and brought their other children with them, perhaps assuming that you had a group rate.
I shared your question with Gay Cioffi, longtime director of the Little Folks preschool in Washington, D.C., who publishes a helpful parenting newsletter, "Little Folks, Big Questions" (littlefolksbigquestions.com).
Cioffi responds: "I have been a witness to every possible size and shape of birthday party. Everything from keeping the guest number in line with the age of the child: four-years-old equals four guests (I love that), to an extravaganza with 300 people at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Because you are dealing with families and young children, you need to expect the unexpected, i.e., a "bug" is going around, and lots of people don't show up, family members are visiting and join the invitee, or the birthday child is overwhelmed and cries the whole time (most often).
Since young children are not always keen on being dropped off, or if parents are actually invited, you can assume siblings may come too. I don't think there is a polite way to say you are not paying for siblings. If finances are a concern, next year, I would plan a smaller gathering with room for growth."
DEAR AMY: My sister and I have disagreed about diet for years; I am vegan, and she and her spouse eat meat (only about twice a week, I believe). We love one another, our relations are cordial, and we never argue about her diet. When my spouse and I visit, she cheerfully accommodates us. Although my central reason for not eating animals is that "they don’t like it," health is also a major concern, and occasionally I send my sister a link with a scientific study pointing out the health-protective benefits of plant-based diets. I try to be sparing with the links, because I know people who are always dispensing health advice can be annoying. With the COVID-19 epidemic, my concern for my dear sister's health is mounting. We are both well past 65, she has had major health crises in the past, and I want her to be alive and well for many more years. I would like to send her some links showing that adopting a plant-based diet quickly fosters a healthy microbiome (gut flora) that boosts one's immunity — without putting her off. Amy, I know dispensing physical health recommendations isn't your job. But if you would consult some nutritionists and check this out for yourself, and — if you find it convincing — mention it in your column, it might help my sister decide to stop eating animals, at least for the duration of the epidemic. In fact, knowing there is something we can do to strengthen our immune systems now might help many, especially the elderly, to be less fearful. Fear can do a lot of damage to society.
DEAR G: You seem to have advocated for your point of view, over and over. Your sister has reacted politely by respecting your dietary choices.
I agree that fear can do a lot of damage. And so maybe you should stop trying to scare your sister.
DEAR AMY: "Not Looking" was a widower in an assisted-living facility. He was shocked when female residents came on to him. In addition to your advice to him, I hope you will urge all sexually active seniors to use condoms!
DEAR CONCERNED: STDs are a growing problem within the elder population. Yes, condoms!