Ms. Hax: My mother turns 90 this month. She said she wanted a party to celebrate the milestone. My three siblings are fine with carrying out her plan by helping with the invitations, finding a caterer, music, etc. I'm planning a surprise presentation for her to honor her artistry. We never discussed who would pay for all this but we all mentioned in passing, who will pay for all this?
My mother just announced she wanted to divide the cost between us four children. As much as I love my mother, I got a little miffed (okay . . . a lot miffed) that I was being volun-told I'm paying for a quarter of the party. We all expected we would help cover the costs but not to this extent. I can barely afford the only vacations I've got planned this year, a total of two weekends! She can afford it: She just got a rather large inheritance and after years of saving and struggling she's now financially secure. Please help!
— Daughter No. 3
Daughter No. 3: Confer with the other siblings, decide what you can pay toward the party, make that total your budget, then scale down your plans accordingly.
Then tell your mother what this Plan B is. The four of you together, as a united front.
And apologize to her, too, for not determining at the very start who would pay for what. It was a big mistake and it bit you all, your mother included.
If she doesn’t like your Plan B, then she can volunteer her own funds for the upgrades she cares about.
That is, assuming you’re not already too far along to make changes dramatic enough to save you real money. If that’s the case, then the four of you need to go to your mother — again, as a united front — to explain that you mistakenly assumed you were all just the planners and she was paying the tab, and you would have had to stick to a limited budget and make very different decisions on food, music and guests to stay within it. Then say you’ll gladly pay what you’re able to but it won’t be all of it. Then try to salvage all the goodwill you can the old fashioned way, by apologizing once, kindly holding your line and waiting it out.
That, or the four of you eat the expense. I’m sorry.
Dear Carolyn: I say "sorry" a lot. Usually, I'm not taking blame for something I've done; instead, I'm expressing sympathy or concern — "sorry" as shorthand for "I'm sorry you had a headache all day at work" or "I'm sorry traffic was so bad." My kids say I shouldn't say "sorry" so much because it sounds like I'm taking blame for something clearly not my fault.
Do you have a better suggestion to express sympathy in such instances? "Too bad" sounds flip and "That sucks" is usually too crude.
— Sorry as Sympathy
Sorry as Sympathy: Hey, I just did the same thing ^^ in the previous answer.
So obviously I don’t agree with your kids 100 percent that it’s not a good thing to do. I trust people to recognize the difference between “I’m sorry” [I spilled coffee all over you]” and “I’m sorry [I said such a thoughtless thing]” and “I’m sorry [you had such a bad day].” Context can make the lines of responsibility clear enough for just about anyone to see.
Your kids have way more of your story than I do, though, and they’re also probably and rightly being taught there can be larger power implications to subtle language choices, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that your sorries have become a habit worth breaking.
The easiest way to break it is to skip the shorthand and say what you mean: “I’m sorry traffic was so bad for you.” “I’m sorry you felt sick all day.” When that’s too clunky — most of the time, I imagine — make your shorthand a little less short but a whole lot more accurate: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Hi, Carolyn: I am retired at 60 due to a layoff at our firm. I was given a severance package. I decided to retire from the workforce and just enjoy life. I worked for 32 years and my husband and I are financially stable. He is also retired and 65.
I always get comments like, "What do you do all day," "You're too young to retire," and, "How can you afford it?" I would like some keen suggestions on how to answer those questions, which I find invasive.
— Enjoying Not Working
Enjoying Not Working: Some people are nosy, yes. But some are just trying to make conversation, so why not give the latter a chance to come forward with a simple, “Why do you ask?”
You can have a light non-answer ready for when you feel grilled: “I’m enjoying life. That’s my answer to anyone’s questions.” When it’s a non sequitur, that’s when it works the best.