We are often amazed at the things people write into advice columnists. But this letter may take the cake.
Writing into Slate's "Friend or Foe" column, a reader writes (emphasis mine)
My husband and I are child-free, and, to be honest, don't really like children. But we tend to get along well with teenagers. We also make a concerted effort to be friendly to our friends' kids, including those of my friend of 36 years, "Sue." She was the maid of honor at my wedding, as I was at hers. So when she and her husband decided to take a 16-day cruise with their extended family during the school semester, we agreed to let their two teens (now ages 13 and 16) live with us. Before their parents left, we tried to discuss money and responsibilities. But all of our conversation attempts were met with incredulity (e.g., "Do you really think we wouldn't pay for something that our kids did while we were gone?"). We finally let it go after warning them several times that it might cost as much as $500 to house and entertain the two kids. I also expressed concerns that I didn't want this situation to affect our long-standing friendship. We received still more assurances on both fronts.
The parents left each child with $40 spending money, and left us $70. Naturally, the $70 did not last long. We shuttled the kids to school in another town and back, brought them to swimming lessons, choir concerts, band tryouts, and snowmobile classes. I cooked a full, well-balanced meal every night and provided breakfasts and snacks on the weekends. (During the week, the parents had provided toaster strudels and the school provided lunch.) We ran the dishwasher daily instead of twice a week. We did three times as much laundry, had more people shower, etc. Meanwhile, the kids were lazy and useless and did not help with any household chores. They didn't even take care of their own dog, which we were also watching. And the boy, who had just gotten off probation for making "terroristic threats" against school officials, bought drugs, stole a car, and arranged for his own parents' house to be robbed. We spent countless hours in the police station dealing with the aftereffects of this, while his parents were unreachable at sea.
When the parents returned, we asked for $500 in compensation, citing actual expenses, including the additional utilities, for which we have receipts. They wrote out a check. But the next day, Sue sent me a bitter and scathing e-mail questioning whether or not our friendship was "ever truly genuine" and accusing us of attempting to defraud them. She believes we are owed nothing beyond the gas money. She also pointed out that her kids once took care of our cat for a week, and her husband helped us install shelves. (Never mind that my husband helped paint their bedroom and that we took care of their dog.) She also implied that we should have been happy to live out our fantasy of being parents-a fantasy we don't have-and that we'd "invited [her] kids as guests."
I understand that Sue has some money issues because of the way she grew up; her parents were notorious cheapskates who used to padlock the refrigerator. But I'm appalled, hurt, and angry. Is there any way of resolving this and preserving our friendship? I've asked Sue for an apology, but I'd apologize myself if I could figure out what I did wrong. For the record, all of our mutual friends think that my husband and I were crazy to watch the kids in the first place.
Burned but Freezing in North Dakota
First — arranged for his family's home to be robbed? Padlocked the fridge? Snowmobile classes? While I'm assuming the latter is a necessary skill-set in the Great Plains, the rest of this letter has left me so confused that I'm actually impressed Lucinda Rosenfeld could find the wherewithal to tell the writer that she and "Sue" (because no way anyone's going to recognize herself from this description) deserve each other and should probably make up since everyone else probably hates them. (I'm reading between the lines here.) But however helpful this might prove to the actual letter-writer, it's actually deeply instructive to the rest of us. From this tale I learned the following life lessons:
1. If you have a criminally-inclined child, install a security system. (And, by the way, maybe there's a reason there was a padlock on that fridge.)
2. If you're going on a 16-day cruise with everyone save said horrible offspring, leave them with a friend you kind of wanted to alienate anyway, then pick a major fight about compensation.
3. Never assume you "get along with teenagers." In the words of one friend at 15, in a note he left for his parents, "Don't even try to understand me...I hardly understand myself."
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4. Keep receipts. Or, not.