I am 18 and starting college next month, which will make me the first person in my family to go. I am beyond excited! I worked very hard to get in and cover my costs. Recently, I was notified by health services that I have to show proof of my Covid-19 vaccination to enroll. The problem: My mom has been reading conspiracy theories online and is convinced that the vaccine is unnecessary and will “change my DNA” — whatever that means. She refuses to let me get it. Spoiler: I got vaccinated secretly months ago! (And I wish she would too.) How should I deal with my mom and the school?


There are times, unfortunately, when we need to look out for ourselves at the expense of those we love. This is one of them! I hope you tried to convince your mother (with data) that the available vaccines were tested rigorously and judged safe by scientists who are competent to make that call. The fact that unvaccinated people account for the vast majority of Covid hospitalizations and deaths is another powerful argument.

You are unlikely to persuade her, though, if her mind is closed to reason. If your mother is contributing to the cost of your education, which you say you took pains to cover, or if you plan to continue living at home, keep up the act. You can’t undo your vaccination, and the consequences of your mother’s reaction may derail your education.

Bring proof of your vaccination to college when you enroll. If necessary, call health services in advance to explain your predicament. If your mother asks, tell her the school gave you an exemption. I’m sorry that your achievement is being overshadowed by your mother’s misinformation. Let me hear back from you if you need help, OK?

My daughter’s bat mitzvah is coming up this fall. In discussing our plans for the gathering with family and friends, I learned that a few won’t be able to make it. Some have Covid-related travel concerns; others have conflicting engagements. I don’t think I should send invitations to these people. Why make them refuse me, formally, a second time? I also think that invitations to these people would seem like gift grabs. Several family members differ. You?


I agree with you — for the most part. Sending invitations to people who have already told you they aren’t available seems redundant and possibly guilt-inducing. Plans (and comfort levels) can change, though.

Here’s what I suggest: Instead of invitations, send short notes to the people who’ve told you they can’t come, letting them know they will be missed and asking them to let you know if they find themselves available after all. Don’t waste time worrying about gift grabs: Gifts are always optional.

My sister died recently — far too young! It fell to me to go through her small house and attic. Fortunately, she was well-organized. She had created a list of recipients of various items. But I came upon a few boxes that stumped me. One was filled with photographs of her with a childhood friend whom she’d argued with. The other was a cache of fairly recent love letters from a man whose name and address are on the envelopes. Unlike her other possessions, she provided no instructions for these things. The family historian in me hates to throw them away. What would you do?


I’m sorry for your loss (and admire your conscientiousness). When it comes to distributing the personal effects of others, I subscribe to the “do no harm” doctrine. It’s hard to imagine that childhood photographs would cause difficulty for your sister’s friend. They may even be healing for her. Send them!

Be more cautious, though, about the love letters. If your sister had wanted them returned, it seems as if she would have said so. Her lover may have been married or unavailable during their correspondence. He may still be! If you are inclined to return the letters, try contacting the man first by phone to ask if he wants them back.

A friend has been eating gluten-free for years. She doesn’t have celiac disease, but she feels better without gluten in her diet. I always accommodate her when I host a meal or event. But when I am not the host — and feel like bringing a batch of novelty cupcakes as a hostess gift, for instance — she becomes visibly annoyed when she learns my gifts are not gluten-free. What are my obligations to her when I’m not the host?


As a guest, you are obviously not responsible for the dietary restrictions of other guests. And “visible annoyance” seems like a strong reaction to a hostess gift for someone else. Still, if you are reading your friend correctly, wouldn’t it be better to smooth over her hurt feelings than to explain your obligations to her?

Say, “I thought the cupcakes were cute. But they didn’t have a gluten-free option. Sorry!” It costs you nearly nothing. And it’s good to be a sensitive friend.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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