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Meal did not have to end with bruised feelings

By Thelma Domenici
For the Journal
          Dear Thelma: My mother invited me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday with my sister and our husbands. We have gone to nice restaurants in the past to celebrate my mother and her husband's birthdays and my sister and I paid the bill, but I was reluctant to go out for my birthday dinner fearing I'd pick a restaurant that was too expensive.
        I ending up deciding to go and chose a nice restaurant for dinner. I offered to contribute to the bill knowing the mid-range cost of the two bottles of wine we ordered. My mother refused my offer. When the bill arrived, her annoyance with the amount was made obvious. She then made a sarcastic remark over my extravagance. The night was ruined. I will be sending a check for my and my husband's portion. My feelings have been incredibly hurt. Am I overreacting? And should I send a thank you card with the check?
        A: It appears from your question that you have been to dinner with your mother before and you know what her reaction to expensive dining will be. While your mother's sarcastic remark was unnecessary and her handling of her shock over the final bill hurt your feelings, you failed to be as sensitive to your mother as you should have been.
        Sometimes in a parent-child relationship, we forget to treat each other with the same courtesy we would use with someone not so closely related. We take for granted that we can express ourselves without restraint or remorse, and perhaps we're less thoughtful about what we expect from each other.
        Would your mother have responded the same way when taking a friend out for a birthday dinner? It's not likely. Would you have ordered as much wine if an associate was buying? Probably not.
        You do need to send your mother a thank you, but I don't know if sending a check is going to help or to hurt. I think a conversation is more in order. I would ask if she was truly upset by the event and talk about why. Then I would say that I was sorry that it happened the way it did and express that when we dine together again I will be more conscientious about my choices. There will be many opportunities for this group to be together again, and there is a responsibility here to talk openly and candidly — but never sarcastically — about what's expected when this group gathers.
        The bottom line is if you know an expensive meal is a source of irritation for your mother, you ought to respect that and choose accordingly when she is the host.
        This is a relationship you must preserve. Do all that you can to understand and forgive your mother and create a new and better memory to replace this one in your mind.
        Dear Thelma: How does one politely let newly moved-in neighbors know that their little dog yaps almost constantly when left outside — especially at night — and that it is very annoying since their backyard is right outside our bedroom window?
        A: I have the same problem. I haven't done anything about it because for me the little dogs have become like an alarm clock that tells me it's time to go to sleep.
        Living in a neighborhood requires special patience for sounds and smells and sights that we'd rather not experience. I have found that simply talking to your neighbors can help in many situations. They have no way of knowing that what for their dogs might be routine is a source of annoyance for you. Faced with a friendly conversation, most neighbors are understanding and will do what they can to solve the problem.
        Bearing with one another and good manners never go out of style.
        Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.

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