DEAR HARRIETTE: Now that the government shutdown is over, we are relieved that my husband will be getting paid again, but we really took a hit during that period. It is going to take time to repair our credit and to get on stable footing.
But worse off than my family are the small businesses in our neighborhood that used to service government employees. I feel so sorry for them, and honestly, I didn't think about them until I noticed what was happening. The guy who runs the hot dog stand near my husband's job had virtually no customers for weeks. Same for the diner around the corner. Almost all of these businesses' patrons were government workers. I feel so bad for them. All we can do is start patronizing them again, but they will never gain that lost income. How can we show them support? -- After the Shutdown
DEAR AFTER THE SHUTDOWN: You are wise to realize how devastating the government shutdown was for far more individuals and businesses than government employees. I saw an estimate in Time magazine from Standard & Poor's of $24 billion lost revenue during the shutdown, reflecting $3.1 billion in lost government services and $152 million per day in lost travel spending, $76 million per day because of National Parks being closed and $217 million per day in lost federal and contractor wages in the D.C. area. And that doesn't even get to the people you mentioned. The devastation is tremendous and will be long-lasting.
Your empathy for those around you who were affected, along with your own family, is palpable. Humanize each of these scenarios. You may not have any significant dollars to send their way right now, but patronize their businesses when you can, and speak to the business owners whenever you see them. Talk about rebuilding. Listen to their stories, as they listen to yours. A healthy dose of humanity can go a long way in challenging times like these.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I got a call out of the blue from the guy I dated when I was in college. He said he wanted to get together for coffee or something. My mouth fell on the floor. What? This man was physically abusive to me. He should have gone to jail for beating me up, but I was stupid and didn't press charges. I did break up with him, and I never intended to speak to him again.
It was incredibly disruptive for him to call me and act like nothing bad ever happened between us. I asked him if he remembered what he did to me years ago. He admitted that he did, but he said that since so much time has passed, he hoped we could be friends again. I did not agree to meet with him. Do you think I made the right decision? -- Stirring Up the Past
DEAR STIRRING UP THE PAST: You have every right to keep that chapter of your life in the past. Whatever redemption this man seeks is not your responsibility. Do know that he may be involved in a 12-step program that requires participants to attempt to make amends with those they have hurt. This could be why he's reaching out. Still, you do not have to comply. If he calls again, cordially tell him that you will not be able to see him. The end.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Now that the weather is so cold, I am worried about my mom, who is old and lives by herself. The other day, when it was well below freezing, she told me that her heat wasn't working well. I have invited her to stay with me for a few weeks -- until the cold blows over, just to be safe -- but she says she wants to stay home. I am not asking her to move in with me permanently. I know she values her independence, but I don't feel like I can care for her properly when we are not in the same house during this period. I have a husband and young children to make sure I get to school, so I cannot move in with her. What should I do? -- Mom in Need
DEAR MOM IN NEED: You are experiencing that moment in a parent-child relationship when roles reverse, and it can be extremely challenging and emotional. Your responsibility now is to require your mother to do something for her health that she doesn't prefer. You should bring her to your home during this cold spell. Let her know that you must do this for her, even if she doesn't like it.
Remind her of your childhood, when she made you wear thermals or extra layers during the winter. What about times when she wouldn't let you go outside and play with your friends for fear of frostbite? Bring up whatever else you remember that will illustrate for her some decision she made when you were a child and needed her guidance. Tell her that it is your turn now to care for her, and you will not allow her stubbornness to lead to her freezing in her own home. She has to come with you -- short-term -- until the weather breaks. Then, pack her bag and go.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am the parent who is proud that my children follow my directions and make smart choices, at least most of the time. So what I am now seeing is a bit disturbing. In this ice-cold weather, I told my teenage daughter to add a sweater layer to her clothing so that she would be warm enough when she went to school. Pretty direct, right? I reminded her three times because I know that she doesn't think about outerwear the way that adults do.
As my daughter was walking out the door to go to school, I asked to see the sweater layer. She rushed to her room for a moment, zipping up her coat. I asked again to see the sweater. She then pulled out a wrinkly sweatshirt from her jacket that was clearly not on her body. I made her put it on and then asked why she thought it was OK to lie to me and not do what she was told. She shrugged. This disturbs me on so many levels. What can I do to get her to follow such a basic direction? -- Teenage Defiance
DEAR TEENAGE DEFIANCE: This is why you check and double-check your teenager's behavior. What she says may not be what she has done. In your daughter's case, she needs to know that if she lies to you again, she gets a privilege taken away. That could be that she has to come home directly after school without hanging out with friends, or when she's at home, you restrict her mobile devices.
By losing what she values most, she may start to get the message that you mean business. You can also continue to remind her why you make the requirements that you do. Wearing warm clothes in the winter is a basic function of being a healthy human being. That goes for cool teenagers, too!
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going out with a really nice guy for about a year. He spends the night at my house occasionally. I like that part, but what I hate is that his feet stink. When he takes off his shoes, the room fills with the smell of dirty socks. It's gross. I now light candles when I think he's going to come over, but that feels like a ridiculous mask for the funk. I need to tell him. What should I say? -- Stinky Feet
DEAR STINKY FEET: I may run the risk of sounding sexist here, but I am going to tell you something that I learned early on that seems to be true for many men before they get into long-term relationships. In the spirit of being well-balanced, I will add that perhaps it is true for single women, too. I don't know.
Here it is: Many men have to be taught to be more sensitive to grooming and hygiene at the beginning of relationships. If they live alone or with other guys as roommates, they might not wash their clothes regularly, or they wear socks multiple times before washing. Generally, bachelors may not be as fastidious as men in relationships.
Enter a partner. This is you. If you want your guy to pay closer attention to his dirty socks, tell him. Be kind and use humor. Let him know that his socks are more fragrant than the dinner on the table or whatever else has an obvious aroma. Ask him when he last washed those socks. You don't necessarily have to offer to wash them, but you may need to point him in the direction of more careful grooming. Let him know you want him to be clean for you. If you suggest it in an enticing way rather than a judgmental one, the smell may go away!
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend speaks Spanish and English. His family is from Mexico, and his parents speak Spanish only. Whenever we are together with his family, he serves as translator. I know virtually no Spanish, and they about as much English. I feel terrible about this. I want to be able to communicate with them directly. We smile a lot and certain messages get across, but no real language is happening. I feel like I should take a Spanish class, but I doubt it would teach me everyday Spanish. Plus, I don't know if we are going to stay together. Is it worth it to invest in learning another language? -- Learning Spanish
DEAR LEARNING SPANISH: Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, so it will not be a waste for you to learn it. It certainly will endear you to his family for trying.
You are right that a basic Spanish class will teach you grammatically correct speech versus the vernacular, but it is a start. You can ask your boyfriend to help you with sayings that are particular to his family and community. This can be a lot of fun for the two of you and will surely make him feel happy that you care that much.
You can also take a course or search online for support. One site you may want to visit is Fluentu.com, which has sections dedicated to slang.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106