Avert Your Eyes! a/k/a Wearing Shorts to the Law Firm

 

NLW LAwyer

 

Here we are in a typical, sizzling, steamy July in Washington DC. And I don’t know about you, but I like to dress appropriately for very hot weather.

Not everyone agrees with my definition of appropriate.

There was a strict dress code at the first law firm where I worked. A large firm with long gray halls, gray-walled offices and lawyers who often wore gray suits to match. Not a fun place.

Per the dress code, open-toe shoes were banned. Truly, this was in writing – ladies (lawyers and staff) must not wear open-toe or peep-toe (although I’m not sure if the term “peep toe” had been invented in the 1980’s)  shoes of any kind.

I suppose this prohibition was to prevent male lawyers from seeing a few female toes, lest they be distracted by toe nudity from the crucial business of billing a high number of hours to clients who paid a fortune for the brilliant advice we gave them.

On a particularly scorching summer day, the kind that our Nation’s Capital specializes in, several of us stood in a law firm hall discussing the weather. An older partner shared his view that when the outdoor temperature exceeded his body temperature, all dress code rules could be abandoned.

If it was over 98.6 degrees outside, he claimed we should be able to wear what we wanted to.  Sounded reasonable to me.

I tested it out. I didn’t show my toes – but my knees.

One Saturday morning in July, law firm management decided to hold a rare all-lawyer, morning meeting at a downtown hotel. It was an extremely hot day, the apex of an extended heat wave. So I decided to wear white shorts.

Perfectly nice white shorts, well-ironed, to-the-knee, Bermuda-type shorts with a stylish shirt on top.

The managing partner of the firm stood at the lectern and greeted all of us – perhaps there were 160 lawyers in the audience. He made a few opening remarks about the soaring summer temperatures – then launched into a critical commentary about the only person in the room who was incorrectly dressed.

Me.

All eyes now on the 30-ish young woman, seated in row 11, noticeable not for my legal acumen, but for my rule-breaking white shorts. I had distinguished myself as the only person – male or female (perhaps 14 out of the 160) – in the entire firm who chose to wear shorts on blazingly hot day – oh, the sheer gall of it.

I tried to look downcast, demure and embarrassed. But inwardly I felt as if I was in the right, and that the other lawyers had shown their usual sheep-like adherence to all rules by wearing long-pants or long-ish skirts on one of the hottest days of the year.

At my second law firm sometime in the  late 1990’s the dress code was tossed out in favor of “business casual”, an undefined term that men more readily latched onto than women.  Men could wear a standard uniform of hideously-pleated-front khaki pants and polo shirts and call themselves “business casual.” We didn’t have a wardrobe counterpart.

I tried to adhere to the standards of “business casual” for women.

Yet on another scorching hot July day, a day when the outdoor temperature was above my body temperature, I again tempted fate and wore white shorts to work. This time on a weekday.

Now my second firm consisted of 22 or so lawyers and a similar number of staff. It was not a formal place. Our scattered-across-the-US. clients made infrequent in-person visits.

Still there were apparel rules of the unwritten kind.  And even though I was a now a partner at the second law firm, I violated a rule by showing up in nice white Bermuda shorts.

The managing partner, a good friend, took me aside and quietly suggested that wearing shorts to the office, whatever the weather, was not one of my better ideas.

Looking back, now that I am now no longer down-town-office-bound on a daily basis, I wonder what led me to challenge the work dress rules.

I am more of a rule-bender, rather than a rule-breaker type. So it wasn’t defiance of authority that led to my choice. More likely I chose to wear shorts because it was the practical thing to do. I am known for being a very practical person. And on both of those July shorts-wearing days it was extremely hot.

Lower temperatures, more clothing. Higher temperatures, less clothing.

A guideline that still seems reasonable to me.

I doubt that anyone at either of the two law firms was stirred to dubious ethical action by the sight of my (then) knobby knees and (still) slender legs on those two days when I wore shorts. Yet that feeling of being scolded for a clothing choice still rankles.

As I write this, it is 98 degrees outside. We are again in the middle of a July heat wave. I am wearing shorts. Tomorrow I will wear shorts too. And likely the next day as well.

Not sure of the weather where you are – or of the workplace you might be in, but I say go for it. Nice white shorts are always flattering. If the powers-that-be call you out on your apparel, suggest that they avert their eyes. After all, they say that the legs are the last to go.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Women

Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

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Last week I learned how to can.

Laugh, if you must, but my husband, JP, believes I am deficient in the skills of happy homemakers. If you were to go downstairs into the knotty-pine basement of his childhood home, you too would have marveled at the closet shelves where his mother stored her many jars of home-grown pickled peppers, vegetables and lots and lots of tomatoes.

JP’s mother not only worked full-time at a factory but she also did all of the cleaning, cooking and canning. And still does.

(You can read about my wonderful mother-in-law’s feats in the kitchen including making phyllo dough from scratch – yes, you read that right – here: )https://wittyworriedandwolf.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/the-nice-jewish-girl-and-the-macedonian-mother-in-law/

I have neither a knotty-pine basement nor did I, until recently, know how to preserve anything in cans or jars.

That is not to say I am not a good cook. I am, as was my mother, a good cook. I love reading about food, getting new cookbooks as a gifts and trying out new recipes.

But I am not a baker because that requires the careful following of directions which I do not do.

On a whim (and with JP’s strong encouragement), I signed up to take a morning class in canning taught by a lovely young woman in her home kitchen where I learned how to make up a batch of peach/rhubarb/ginger jam to put in clear glass jars.

I was one of four students chopping, peeling and stirring. Perhaps I was the youngest, me not quite Medicare-aged; the other women likely slightly beyond but hard to tell. And since it was a weekday morning and we all live in/near Washington DC, the inevitable question came up as we chatted around the center island of the sunny kitchen:

What do you do now that you are no longer employed?”

(when you are not learning to can, that is.)

Answers:

  • volunteer as a medical doctor in a clinic for indigent patients
  • write about foreign monetary policies
  • play tennis 3x a week
  • go birdwatching
  • hike Mt. Everest

Hike Mt. Everest?

That last one stopped me in my tracks

My own activities have significantly lower (no pun intended) expectations. Just before the morning canning class I was rather thrilled with myself that I managed to remember to:

(a) set my alarm the night before,

(b) take a shower and get dressed on time,

(c) arrive at the canning class only a little bit late.

My efforts to stay on daily task did not compare with a recent hike on Mt. Everest.

My classmate, the ardent hiker, told us about the many countries in which she regularly hikes. She was as warm and friendly as she could be. Yet obviously  far more active, energetic and outdoorsy than I have been or ever will be.

Our lack of knowledge about making jam was perhaps, the only thing we had in common.

Is it ridiculous to still find yourself in comparative mode? To wonder that you are not filling your days with enough productive activities? Not measuring up to the expectations of what post-career/second-stage/semi-retirement life has to offer?

I thought about this a bit after the class ended. It wasn’t jealousy I felt at her list of adventurous activities; it was awe.

My list of excuses for physical slothfulness is a long one. Look, I point, to the left-over from 2x open heart surgeries within 3 months. The weariness and some mild depression are the consequences I live with. And while there are many things I do – and some I even do well – I will not be climbing Mt. Everest soon. Or any other mountain. Ever.

And to those (few) who suggest I should set bigger goals for myself, create a ginormous “bucket” list of ambitious activities, I say “who are you to judge” or something more unprintable than that. To each her own.

But I can take great pleasure in meeting women who do accomplish amazing things in their semi-retirement. Like climbing Mt. Everest.

And also take great pleasure in making jam with them on a sunny weekday morning.

 

 

 

 

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Job Hunting at a “Certain Age”: If Your Name Is Barbara, Judy or Susan…

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Once again I am tip-toeing into the waters of the job market. Picture a lovely beach with waves rhythmically rolling in. I am the nervous one at the very edge where the tide laps the shore, my feet hardly getting wet, trying to drum up the courage to wade on in.

When asked about my relationship with the job market, I would say – “It’s complicated.”

I worked full-time – lawyering – for 33 years. Then, as my loyal readers know, a 2x dreadful cardiac infection kicked me out of the action. One day I was a law partner at a downtown firm, the next day I was in the ER. It was a sudden transition.

The next phase was what I like to call “semi-retirement” – returning to my childhood roots as writer and sometimes even getting paid for it. Speaking out on young adult mental health and sometimes even getting paid for that. The “gig” economy, that is what it is called these days.

But the time between “gigs’ stretches thin, as many of you likely know –  and as much as I love siting on my deck, listening to the birds sing in my backyard and writing, I do feel obligated o search once again for that wonderful thing we call a “paycheck.” A part-time one that shows up regularly would be quite nice.

Back to the tip-toeing and perhaps the reason for my trepidation.

Last spring I send out a batch of job applications. Heard zippo back from all of them. Maybe something in my resume was not winning over the hiring managers?

Then a close friend of mine called my attention to one particular Want Ad and said – “This is you!” – I applied and was invited for an interview. Two people asking me questions at the same time;  it did not go well from the start. Bad vibes emanating from one of them.  You know how it is when you meet new people; sometimes you we just don’t click. And exactly 24 hours later I received a very short email of rejection.

I wrote about it here:

Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

Who wants to be told “No” when it’s your first time applying for a new job in over 25 years? Job rejection stings – at any age.

And while I do want to focus on my writing (moment of pride: I have finally written an outline for my novel. Yes, just an outline but it is a start), I’d like to be back among the work force some of the time.

But this time I am going to take a different tack before sending resumes out. I am going to stack the cards in my favor.

I have decided to change my first name! Because, face it, “Ageism” is not only alive and well, it is flourishing  – especially if you have a baby boomer birthdate and the name that goes with it.

Think about it –> when an HR person or recruiter opens your resume, the first thing they see is your name, right? And if it is Linda or Carol or Deborah, forget it. Your chances of making it out of the first round instantly diminish.  Because no one under age 55 has that name. Brenda, Diane, Pamela?  You are likely doomed.

Particularly if the HR person/recruiter is named Ashley, Heather or Jessica.

Amber (do forgive me if that is your name; it is lovely but an age-give-away), that nice young VP of human resources, is not a stupid person. She sees that you are named “Nancy” and she knows right away that you are about the same age as her mother. Which is not a good thing.

Who wants to hire their mother? Let alone work in the same office with her.

So before I start applying for a part-time job this time around, I am going to switch the name on my resume from “Nancy” to something that at least sounds 20 years younger.  I’ll start with the statistics kept by the U.S. Social Security Administration and pick a popular name from the late 1970’s or early 1980;s that will prove my youthfulness, in spirit if not in reality.

Hi, my name is Jennifer. Pleased to meet you.”

OR

Hi, I’m Amanda.  Here is a copy of my resume.”

OR

Thank you for interviewing me. My name is Nicole ____.”

Already practicing for that crucial first moment of appraisal when Amber, the VP of human resources meets me in person – and realizes (to her chagrin) that despite my millennial name, I am indeed the same age as her mother.

What do you say Diane, Ellen and Gail? Want to start a movement to fight Ageism in the older women workplace by disguising our real names?

I’m going with Nicole.

 

 

 

 

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Are You Only As Happy as Your…

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Last Friday we had dinner with old friends, Larry and Sarah. Old in that we met them before we had children. Also old in that we are now parents of grown-ups.  We have two, they have two; adult “kids” in their late 20’s and early 30’s.

What was remarkable about our evening was that we did not discuss our kids. No talk about their jobs or lack thereof, or their choice of partners/spouses or lack thereof. Or their latest triumphs or set-backs.

There was – being 100% honest here – a brief intermission where we did verbally acknowledge (a) the existence of our adult children and (b) their general welfare.

But we did not dwell on them.

Only a few years ago we might have filled our dinner conversation with the latest news about our kids – so how is it that now we no longer need – or want – to do so?

Instead we had a refreshingly kid-talk-free, empty-nester-type conversation about food, music, books, travel, politics, current events and then back to food again. (My friend, Sarah is a fabulous cook.)

We are still parents, and will perennially be so, but the needs of our kids are no longer top of the mind, crowding out our own. While I speak to, text, email both our kids – sometimes IMHO too often with one of them, sometimes IMHO not often enough with the other  –  I no longer know what they eat for dinner, when they went to bed or what they will be doing tomorrow.

Their details belong to their own lives now. And that is how it should be. Mostly.

Admitting here that sometimes the challenges of one of our adult kids tends to encroach on this philosophy.

And when these mental health challenges are at a high point (or a low point, you get the idea; many ups and downs) these challenges could – IF WE LET THEM – take over our adult lives too. Which could easily cast shadows on the pleasantness of a nice evening out with friends.

Luckily (and truly not everyone gets this) our friends do let us talk about the unpleasant times we go through. And they can offer advice (if we are in the mood to hear it) or just be sympathetic sounding boards (sometimes even better.)

But as empty nesters we are learning – slowly but surely – to set aside our parenting selves and focus on our adult selves as often as we can.

Are you, as a parent –  “only as happy as your unhappiest child?”

I think I once was. Now I try hard not to be.

There was a wise mom in the parenting group I facilitated years ago who railed against this expression.  One time – and this made quite an impression on me – this wise mom pounded her fist on the table we were gathered around to emphasize that our happiness as parents must be de-coupled from that of our kids. Not everyone agreed with her.

Our adult kids retain their power to alarm, upset and worry us. What we do with that worry is a matter of choice and frankly, very hard work. It is a battle to stay afloat on those days when your child appears to be sinking. Battle on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spring of Staying Put (a/k/a Mulch Madness)

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Reader, we decided not to sell our house.

For those of you who are fans (as I am) of Charlotte Bronte and “Jane Eyre”,  you may recognize that I cribbed this first line.

In the writing workshop I took this spring our terrific teacher told us to get to the point at the beginning.

To let the reader of any story know the essential conflict with which the main character is dealing.

So I have.

And now, if you are patient (unlike a very self-important, senior lawyer at my first law firm who, when I launched into how I reached a conclusion in a legal research memo, would interrupt – “I don’t want to know your explanation.  Just tell me the answer.”) – here is what happened:

This past Sunday – instead of clearing every surface and hiding laundry in the closet in anticipation of our planned first “Open House”, we went out and bought mulch.

Lots of mulch. Dark brown chips of decaying “material” which my husband gleefully spread beneath the recently trimmed bushes in our front and back yards.

JP stood back and looked at his handiwork with a pleased grin:

The house looks great, doesn’t it? The lawn, so green because of all that rain. I’m glad we’re staying.”

I am too, sort of. Pretty much. Almost. Not as sure as he is. But the right decision – for now. I keep tacking the phrase “for now” at the end of every sentence when friends and family ask me why we changed our minds.

It took an intervention by friends to get me off the “Let’s sell NOW” track. My friends saw the blind spots I had that I couldn’t see. That I didn’t want to see. That I hoped would disappear if I tried not to think about them.

Well, duh, of course, I couldn’t see the blind spots – that’s why they have that name.

Everyone has blind spots, don’t they?

The friend who always says “yes” but doesn’t understand why she feels so exhausted.

The relative with the chip on his shoulder who doesn’t feel  its weight.

The colleague who thinks she is being helpful but comes across as patronizing.

My blind spot was taking expert advice without adapting it to our family as our circumstances evolved. The expert crunches the numbers, looks at the market, studies the spread sheets. It all sounded so reasonable.

But when we really dug down into those pesky numbers, when we drilled into the details and up popped the real-life problems moving would create vs. the problems moving would solve, we realized the timing wasn’t right. For the experts maybe, but not for us.

Two of my dearest friends reached this conclusion before I did (and they didn’t even have to research and write a legal memo to get there. lucky them!) They came over on Thursday afternoon as I was taking a last batch of family photos down off the walls. They escorted me into our extremely clean, dog-free living room. They admired our freshly-painted walls, the newly empty mantel above the fireplace and the tidy book shelves and told me to sit down.

I sat on a chair; my friends on the couch facing me.

The house looks great. It really does. You’ve worked very hard  in the past few months to get it this way.”

I beamed.

But don’t sell. JP is right. Now is not the time.”

I squirmed. Like any long married person (our 38th anniversary is this weekend.), I hate it when my husband is right – and I am not. (Thankfully, this is an infrequent occurrence.)

I let my friends list their reasons. I even listened intently without interrupting.

They pointed out the blind spots that I had failed to see. They saw what I knew in my heart but had trouble acknowledging. Moving now would cause tremendous upheaval that our family didn’t need. We already had enough turmoil going on. We didn’t need to pile on.

Not now. Not this spring. Maybe in the fall. Perhaps next spring. Perhaps not then either.

This ran against my nature – since I am quite excellent at creating a plan, making the “to do” list and seeing a project through to its conclusion. Check, check, check. I can focus narrowly and deeply. I do NOT like being thrown off course.

But circumstances changed –  our plan stopped making sense – my husband could see that, my friends could too – it was only me who had trouble changing directions.

The intervention didn’t last long. We hugged, they left and I went to the kitchen to make dinner.

Every day this week, I’ve been happily putting back up the family photographs we had taken down while “decluttering”. JP is trying not to gloat. We are staying home.

“For now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do We Stay or Do We Go? – The Empty Nesters’ Dilemma

lilacs - spring, 2015

 

 

Last week it was suggested to me, ever so gently, by my husband, JP, that we reconsider our once-mutual decision to sell our house this spring.

Tell me again,” he asked as we ate dinner in our newly uncluttered kitchen. “Why do we want to move? I like it here.”

I sighed and repeated what the financial advisor told us this winter  – sell now! the market is “HOT”! –  You are empty nesters, you no longer need a three-bedroom brick, colonial home-built in 1948 in which you have lived for 33 years. Time to downsize! Move closer in! Free yourselves of unneeded possessions and repairs!

It sounded very appealing to me. Not as much to JP.

I don’t want to downsize. I like my yard. I like my garage. I like washing my car in the driveway. I even like washing your car.”  My Detroit-born husband puts a high priority on car care.

But don’t you want to be able to walk everywhere? That’s the new big thing. We’ll move to a new condo or apartment with a high “walkability” score.” I told him, visualizing romantic evening strolls to trendy bars and restaurants.

“If we want to take a walk, we can do it in our own neighborhood.  I like sitting in my own back yard, not with strangers in a shared courtyard on an apartment or condo roof. Our house seems perfectly fine to me.”

Versions of this conversation have played out for the past few weeks. I continue to declutter and donate, to empty shelves and cabinets, to get rid of law school books and obsolete electronics . My husband stays out of my way – he doesn’t stop the going-on-the-market-soon process from going forward –  but his distinct lack of enthusiasm hangs heavily in the air.

So I venture off like Goldilocks to find just the right place to move to – that will convince him we should sell once he sees what a terrific new apartment or condo I can find. Our realtor is confident our house will sell quickly. Very soon, she predicts, millennials will be swarming by the dozens to buy our home so they can start a family here – just as we did as young marrieds.

Speaking of millennials, did you know that real estate developers are rapidly building new apartments seemingly targeted at them?

This week I visited several of these new apartment communities that are springing up around us – all deliberately called “communities” – because they market themselves to entice you to sign a lease asap so you make new pals with whom you will soon be exercising in the spiffy gym, mingling in the modern club room and sitting around the community fire pit in the evenings.

These “communities” feature incredibly peppy sales reps who show you floor plan after floor plan as they exuberantly describe the many amenities “your new community” features:

  • bike storage in the basement!
  • weekly “yappy” hours for you and your canine friend!
  • fun events with local bars and restaurants!
  • free craft coffee in the modern lobby!
  • “Wine Down Wednesdays”!
  • “Breakfast on the Go”!
  • And more!!!

Pretty good, huh? Yes, if you are under age 40, my husband comments when I show him the glossy brochures one night after he gets home from work.

We already have plenty of friends, we have our own coffee and wine, we have our own bike storage (it’s called our garage)…our dog doesn’t get along so well with other dogs, you know that – and he loves our fenced back yard  – and what do I need a fire pit for?” he asks.

He makes some good points but I resist – pointing again to the photos of the shiny new, albeit tiny-size, kitchens and living areas in the floor plans. 942 square feet sounds much larger than it is.

Where would we host our family and friends and have our holiday dinners? I don’t see dining rooms in any of these floor plans, do you? The small tables they show barely seat four people.” JP continues. “Just three small closets. How would we manage?”

Rest assured, I tell him –  all of these new apartment “communities” offer extra storage spaces we can rent (for an additional monthly fee, of course.)

Have you failed to notice,” he responds. “that we already have our own free storage spaces?  We have a big basement, not to mention a tool closet and a cedar closet. Why should we move someplace much smaller and then pay extra for storage?”

His tone ups its’ sarcasm quotient as he shakes his head.

 And where would we park our cars? We each have one, remember.”

Again the car thing. To say that JP is hung up on car care underscores the obvious.

I have the answer to this one. “They offer underground parking. $200 a month. For one car. You have to pay an additional fee for a second car.”

I can park for free in my own driveway. So can you!” he retorts. “Why do we want to uproot ourselves to move? You are not very convincing.”

Perhaps my advocacy skills have slipped since my lawyering days.  I must marshal better arguments to persuade him.

We are now at an impasse; the realtor’s Listing Agreement sits – unsigned – on our kitchen counter.

 

                                                                                          *****TO BE CONTINUED*****

 

 

 

 

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On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

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“Yes, Mom, what do you want?” I said quietly into the phone. “My boss is sitting right here, I can’t talk now.”

My Mom had been calling me every day at the office for six months. She had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of my 3rd year of law school.

As a newly-minted lawyer at a government agency in downtown DC, my first job, with a boss and my own office (albeit very small and without a window), I was learning to deal with her daily calls.

No, I can’t tell you that,” I told her.

She persisted.

Please, just tell me what your bra size is,” she asked again.

Mom, c’mon, I’m at work, I’m in my office,” I pleaded. “My boss, he’s a man, he is in my office, too.”

She pleaded right back.

I’m at the yarn store in Westport. I’m knitting you a sweater. Just give me the number.”

I gave up.

36B,” I whispered into the phone, as my boss rolled his eyes upward, squelching a laugh.

Exactly one year later my Mom died of cancer. (well, actually she died because of malpractice related to her cancer but that is a tale for another time.) She was 54 years old, I was 28.

I still have the beautiful red, V-neck cotton sweater with the just-below-the-elbow length sleeves she made me, although it no longer fits. It was as stylish then as it is now. She was a woman of both good taste and great kindness.

Some women complain that their elderly moms call them too often.

Every night, can you believe it, she calls me every single night, and then she worries if I am not home by 9 p.m. She tells me to eat my vegetables, have I gotten an eye check up lately, she bugs me about the kids or my job or my husband. When are we going to visit her? Who’s going to drive her to her doctor appointments? Or run to the store to get her a new light bulb or better reading glasses. I’m tired of hearing her complaints about who did or who didn’t sit with her at dinner. Honestly, my mom is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know what a busy life I have?

I bet she does know you have a life. Hers is shrinking in scope, yours isn’t and she wants to be a part of it.

My Mom called me at the office for over a year when she was ill. Then one day she stopped calling. Three weeks later, on a sunny spring afternoon in May as my Dad and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, in the ICU of a cancer hospital in New York City, hearing the beeps from the machines that had kept her alive ebb away, she died. It was mid-afternoon, on the Tuesday after Mother’s Day. Thoughtful as ever, she chose, I felt, to wait and not ruin the holiday for us.

I would give anything for one more phone call, nagging, annoying, insistent, critical, I’d take it.

And you know what, Mom, I’d say? You have two wonderful granddaughters and two terrific grandsons that you never got to meet. And in 2013 you became a great-grandparent, too.

What else would I tell her? Oh yes, my bra size has changed in the past 34 years. I don’t like the color red as much as I once did. But the sweater remains in my closet and it always will.

Miss you forever, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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