Smiling emoticon with food stuck between its teeth
Smiling emoticon with food stuck between its teeth

When To Speak Up

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Dear Debra,

Recently I had lunch with someone and during nearly the entire meal, she had some food stuck in her teeth. I didn’t want to say anything and embarrass her. I stayed quiet, but then felt bad because what if she went through the day like that and found out only when she got home? What should I have done?

—Tell or Not?

Dear Tell,

When I was younger, I learned from my mom how to handle these awkward moments. If someone was on an escalator ahead of us, when we all reached our floor she would tap the woman’s elbow and say quietly, “Pretend I’m your mom. May I tuck your label in for you? Or would you like to straighten the back of your skirt?” The person was grateful, thanked my mom and went on her merry, and neater, way.

This holds the same, and even more, for someone with whom you are sharing a meal and, thus, I would imagine is not a stranger. Simply say, “When we’re done, you might want to check in the mirror. There’s a small piece of [whatever] caught in your tooth.” If it’s not the mouth but the nose, same rule applies. Gently suggest that they check in a mirror before departing. They may pull out a compact right away. OK, today more likely a cell phone reversed to selfie mode. You are doing the person the chesed, kindness, of helping her stay her best. I understand the ambivalence and the awkward factor. But think how you’d feel if you were in her shoes, especially if she was trailing bathroom tissue.

Dear Debra,

My son and eldest child has just left for college. His absence has hit me harder than I ever would have expected. I find myself thinking of him so much and last week even teared up when I saw another dad in the neighborhood throwing a ball with his son. My wife seems to have taken it in stride. What’s wrong with me?

—Bereft Dad

 Dear Bereft,

Nothing is wrong with you! You have a heart. You have a wonderful relationship with your son, and he has just taken a huge (and be grateful for what is), age-appropriate step toward independence. No matter how hard you might try to prepare, it still hits like a ton of bricks.

And though you didn’t say it, I’d imagine he’s probably so caught up in navigating his new world that you haven’t heard from him as often as you’d anticipated, which makes it worse. Keep sending texts, emails, voice messages, (judiciously, not constantly!) whatever is your regular mode. If it’s feasible, and you haven’t done so already, make plans to visit during parents’ weekend.

Use this new normal to create new traditions with any children still at home. The dynamics will surely change now. Without big brother there, his siblings might well blossom in new directions.

Develop a new interest — on your own or with your kids — and definitely devote more time to your spouse. Above all, be proud! Your son is beginning an exciting new stage of life. Mourn when the feelings overcome you and guard against dwelling on his absence. You are entering an exciting new stage of life as well. Step up and meet it.


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