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Dear Madrone,

My sister and I are having an argument, I love her, but she keeps hacking me about this matter and we want it settled once and for all, we have both agreed your word will be the last one. She says family can drop in without calling, I say no, a heads up is only right. The last time she did this, I was in the midst of "doing my taxes" if you know what I'm saying, and the IRS guy wasn't too pleased to be interrupted. A little privacy would be nice,


Dear Privacy,

I agree with both of you. Of course family can drop in without calling. What are you, strangers? But just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD. Unless of course you come from a family of mind readers, calling ahead makes sense, because well, the last time my cousin Lolla dropped in without notice, she ran into my husband's niece Trudy and they hate each other ever since Trudy's brother's wedding when Lolla stole the best man from Trudy's best friend, with a dress cut down to her hoosis. The marriage didn't work out, and Trudy blames Lolla for it, which makes no sense, unless you were there. It was quite a dress.

God bless, Donna

Dear Madrone,

My mother is not a nice person. What can I say? She is mean to everyone including me. I understand why, her life was not a bowl of cherries or a bed of roses, more like a kick in the slats from start to finish. I can take all of it, even when we are out shopping, and standing on line to pay and she lifts up my lip to complain about the incisor tooth that the orthodontist missed when I had my braces, FORTY YEARS AGO, and berates me for the coffee stains on my pearly whites. This is not the problem. The problem is that when we're alone, she's starting in on my kids, running them down, and telling me that they are nothing compared to this neighbor's grandchild or that cousin's son. What do I do?

Mother And Daughter Mineola

Dear M.A.D,

This is simple. Your mother is breaking the most important rule: she is getting in between someone and their mother, in this case you and your kids. Which sometimes happens, because mothers are people…The instant she starts in, this is what you must say: If I have to choose between you and my children, I must pick my children. So don't make me have to choose. Of course, this will only work if you mean it. But trust me on this…your mother must have done something right, or you wouldn't be the thoughtful person your letter makes you out to be.

God bless, Donna

Dear Madrone,

Must I go to my wife's niece's dance recital? Don't get me wrong, the kid is cute, and I have all respect for the family, they are good people, solid, stand up... But the recital is, I swear this is true, five hours long, and the amount of time she is on stage is six seconds, maybe seven. I think it would be more pleasant to be drilled without Novocain; you see what I'm saying? The parents, they must attend, I understand that, after all, it's only the right thing. And if my wife wants to sit through all that, well, let her, I won't stop her. But, am I obligated to attend, if I can get out of it? I can always say I have to work... I am a professor at a university, no one really knows what I do-

Painfully Bored, Stony Brook

Dear Painfully,

You are not under obligation to attend this recital. I have been to more than one and they all last longer than the repeating from my Aunt Memma's eggplant rollatini. My sympathies to all involved. But please consider, your gracious attendance at this event puts a hunk of currency in the favor bank, which you can draw upon in the future or use to draw down some past debt. You might want to weigh the pleasures of a free Saturday, to golf or to glaze the upstairs windows against how much you would appreciate your wife's company when your mother demands you come over to help her fix the sprinkler system.

God bless, Donna

Confidential to Need the Cash: Money stands in for things like respect, independence, love or revenge. In your case, it's about control. Take the money if you must, but don't come crying to me when you want to take a week to go down the shore with your girlfriends and the answer is no, you have some ironing you have to do.





Pamela Bongiorno Monk is a full time faculty member of Penn State University, where she teaches creative writing, both fiction and non fiction. She pursues freelance writing, authoring plays and feature articles. She has broken nearly as many rules of family as she has enforced.

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