My wife has a habit that I find irritating. Instead of blowing her nose, she sniffs to keep the snot in, making a loud snorting sound. This isn’t usually a problem, but now that the pollen has returned, this sniffing occurs every 30 seconds throughout the day. I feel this is rude habit and it must be irritating to others at the cubicles in her office. When I mention this to her, she gets defensive and thinks that I’m rude to bring it up. Is this sniffing habit truly annoying to others, or is it just me? We need another perspective so that we don’t have to resort to couples’ counseling.
— Fed Up
Dear Fed Up,
Now that chalkboards are being replaced by whiteboards a whole generation will be spared even knowing what it means to hear fingernails scraping one. It turns out there are certain sounds that drive people bonkers, and the science of how we perceive and experience sound is called psychoacoustics — or the study of acoustics that make people psycho. I know from my inbox, and life, that certain repetitive human noises — loud chewing, throat clearing, and yes, sniffing — can make some people feel as if the offending noise is magnifying and echoing through their skulls, threatening to make their brains explode. I assure you your wife’s fellow cubicle-dwellers are noticing. I do sympathize with your wife’s condition; without today’s over-the-counter allergy pills, I would spend about four months a year with a drip pan under my nose. But since there are pharmaceutical treatments for allergies, your wife has no excuse. If you can’t convince her to stop snorting and end up in couples’ therapy because of it, after a few minutes the counselor is sure to push that box of tissue towards your wife and say, “For my own sanity, please take one and blow.”
Every year since they were toddlers, our two children have spent at least a week each summer visiting my husband’s parents and my parents, who each live in different states. It’s mostly been great for all concerned. However, the last few years the kids have come back complaining about staying with my parents. It started with my parents letting them watch scary, graphic, forensic crime shows when they were young, which lead to recurrent nightmares. I broached this with my parents and was told that I watched similar programming and I turned out fine. Then my parents started complaining about the cost of having them visit, how much they eat, items that were “mysteriously broken” during their stay for which my parents want reimbursement, and computers that “ceased to function” after the kids used them. When the kids play they’re accused of being disrespectful and rowdy, and when they sit and read or watch TV, they’re lazy. They’re now in their early teens, are enrolled in several short summer programs, and can care for themselves at home when we’re out. They don’t want to visit my parents. Do I say they won’t be visiting because of the above-mentioned problems? Or should I force the kids to suck it up and try to enjoy their grandparents for as long as they have them?
— Summer-Time Blues
Before you decide whether to force your kids to visit, I think you need to do some reconnaissance with your parents. It may be that they are getting to a point physically and mentally where they are no long able to handle the demands of having children in the house. If their extreme irritability and whining about their financial situation is new, it requires some attention. So before you decide whether to pack your kids off, go visit your parents by yourself and have a heart-to-heart about how their lives are going. That will give you enough information to decide whether the visits are no longer a good idea, or if your parents need some guidance for making a vacation with teenagers go better. If you think they can still handle it, you can tell them that it’s true that teenagers can eat like velociraptors and you’d like to pay for the expenses of the stay. In any case, a week of togetherness may be too much, so tell your parents that your kids’ many camp activities mean that they can only visit for four days this year. As for your children, a few days of crotchety grandparents will be a good lesson in dealing with adversity.
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