Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. My sister is a lovely, kind, and generous woman who adores me. She is also triple-A alpha and has a job that requires her to have all of the answers for everyone else. My problem may seem silly, but I am upset and confused, so please lend an ear.

Every time my sister wants to give me a gift (and her gifts are always way too generous, and much more than I could ever reciprocate), she asks me what I want and then gets me something she decides is better.

I have started to fear her gifts! If I get up my nerve to ask if I can exchange the gift for what I really want, she argues with me about why what she chose is better. In the end, I keep the gift, tell her how fabulous she is, and feel like a jerk.


This year I told her I was buying myself something, and suddenly something in the same category (but much bigger and not really what I had in mind) was delivered to my door.

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Help. The gifts make me feel powerless and disrespected. I know the answer lies in how I talk to her, so please, some tips.

By the way, whenever I try to give her a gift, she tells me cursorily that if she wants something, she’ll buy it herself.


A. Your sister is a generous and manipulative saboteur. Imagine what it must be like to be her. She is so competitive she cannot relax into a moment of genuine exchange. She is trapped inside a triple-A alpha persona. It sounds exhausting. Once you reach a point that you can understand what it might be like to be her, you should do exactly what you want to do. You do not work for her. She does not run you.


She won’t allow you to give her gifts; respond in this spirit, and don’t allow her to trap you into a game of “Sister Knows Best.” Don’t take the bait. Tell her “Let’s just stop giving material things and do things together, instead. Opera, ballgame, or spa day? You decide.”

If items arrive on your doorstep that you have not asked for and do not want, either accept them gracefully (and enjoy) or — if you choose to exchange or return them — thank your sister and make sure her money is refunded to her.

Q. I am a 14-year-old girl. Recently, I attended a friend’s dance recital. During intermission, I stepped into the bathroom, which was mostly populated by grandmothers and mothers, all at least 30 years my senior. The bathroom was mostly full, with only a few stalls open. I ducked into the nearest stall, which happened to be handicapped accessible. This elicited a few glares upon emerging. Was I in the wrong?


A. The handicapped-accessible stalls are not meant to stand empty during busy times; these stalls are there to accommodate disabled citizens, as well as anyone else who wishes to use them.


If you are in a line waiting for stalls and see a wheelchair-bound, elderly, disabled woman — or a mom with younger kids in tow — it is kindest to let that person “go” before you.

Q. I was so worried when I read the letter from “Concerned Sister.” She said her teenage brother had died tragically and her younger sister had suddenly stopped expressing any emotions about it. I think this teenager needs immediate help to cope with this huge loss.


A. I agree. I was alarmed by this teenager’s sudden change in attitude; I hope the whole family can get help.

Send questions via e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.