Friday, December 20, 2013

So What, Who Cares? Partying Teenagers, and Bullying Parents

Dear Erin,

Our favorite babysitter lives across the street.  She is smart and reliable and the kids love her.  However, last weekend she had a huge party while her parents were out of town.  There was loud music and what looked like drunken teenagers running amok in her yard.  The cops even arrived in the wee hours to break up the party.  I don't think her parents even know any of this happened and I'm wondering if I should tell them.  I love this girl but I'm not sure how I feel about her sitting for our kids anymore.  But sitters are so hard to come by these days!


Dear Conflicted:

When my kids were little, I put them to bed early.  My husband worked late at The Firm, almost every night, and I needed those nighttime hours to comb the dried avocado out of my eyebrows.  One night, right around bedtime, there commenced a loud banging on our ceiling.  It was rhythmic and constant.  It continued, off and on, for several hours.  The next evening, it happened again.

Because I lived in fear of the kids waking up – and because my husband really didn’t want to deal with an even crabbier version of me – he said he’d talk to our upstairs neighbors.  In his chat with the dad the next day, he discovered that their teenage son had been alone for a few days in their apartment, and had been dribbling his basketball all night in his bedroom.  Of course he was.  He was fourteen.  What prefrontal cortex?    

The dribbling stopped.  But the dad, who was kind of a tough guy, didn’t stop there.  First, he made young Larry Bird apologize to us, in person.  Then, he delivered the loudest and most abusive father-to-son tirade we’d ever heard through a ceiling.  And we realized we'd inadvertently made the kid’s life that much more miserable. 

Here’s my point.  If you were close personal friends with your neighbors, then I would say:  Tell them.  If you had a prior understanding with them about keeping an eye on their teen’s behavior -- which many parents of teenagers wisely and cooperatively have – then I would shout: Yes!   Not only can you tell them, but you should.  You had a prearranged expectation to report problems.  As your friends or trusted neighbors, your silence would be tantamount to betrayal. 

But as we discovered with the tough guy, random neighbors can respond… randomly.  You may not know enough about your sitter's family rules or communication style to know if the parents would feel embarrassed by your input, or get angry, or be overwhelmed.  If the cops came, other neighbors were annoyed.  We all want to hear things about our kids.  But for the most part, we want to hear those things from people we feel comfortable with, and trust.   Critical input, from a random neighbor, can come across as nosy meddling.  

If you observed any dangerous or seriously harmful behavior, I’d feel differently.  In that case, you could do what other people I know have done in similar situations.  Tell a close friend of your neighbor, and ask them to pass it on.  Likewise, if the girl becomes unreliable or irresponsible while babysitting, then her behavior becomes your own problem.  But otherwise, I wouldn’t hold her extracurricular stupidity against her.  Teenagers do stupid things.  They all do.  Speaking as someone who once deceptively dressed up -- in the work clothes of my friend’s mother -- so I could buy us a case of beer, your babysitter will probably turn out fine.   

Dear Erin:

I am writing for advice, guidance or just more insight. I am a mother (I think I'm a pretty good one, too.) My children, two boys ages almost 10 and almost 8. They are my heart, the apple of my eye and I love them.  Here's my question and/or dilemma.  My almost 10 year old has become alienated by his closest friends in school.  Last school year, there was an incident of bullying against one of my almost 10 year old's closest friends, which my almost 10 year old and my almost 8 year old witnessed and reported to the teacher and school. I presumed the parties involved were scolded and taught the Golden Rule.  

Eventually, I learned there was no action on the part of the school. The classmate of my almost 10 year old who was bullied left the school.  The teacher and the school never addressed the incident nor used it as an opportunity for teaching (DUH!) or for helping students talk about the ramifications of bullying. I did speak to the teacher and principal and asked how they could allow this to fall apart. And with no response that satisfied me, I went over their heads. I went to the State and filed a complaint against the school.

Since that year, my almost 10 year old has not been called by these other closest friends for play dates, sleepovers and random almost 10 year old games. Amazingly, I have noticed many of the parents no longer look ME in the eye, either. I know my beauty blinds most, but this is ridiculous. I strut the school hall like the Hall Monitors of old, but, me?  Not looking at me? Could this be a trickle down of hate?  Have the cliques not left highschool? Could the bullies be the parents? Am I bringing my almost 10 year old and almost 8 year old to a cult and not an actual school?

And here I am, Dear Erin, submitting this dilemma to you. What's a mom to do? Leave the school? Look away from the non-stares? Force the playdates? Bake cookies laced with THC for the bake sale so we all just get along? I eagerly await your wise wisdom.


Mother Bear

Dear Mother Bear:

Problems with kids and their schoolmates can be so difficult, even without a bullying incident.  I’m sorry you've had to deal with this.  Still, as much as I love the idea of you getting everyone stoned --  thus bringing new meaning to the term, bake sale – there may be a more straightforward option.  Because while I understand your feelings, I’m not yet convinced that everyone at Bully Town Elementary School actually hates you.  

Consider this anecdote.  When I was in grad school, I rented a sweet, two-bedroom apartment from a professor in my department.  One night, I learned that an acquaintance of mine needed a new apartment because, in classic New York style, her roommate had started dealing drugs.  So I invited her to move in. To make this happen, I had to tell the professor we were Irish cousins.  But I’ll save that sordid tale of ethnic deception for another time.

As it turned out, we were very compatible roommates.  We developed this ritual where we’d get up in the morning, take our showers, then meet at the breakfast table for coffee and smokes.  I liked our time together.  But one thing -- other than the healthy breakfast of nicotine and caffeine – put me on edge.  After I spoke, quite frequently, she would pause for an exceptionally long time.  She often answered me with a short question, or a request for clarification.  Sometimes she didn’t say much at all.  Because I’m a naturally paranoid and neurotic person, I read these pauses as judgmental.  I interpreted her lack of speedy response as disgust, or boredom.  I concluded that she was rendered speechless by my idiocy.  I became convinced that she didn’t really like me. 

Over the years, we remained friends.  At some point, as we got closer, I asked her if she did – in fact -- disapprove of me sometimes.   And here’s what she basically told me: “Erin, I’m always interested in what you say.  But if it’s something serious or complicated, I want to really think about it, and give your feelings the consideration they deserve.  I listen deeply, because I care about you.”   

Here’s why this story matters: This woman ended up being one of my closest friends in the world.   She took notes at my PhD defense. She visited me in Rhode Island, when I got my first job, even though she was dealing with other personal stuff.  She came to the hospital each time I had a baby.  She threw me a baby shower, and attended most of my kids’ birthday parties, with a beautiful gift in hand.  When I got my doctorate, she tried to come to that party, too.  But it was a windy night, and a bowling alley awning fell on her head.  So she went to the hospital instead.   Likewise, after the farewell party she threw me, she went out to walk her dog, fell down, and broke her face.   And yet the next year, she risked her life again, and came to our new home in Wisconsin for my 40th birthday.

I tell you this to remind you how easy it is to misinterpret other people’s actions.  How easy it is to imagine that someone’s furtive glance is about us – or directed at us -- when it isn’t.   How easy it is to take weird behaviors personally, when it's not about us, like at all.  I don’t have the full story, perhaps.  Maybe you’ve tried to approach these parents, and have been flatly rejected.  Maybe your son has, even more painfully, experienced that. But if you haven’t done these things – and you are just assuming they disapprove, while this quiet estrangement has occurred – then I think you owe it to yourselves to try to reconnect with them.   If you want their friendship, and he wants the kids’ friendship, why not call one of them, and ask them over?   Why not write an email to one of these moms and – if their cult allows it – ask them for coffee? 

There’s no risk here, other than the emotional one.  You may discover that they were avoiding you because they didn’t know what to say.  Or that they were intimidated, because they are wimps, while you are the Mother Bear who roared at the school.   Or that they thought you were angry with them.   Or -- worst case scenario-- you may find out that they do hate you for being a whistleblower.  You’ll invite them over and they’ll snub you directly, to your face.  It will sting.  For a few days.  Or a while.  But then, Mommy Grizzly, at least your rejection won’t be speculative anymore.  And you can move on, secure in the knowledge that these are not the right people for you. And that your children should find better friends.

Is that emotional risk worth it?  Personally, I think it is.  You know why?  Because in taking it, you will not only have taught your son that it’s important to stand up to bullies.  You will also have taught him that friends sometimes misunderstand each other, and even feel disliked.  But that one day, they may still go out and break their face, just to throw you a party.  

Good luck.  I hope you'll let me know, maybe in an anonymous comment, how it turns out.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So What, Who Cares?: Holiday Gifts for Teachers, and Naked Neighbors

Dear Erin,

As we all know, it's time for holiday gifts for teachers. Every year in my son's elementary school the parents association takes a collection and divides the contributions among the teachers. Last year, my friend told me that she no longer participates in the collection, because she was giving very generously, and others were not, and she felt that she wasn't getting credit for her contribution.  So she now gives the teachers gifts directly. This is one of those things that, as someone who also gives generously, I sort of understand the desire to do.  And yet, never ever in a million years would I actually do it.  Something about it seems totally against the spirit and self serving.  The point of the whole thing is to give generously and show appreciation to the teachers, not to get credit.   Am I wrong to be annoyed by this?

Bugged in Boston

Dear Bugged:

Did you ever find yourself annoyed at George Costanza?   I only ask, because your friend is acting like him.   Remember the Seinfeld episode, the Big Salad?   George buys a salad for Elaine.  Then his girlfriend -- upon handing the salad to Elaine – gets the thanks for it.   George protests the “false premises” under which Elaine thanked the wrong person.  Elaine is annoyed.  His girlfriend, naturally, can't stand him.

The problem with George  – and his creator, Larry David – wasn’t that they were always objectively wrong.   You could understand their feelings.  We all like to be thanked, when we go out of our way to help.  What made George/Larry annoying was their inappropriate responses to such perceived slights.  They could never rise above things, and be the bigger person.  With a meaningless thing like a Big Salad, they couldn’t just get over it.  Forget about it.   Focus on the value of friendship and kindness and togetherness with friends.   Instead, they blew it out of proportion.   Annoyed their friends, alienated their partners.  It's hard to be friends with people like that.  But I have to think, it's far worse to be them.

Like you, I understand your friend’s feelings.  Her response would almost seem rational, in another context.  Credit and kickbacks are the way of the world.  Private philanthropies, arts organizations, and academic endowments recognize big donors all the time.  In Manhattan, if you raise a lot of money for Dalton or Brearley – say, by putting your family’s summer home up for silent auction -- your kids get on a special list.   Our society rewards self-interested generosity.  Of course it does.  It’s straight up Adam Smith.  It’s the hot molten core of capitalism.

The problem with insisting on recognition – and protesting the injustice of every perceived slight -- is that regular life is not a theoretical abstraction.   In the real world, if we want to get along with others -- better than George Costanza and Larry David did, anyway – we have to temper our self-serving reactions and interests by considering other perspectives and values too.   Like, say, the value of cooperation.  At our school, for example, some parents contribute in non-financial ways.   They volunteer, work in the book room, go on field trips, run programs.   Do these parents demand special credit?    I don’t know.  But I doubt they spend much time worrying about it.   They’re too busy copying papers, pulling on snow pants, and wiping exploded ketchup packets off the lunchroom floor. 

Even more important is the value of inclusiveness.  In preschool and elementary schools, people often practice collective giving because they feel like all families should be included -- whether their parents are rich, or generous, or not.  Honoring the relationship between families and their beloved teachers is what makes elementary school a little bit different from Manhattan’s power elite, or Harvard’s fundraising machine.  Kids have plenty of time to learn how to keep score, and cut each other’s throats.  But while they’re still young, shouldn't their parents try to emphasize friendship and kindness over individual contributions and credit?   And really, what’s the personal cost of doing this?   Is it really so hard to part with twenty or thirty bucks, and not get personally thanked?   It’s the cost of a Big Salad.

Ultimately, your friend is choosing to act upon the perceived slight of others’ lesser generosity, rather than a whole set of other positive social values, like community and inclusion.  Frankly, it would be fine with me if your friend gave her own gift in addition to the collective one.   In our family, we give in all kinds of different ways to school –materially and not, collectively and not.  But your friend is not addressing the perceived injustice by being more generous.  She's being judgmental and self-serving.  To put in terms George Costanza would understand, she’s vowing never to buy Elaine lunch again.   And it's not surprising that, like George Costanza's petty behavior, her actions have already started to annoy her friends.  

Dear Erin,

For the past month when I wake up to make coffee in the morning I can see my neighbor walking around nude in his house.  I think I've only noticed this recently because the leaves on our trees are gone, and dark mornings call for turning on the lights.  I don't want to have to draw down our shades for the whole winter as winter in Wisconsin already makes me feel like I live in a cave.  It would be too embarrassing to bring it up to him.  Any suggestions?


Dear Overexposed:

We had a naked neighbor in our last apartment building in New York.   Nothing unusual there. City dwellers don’t necessarily have more aberrant lifestyles than the rest of humanity, but their eccentricities are often more vividly on display.  In our case, the naked man lived in the apartment one floor down, and directly across the central courtyard from our den.  Perfect line of sight.

Technically, he was a half-naked man.  He often walked around wearing nothing but a tee shirt.   Particularly when he went on late night feeding rampages in his kitchen.   My husband and I found this exhibitionism surprising, for a few different reasons.   For one thing, his girlfriend worked in my husband’s office.  She didn’t share her boyfriend’s inclination to undress.  But neither did she share our inclination to close the curtains.  Equally curious to us was why the naked man even bothered to wear a tee shirt.   Maybe I was hung up on an overly rigid interpretation of the term, private parts.   But why not cover the bottom?  Especially because the naked man’s most public appendage, by far, was his giant scrotum. 

For several months, we didn’t fully appreciate the animal we were dealing with.  We caught glimpses of it here and there, but it was often partially blocked by something.  Like one of his legs, or a party sized jar of mayonnaise.  Then one night – in his zeal to reach something in the back of the fridge -- he bent completely over.   Only then did we appreciate the animal we were dealing with.  It was an elephant.  A pale, wrinkly elephant.  With an average sized trunk.  And two giant floppy ears.

Unfortunately for us, the naked man’s elephantine organ raised more questions than it answered.  Personally, I had to wonder about the sanity of his girlfriend.   As someone who cooked a lot, I was horrified at the thought of living with a guy who pressed his bare manhood up against my cutting board every night.  Wood has natural antibiotic properties, of course.  But even wood blocks have their limits.  I had to conclude that anyone who routinely engaged in intimate acts with a sex organ of that caliber was probably accustomed to having it show up in places it didn’t belong.

We also wondered about the naked man’s motivations.  If he wasn’t a bona fide nudist, then why didn’t he ever think to close the curtains?    I found his indiscretion especially irritating, in the presence of my kids.  I often had to get up and close my own curtains.   It wouldn’t have bothered me, just alone.  But I didn’t want to have to answer any premature and inappropriate questions about the Jungle Book. Ultimately, though, we just acclimated to the spectacle.   

When it comes to naked people and their lack of discretion, there’s nothing you can do.   If your kids see it, consider closing your curtains.  If it bothers you, try to look away.   Otherwise, try not to let him catch you with binoculars.   Try not to giggle at the drug store, when you see him buying a razor for his back.   And in the meantime - enjoy the winter Safari!   I’ve heard the animals are really running wild this time of year.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So What, Who Cares?: Overwhelmed Parents, and Germs

Dear Erin:  

As you are now an advice columnist, I'm wondering if you could recommend a personal assistant who can rake my massive piles of leaves, cook meals for my children, tote the overly-chlorinated kids around Southern Wisconsin all week, and help me manage my personal life?  

Clearly, I can't do it well myself.  I'm standing by.

Drowning Dad

Dear Drowning Dad:

The way I see it, parents struggling to manage their bat shit crazy lives have three options. 

1.  Hire Help.

I can't actually recommend any personal assistants.   George Clooney probably can.  But if you really need them, I could recommend a lawn care service, a cook, a tutor, a chauffeur, or a night nurse.  If you belong to a certain social class -- and reside, say, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan -- you may decide to hire all of this help.  At which point, the only tasks you will be left with are writing checks, shopping at silent auctions, and periodically introducing yourself to your own children.

Outsourcing parental tasks is a great option if you have the finances, and you aren’t someone who wants to micromanage your kids’ lives.  Speaking as a domestic micromanager, I prefer to do the cooking and chauffeuring myself.   If that also describes you -- and I suspect it does -- then a personal assistant won’t work for you, either.    But you may still need to know how a parent can meet all of his responsibilities, and feel like he’s doing right by his family, even though his self-mulching yard is the laughing stock of the neighborhood.   

So, let’s move on to Options 2 and 3.

2.   Do less.

Most of us are ridiculously overscheduled.   We could probably all benefit from clearing out some dead wood.  I will give you a boost in the right direction by telling you that raking is for chumps.  Yard work, without question, is the scourge of modern suburban life.  Just leave it.  Or hire, as I do, an army of men with heavy artillery leaf blowers to do it for you.  But then, what about the mad daily dash to cook dinner, drive around town in circles, and get kids to their stuff?   

I’m not one of those parents who yearns for the olden days of unstructured play time.  When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in our driveway, playing H-O-R-S-E with my brother.   To this day, I can spell the word HORSE perfectly.   But otherwise, I’m not sure how enriching that activity was.  So, really, I’m fine with helicopter parenting.  At the same time, when we reach that point of scheduling pandemonium – when it’s been weeks since any family member has sat at an actual table, or eaten anything more than a cold sandwich --  we should perhaps start to ask ourselves some tough questions.  Is this activity essential to our kids’ development, enrichment, and/or happiness?  Is it consistent with our family’s values, and priorities?  Or am I simply doing this because I am an overprotective, Type-A tiger parent, for whom kindergarten is the first step of early application to Harvard?

The problem with tough questions, of course, is the answers aren’t always that clear.   When I go down my list, I can usually find a good, value-driven reason to keep almost everything.   Art class?  My kids need to make a mess somewhere.  Piano lessons?  They’ll thank me when they become rock stars.  Home cooked meals?  Nutrition and mood management.  Language class?  Duh, global society.  And what about those overly-chlorinated kids ?   Well, around here, we think team sports teach kids about sportsmanship and the value of hard work.   And when you look at it like that – as a way to learn lifelong skills, build character, keep them out of jail, and keep them off the pole  --  then sitting on a cold gymnasium floor eating lukewarm Spaghettios for breakfast on a Sunday morning seems like exactly the right thing to do.

3.   Lower your standards.

Here’s a confession: I used to rake leaves.  When we first moved back here, I actually thought yard work might be cool.   I was like: Wow, we have a yard!  With gardens!  Just like Central park! Except we are the only people allowed to pee in it!   

As a proud new owner of a suburban yard, I considered it my duty to keep the place manicured, and free of natural debris.  I became obsessed with raking.  I quickly turned into a crazed Leafinatrix.  I was never satisfied, never finished.  I’d leave my kids inside to watch TV, and go out to rake.  I’d rake all weekend long, every weekend, in November.  My shoulders ached, my eyes were swollen shut from vaporized dirt.  But as soon as I raked, the trees would drop more leaves.  Like kamikaze nature fighters, sent to destroy my pristine yard.  The imperfection drove me mad.   I knew my descent into madness was complete the day I took a broom to the top of my driveway, and started sweeping the street.  To stop the leaves from blowing into my yard

I make this confession, Drowning Dad, because I think parenting is like the leaves.  No matter how much you rake them, some of those buggers just won’t cooperate.  Some stick to the ground like leaf starch.  Some drop late.   Some blow down from your tidy little leaf pile and mess up the lawn again.  You can sweep them all off your driveway, late in the fall.  But in the spring, under the thawing snow and ice – along with the dead chipmunks, and the soggy sticks of sidewalk chalk – you will inevitably find a mushy pile of last autumn’s leaves, clumped in between the garage door, and that thing that looks like it might be a gas meter.  Let's just call it that for now.

The point is, we never feel like we’re doing enough for our kids.   Or making all the right decisions.  Sometimes -- even when we outsource, or cut back – we still mess up.  We feed them cold cereal for dinner again.   We forget to ask if they have homework.  We send them to dance without shoes, and the stretchy Brazilian lady looks at us like we suck.   Occasionally, we have to skip class or practice altogether.  We can’t deal with the rigorous itinerary.  So we get some crappy Midwestern-Mexican fast food.  We turn on Netflix.  And we eat brie off a fork while we cry into a snifter of brandy.   Let me know when I’ve said too much.

But embracing the imperfection is important.  Because really, there’s no prize at the grave for the most perfect suburban leaf pile.   Or the most perfect life.  Or the most perfect dad.   We all try to do right by our kids.  We parent the best we can.   In the end, the most important thing is that you are a super involved dad who actually cares enough to worry about screwing it all up.   It means you are doing it well.  Already.

Dear Erin:

            What can we do about people who go out in public sick and spread their germs and make others sick? I am not really talking about people who might go grocery shopping and other necessary chores in life. I am referring to showing up to a Thanksgiving dinner after their kids just got over a bad flu and now they themselves are coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose. They KNOW they are sick. They feel sick. Their kids were just sick for an entire week, but they selfishly show up to a Thanksgiving dinner and infect the host and her family. My friend, who was the host, is now sitting home this weekend with strep throat and missing many fun events because of this thoughtless person. I told her to write him a note letting him know how selfish and irresponsible he was.

            I see this all the time. I'll be at the movies and the person behind me is hacking away and sniffling. When I ask them if they are sick or is it allergies, if they admit to being sick, I move my seat. Sometimes even if they say it's allergies, I move my seat because I don't believe them. Okay, I understand if you are really sick, sometimes you need to get out of the house. But then, you should just go for a walk. Or go to an early matinee, and sit on the side, away from others. 

            I also see this at synagogue. People look forward to coming to a special event like a bat mitzvah or birthday of someone special.. but they are sick. They have their coat on, a pack of Kleenex in one hand, they look pale and green, yet there they are, in a small room, coughing and sneezing because they are too darn selfish to realize that they get people infected.

  Okay. You get my point. What can be said to someone like this? Something that might even make them go home. Or at least think about their behavior next time.



Dear Debra:

One of our biggest challenges as humans is coping with the selfish or annoying people around us.  Don’t you agree?  You get tickets for Mary Poppins and the family in front of you chats through the entire performance.   You get dressed up for a nice lunch with your gal pal, and the woman at the next table plunks her fork into her escargot dish and showers your friend’s coat with melted butter.  You attend your kid’s soccer game, and one of the loudmouth parents from another team gloats and keep score. Even though you kind of understand, because he's wearing a Yankee cap, the gloating makes your kids feel bad. 

One of my biggest personal challenges has always been the selfish behavior of neighbors.   Back in New York, we had a neighbor named Richard.  He was a successful architect, who ran his business out of his apartment.  He rode everywhere on this old, Wizard of Oz bicycle.  Between the clunky bike with the front basket, and his horn-rimmed glasses, he was a real sight on Eighth Avenue.  Even by New York standards. 

We actually liked Richard a lot.  What irked us was that Richard hung up his bike – bikes, actually – on the wall of our fire escape.  That room, right off our kitchen, was our only means of egress, other than the front door.   We talked to the Super about it a few times.  He spoke to Richard.  Richard moved the bikes over.  Sort of.  But mostly, the bikes remained.  Over time, we accepted that in the event of a fire, we’d make it to the front door, or we wouldn’t make it at all.  Eventually, we threw our hands up altogether, and just put our own strollers in fire escape, too.

Sick people, in my view, are a bit like the selfish acts of neighbors.  They can be really annoying. But you’re kind of stuck with them.  Would it be better if we practiced the customs of some parts of Asia, where people wear germ barriers over their mouths when they’re sick?  Perhaps.   Should people make sure to quarantine themselves when they’re contagious, burn up sick time from work, and keep their kids out of day care?  Probably, yes.  But don't hold your breath. Or actually, DO hold your breath.  Because we don’t live in a society where people consider germs to be their fault.   We think germs just happen to us.   And frankly, they are transmitted and contracted rather randomly.  Given that people have to get on with their lives when they're sick, illness --like annoying neighbors -- is just an annoying part of life.

There are outlying cases, of course.  I agree with you about strep throat and a holiday meal.  A flu outbreak.  Or say, meningitis at Princeton.  The problem with common germs, though, is where to draw the line.   I’d have a hard time saying that someone shouldn’t go pray because they have a cold.   Pardon my ignorance; but isn’t keeping the Sabbath actually a Commandment?   The movie thing is tough, too.  To say that an ailing person shouldn’t be allowed to sit in the seat of their choice -- to watch Will Ferrell act like an idiot, or Dame Judy Dench hand someone their ass on a plate -- seems like an overly harsh standard.   And personally, I’d rather someone stayed home from the grocery store than avoided the movies.  That way, at least, they won’t sneeze on my Cuties!

When it comes to regular old germs, dear Debra, my best answer to your question about what to do about apparently selfish behavior is – unfortunately -- not much.  You can yell at them, if you want.  You can ask them to move, or stay home.  In New York, they might yell at you back.  In Wisconsin, they might be carrying a concealed weapon.  But in the end, you will probably just use up a lot of your own energy and not change much behavior.  I think the more productive approach is simply to relocate.  Douse yourself in hand sanitizer.   Try to avoid the sickies’ air space.   Curse them out silently in your head, and then go wash your hands.   

And always remember the saying:  Good fences make good neighbors.  When people do annoying or seemingly selfish things, put up your psychic fence.  Make some kind of physical barrier, too, with a scarf.  The best we can really hope for, with germs and certain neighbors, is that they just leave us alone.

Good luck, and stay healthy!