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April 18-24, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I had a falling out with my sister a couple of years ago. I think of her daily and worry about her, but I stop short of e-mailing her because she'll demand an apology from me before resuming our relationship. I don't feel I have anything to apologize for, but I'm sure she doesn't think that's the case. Even if, just to make her feel justified, I did swallow my pride and apologize, she would constantly bring up the incident that triggered our falling out and would use it to indicate proof of what she regards as my fallibility and "instability." My life has been peaceful for the last several years without her constant haranguing and complaining, but my heart aches for her and what I know is her lonely, friendless state. I'm worried she'll die alone and unloved, but at the same time, I don't want the hassles having a relationship with her implies. Should you always try to reconcile with a sister just because she's family? Sometimes I feel that just because we were born into the same family doesn't mean I have to take her verbal abuse and that I have any responsibility for her.--Sad Sis

Dear Sis: Being related by blood doesn't guarantee closeness or compatibility. However, the nature of your question indicates that you don't have the sort of detachment that would justify a complete disconnection from your sister. Some feel no attachment to siblings whatsoever, in which case, why would you endure verbal abuse, stress and the misery of a dysfunctional relationship that does nothing but drag you down? But you say things like "my heart aches" and "I'm worried," which indicates that your sister means more to you than you might want to admit.

Life is short. Why risk perpetuating this alienation over a little pride-swallowing? Don't e-mail her. This mode of communication is too quick, and it's too easy to blast comments back and forth without really giving them thought and consideration. Instead, send a letter with a thoughtful gift. Let her know that you care for her, that you're sorry for this falling out, but that you want to start fresh, without the need for either one of you to grovel and beg forgiveness. Think of it this way: If she were to die next week, would you regret your estrangement? If the answer is no, then maybe you're just feeling guilty out of a sense of duty, and it's fine to let things be as they are. But if the answer is yes, consider reaching out, no matter how much of a hassle it might be.

Dear Sydney, I'm a doctor. When I began working, I failed to mention to my co-workers that neither of my children has vaccinations. What began as a small omission on my part has started to haunt me. Choosing not to vaccinate was a huge decision, made even harder by the atmosphere of being an MD, not to mention seeing every worst-case scenario possible in a hospital setting. Now that I'm becoming friends with some of my fellow doctors, it feels awkward to me that I haven't told the truth. For one thing, I have to be privy to doctor conversations where parents who haven't vaccinated their kids are being criticized, at which point I feel obligated to keep my mouth shut, even though I am one of those "irresponsible" parents. Is it my duty to admit to my decision in order to clear the air and then just take the flack like any other parent would have to? Or should I continue to pretend that our shots are all up to date, thereby keeping the peace and avoiding judgment?--Renegade Doc

Dear Renegade: Vaccinating your children is a personal decision, and the fact that you are a doctor does nothing to lighten the burden of this decision. You are a parent first, a doctor second. And as a parent, it's often better to keep the vaccination decision to yourself. Why deal with other's judgments on the matter? You've done your research, and it's up to you and you alone to decide what's best for your kids. I understand that it could be uncomfortable to listen to your doctor friends bash the anti-vaccine sector which you are secretly a part of, but because vaccines are such a personal issue, you are under no obligation to share this information. People who don't vaccinate learn pretty quickly that this is not good cocktail party conversation. It's better just to keep it to yourself. What your doctor friends don't know won't hurt them. Sleep easy. The health of your children is your only concern here, nothing more.

Dear Sydney, my mom writes a column. Unfortunately, we share a computer. This means, whenever she wants to write her column, I can't play my computer game. I am very deeply depressed that she takes the computer away from me when I am most wanting to play, when she could work on her column later. Why does she always get first choice? Sydney, could you please answer this problem? Just because I'm 11 doesn't mean that she should have all the rights to take the computer from me. It's the family computer.--Mad at My Mom

Dear Mad: This dilemma sounds disturbingly familiar . . . Who gave you permission to go online? And who taught you how to Google? A parental oversight, obviously. However, I do understand your frustration. Having one computer for the family can be a pain. But by being conservative with your computer purchases and having only one in your household, you are doing good things for the future of the planet! While this may not mean much to you now, it will in about 15 years.

The reality is, parents have first dibs on just about everything except food and dessert. I know this may seem unfair to you now, but when you grow up, if you choose to have children, you will soon realize that you just can't give them everything they want all of the time, because if you do, you will end up living in a tent on the side of the road because your kids have bankrupted and exhausted you with their demands. Your mother's deadline takes precedence over your computer gaming (that means it's more important). Now, if you have a report due for school, and it's due the next day, and she has two days to finish her column, then you have a good reason to demand your turn over hers. But seeing as playing games does not pay the bills, it doesn't count for much.

Of course, writing a column doesn't pay the bills either, but still, it falls into the category of work, not play. The only way to resolve this situation is to stop spending all of your money as soon as you get it and start saving. Then you can buy your own computer. But remember, even if you do, your mom will still be able to tell you when to get off. That's called parental rights. You don't get free of those until you move out.

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.