Ask Amy

Monday, November 30, 2009 at 10:45pm

DEAR AMY: My boss is away from the office for surgery related to cancer. What is an appropriate response to people who ask where he is?

— Wondering Assistant

DEAR ASSISTANT: Your boss should have covered this with you before he left, but because he didn't, I'm going to suggest a script that tips toward discretion.

Inquirer: "Where's Dan?"

You: "He stepped out to the loo. I expect him back on the 15th." (Sorry, that was just a little executive assistant humor. I couldn't resist.) Here you go:

Inquirer: "Where's Dan?"

You: "He's out of the office until the 15th. Can I take a message for him or help you with something?"

Inquirer: "Well, where is he?"

You: "He'll be gone for about two weeks, but I expect him to check in for messages, so I'd be happy to let him know you called."

The main thing is to be discreet and then to indicate when he'll be back. You don't have to answer a question simply because you're asked, but you may need to practice how to deflect and distract.


DEAR AMY: I am at a loss how to deal with my widowed mother. She is in her early 70s and is in great health.

At every major holiday, she has many dinner invitations from friends and relatives (including me) who invite her to join them (along with her dog, which she insists must accompany her). Every year she politely refuses, stating that she will just make a turkey dinner for herself and her dog and eat alone.

Finally in frustration, I will say (sarcastically), "OK, Mom, how about we cancel all our plans and just have dinner with you and the dog?" She eagerly replies, "That would be great!"

So that's what usually happens. She won't invite anyone else except immediate family, so we can't share our day with other people we might like to see. Sometimes our daughters join us at her house if they are free.

This has been happening for many, many years. I miss seeing other people for the holidays, and I miss creating my own traditions. My siblings refuse to even discuss this with me. They just celebrate the way they want to and leave my mother alone each year, which frankly sounds pretty appealing.

Sometimes my spouse and I leave town to avoid all this, but we can't leave for every holiday. She gets angry if you suggest she might compromise.

— Desperate Daughter

DEAR DAUGHTER: There is no reason for your mother to compromise, because every year things go exactly as she wants them to.

Everyone in your family knows that your mother will have the holiday she wants to have, courtesy of you, and that's why they are immune to her manipulations.

The only way to change this dynamic is for you to call your mother's bluff and say, "Mom, we'd love to have you and Muffin join us at our house this year. We're going to have some other friends for dinner and think it would be nice to have you with us."

If she demurs, say, "I hate to think of you by yourself over the holidays, but I understand if that's what you want to do. We'll miss you."

After that, do nothing. Let your mother enjoy the season in her own way. If she calls and asks you to reissue your invitation and include her in your plans, then do; otherwise, let it go.


DEAR AMY: I'm responding to letters in your column about people who are late.

I was a person who was always late to family functions and plans with friends. Eventually someone told me that chronic lateness is a sign of aggression.

In thinking about it, I realized that this is a way of telling people that you really don't care enough about them to make the effort to be on time.

I love my family and friends, and I haven't been late in a long time.

— D

DEAR D: I agree that chronic lateness seems like a power play — certainly to those of us who are always left waiting.

Arriving late sends the message that the late person is determined to be in charge of the encounter. Chronic lateness is rude. It is also embarrassing for the person left waiting. I applaud your decision to change.

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