You Will Not Believe the Dumb Reason My Son Gave Me for Refusing to Wipe His Butt

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 11-year-old son, “David.” The other day I was in his room looking for something when I noticed a smell coming up from his laundry basket. Further inspection revealed disgusting streaks in several of his pairs of underwear. Later that evening, I spoke to him in private about it and asked if he was having any digestive issues, which is what I thought was causing this.

What I found out instead was much, much worse. He’s stopped wiping his ass, because he apparently believes that putting anything between his cheeks would make him gay. I am appalled at such a homophobic statement and I’m really at a loss for what to do here. I’ve always raised him to be accepting and friendly towards the huge range of human sexuality, and to see him apparently throwing away years of instruction and thinking that homosexuality is developed by wiping one’s rear has sent me into something of a tailspin. I don’t know how to get through to him, and I almost don’t recognize David anymore. What can I do to fix this?

—Skidding Out of Control

Dear Skidding,

The people online who read these letters for the sole purpose of declaring which are “fake!!!” will surely have a field day with this one, but I think it stinks of the truth. Eleven-year-old boys can develop some truly outlandish beliefs, and they can also be totally gross.

Let’s focus on the immediate problem first: Your child is walking around every day smelling like shit. Remind him that: A) that’s disgusting, and B) the entire population of the Earth, other than David, wipes or otherwise cleans their asses, or has someone else do it for them, and probably no more than 10 percent of them are gay. (That number is hotly debated, of course, but my point stands.) Travis Kelce wipes his butt and Lil Nas X wipes his butt. Like brushing your teeth, washing your hands, and not eating mud, cleaning your butt is a nonnegotiable part of being a person in the modern world, no matter where you sit on the glorious spectrum of human sexuality.

As for the larger issue of his attitude toward this absurd and frankly hilarious belief: I think it’s a little early to declare your child a homophobe for life and your years of efforts at teaching tolerance wasted. Middle school is a hotbed of gendered pressure and bizarre misinformation, and many children react to that in ways that do not at all reflect the values they’ve been taught—or even that they, in their hearts, truly hold. Continue expressing and enacting kindness and acceptance toward people with all gender and sexual identities; continue living as you believe; continue making your family’s values clear to him. Someday he will look back on this debate with disbelief and almost unbearable embarrassment.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am adult working mother in my 40s with two kids. My mom is a depressed 68-year-old widow who works full time and is planning to retire this summer. She was my disabled dad’s caretaker for 12 years, from his stroke in 2009 until he passed away in 2021.

Shortly after my dad’s passing, my mom was involved in a Facebook Nigerian romance scam (yes, people do fall for those!) for about 6 months and lost $200,000. $100K of it was borrowed from my sister and me. She was in denial about the scam and shut us out, even going so far as to kick us out of her house when we visited and confronted her. We got the FBI involved, but she refused to cooperate, telling us we had a fake FBI operative on the phone. Eventually, I staged an intervention in front of family members where we phoned the scammer and she finally admitted he was fake. My mom has narcissistic tendencies, so she blamed me for humiliating her. We are Asian, so culturally she sees our actions as disrespect for an elder.

Last spring, someone from my mom’s work recommended that she use Bumble for online dating. I was horrified as this opened Pandora’s box for her. My sister and I tried to stay close to my mom in hopes she would be open about who she’s talking to, but she didn’t confide in us. I learned she was talking to multiple “rich businessmen” scammers overseas. I recently discovered she wired $20,000 to a scammer in small increments. We confronted her and she repeated past behavior by telling us she was cutting us off and changing her locks. She’s also talking to a new scammer who asked her to ship an iPhone overseas. I told her I am now scared for my children’s safety, as I know scammers will extort their victims by threatening harm to their family members.

She is addicted to online dating but seems unhelpable. I don’t know whether to cut her off to reduce my stress, or to keep reminding her these rich guys who adore her are all fake. Please help!

—Grandma Is Talking to Strangers

Dear Strangers,

First of all, I want to acknowledge that your poor mom has really been through the wringer. Twelve years of caretaking, a husband who died in the middle of the pandemic—I’m not surprised she wishes there was someone in her life who might make her happier.

Unfortunately, that’s made her an easy mark, and she is behaving like the Platonic ideal of a scammee. I have gone back to your letter several times just to reread the number $200,000—and 100 grand of it came from her children! That is an astonishing amount of money to lose to a single bad actor. The fact that she is still wiring money to guys after such an experience makes me wonder if she is simply a devoted socialist enacting her own personal plan for the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the needy (or at least the opportunistic).

I’m guessing you have already enacted my first piece of advice, which is to never loan your mom money again. You should make sure that your financial affairs are completely disentangled from hers, that you are not co-signers on any loans or properties, and that you do not hold any joint credit cards. As much as you can, inoculate yourself from the financial ramifications of your mom’s gullibility. As for physical ramifications: I don’t know if your statement to your mom about worrying for your children’s safety was sincerely felt or a tactic to try to get her to take you seriously; for what it’s worth, it is very unlikely that a scammer, from a faraway country, is going to harm you or your kids. They want easy money! They have zero interest in getting into all that mess.

I agree that she seems unhelpable. Declaring that she’s changing the locks because you’ve told her she’s getting scammed once again is not rational behavior. She’s not helpless; she’s a working woman who keeps making unbelievably bad decisions. You’d be totally within your rights to disengage, and you’re correct that it would likely reduce your stress level … for now. But what about the next time she gets scammed, and the next time after that?

In some ways, online dating seems ideal for your mom. Maybe she’ll get involved in a real relationship with a real human man in your town, and he could be an additional person who could tell her not to send money to randos. That would be great. Perhaps the best thing you can do for your mother right now is to encourage her to make the most of online dating—by actually going out on some dates with men, rather than just DMing them her bank-account information.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 15 years old, and live with my father, who has sole parental custody. Mom disappeared about three years ago and we have no idea where she’s hared off to. Dad’s started dating again, and he met this woman “Melissa.” She doesn’t live with us, but she’s over four or five times a week, so not that far off.

I’ll admit I didn’t and still don’t like Melissa. At first I thought these were just normal “other person your parent is banging so he/she is awful by default” feelings, but I quickly learned actual reasons to dislike her. I don’t know if she has a diagnosis, but Melissa reads as seriously OCD. She can’t stand any sort of stains on furniture. We have this nice dining table, and Melissa decided, Oh, it would be terrible if there were any food or drink stains from it when we eat. So she got a tablecloth to cover the table. Then it was too awful to contemplate anything getting on the tablecloth, so she got a plastic cover for that. Now she doesn’t want us to get anything on the plastic wrapping for the tablecloth that covers the table, so dinner is usually eaten outside on the back porch if she’s over. In our coats, because it’s winter.

I’ve complained about this to Dad, repeatedly. He knows Melissa is “a little funny,” but thinks we should just humor her because she’s so unreasonable. He also slid me some cash to eat at local restaurants if I couldn’t stand eating on the porch anymore, but he still does it every time she’s over, which, again, is multiple times a week. This is crazy, right? How do I get things back to normal? I feel like I can’t even eat in my own home anymore.

—Wrapped in Plastic

Dear Plastic,

For the record, if I were making calls on “fake questions,” I would gently suggest that rare is the 15-year-old who casually employs the expression “hared off to.” But who knows! More to the point, who cares—we can never know for sure and this is an interesting and funny conundrum to discuss.

A family—real or imaginary—should not be eating its meals on the freezing-cold porch. Not when they have a fully functional dining room table! You are well within your rights to sit your father down and tell him to get a grip. It’s great that he’s found someone he loves, no matter how annoyed you are by—and how willing you are to diagnose the mental health issues of—her. But he should not be going along with her bad ideas so gormlessly that he’s forced to slip his child twenties just so she can eat dinner in the warmth of a Hardee’s.

I do urge you, possibly nonfictional letter writer, to remember that your father deserves love and intimacy in the aftermath of your mother’s departure. Given that most adults are unbearable to most teens, the chances are good that no matter who he chooses, you’ll find her annoying. Remember, when she annoys you, that you love your father and that his happiness is important to you. It will be worth putting up with her neat-freak tendencies—within reason—to encourage and support that happiness.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, “Alice,” hates her first-grade teacher, who has a very frenetic energy and rigid standards and seems (this according to a first-grader, so, possible grain of salt!) to do quite a bit of shaming of the kids in the class. Alice has started to feel miserable about going to school, her dentist just told us she’s started grinding her teeth, and I’m feeling sad about this whole thing. I know from the parent grapevine that she’s not the only child in her class to feel this way, and I know this isn’t the first class to face the fury of “Ms. Clifton.” In past years, other parents have gone as far as to withdraw their children from the school so they can regain their joy in learning after this experience. At what point can or should I say anything about it to the school, and what, if anything, can I say to Alice to help her get through the day?

—An Actual Real Question From a Person You Know

Dear Person I Know,

You should indeed communicate with the school, even though it won’t do any good. The reason it won’t do any good is that the school is fully aware that Ms. Clifton is the worst. You won’t be telling them anything they don’t know. Probably no one on staff likes her either, but they just haven’t been able to find anyone better than her.

Nevertheless, they should hear it again. This is your chance to stand up for your kid, to let them know you’re paying attention, and to remind them that a 7-year-old’s entire educational experience is in their hands. This teacher is making her hate school, you can say. Probably there’s nothing anyone can do about it in the short term, but you can and should implicitly—or explicitly!—request that next year they give your child the nicest, funnest second-grade teacher they have. Those chumps owe Alice that.

As for what you can say to her: Teachers in general have it so bad that we parents often want to default to backing them up, no matter what the circumstances. But Ms. Clifton hasn’t earned that privilege. Alice isn’t imagining it: Her teacher is mean. Think how gratifying it will feel to have her opinion backed up by a person she actually loves and counts on. There is real power in acknowledging to children, even small children, that sometimes adults straight-up suck, and all we can do is endure them—but that after just a few short months, she’ll never have to deal with Ms. Clifton again. This, too, shall pass.

—Dan

I just got my 8-year-old’s MAP test scores back, and they are off the charts. I always knew the kid was bright, but this has me second-guessing his education. Am I dropping the ball by keeping him in a regular-class situation? I like his teacher, and while he thinks that my kid should be challenging himself more in class (he tends to do the bare minimum so he can get back to reading), he thinks it is on my son to take the more difficult options in class. Is 8 old enough to take responsibility for his own learning and delay the gratification of getting back into a book he loves?