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Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared in 2005.

Dear Carolyn: I am organizing a birthday party for my 8-year-old son. One of the neighborhood mothers called the other day, asking for gift ideas. I told her a gift wasn't necessary (and I meant it!) but she insisted.

Since I didn't want to run the risk of her getting something he already has or didn't like, I suggested she get him a gift card.

Now I hear a rumor circulating that my suggestion was tacky and classless, and that I might as well ask for cash. Am I wrong here?

Carolyn says: Maybe. Some see gift cards as an easy way to be polite, and some as an easy way to be rude. Since you don't always know who's going to fall into which camp, and since cash solicitations on one's own behalf are always rude, and since, when it comes to money, family is an extension of self, I'd cancel the party, snuff the lights, close the blinds and sneak your son a cupcake. Tough neighborhood.

Next time, maybe save gift-card suggestions for family and close friends (really — redundant gifts aren't exactly a crisis in a bag).

I can't suggest much else in earnest, though, because your behavior here wasn't the problem. The moment that mother ratted you out to anyone within earshot, she became the rudest mother in the subdivision. Manners are about putting others at ease, not putting them out for shame.

And irony is about calling someone tacky and classless by way of a tacky and classless gossip campaign. A little gift from Life.

Granted, it doesn't help you with your neighborhood pariahhood. All you can do is smile it off, be warm to all party guests (see "manners," above) and, next time you're asked about gifts, suggest cheap, varied, returnable: books. Let the gossips think your kid actually reads.

Scar in the family

Dear Carolyn: When my daughter was a toddler, she fell while in the care of my mother and acquired an ugly scar on her forehead. Now she's 11 and trying to become an actress.

We've taken some measures to remove the scar, but thus far nothing has worked. A plastic surgeon suggested a procedure that would cost about $2,000.

My wife insists I ask my mother to pay for it, since it was in her care the injury occurred. I don't feel it's right to hold her financially responsible; after all, the injury could have happened with anyone.

Carolyn says: I don't feel it's right to hold her financially responsible; after all, the injury could have happened with anyone.

Does my saying it carry more weight? Hope not, but there it is.

Throw this in, too: If your wife still won't give your mom a break, just out of love — surely the woman is haunted by this accident — then why shouldn't your mom debit any loving breaks she gave you? So, you charge her $2,000 for having bad luck, and she pays that — minus the 11 years' worth of babysitting her grandchild, at ... let's make it a bargain at 5 bucks an hour.

Surely no scar is this ugly. You're not "confused," you're yellow. Stand up to the wife and say no.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at