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ANNIE'S MAILBOX They inherited stress along with beach house

Friday, July 23, 2004

Dear Annie: My father and his siblings inherited a summer beach house from their parents, and it always has been rented out seasonally. No profit has ever been made on the property. At best, it is a break-even investment.
A few years ago, my aunts and uncles wished to get out of the investment, and my parents bought their shares for fair market value. Suddenly, everyone became emotional, discovering newfound love for the beach house. Since my parents became sole owners, the rest of the family seems to think they are entitled to use the cottage whenever they want. My cousins actually rented the place last year and left it more trashed than any rental client ever has. They even took some chimes my parents had hung on the porch because their daughter "loved them."
My aunt seemed especially attached to the beach house, so my uncle suggested she be allowed to use it for two weeks every year, for free, and my parents halfheartedly agreed. This year, my aunt requested her two weeks in the spring, and asked that my parents provide her (and her extended family, whom she invited along) with bed linens, etc. Of course, my mother was stuck with the laundry.
My mother is infuriated by this, but she says nothing. If it were me, I would put my foot down -- enough is enough. This cottage causes my parents so much stress. How can they draw the line? Angry Niece in Wisconsin
Dear Niece: If your parents don't want to be taken advantage of, they need to remove the "Walk on Me" sign from their backs. Dad should inform his siblings that they must clean up after themselves or the cottage will no longer be available to them (Aunt Freebie included). And he should make it stick.
Also, we strongly recommend your parents do whatever is necessary to find other tenants who will rent the cottage, leaving it less available to accommodate the relatives. If your folks aren't willing to take these steps, there's not much you can do.
Dear Annie: My mom left me when I was 4 years old. Two years ago, my dad's girlfriend, "Shelly," moved in with us. Shelly has been in my life for five years and is like my actual mom now, because I know she's always here. She's the best.
I still call my mother from time to time, but no one else in the family speaks to her. The problem is, Shelly wants me to come to her with my problems, and I do, but I'm afraid if I keep speaking to my mother, it will push Shelly away and she might move out. No one wants that, and I'd be to blame. What should I do? Lost in Pennsylvania
Dear Lost: Whatever Shelly decides to do, it is not your fault. She should appreciate the closeness you have now and understand that you need a relationship with your mother as well. She should not feel threatened by it. Discuss your feelings with your father, and tell him we said he should back you up.
Dear Annie: I am an educational advocate for foster children. They have three to four times the learning problems other children seem to have. I learned something that will help everyone maintain mental acuity. It's free, it works, and it's harmless:
Crawl backward for five minutes every day. Use a timer. It takes every function of the brain to be able to crawl this way, and it stimulates new connections.
It may sound simple, but for some people, it is not easy. And the more difficult or clumsy it feels, the more you can benefit from it. I have seen this work in my own family as well as with many of the children I have represented. S.B.
Dear S.B.: Pediatricians have long known that crawling, especially crawling backward, is essential to a child's development. (Although for some of us, getting back up off the floor is a more serious problem.) Thanks for the suggestion.
XE-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie's Mailbox™, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, Ill. 60611.
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