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How to discreetly cover for an indisposed boss

December 01, 2009

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: I'm going to suggest a script that tips toward discretion.

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.

::

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.

Desperate Daughter

Dear Daughter: 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.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson by e-mail to askamy@tribune.com.

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