My Friend Is Boring Me to Tears

By Wendy Belzberg

Published December 12, 2003, issue of December 12, 2003.
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My oldest friend has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. I respect the choice she has made. What I cannot tolerate is that her children now seem to be her only topic of conversation. I dread talking to her. Is there a nice way to say, “You’ve turned into a colossal bore”?

— Talking points

Working outside of the home is not what makes an individual interesting — although it may guarantee additional expertise in topics other than diaper rash and teething. Suggest to your friend that she join your book club (if you don’t belong to one, start one), or send her a subscription to a foreign-policy journal. There is nothing less interesting than conversations about children: If the children are not your own, you don’t care to hear the particulars; if you don’t have children, you don’t care to hear the generalities. The one exception to this rule may be between husband and wife, but even that exception should — for the sake of a marriage — come with a time limit. Next time you meet, gently try to preempt your friend by introducing topics of conversation you once found mutually engaging. If that fails, and she is indeed your oldest friend, try the “colossal bore” line and hope it shakes her out of her stupor. You may not only be saving your friendship, but her marriage and her sanity as well.

* * *

My sister and her husband are observant Jews. Their daughter, my teenage niece, comes over to my house regularly and asks me questions about boys and sex. Her questions are typical teenage fare but clearly not topics she feels comfortable raising with her own parents. If I talk candidly with my niece, am I betraying my sister’s religious beliefs?

— Silence the birds and the bees?

Many parents clam up when it comes to talking about sex with their children, irrespective of their religious beliefs or practices. And it is always nice to have a stand-in for those occasions when subject material can get too delicate — or too loaded — for a parent to tackle. In my book, that is one reason why godparents were invented.

As for the content of your talks, hormones are hormones; they do not stop at religious boundaries, and they are neither likely to go away nor adapt themselves to different liturgical interpretation. The facts of life in no way conflict with your sister’s religious beliefs; it’s not as if the system works differently when interpreted by Rashi instead of Rambam.

Your sister is lucky you are there for her. That said, you certainly should make it clear to her that her daughter is coming over for talks about topics that she is not comfortable discussing at home. A good mother — and sister — will be grateful there is someone else there to share the responsibility, and the trust. You will, of course, make it clear to your sister that your generosity stops short of taking her daughter to the gynecologist for birth control pills.

* * *

My 4-year-old’s teacher recently announced that she is expecting a baby. I’ve done the math; she was pregnant when she was hired. She waited until the last possible moment to inform the school’s director and the parents. The teacher plans to return in the fall. Her behavior was dishonest, and she is not the kind of role model I want for my child.

— Mathematic moralist

Myself, I would be more concerned with a smooth transition team between the outgoing and incoming teacher than in burning the pregnant one at the stake. At the ripe age of 4, your daughter is susceptible to separation issues, rather than to the moral dilemma here. Pregnancy and bad judgment are not grounds for dismissal. Focus on helping to interview possible replacement teachers rather than on poisoning the waters. Oh yes, and did I mention that the teacher would have grounds for a whopping lawsuit if she were to be let go for having decided to have a baby? Last time I checked, a woman’s reproductive choices were nobody’s business but her own and entirely off-limits in any interview process. If you want to be a role model to your 4-year-old daughter, I suggest you reinforce a woman’s right to make decisions about her body without fear of reprisal.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.






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