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Miss Manners: Deciding what kids call an aunt

Dear Miss Manners: I have a young nephew and niece, ages 3 and 1. When the first child was born, I asked my sister for her children to call me according to the language customs for “aunt” in our heritage language. While we were born and raised in the United States, we grew up referring to our aunts and uncles this way, and I would like to continue the tradition.

She has refused this request, calling me by a different name in front of her children. At this point, her kids are either not yet speaking, or too young to pronounce anything correctly, anyway.

However, I know that her children will come to know me by the name she uses. Not only that, but any future nieces and nephews from other siblings will likely refer to me the same way as their cousins. I love my niece and nephew, and my siblings, but feel that it is disrespectful of them to not honor my request. Do I have a say in what my nieces and nephews call me?

Gentle Reader: Probably not. But not for the reasons that you suppose.

Miss Manners finds it sweetly naive that you assume that the children will do whatever their mother tells them. In the interest of preserving family harmony, it might be wise to ask your sister gently why the children aren’t calling you by your preferred title. If it is on purpose or just an oversight, at least you will know with what you are up against and can act accordingly.

If you deem your sister unreasonable, later, you may choose to drive her crazy by conspiratorially asking them to call you by the title you prefer.

Children do love secrets – and doing the opposite of what their mothers tell them.

Too many fingers on desserts

Dear Miss Manners: My beloved in-laws frequently dine at our home. We love having them join us for family meals. Only one small problem prevails: They love to use their fingers to pick apart cakes and other shared desserts.

I have tried offering to cut them a slice when they start stripping off the topping or edges of one of my homemade desserts at the table. They usually reply, “Oh, no, thank you – I’m fine just picking.” I don’t want to offend them or hurt their feelings, but watching the dessert get messed up really grosses me out – and often destroys the most coveted parts of the treats. Please help!

Gentle Reader: Have you considered serving individual portions? Or perhaps parading the dessert around the table for display (while keeping a firm grip on it), before quickly removing it to cut?

No doubt, your family thinks that they are being familial, but I agree that it does make the food highly unpalatable. She encourages you to avoid the problem by finding some new recipes.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s daughter, Jacobina Martin.