Dear Ann Cannon • Years ago I had an open house and a neighbor brought over a tasty treat in a nice bowl. I was planning on returning the bowl with some thank-you cookies in it, but I was awfully busy at the time and somehow it never got done. Well, now I’d really like to give the bowl back (including goodies, of course), but after 17 years, I can’t think of a graceful way to do it. Can you help?
— Accidental Bowl Thief
Dear Accidental Bowl Thief • Relax. My guess is that if your neighbor hasn’t come looking for her bowl during the past 17 years, she’s either forgotten about it or she never cared about it very much in the first place. See? You’ve just been absolved of your guilt. But if it would make you feel better, go ahead and return the bowl (including goodies, of course). Your neighbor would probably get a kick out of the gesture. I know I would.
Which gives me an idea. If you STILL feel hesitant about showing up on your neighbor’s porch with the bowl, feel free to show up with it on mine. With cookies. Chocolate chip or peanut butter. Or better yet, doughnuts. Yay, doughnuts! Problem solved. You’re welcome!
Dear Ann Cannon • So we have a 2-year-old who has started to hit. She hits us at home and also when she’s at the babysitter’s or in the nursery at church. Her older sister never did much of this. Not quite sure what to do. Any suggestions?
— Distressed Dad
Dear Dad • Ah. The phrase “her older sister never did much of this” may explain part of what’s happening. Oldest children don’t have to hit or bite to attract attention when they’re toddlers, right? Second (and third and fourth) children, however, may feel compelled to — you know — work a little harder to snag their share of the limelight. Correct your daughter, of course, but the good news is she’ll outgrow the behavior. One of our sons was a notorious biter when he was 2 years old. He rarely initiated a conflict, but when he retaliated, he went big. It wasn’t just an eye for eye with that kid. It was always 10 eyes for an eye. I’m happy to report, however, that as a 20-something adult he doesn’t bite now. Or if he does, no one is telling me about it.
Hang in there.
Dear Tribune readers • I recently responded to a question by a woman whose in-law goes MIA whenever extended family shows up. Her letter elicited a thoughtful response from a member of our military. I publish part of it here with his permission.
Dear Ann Cannon • You’ll notice from my email address that I’m a soldier. I am a lifer. I joined in 1982, and it’s been a wonderful ride. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride at all times. I’ve been banged up physically and emotionally over the years. I’ve seen things that disturb me even now. I don’t ever want the inhumanity I’ve witnessed NOT to bother me. I just don’t want to think about it all the time, and I don’t. But in my own case, I sometimes find social situations to be stressful and I feel the need to step aside. I don’t dislike people; I just need my own space. Behavioral scientists have lots of diagnoses for this, as well as coping methods. But suffice it to say that just because someone steps aside, it doesn’t mean that person detests visitors.
Of course there are some people who are genuinely unfriendly. But the danger comes if someone automatically presumes the worst about a person without inquiring [about the reasons for the behavior]. And the person who does inquire should never adopt an angry tone or confrontational posture. Ever. Nothing good will come from approaching the situation that way.