“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears.

Back when Tentlike Tops meant One Thing, and One Thing only. Mom and Me, with future Oldest Younger Brother Scott in there somewhere

Well. After what felt like the longest elevator ride in history, we finally reached my floor. The doors open, she steps out ahead of me — and proceeds to walk down the hall to the very room where I’m headed. Yes, you guessed it. She was also an Advertising Judge. And, as the panel consisted of only five of us, it turned out to be three very long days of judging.

I had broken one of my mother’s cardinal rules. Which is don’t assume anything. Do not ask Certain Questions unless you are absolutely sure of the answer. Unless that be-tented woman is lying on that elevator floor timing her contractions and panting it is best not to ask “When is your baby due?” And maybe not even then.

Which of these women is preggers? You can guess, but never ever assume

Another example, speaking of babies, is if you see one accompanied by a Woman Of A Certain Age. Do not assume said baby is her grandchild. Do not make well-meaning remarks about the pleasure of grandkids and how you can play with them and just hand them back when they poop. If you do, even if that Woman looks older than dirt, it could very well turn out that she’s the mother — and she won’t be pleased. (This happens a lot in New York, where Older Mothers, of which I am one, abound.) If you absolutely must say something, ask “What’s your baby’s name?” If it’s the mom, you’re fine. If it’s the grandmother, you’ve made a friend for life.

Grandma? Or Mom? Trust me, in New York City you wouldn’t want to guess

I have firsthand experience of how an Open Mouth can get stuffed. Once I took the about-seven-year-old Child to a podiatrist for some reason I can’t recall. What I do recall is the look on The Child’s face when she was asked while being escorted to the exam room, “Do you want your Gramma to come in with you?”

Is that a Gramma? In the good old days, it was easier to tell. But you still wouldn’t want to guess wrong, now would you?

I don’t think I have to tell you not to ask people’s ages. (I certainly hope not, anyway.) One time, when I was on (a very long) line at the Brazilian embassy to get a visa, an official-looking gentleman approached and asked, “How old are you, Ma’am?” When I recovered and coughed up the number, he told me that my answer got me punted to the front of the line. But, unless you work for the Brazilian embassy, I’m telling you: don’t go there.

What I look like when someone asks me how old I am

And while I’m on this topic, don’t — repeat don’t — ask anyone if they “want the Senior Discount”. Trust me. If someone wants the Senior Discount, he or she will ask for the Senior Discount. Are you listening, Movie Ticket Seller Girl?

Before I wrap this up, let me tell you about another foot-in-mouth pitfall that looms now that I’m in the age group that gets asked about the Senior Discount. Say you run into the female half of a couple you’ve seen off and on socially over the years. Don’t — just don’t — ask “How is your husband?” Because, more likely than not, she’ll answer, “He died.”

And remember, when in doubt, just repeat to yourself the immortal words of my marvelous mom, “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”

My Mom, who is wise beyond her years. Don’t ask — she’ll jolly well tell you if she wants the Senior Discount. Or the cat

New York City. November 2018

 

I have never bought a couch

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‘Does this mean that I am no longer The Grownup?’

It’s bad enough when your Child ends up being six inches taller than you. (Stern maternal finger-wagging somehow loses its force when directed upward.) But then said Child ends up making way more money than you. (Granted, I am no longer employed. So there’s that.) And ends up collecting way more stamps in her passport. (The kid has been to Mongolia, for pete’s sakes.) 

But no matter. That tall, employed, well-traveled woman is a person whose nose (not to mention other body parts) I have wiped. I could be in the same room with her and still look myself in the eye and say “Hey, I’m the Grownup.”

But then she bought a couch.

And it’s not just a couch. It’s a sleeper sofa, for heaven’s sakes

And I, a much older person — and her mother — have never bought a couch. 

[Quick note here. Last night I read the beginning of this piece to The Dude, and he totally doesn’t get my point. Maybe you don’t either. Which means you can stop reading if you want. (But then you’d miss some cool couch pictures.) But I had always heard that the true mark of GrownupHood was to buy a couch. And, no, I’m not the only person who thinks so.]

True, she didn’t buy this couch all by herself. She and her BF bought it together. To go in their new apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston. But let’s get back to couches before I make myself weep.

While The Dude and I haven’t bought any new ones, we have owned two couches. There’s the one that was in Mr. Man’s living room when I met him. Which, actually, isn’t just a couch. It’s one of those sectional sets that was popular during the 70s — you know, low to the ground; with separate pieces you can move around to make a “conversation pit”.

If you can take your eyes off the cute kid for a sec, you’ll see a couple of pieces of the gray sectional in our old living room

The Dude likes to brag that he scored all nine pieces of this sectional (which, when I met him he had pushed up against all four walls so his living room resembled an airport lounge) at a garage sale for less than 200 bucks. We had so many pieces of couch that we divvied them up — we put several in our living room, and had plenty left over for the Little House. (A 450-square-foot retreat you can read about in “Hamptons (Un)Real Estate”).

The Dude and The Child having a “conversation” in the sectional “pit” during a hot game of Go Fish at the Little House

Even now, years — and a whole different apartment — later, we have this same couch. Though we raised the pieces off the floor with wood blocks (to be less “pit-like”) and gussied them up with slipcovers, they’re still the same couch. (We did lose a few “sections” to mold when The Little House got flooded. See “The Little House Meets the Perfect Storm(s)” for soggy details.)

Yup. Those are the same sectional pieces. Gussied up, just like us

And though we had to abandon ship, as it were, Little-House-wise, we didn’t buy a new couch when we took over The Dude’s parents’ much higher and dryer Amagansett place. We just used the perfectly-good old couch that was already there. (Actually, my well-meaning-but-somewhat-interfering Sister-in-Law suggested at one point that “We” buy a new couch, but I just ignored her. Like I do pretty much all the time.)

That’s the couch. Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly, since it’s also from the 70s) this is also a “sectional” — seen here doing duty as a game table as well as seating

No, this couch wasn’t the one pictured at the top of this post sort of camouflaging the Very Young Dude perched upon it. Though gosh I wish it had been (!)

Anyway. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably never buy a new couch. Which means, I guess, that The Child gets to be The GrownUp.

Wombat and The Child (er, The GrownUp) demonstrating the versatility of the not-new repurposed gray sectional

But hold on a sec; I just thought of something. So she bought a new couch. She still can’t drive.

New York City. September 2018

When mothers turn grand

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‘What to call that lady who happens to be your mom’s mom’

I have several friends who are grandmothers now, and they all pretty much agree that it’s a pretty sweet gig. They get to read stories, sing silly songs, play ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ — all with cute little kids that they then get to give back to their parents who just ten minutes ago were little kids themselves.

My Gramma with my Mom — before she turned into a Gramma herself

The one thing they can’t agree on, though, is what to be called. I know a Nonna, a Nanna, a Nanny, a Mimi and a Gigi. And I’ve heard tell of MomMom and G-Ma. (Hmmm, that last one sounds a tad X-rated, if you ask me. But maybe that’s why it’s popular.)

Now, perhaps there were let’s-call-ourselves-something-else trailblazers back then, but when I was a kid, grammas were mostly called “Gramma”. It was actually spelled “Grandma” if it was written down, like when we wrote letters to them. But when we said it, it came out “Gramma.” (Yes, we wrote letters. When my Gramma Peterson died, I got a big envelope in the mail; it was every single letter I’d ever written to her — she had saved them all, including the first when I was about six and a multi-page tome I’d written her from my honeymoon.)

My two Grammas, inhabiting the same space at the same time, flanked by some daughters (my aunts). The Gramma on the right is the one who saved my letters

And, again like most kids, I had two grandmothers — just two. Come to think of it, maybe the reason grandmothers today search for unique Gramma Names is because their grandkids would have a hard time calling them anything what with multiple marriages — and multiple grandmas — being so common and all. I personally know a “Gramma Carol”, who is The Dude’s Older Brother’s Wife’s moniker because the grandkids already have another “Gramma” on his side of the family. Who is his ex-first-wife and the mother of the kid’s dad. Whew! (But at least she’s “Gramma-Plus-First-Name”; I don’t think I could look her in the eye and call her, say, “MeeMaw”.)

Don’t call her “MeeMaw.” My Gramma before she was a Gramma. Which was way before I knew her, natch

Anyway. My mom’s mother was simply called “Gramma”, while my dad’s was called “Gramma Henry”. I honestly don’t know the reason the Peterson side got dibs on just plain unadorned “Gramma”. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Henry side had so many grandkids (my dad was the fourth of eight fairly prolific children) already calling her “Gramma” that we thought it wouldn’t be that important to her to not be The Un-Further-Defined Gramma.

A Horde of Henrys. Featuring only about half of a possible eight kids-plus-progeny, this is just the tip of the family iceberg

Or maybe it was because, on the Peterson side, my mom had kids before any of her siblings did so we got a lot of attention. When I was little, my mom and I even lived with my Peterson grandparents (see ‘Kissing Daddy Good-night’ for poignant details) when my dad was away doing his bit in the Korean Conflict.

Me, hanging out with Gigi and G-Pa (well, actually ‘Gramma’ and ‘Grampa’) at our (actually ‘their’) house. Note storybook in Grampa’s hands

All I know is that the naming choices boiled down to “Gramma” or “Gramma Plus Last Name.” Oh. I must point out at this juncture that while I like the idea of (eventually) being called “Gramma”, I’m not so into dressing like the way they did then. My two grammas were always dressed in dresses. Usually accessorized with an apron. I heard from a cousin that my Gramma Henry sometimes wore pants, though I don’t recall witnessing this myself. Actually, I suppose dressing the way they did made it easier to tell who was the “Gramma” and who was not.

Which one is the Gramma? If you guessed “both”, you’d be right, since I think my Mom was one at this point, tho just barely

Which one is the Gramma? You certainly can’t tell by our clothes. Or even our glasses. And, to complicate things, I am older in this photo than my mom was in that picture where she’s sitting at the picnic table

But these days I can’t think of anyone in my generation who gets called “Gramma”, at least by choice. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a peek at this video I found on YouTube.

As for me, if I ever get to be a grandmother, I’ll no doubt be happy to be called just about anything as long as I get called. And visited. A lot. 

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

Don’t call me “Madam”.

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“I much prefer “Miss”. Or even “Hey You”.’

I was going to write a post about weddings. About how they’re the Best Parties On The Planet. About how, in my opinion, even George Plimpton’s last Hamptons Bastille Day bash couldn’t hold a Roman Candle to a wedding. After all, weddings are where you get to dress up and dance and drink to ecstatic excess. And all for the price of a toaster. Or, these days, if The Dude and I are invited to a nuptial shindig, a round brass Tiffany clock.

Two wedding belles and a beau. Me with two New Best Friends at a wedding in June. (No, I have no idea who they are, and it was only a month ago. Great wedding)

Then I realized I already wrote that wedding/party piece. (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for senior-moment proof.) Repeating my stories means it’s either time to wrap up writing this blog or for everyone to start calling me “Madam”. Or possibly “Ma’am” if we’re buddies as well as (old) friends.

I use the word “old” intentionally here because I’m not, shall we say, a Spring Chicken any more. (More of an Autumnal Hen, I suppose, if we want to stick with the poultry analogies.) But even though I can remember all too well when Sir Paul was a Beatle, I tend to bristle when addressed as “Ma’am”.

Incidentally, I have a friend who hates being called “Mrs. Smith” (not her real name, of course.) “My mother-in-law is named ‘Mrs. Smith'”, she correctly, if somewhat peevishly, explains. So I don’t think flinching at “Ma-am” is all that prickly.

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive about the Ma’am Thing because I had The Child so late. The year I turned 40 I was having a baby; the year my mom turned 40 I was heading to college. So I’m what you would call an Older Mother. Which is actually not all that rare in New York City. But you still get the Odd Old Mom Moment.

Like one time I took The Child to a podiatrist for reasons that I cannot recall today. What I do remember is that the doctor’s assistant, before ushering The Child into the exam room, asked her “Do you want your gramma to come in with you?”

That’s The Child at about the age of the Podiatrist Incident. (That’s her Real Gramma with her) And (gasp) I just realized I’m the same age now that my Mom was when this was taken

Quick Etiquette Note: If you see a woman — any woman, even one pushing a walker and drooling — if you see a woman with a small child, always assume she is the mother. Trust me. If you say something like “What is your baby’s name?” and she’s not the mother, she won’t mind one bit. She’ll blush and smile and admit grandmotherhood. Probably treat you to a coffee too.

But oh well. There are some perks associated with being a “Ma’am”. Like when I was applying for our visas for that trip to the Amazon last fall. (See “Eat. Or be eaten.” or “The Curse of the Potoo” for hair-raising and colorful travel tales.)

I had just cleared the metal detector and was eyeing the DMV-worthy line of hopeful Brazilian visa-getters snaking its way around this cavernous holding pen of a room in the consulate when a security guard asked me sweetly “How old are you, Ma’am?”

I was somewhat taken aback, but when I told him my age he took me by the arm and led me right up to the front of the line. Apparently, in Brazil (and the consulate “counts” as Brazilian soil) anyone who is either pregnant or of advanced age goes directly to the front of any line. Whether it’s in the supermarket or at the movies or in the ding-dang consulate. So there.

I had a feeling I was going to like Brazil. The security guy even had the good grace to laugh when, after he explained the front-of-the-line policy, I remarked “Oh! I didn’t realize I was showing already!”

Does this shadow make me look preggers? At least it doesn’t show my age

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

 

 

At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole

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‘On knowing when it’s time to let go’

Now, I haven’t gone so far as to embrace ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’, which, if you caught my post from a couple of weeks ago (“Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.”) you know is this thing where Swedes give away their stuff so that their kids don’t have to go through it after they die. Honest.

But lately I have been going through my clothes and offering what I consider choice items to The Child and her pals. They are, after all, in their mid-twenties, which is how old I was when I acquired, say, those paisley corduroy pants. Or the orange-and-white striped cashmere sweater. Or the fancy black dress shown in these photos:

I’m not what you’d call a Clothes Horse, but if you’ve been a grown woman as long as I have you tend to have a pretty packed closet. When an Event comes up, I don’t go shopping, I just dig around in there and find something that’ll ‘do’.

For a recent rather fancy wedding: dress I wore to Niece Ella’s christening in 2000, jacket I got in London when I was working there in the 90s, plus sunglasses scored on an LA shoot in the 80s

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Take me home, country road

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‘You can pick your friends, and you can (urk) pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose’

Apologies for the less-than-elegant subhead, but it seemed perfect for this piece. So I just had to (urk again) pick it.

See, we just spent another glorious Columbus Day Weekend in glorious Upstate New York with friends we must certainly have ‘picked’ most carefully, since we have been together for decades now. For the purposes of this story, and to protect their identity and their feelings (though they both hate social media and are sure never ever to even glimpse this story; why, they wouldn’t even click on it if I sent them the link), they shall be known here as J & P.

Truckin’. Even the trip Upstate has its charms. Here we are in the ‘passing’ lane

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The Movie Disease

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‘More and more beautiful as you reach The End’

Some people say Fall is here when you spy your first red leaf. I say it’s when I need to whip out the grill light to cook my dinner. The Best Sister on The Planet gave me this gizmo a couple of years ago, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it as summer winds down.

My handy dandy grill light. I can’t show it to you on my actual grill, since Hurricane Irma or Jose or Maria or Whomever is out there whipping up a wet mess

A couple of nights ago, as I was out there sizzling up a weenie or two and engaging in a bit of grill-light-assisted reverie, I got to thinking yet again about Summer Turning Into Fall. Which I know I’ve written about more than once, but, darn it, I do find the topic fascinating. Bittersweet and sometimes even outright sad, but fascinating all the same.

Oh. Here’s that Sign O Fall of which I spoke. Thanks MJS!

I’ve compared the shortness of summer to the fleetingness of childhood. I’ve likened August to Sunday night, and September to Monday morning. And now I’m going to tell you how Fall is like the Movie Disease. Continue reading

“Come as you are.” Or, um, maybe not

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‘Decoding the dress code on party invitations’

Who doesn’t love getting invited to parties? Well, maybe The Dude, actually. He’d much rather relax in his jammies in the comfort of his own home than head out to a party after a long work week. But the last two Fridays in a row have found us helping two Birthday Boys celebrate very Big Birthdays at a couple of very Big (and very nice) Parties.

One of the nice things (aside from the free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres) that we appreciated about these two parties in particular was that there was no dress code. At least, not a dress code that was spelled out on the invitation. I guess the hosts (or hostesses, in these cases) figured that guests old enough to go to a birthday party without holding someone’s hand would be able to figure out how to dress.

Now, me, I love parties. And I look forward to getting party invitations of almost any kind. Including the ones with the little notes on the bottom of the invitation that tell you what to wear.

Should I wrap myself in cellophane like a bouquet from the corner deli?

Or should I make like a rosebush?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker-of-40-years-and-counting, I’ll probably just don my wear-to-pretty-much-every-party basic black. Maybe I’ll carry a nosegay. Or wear rose-colored lipstick. Continue reading

Just because it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it

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‘When everything in your closet is “vintage”‘

It’s getting to be Spring here (finally), so the other day I was participating in a seasonal ritual particular to New Yorkers (at least New Yorkers in apartments with small closets) — The Switching of The Clothes.

Which is when you dig your Spring/Summer stuff out of storage and switch it with the Fall/Winter stuff. In my case, “storage” is the second closet in The Child’s room. She has never realized that she has two closets; she grew up thinking it perfectly normal that Mommy’s out-of-season clothes lived in her room.

BTW, Switching The Clothes in Spring absolutely guarantees a cold snap. Today, the 9th of May, it is 48 degrees out, and where are my sweaters? Stowed away in The Child’s second closet. Sigh.

But back to the topic at hand, which, I suppose, is Age Comes Out of The Closet. See, in years gone by, The Switching was a pretty easy chore. I’d just grab everything — and switch. I wouldn’t even try things on to make sure they still fit; I’ve been basically the same size my entire Adult Life. Not because of anything I’ve done; I follow no annoyingly virtuous regimen or routine. It’s because I’m (mostly) a Swede. And it’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t get fat. We shrivel. As we age, we sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky. Continue reading

Many happy returns

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‘Observing Boxing Day, the American Way’

Yes, yes, I know. ‘Many happy returns’ is something you say on someone’s birthday, not Christmas. But yesterday was ‘Boxing Day’ (and, incidentally, Monday, which is when I start pondering what the heck I’m going to write about on Tuesday).

I sort of knew that December 26 was a British Holiday that originally had to do with boxing up Christmas goodies for the servants. Who had to work (duh) on Christmas Day (see Holiday episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ for colorful detail) so they did their celebrating the day after, with the help of said donated largesse from The Master.

But — voila! — when I looked up ‘Boxing Day’ on good ole Wikipedia, there was this secondary explanation:

In modern times, it has taken on the meaning of boxing up unwanted Christmas gifts and returning them to the shop.

Yesterday I also happened upon an article in the Wall Street Journal about stores gearing up for our kind of Boxing Day. Apparently, about 10% of all gifts bought in stores are returned, and 30% of gifts bought online are. But guess how most are returned? In stores. So the smarty-pants stores stock up on stuff that you might really like in exchange for That Thing Uncle Joe Got You. Continue reading