Dear Annie: Last January, a couple moved to our town, and their two daughters began attending school with my 11-year-old daughter. The older girl is the same age as mine, and they became friends.
Throughout the summer, the girls played at our house and theirs, but recently, some things have begun to disturb me.
Three months ago, the girls’ father apparently told the mother to get a job. When she didn’t, he cut off their cellphone service. When that didn’t convince her to find employment, he cut off their landline, the cable and their Internet service.
The girls said he told their mother he wasn’t going to pay for any of these things, and that if she wanted them, she’d better pay for them herself. So far, the mother hasn’t attempted to look for work.
I’ve had both girls over to my house as much as possible so they can use the computer to play games and watch our TV.
Recently, both girls began crying, saying their father wouldn’t give their mother any money for Christmas, and that he plans to cut off the electricity at the end of the week. The mother told him that if he did that, she would leave — without the girls.
I feel terribly sorry for these children, but don’t know either of the parents very well. I’ve considered going to their home and telling them what this conflict is doing to their children, but I’m not sure what to say.
Is this something to call Child Protective Services about? My heart is breaking to see these two darling little girls scared and crying all the time. — Distraught Neighbor
Dear Distraught: Kids can live without cable and Internet access, but shutting off the electricity and watching their mother walk out is something else entirely.
Of course, unless you knock on their door, you will have no idea what is really going on.
Please do not go alone. If the situation is as bad as it seems, anything could happen and you should indeed call the authorities.
You also can discuss it with the school counselor, who should be aware of the students’ home situation.
Dear Annie: My son will be graduating in June. His microwave oven needed replacing, so my Dad offered to purchase the microwave, adding, “That’s your graduation present.”
When my brother needed a new tire, Dad bought it, saying, “That’s your birthday present,” even though his birthday was not for another six months. When I needed auto repair work in August, Dad said, “That’s your Christmas present.”
He keeps a tally of his gifts and shows up at birthday parties and Christmas gatherings empty-handed, and then reminds you, very publicly, of what he did for you.
We appreciate his generosity, but these gift consolidations feel more like business transactions with no connection to the occasion. Are we missing something? — Not Ungrateful
Dear Not: Dad has a finite amount to spend on gifts. When he sees that you need something, he wants to help, but doesn’t have the means or desire to then purchase an additional gift for your special occasions.
He reminds you at the parties because he worries you won’t remember that he already gave you something. It’s a harmless quirk, but if you’d prefer a birthday gift, simply refuse his offers to repair your car.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045.