Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 27 December 2003

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Dear Mary...

Q. My wife and I have been blessed with the arrival of a delightful baby boy. We have been inundated with soft toys from doting family and friends. We would like to do a cull and send many off to charities but don't wish to offend the original donors, who may notice the absence of their expensive gift when next they visit. What do you suggest?

Q.R.F., Maitland, NSW

A. Cuddly toys nearly always need to be culled, since today most houses with children have an excess. Too many love objects can be a dangerous thing in the impressionable early years of life, as they will breed a Hugh Hefner-style bad attitude towards love and loyalty. Three toy love objects are quite enough for any child. However, to avoid hurting the feelings of the well-intentioned donors you should first take a photograph of each of the toys to be dispatched to a charity. You do not need to keep the toy to remind yourselves of the kindness of your friend's gesture. When the donors come round and inquire how their toy went down, you can produce the photo out of the child's bedside drawer and say, quite honestly, 'I'm not sure where it is at the moment but look at this - there's even a photo of it in the bedside drawer.'

Q. I am the male partner in what is now known as a reconstructed family. There are two children with an absent father who comes from a family where table manners are not deemed to be important. The children are delightful and well-mannered but the daughter seems to have been rather influenced by her alternate weekends at her father's home. Although I pretend to be open-minded about table manners, I know in my heart of hearts that using the pen grip with a knife may well be a social obstacle in the future. How, Mary, do I impress upon her the importance of good table manners without appearing to be a snob?

J.E., by email

A. Why not suggest a game of 'Mysteries' next time you are on a boring car journey with the children? Object: one person has to suggest a great unsolved mystery; the others have to compete to come up with the most interesting explanation. For example: 'What happened to the passengers on the Marie Celeste?' 'What are crop circles?' Then, casually, 'Why is it considered social death in some of the most friendly and liberal-minded circles of English society to hold your knife like a pencil when you are eating or to generally eat using the wrong tools?' Then sit back and let the children mull over this mystery for as long as it takes them to solve it.

Q. Is it now considered wrong, in these less sexist times, to address Christmas cards to the woman of the household? Should the envelope now bear the names of all those to whom good wishes are being sent?

W.T., Devizes, Wiltshire

A. No, you should continue addressing envelopes containing all social communications to the woman of a household only. This practice originated in the days when women controlled the social diary, but is still appropriate today, since men, thinking women are mind readers, often dispose of social correspondence before it has been shown to others whom it concerns.