my coworker is enraged that I call my cat “my baby,” my interviewer called me a schmuck, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My coworker screamed at me for calling my cat “my baby”

I am a woman in my early thirties and my partner and I are childless by choice. We do, however, have a three-year-old cat we love very much.

Today at work while discussing plans for after work, I said that I had to swing by the pet store and pick up some more wet food because I can’t have my baby going hungry!” One of my coworkers, Jane, lost it. She screamed at me that a pet isn’t a child, it’s insulting to parents that I refer to him as such, and I’ll never understand what it means to be a parent. I was shocked into silence and she stalked off.

Later, I was called into a meeting with my supervisor. Apparently Jane had recently had a miscarriage (I honestly had no idea!) and she told my supervisor I was mocking her for it. Thankfully my supervisor knows me well enough that he was skeptical when she brought it up and enough people were around to corroborate the events.

I’m at a loss as to what to say to Jane, or if I should even say anything at all. I won’t pretend I understand how much pain she must be in, and if all she had done was yell at me I think I’d be willing to brush it off. But she went to my supervisor and lied and tried to get me in trouble.

So what do I do from here? Should I apologize to her even though I didn’t do anything wrong? Avoid her? Try to avoid call my cat my baby ever again? I’ve thought about asking my supervisor to document the fact that she lied in case it ever happens again and I need a record, but that seems incredibly cruel to do to a woman who’s already suffering so much.

I was prepared to be outraged at Jane, but grief can cause people to behave in really odd ways. I’m curious about what Jane is like aside from this. If she’s always seemed reasonable before now, I’d be inclined to figure that her grief made her really misunderstand your words (as opposed to her deliberately setting out to lie about you).

I don’t think you need to apologize. You didn’t say anything that it makes sense to apologize for. If she was okay with you knowing about the miscarriage, you could tell her that you didn’t mean to upset her and you know she’s going through a tough time. But assuming your manager told you that in confidence … I’m coming down on the side of just making sure that your manager is clear that you did nothing wrong (it sounds like that’s the case) and giving Jane a wide berth for a while. If anything else like this happens, at that point go back to your manager to problem-solve because you can’t walk on eggshells around Jane forever, but for now I’d assume this was was one bad incident but won’t become a pattern (until and unless it does).


2. I overheard my interviewer calling me a schmuck

I seemed to really hit it off with an interviewer during my final interview. I even had pretty good rapport with them prior to the final interview and was more than accommodating when they needed to reschedule this final interview and a previous phone interview. They walked me out of the building after the interview was over and even then we had a pleasant conversation, which is why I find it odd that as soon as I got outside I heard this person loudly refer to me as a “schmuck.” I’m not sure that they meant for me to hear this or how they came to feel this way about me, but I heard it just the same. The question is now should I simply ignore it and pretend I didn’t hear it, or is it something that should be a deal-breaker in terms of me working for this person and this company?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked whether it was possible the interviewer was talking to someone else (like jokingly calling it out to a coworker). He said:

There was no one else around and I was the last person they were speaking to, so I assume it was about me. They appeared to say it out loud to themselves as though they were thinking it. I suppose they could have been referring to the other interviewer, who was sort of obnoxious and really hung up on my lack of direct experience though I do possess a lot of easily transferable skills. But I kind of doubt it. When I turned around to look, the person was standing alone at the window. Their context is also open for debate; they may have been annoyed/angry about something I said or did or even something I didn’t do or say that maybe they felt I should have or may simply think me a fool for wanting to work there.

This is so weird, and I can understand why you’re taken aback! If there were someone else around, my money would be on them joking to that person and it not being about you at all. But given the context you described … I have no idea! I mean, best case scenario, they were chastising themselves (“You schmuck! You forgot to ask about Excel skills!”) or cursing someone else (“That schmuck Fergus! He never showed up for his part of the interview!”) … but that feels like a stretch. On the other hand, it also feels like a stretch that an interviewer would have been so bursting to insult you that they’d do it like this.

If they really did mean it toward you, they’re probably not going to offer you the job (at least not if they’re the final decision-maker), so at least there’s that. If someone else is the decider, though, then yeah, I’d be wary. In that case, pay a lot of attention to the other cues you’ve gotten and will continue to get about what the manager is like, what the culture is like there more broadly, and how well you think you fit what they’re looking for. Maybe the interviewer called you a schmuck, maybe they didn’t, and we probably can’t know for sure — so really leaning hard on the other stuff you see is the way to go.


3. When your boss is at the next table during your dinner interview

I’ve been curious about something for a while, and when you answered the question about Princess Peach, I thought of a question that I wanted to ask you about Rachel from Friends: In season 10, episode 14 of Friends, The One with Princess Consuela, Rachel has a job interview at a restaurant. When she gets to the restaurant, her current boss is having dinner there at the table right beside Rachel’s. Rachel tells her current boss,”I’m on a date!” and when her potential employer shows up, she tries to carry on the lie:

Potential Employer: Your resume is quite impressive.
Rachel: I don’t know if I’d call my online dating profile a resume.

When the interviewer becomes confused, Rachel tries to hint that her current boss is at the table beside theirs, to no avail. The scene ends, and we find out later that Rachel didn’t get the new job and got fired from her old one for “not being a team player.”

What I’ve always wondered is, what could Rachel possibly have done to salvage this situation?

She could have gotten up from the table, met her interviewer at the front of the restaurant (so not within earshot of her boss), and quietly said, “I have a very awkward situation here — my current boss, who doesn’t know I’m talking with you, is sitting right over there. Would it be possible to go somewhere else so that we can talk openly?”

But Rachel wasn’t ever really a paragon of sound professional judgment (see: hiring Tag, sleeping with Tag).


4. Can I say something to my friend’s boss about how overworked she is?

I’m hoping you can give me some advice on how to handle a situation. A close friend of mine is totally overworked: 70+ hours at her demanding job plus another 20+ hours a week taking classes.

Lately she’s been so stressed that she can’t sleep, can’t eat, and is now throwing up from anxiety. While I think there are some larger issues at work about why she chooses to do this to herself, in the meantime I’m worried about her health.

Her boss has no idea that she’s working so much — and knowing her boss, he would be upset about it. To be honest, my friend brings a lot of this on herself, simply taking on too many projects and not delegating when appropriate. She doesn’t seem willing to make the changes to simply work “only” 50 hours a week.

I hate seeing my friend do this to herself. My questions are what you might suggest I say to her, and if you think it’s out of line to mention it to her boss (who I know socially from before they worked together).

Ooooh, no, you can’t say something to her boss. That would be interfering in her professional life; that’s totally off-limits to you. She is a grown-up, and you have to respect her to ability to handle her working life herself. You can disagree with her choices, but you can’t overrule them by going over her head. It doesn’t matter that you know the boss socially; this one just isn’t yours to intervene in like that.

All you can really do here is to be a friend to her: Express concern, tell her what you’re seeing, ask if she’s happy with how things are and, if she’s not, what she thinks she could do to change them. You could also share your opinion that her boss would want to know how much she’s working. But that’s really it.


{ 347 comments… read them below }

  1. Girl Alex PR*

    My son died as an infant and I remember in the immediate aftermath wanting to shake strangers I saw smiling on the street like, “Don’t you know my baby just died?! How can you be happy?” It felt like I had a gaping wound that should be obvious to everyone because I was in literal, physical pain over his death. The reality is, it’s not like that. Jane was wrong. She was wrong for her outburst and she was wrong for going to the manager and misrepresenting the situation without reflecting on her own raw emotions and how they affected her reaction. My son has been gone for almost a decade now and I still feel pangs of pain that take my breath away on occasion, from a casual comment, etc. Grief is not linear, and Jane will likely feel hurt for a long time, but it’s imperative that she learn to live with that pain and not hold others accountable for it, or try to spread that hurt around. It helps no one.

    1. Susan1*

      I’m sorry for your loss.
      I also agree that Jane was in the wrong and I think we need to be careful about how much we excuse in the name of grief.

      Maybe to give Jane a huge benefit of the doubt she went to the supervisor as she knew that this supervisor was the only one she told? So she was checking if that was sharing the info with anyone else.

    2. Ash*

      This is such a reasonable, logical, and compassionate response; honestly one of the best comments of all time. Thank you so, so much for sharing your thoughts. I am so sorry for your loss.

    3. Taking the long way round*

      What a compassionate comment, and I’m so sorry for your loss. How utterly heartbreaking.

    4. Ellis Hubris*

      Thank you for sharing this experience. I lost a pregnancy and I was not unhappy about that, for a lot of reasons. It felt like everyone could see what was such a reality for me, and they could not. I was shocked at how much pain I felt, emotional and physical, and I hadn’t been imagining a world with this little one in it. Giving compassion to the whirlwind inside of Jane is important. And you are so right that it’s now Jane’s moment to find ways to cope. I suspect she went to management for validation, of something much bigger than a comment about cats. That validation is important and needed, and won’t be found at ones job.

      I have cats and adore them. They aren’t my babies but they are the only thing that everyday
      and always helps me enjoy life. I have a great life. Still, they matter. It doesn’t put down what others find meaningful and deserves the respect of what they mean to me.

      I’m so sorry for Jane’s pain. I’m so sorry for LW #1’s experience with this. These are the moments we can extend graciousness, as there will be a time we need that graciousness extended to ourselves.

      1. Kwebbel*

        “That validation is important and needed, and won’t be found at one’s job.” – Absolutely right.

      2. RandomRenaissance*

        My deepest sympathy to you. I had two miscarriages before my son was born 35 years ago, and I remember the pain and sorrow all too clearly.

        I also remember that a lot of people would avoid me, come out with the coulda-woulda-shoulda brand of unsolicited advice, or gleefully describe in my presence the exploits of their infant children or grandchildren.
        I had to bite my tongue or leave the room so I wouldn’t scream at them like Jane did.

        And there was one comforter who did all the right things. He didn’t say a word, because he couldn’t — he communicated with purrs. He lay alongside me on the sofa, put his paws on my shoulder and rested his little chin on them and waited patiently with me while the healing tears ran down my face. I am proud to remember him as my four-footed baby/family member. RIP Oliver (1982-2000).

    5. ATX*

      I agree with this 100%. Grief from loss is an unimaginable pain, but you must learn to work through it (especially in a professional atmosphere).

    6. MrsThePlague*

      Just wanted to add my condolences to the other there. This was a lovely and generous response, and I appreciate you sharing such a precious experience, and the painfully-learned wisdom that came with it.

      Sending positive vibes your way.

    7. MoreFriesPlz*

      Thank you for adding this perspective, and I am so sorry for the loss of your child.

      I have been there where you can’t possibly understand how the world is just freaking functioning when someone has just died so young. You know intellectually it makes no sense but you feel it 100%.

      What Jane did was not ok, at all (and for all she knows OP could be struggling with something similar!) but I wouldn’t be surprised if she truly thought OP was mocking her in that moment. I hope she’s doing better and her relationship with OP has improved since this letter.

    8. GreyjoyGardens*

      Condolences for your loss; I can’t even imagine.

      Jane must have been grieving something fierce, but even so, it was wrong of her to scream at the LW and then go to their boss. It’s water under the bridge now, but maybe Jane would have benefited from some bereavement leave and an EPA (for counseling) if the company offered it.

      At any rate, it’s not wrong to refer to your cat (or dog, or bird, or rabbit, or fish) as “your baby.” I call my cats my babies.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. I hope Jane got the help she needed. Every person experiences grief in their own way, but no matter how much you’re hurting, it’s not okay to lash out at others, especially if they don’t know about your loss. Of course, now that the LW knows about Jane’s loss, I really hope that she has the empathy not to call her cats babies in Jane’s hearing.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I agree with everything except the last paragraph. People will say “good boy” to my dog and I always correct them, saying “no he’s a good dog, my boy is human”. Pets are animals not humans and we shouldn’t anthropomorphise them. It’s not good for them.

        1. esra*

          I used to call my cat “tiny baby berries” even though he wasn’t a piece of fruit, it’s just language and it isn’t a critique or comparison to your human children.

          In this particular case, I think OP’s manager should’ve stepped in more here and hopefully Jane gets the support she needs, because it’s not really about the language.

      3. Lucy Skywalker*

        My husband calls our pet guinea pig “the baby” even though he is an adult guinea pig.

    9. Maybe not*

      My daughter died at birth, and my pain was sharp and immense, my grief eclipsed everything else in my life, especially work. Grief is powerful, and it changes your perspective in a way others do not understand. I remember being on a work call where people were talking about small children. I was heartbroken and angry and hurt. Did they not understand that wasn’t appropriate work conversation? I contemplated sending an email to the people involved to explain that they should NOT discuss such things on a work call. I seriously almost sent it. It made so much sense to me. They were the ones who needed to be educated on sensitivity. I was the one being bombarded with awfulness when I was just trying to do my job and keep breathing for one more day.

      Now, three years later, I WOULD NEVER consider sending that email. I would never be bothered by that conversation. (Other talk of kids and babies can still inspire tears. But that’s just life when you love a dead child.) My point is this: Jane likely did not think she was misrepresenting what happened. But the lens of immediate grief provides powerful distortion. Please consider granting her grace this time. I’m sorry this happened to you. I hope nothing like this happens again.

    10. AJoftheInternet*

      This makes me think of the old tradition of mourning clothes and a mourning period. Having that certainly would help with that “How can you not see the world is different?” feeling, because they indeed would be able to see at a glance that your world was shattered.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Up until now, I hadn’t thought of the custom of mourning clothes and jewelry (often made of jet) as being signals to others that one needs to be treated with extra kindness and consideration (and perhaps be given some extra emotional leeway, too) but you’re absolutely right – that’s JUST what that custom did!

    11. Lucy Skywalker*

      That is so terrible. Sorry for your loss, but glad that you recognize that it’s not appropriate to expect everyone to be as sad about it as you.

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    As a general rule of thumb, the answer to “Should I interfere in someone else’s professional life by talking to their boss for them?” is “No.”

    1. Girl Alex PR*

      This. Unless you’re an attorney hired by said employee for a work related issue, or next of kin communicating about a serious illness, I am hard pressed to think of any situation where the answer to this question would be yes.

      1. Jackalope*

        I can also imagine situations where you’re their coworker and need to talk to their boss for some reason. But as a friend who doesn’t work for the company…. Yeah, no.

      2. Vanilla Bean*

        I talked to a VP managing a project on another project supporter’s behalf once. If the project was building a gingerbread house, my colleague Bob was doing the equivalent of putting on the candy roof tiles. Harry the VP PM was asking him to do fancy custom work with the roof tiles, but didn’t have the context that we’d recently made a company decision not to do fancy custom roof work anymore, and had actually outsourced 99% of our roof work to an outside agency and demoted Bob to a general gingerbread construction role, and he’d taken a pay cut. Bob mentioned it in a planning meeting that Harry didn’t attend (“Um, okay, I can do all this stuff for you guys, but you do realize we brought in people from ACME Agency to do roofing work, and this isn’t my job anymore, right? They don’t have the capability to do it this way, and I do, and I want to help, but I used to get paid $X for this work and I make less than that now and I can’t do a lot of this…”) Meanwhile Harry was bragging about getting Bob involved in the project and really putting his foot in it, so when I had a private moment, I let him know. Bob still wound up doing the custom roofing work, but Harry was WAY more appreciative, and five months later Bon has a different role that I think is better and I hope pays similar to what his old one did.

        1. Green great dragon*

          This seems different because you were involved in the project and giving information to the person managing it – totally legit. I’m finding it slightly tricky to put into words, but I think the difference is that you were in the company, doing something to benefit the company – very different from someone who’s weighing in on the side of the employee because of a social connection to the employee.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Vanilla Bean was part of the company and knew work context that the veep did not.

            Recalling a letter where a coworker had lost his wife, then his mother-in-law who was helping him with kids after his wife’s death, and really floundering at work without having said anything to management. OP knew management was starting to look askance at Carl and wound up telling management why he was going off the rails this past month and they responded by taking some things off his plate, giving him time off, and putting him in touch with the EAP. But I think getting that call from a friend of Carl, rather than a coworker of Carl, would be really different and much less likely to go well.

            “I’m Jessica’s friend. She is really bad at delegating!” is not a good thing to call and explain to your friend’s employer.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Exactly. It will land one way when it’s coming from a member of your team, and in a completely different way when it’s coming from the outside.

              I’m in an industry where it’s common to know a lot of people working for different organizations and for coworkers to have friends and acquaintances in common. Even in my case, it would be weird to get a call from a friend who works outside my organization trying to advocate for one of my employees.

    2. Rhymetime*

      I once worked at a place where a long-time employee had recently been struggling due to a mental health issue and becoming paranoid. His wife came in and talked with the CEO to plead the case for him. It was awful and embarrassing for the CEO and the employee’s colleagues. Fortunately, the employee decided to retire. This was in a small town where word gets around, and I was relieved when I heard through the grapevine that he was much happier after he retired, the best outcome.

    3. anonymous73*

      100%. This question comes up way to often.

      And why wouldn’t OP think to talk to her friend instead of going directly to her boss? She’s your friend. Tell her you’re concerned about her and offer to help if you can. And most importantly, know that you may not get her to slow down. Sometimes all you can do is be there for a friend when they need it, offer advice when it’s warranted, and watch them make terrible decisions and self destruct from afar (unfortunately I have experience in this area).

    4. Aquawoman*

      I read the header and thought it was probably really unnecessary to read the letter to get to “no,” and I was right! It’s like when Captain Awkward does the search terms columns, we can just skip ahead to the answer.

    5. Meep*

      I have a hard time with this one because my Toxic Coworker (TM) is so positively horrible to EVERYONE and I have a much higher “pain tolerance” when it comes to how people treat me than I do others.

      Steal chocolate out of my desk? I find it positively disgusting that you did that, especially since it had my bite marks all over it and we are in the middle of a freaking pandemic, but I will let it go as a mocking story to tell at parties. Steal an entire bag of Nearly Naked popcorn from my coworker’s desk? We are going to have words about how wildly inappropriate that was.

      (Exaggerated real-life example. There are more serious ones, but it is Monday).

      1. Meep*

        Oops. Submitted before done.

        The point is, I get the need to defend a friend. But yeah… Especially when it isn’t even YOUR boss. No. Don’t do it.

  3. Green Goose*

    “When I turned around to look, the person was standing alone at the window.”

    Were they in the window looking at you? But I’m hoping that this is just one of those Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld misunderstanding moments. As someone who audibly talks to herself at times, I’m imaging the guy calling himself a schmuck. Maybe he bumped into the door after you walked out, or he mispronounced something and cursed himself not realizing you could hear. I’m putting this out as an option because I’ve definitely done this. I’ve literally called myself an idiot aloud in my car, and if someone was walking by it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that they could have thought I was talking about them (insert a montage of me accidentally offending tons of people to Jason Derulo ‘Whatcha Say’).

    I’ve also been in panel interviews where something happens (nothing to do with the interviewee saying anything wrong or dumb) that might result in joking/laughing afterward. It would be horrible if the interviewee left and heard us all laughing at something that they had no context of.

    Anyway, I hope that this guy was just talking about himself. And if he was talking about you, count it as a blessing that you now know what a jerk he is and don’t have to work with him.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I’ve lost track of how many times I thought someone was talking to me or about me, until I realized that they were yakking through their Bluetooth earpiece.

      1. RagingADHD*

        My first thought was that the guy got a text from someone he doesn’t like and reacted out loud, or took a call and was talking on his earpiece.

    2. Babblinglib*

      This happened to me once. We had a string of great interviews and the decision was going to be hard. I told the team I really needed the next one to be awful but she was the best one yet. But when she left the room we burst into laughter. I felt awful that she might have heard. After she was hired, I asked if she heard (it still bugged me) and she didn’t. But I’m more careful now.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I honestly don’t think it’s a stretch at all to think he may very well have been chastising himself! It sounds super plausible to me. Obviously you can never know for sure but I think that is exactly as reasonable an explanation as it being about the OP.

      I definitely understand feeling haunted by that though. I had an audition for a play in college once that went not super great and pretty much right after I left I heard everyone laughing. And I have forever wondered if they were laughing at me, or if someone just happened to say something funny at that moment…

  4. jms*

    I once knew someone whose workplace would leave small bouquets of flowers at the workstations of all the employees who were mothers around Mother’s Day. (For the record, yes, this is definitely a bad idea. But I’m sure their intentions were good). She was ENRAGED to not be included because she had a dog and considered herself a “dog mom”. She complained to upper management and when they told her that being a “dog mom” doesn’t “count” (another unwise move) she made such a big deal about it (including several public social media posts) that the company just stopped giving out flowers entirely. Everyone knew it was her that had complained and thought it was super weird and that she’d overreacted. The whole situation really affected her ability to be successful in the role and she ended up leaving just a few months later. Fast forward a couple years and it turned out she was dealing with serious infertility and multiple miscarriages that no one knew about. She now has two beautiful children. I guess you just never know what someone’s dealing with.

    1. meagain*

      Being childless not by choice is so incredibly emotionally distressing and hard when it’s brought into the workplace or this very visual, visceral reminder of who’s a mother and who is not. It sounds like she was vocal and that her reaction was extreme. The sad part is that others probably felt the same (maybe not about being insistent that being a dog mom should count, but about feeling left out of something they would give anything to be), but put on the smile, silently endured, and internalize it. I really wish companies would stay away from things like Mother’s Day. Let their families celebrate them, not coworkers who may just be trying to get through the week.

      That said, it’s something you have to deal with and not take out whatever hand you are dealing with on anyone else.

      1. MK*

        In my country Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) is for children to celebrate their parents specifically, not everyone and anyone to celebrate motherhood in general. My sister lives in the UK and has a one-year-old; in May her coworkers found it odd that her husband didn’t do anything for Mother’s Day on behalf of the baby, but she said “it will be meaningful when the kid is old enough to at least know she is getting her mother a present, the dad getting me a card is kind-off a cute gesture, but not really what Mother’s Day means to me”.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I celebrate my mother on Mothering Sunday by sending her a gift and a card but nobody else does. I do the same for my father on Father’s Day. He usually doesn’t even notice when Father’s Day is so last time asked my mother why he was getting a present when she presented him with the gift and card alongside his Sunday morning coffee. It’s not really a big thing. My friend who is estranged from her parents does nothing at all for either occasion.

          I did send a card to a friend this year who had a really difficult delivery in January because I wanted to congratulate her on her first mother’s day because I knew she’d gone through a lot but that’s the exception. We don’t celebrate motherhood or fatherhood in general, we celebrate the relationship with the parent in our lives.

          1. londonedit*

            Absolutely. The idea that I would send a Mother’s Day card to someone who is not my mother is just bizarre to me, and the idea that someone *at work* would give bouquets of flowers to ‘the mothers’ for Mother’s Day completely blows my mind. It’s not a celebration of motherhood, it’s a chance to celebrate your own mother if you choose to. And its origins aren’t even anything to do with literal mothers – in the UK the date of Mothering Sunday still moves every year as it’s connected to Easter because historically at a certain point in Lent there would be a Sunday where everyone would be expected go to their ‘mother church’ for a Sunday service, which when people had started to move away from their home villages during the Industrial Revolution meant that they’d also have a rare Sunday to go and see their family. So the double meaning of ‘Mothering Sunday’ came into being.

            1. Lala*

              Mother’s Day in the US has a different origin and a different purpose. Different countries have different customs. It’s not that mind blowing.

              1. WellRed*

                I’m unaware of this difference and I also think it’s weird to go around wishing everyone happy Mother’s Day.

                1. doreen*

                  I am in the US and I know about the origin of Mother’s Day in the US – and although the origins are different from the UK holiday , the person who founded it in the US meant for it to be a day for people to honor their own mother , not a day for everyone to celebrate motherhood in general and was specific about the placement of the apostrophe to indicate that (Mother’s day, not Mothers’ day) The idea that people who don’t even know if I have children would wish me a Happy Mother’s day or leave a flower on my desk is bizarre to me.

                2. Sam I Am*

                  Yeah randos telling my child-free self “Happy Mother’s Day” seems to be a thing now, I usually return the favor. One person said “I said that to you because you’re a woman,” and I replied “I said it to you because you were born.”
                  IDK who started it but it sure felt misogynistic in the moment.

                3. Ana Gram*

                  I like when random men wish me (a happily child free woman) happy Mother’s Day. I wish them the same and they look weirded out and it’s very satisfying.

                4. Boof*

                  I can’t help but recall that mother’s day in the USA started as a “response” to women asking for the right to vote – I try not to be too much of a curmudgeon and if it means something different to other people, cool; I accept any “happy mother’s day” in the spirit intended. But personally I kind of dislike the whole thing.

              2. Venus*

                What is the different purpose in the US? Where I live it is about children celebrating their own mothers, and flowers at a company would be very odd.

              3. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Do you mean that it’s okay to send around mother’s day gifts at work in the US? Ehhh….

                Maybe if you really know your office culture and definitely know who is and isn’t a mother but it’s certainly not a custom.

              4. Observer*

                Mother’s Day in the US has a different origin and a different purpose. D

                Which doesn’t make this kind of nonsense OK. It doesn’t even “explain” it – others have explained why quite well.

              5. Not Today*

                I’m in the US and find the idea of people other than my children wishing me a happy Mother’s Day weird. I do have two friends who do it but even after a few years I find it “off.” I’ve never had a company I worked for give flowers or otherwise celebrate or even acknowledge Mother’s Day.

              6. Usually a Lurker*

                In the 1870s Julia Ward Howe (the woman who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) proposed a day called “Mother’s Day For Peace” that would have been intended as a call to action aimed at ending war. The idea being that mothers had a particular interest in preventing their children from being killed in wars. Anna Jarvis, who is credited with creating the modern Mother’s Day intended it to have a similar purpose. Unfortunately, it was quickly changed away from that, due to politics and other reasons.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Oh it’s intended the same in the US. But there’s always people who who take it too far.

          1. Mockingjay*

            Marketing campaigns. There’s money in sentiment.

            Also, celebrating Mother’s Day at work is one of those thoughtless, easy ideas to promote employee satisfaction. “Oh, flowers on the desk are a lovely idea.” How about paid parental leave instead?

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            Yup. I found Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and Halloween to also be waaay over-celebrated* when I was living in the US. All of those holidays are totally fine and I like them! But the current way that they’re celebrated? That’s marketing, pure and simple.

            *Though I think it’s totally fine to make a big deal of St Patrick’s Day in cities that have a large population of Irish origin.

            1. The OTHER other*

              I know a few Irish people (as in, citizens of the Irish Republic) that don’t understand all the St Patrick’s Day stuff in the US. Their attitudes range from bemusement to low-grade offended.

              Even more the case with Mexicans and Cinco de Mayo.

              1. UKDancer*

                I can kind of see that for Irish people a long way from home and separated from their identity it probably made sense in the 19th century to be more passionate about the rituals of their native land to remind them of where they’re from and what it means than it did for people in Ireland who could see their culture around them. I know when I lived outside the UK I felt more connected to my sense of British identity.

                So it’s probably not surprising that it’s celebrated a lot more by Irish-Americans than it does to people in Ireland. Most of my Irish friends enjoy the day off but don’t do any of the eating green food and drinking unpleasantly green beverages. I know that one Irish-American work contact of mine went to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day and was very disappointed that there were so few actual Irish people in the bars. It was mainly tourists. I think he thought it would be more like “The Quiet Man” over there whereas Dublin is a modern hi-tech city.

                1. pancakes*

                  St. Patrick’s Day in the US isn’t so much an Irish-American holiday as a let’s-all-get-sloppy-drunk holiday.

        3. Artemesia*

          I have always thought it was the job of the other parents to teach the child to honor its mother on mother’s day by at first getting gifts and later helping the child make gifts. Kids don’t do this stuff without being taught and one is not too soon to make a little fuss on the child’s behalf — like getting breakfast.

          1. MK*

            I don’t have kids, but will a one-year-old understand what is happening if another adult gets breakfast for their mother? And remember it next year? Because if not, it’s definitely too soon; you are not teaching the kid to honor their mother, you are just carting them around while you do something to honor the mother. Which is fine, if that’s how your family wants to celebrate.

            Of course children need to be taught these things, my dad took me to the florist to get the first mother’s day bouquet for my mother. But I was three, not a baby.

        4. Anna*

          At most in my family we also acknowledge aunts and grandmas and other “mother figures”. I know this wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea, but it works for us. And since its a close-knit extended family, peoples’ aunts are a little more mother like than not to them.
          But I see 0 reason at all to bring it to work or do anything like giving out flowers there.

        5. Amaranth*

          I’ve never had it celebrated at work, that just seems a bit invasive to me, and exclusionary/preferential. If you’re celebrating mothers then why not dads? How about cultural celebrations? Valentines Day? Admin Assistant/Boss’ Days seem weird to me, too, frankly, but if I were ruler of the world, it would only go one way to show appreciation for admins mainly because they are so often underappreciated. The idea of Boss Appreciation is kind of horrifying — some bosses probably get offended if you don’t tell them how wonderful they are.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        As one of those childless not by choice people you mention. Yes. This is likely it. This story made me remember the time I got the “pity flowers” on Mother’s Day “because you’re just so kind and nurturing it’s almost like you were a mother!” And I know they intended to do a kind thing for me, but I ended up throwing the flowers in the outdoor dumpster and crying all the way home.

        When you really desperately want something that seems to come so easily for other people, it’s easy to be blinded by that pain. The coworker in OPs letter definitely overreacted, but I understand exactly where that overreaction came from.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Oh my god I would have set them on fire.

          (Coworker was massively out of line here–and I say that as someone whose two cats demand as much snuggle time as they can get from me, very much as though I were their mother–but, yeah, Mother’s Day hoopla at work is a terrible idea for so many reasons.)

        2. Joielle*

          I’m childless by choice so it’s certainly not painful in the same way, but I do SO hate getting the pity flowers and acknowledgements on Mother’s Day. My in-laws did that one year, clearly trying to include me at a dinner when all the other women were getting flowers from their children, but like… please don’t.

          “Well you’re a dog mom!” No, I am a dog owner. I am specifically not a mother; mother is not the default or preferred state of womanhood. I know it’s intended kindly but it is pretty offensive, whether a woman would like to have a child in the future or not!

    2. Anon for this*

      Yeah, I just finished 5 years of unsuccessful IVF and, while I wouldn’t call myself a “cat mom” to my cats, this would be painful. I didn’t even get to the miscarriage stage, so there wasn’t a single event triggering this, just an ongoing sadness and depression that everybody else in the ENTIRE WORLD was getting pregnant easily except me. (This may have been an exaggeration considering IVF is only about 30% successful, but it sure seemed that way.)

      1. meagain*

        I’m so sorry. That’s a different kind of hard and disenfranchised grief to not have a specific event/moment of loss that so often doesn’t even get acknowledged. I think there is a general misconception that everyone who does IVF walks away with the baby if they only keep trying, when that’s not the case at all.

        It’s also something like 1 in 5 women don’t have children, so I think companies/people need to be cognizant with things like Mother’s Day that has nothing to do with your work colleagues, or feeling the need to tell someone who calls herself a “dog mom” that she’s not a real mom or whatever. I’m sure she knows and is not confused. Sometimes women say those things simply to try to contribute/participate in a conversation instead of feeling sidelined or othered. If all the other women in the office are standing around talking about their kids and family life, maybe the one without kids tries to chime in with a “Oh my dog baby…” instead of just standing there, politely smiling and awkwardly nodding while everyone else chatters away, bonding with each other over parenthood (especially if it’s not by a choice and feeling marginalized by an already painful topic.)

      2. WellRed*

        I’m sorry for this. My company has for the past couple years decided to celebrate company baby booms by holding a big party or sending food to the families (all at once). I think it’s a bit inappropriate in general but cringe when I get the announcement thinking of the people this might hurt.

      3. CoveredinBees*

        The long slog of infertility treatments is so tough. It’s amazing how suddenly every woman on my commuter train appeared to be pregnant. Strangely, work became the one space I could shove it mostly out of my mind. It was a small office and no one in my office had kids. Many were only a few years out of college and dating around. I was happy to hear endless chatter about swiping left/right and how various dates went rather than one person refer to their kids, even in passing.

    3. Asenath*

      One place I know that did this got around it by saying the flower (it was a single bloom) was for mothers, anyone who had a mother (living or dead), anyone who had motherly or mother-like figure in their life etc., and similarly for father’s day, only with something else, not a flower, I think sometimes a little booklet or poem on fatherhood. Most people seemed to like it. It didn’t mean much to me, but it didn’t bother me much either.

      1. doreen*

        They may have gotten away with this – but if a company told me the flower was for “anyone who had a mother (living or dead), anyone who had motherly or mother-like figure in their life etc. “, I would be wondering where the flowers for the men were, as they had/have mothers/mother figures, too. Unless of course the company gave all employees both the flower and the Father’s day gift.

      2. anonymous73*

        Companies just need to stop thing like this. I have never birthed a baby, but I lost my mom in 2009 and every Mother’s Day I want to crawl into a hole for 24 hours and pretend the day doesn’t exist. But it’s impossible because everywhere you look, it’s in your face. If my company did something like this it would send me over the edge.

        1. I'm In The Office Today*

          Meanwhile I have a dead dad and I literally forget when Father’s Day is because nobody drops anvils on you about that one.

        2. EmmaPoet*

          Yes, Mother’s Day feels like a gauntlet. I can’t check my email without being drowned in offers for Mother’s Day stuff, I can’t go grocery shopping without ads shoved in my face. I already miss my mom, I don’t need reminded she’s gone.

      3. EPLawyer*

        I find that just as annoying. In trying to be inclusive they are just forcing things on people. Just no. Leave Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as private family celebrations. Please.

        1. Birch*

          Agreed, and I’d include all holidays and life events. Enough people have reasons to want these aspects of their personal lives to stay personal, and there isn’t a really good way to be totally inclusive about holidays anyway. Enough people do enjoy “celebrating” something or being social at work to make it worth doing something, but I have never understood why it can’t just be e.g. “manager really appreciates the work you’ve been doing celebratory team lunch” or “doughnut Friday because it’s that dark and cold time of year.” Bonus if you do it intentionally *not* around holidays when people are already stressed and out-socialized!

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I love holidays and I love celebrating. That said, I agree that more inclusiveness is called for, especially in today’s workplaces where different people celebrate different holidays and might feel left out if, say, Christmas was a Big Thing.

            “Let’s Appreciate Our Employees” and “Donut Friday” are great ideas for having warm cozy fun celebrations that don’t exclude anyone. (“Margarita Monday” might be fun, but then there’s the drive home and the morning after, so…)

      4. A Member of the Village*

        That’s how I celebrate the day. My own mother sucked, and bailed when I was 8. I’ve always made it a point to honor the people that took on a mothering role in my life – male or female. My dad always got a card and a thank you, as did various aunts, family friends, and even teachers. I avoid the actual use of the term Mother’s Day, but use the space of the day to thank the village for getting me through to adulthood. Then I use the day of Father’s Day as an excuse to throw a backyard barbecue – the village gets invited along with anyone I know with kids, the neighbor kids that might need that village.. everyone’s welcome. We help the kids make thank you gifts for the people in our lives that have taught us important life lessons. Then we spend the day teaching the kids basic food and fire safety, and how to grill patiently while they help us prepare the food.
        No food poisoning on our watch!

      5. pancakes*

        People who would be bothered by that due to some painful private circumstances wouldn’t be inclined to tell their coworkers why they were bothered, though! I wish employers would just stay out of this stuff. The number of people who would find something like that meaningful in a good way has to be minuscule. It’s absolutely not worth the risk of making others uncomfortable.

    4. Taking the long way round*

      That company wasn’t doing a nice thing. Not having children because you can’t and it’s not by choice is crappy, without having to be reminded of it AT WORK of all places (unless, I don’t know, you’re a midwife or something and your job’s by choice). Yeah she overreacted, but the company was wrong.

      1. meagain*

        Totally. It’s hard enough at some place like church if they insist on having all the mother “stand,” leaving a few women sitting in the pews wanting to burst into tears or sink through the floor. I know several women who stopped attending altogether because it was too painful. Dealing with that at work too is too much.

        1. LizM*

          I didn’t attend church on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when dealing with infertility for exactly this reason.

          1. Not Alison*

            It’s been over 20 years and I still don’t attend Mother’s Day service for that very reason.

        2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          I hate that churches do this. Hate it. I started my first/current ministerial call after Mother’s Day and it just occurred to me I don’t know what these congregation do for that. I can tell you right now, I am not doing what you describe. I’m childless-partly-by-choice and I really don’t want to go there.

    5. LizM*

      My office didn’t go to the point of giving flowers to mothers for Mother’s Day, but every year, there is a weird amount of people wishing “all the mothers a Happy Mother’s Day!”

      It is so incredibly painful to be constantly reminded and excluded from celebrations of motherhood when struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss.

      I had a colleague, since retired, whose teenage daughter had passed away suddenly, she had to take the week before Mother’s Day off because she couldn’t stand to be around celebrations of motherhood for years after her loss.

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I really fail to see why saying that “being a dog mum doesn’t count” is unwise. I pushed two humans out of my vagina and it was totally an experience to end all experiences. Adopting my dog was just signing paperwork and dealing with various bureaucrats. So I would have been totally offended if a woman got the same recognition for looking after a dog as me for producing and raising two human beings.

      I also remember being given a mother’s day freebie once, long before I ever had children, at a shop I bought tons of stuff at. The saleswoman wanted to acknowledge me as a great customer, but I felt like a right fraud for getting that freebie when I wasn’t a mother.

      However, yes, it’s not on to be celebrating only mothers either, at work, in that an employee’s motherhood status has nothing to do with the workplace.

      1. meagain*

        It really bothers and totally offends you that much if a women who can’t have children or is struggling with infertility or who never met a partner to have the child she wanted calls herself a dog mom? I don’t have kids nor do I have dogs or pets, nor do I even think being a dog mom is the same thing, but I do have compassion and empathy. I’d say enjoy your privilege and count your blessings you aren’t in that position instead of getting so offended if someone fraudulently accepts a cheap flower they probably don’t even want for being a dog mom.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I have plenty of compassion for women struggling with infertility or who can’t have children for whatever reason. If this woman should be recognised as a “dog mum” because she’s struggling with infertility, what do you do for a woman struggling with infertility who doesn’t have a dog or even a goldfish?
          By the way I said “totally offended” but it would just be a passing feeling, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.
          I totally count my blessings, I don’t need you to lecture me about it.
          As I said, the firm shouldn’t be celebrating mothers at all then it wouldn’t be a problem.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          A woman who adopts kids has the right to be called a mother.
          I spoke of pushing my babies out, I could equally have spoken about the long slog of raising kids, the sleepless nights when they have colic, the sore breasts because they just won’t unlatch, helping them both with their homework while also cooking dinner, having to rush from work and still only just arrive on time at school, the arguments with teachers… I just didn’t want to write it all out because it exhausts me just to remember all that.

      2. Not Today*

        I didn’t push my children out of my vagina but being their mother has been the experience to end all experiences and I sincerely doubt I am less of a mother than you are. On the other hand, I know people who have pushed their kids out and are far worse parents to their kids than some dedicated dog and cat mom. It’s ridiculous for a company to give Mother’s Day gifts, but no less so to pretend anyone deserves a Mother’s Day gesture from said company than anyone else. Except possibly in a few select careers, having given birth generally doesn’t add value to the workplace any more than being a “dog mom” does.

  5. Anon for today*

    #1: I can’t give any advice but I can relate. I got promoted during a reorg and one of my coworkers got really upset. She outright refused to move forward without the whole team filling out specific templates. I directed the team away from filling out the old documentation because it would require too much rework and take us off schedule. She went to my boss and was in tears saying that I called her old (deliberately misunderstanding my calling the documentation old). She the escalated her complaints and started taking every conversation out of context. I apologized and tried to have a mediated conversation. The HR rep apologized for the person’s behavior, said it was impossible to mediate and moved her to another team in a different department. Management apologized to me multiple times because I did nothing wrong. The whole team witnessed the multiple instances and were upset. I have no idea what went wrong except being promoted… as we had genuinely had a great relationship outside of work. I was one of 3 co-workers to attend her wedding. It still baffles me. Because I literally do not understand the progression of events and emotions, my advice is the CYA.

    I think that it is important to have your side of the story on file with HR because while the person is going through grief, they’ve now decided that you were mocking them. I don’t think someone so illogical is NOT just going to wake up and not believe you were malicious. Better to get in front of it so that you are protected. It didn’t happen if you didn’t document it.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I was reading #1 thinking that in any normal company the co-worker would have been disciplined. I’m not normally one to “tell tales” or whatever but in OP1s situation I’d consider making a ‘counter-complaint’ about Jane. Regardless of what you’re going through doesn’t make it permissible to scream at someone in the office.

      1. Curious*

        I think that this situation warrants a degree of grace for Jane. To be clear, OP did absolutely nothing wrong. But, as a manager, it is a situation that I would hope would resolve itself without need for formal action.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think discipline (by which I mean a conversation where Jane is told she cannot yell at coworkers) is incompatible with grace. The conversation can be done with kindness, but it still has to happen.

          Everyone has disappointment and grief; it’s not an excuse for screaming at coworkers.

          1. JB*

            Exactly. It needs to be handled carefully, but it isn’t kind to Jane to just let this lie – she’s either going to go forward believing LW was mocking her (and that it’s acceptable to interpret personal comments as attacks on her in the future), or eventually is going to realize what she did and will feel terrible for it. There needs to be closure and guidance for her.

          2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            No, it’s not! And how many adults go all their working lives without experiencing personal disappointment and loss at SOME point? None of us do – but that’s not justification for yelling at colleagues and lying to HR about them!
            The OP can be as understanding as she likes BUT she also needs to get this incident documented and in her personnel file in case “Jane” goes around the bend AGAIN and makes ANOTHER false accusation. It’s very, very easy for people to forget details of one undocumented incident and only recall that “OP said something cruel to Jane last year” – and thus be primed to believe Jane if/when she again accuses OP of verbal cruelty. Then OP is left to look like the villainess while poor, poor, pitiful Jane is the innocent victim. OP can and should handle this with grace without turning herself into Jane’s personal punching bag

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Screaming at coworkers is not OK. Screaming at anyone over an innocuous remark is not OK. Screaming at anyone over something they had no way of knowing is not OK. Jane should have been shut down and then directed to the EAP for help.

      2. anonymous73*

        No it’s not okay to scream at someone in the office, but I’d let a one time incident go. The counter complaint should come in because Jane reported her to their manager and lied about what happened. I’d want that on record.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yes, in a lot of company policies a ‘vexatious’ complaint is grounds for discipline in itself.

      3. A Member of the Village*

        From Jane’s perspective, she probably wholeheartedly believed that OP HAD mocked her, so in her mind, she wasn’t lying to OP’s boss. She was overtaken by difficult feelings, and made a poor decision by an outsider’s view, but in her mind, I completely believe she thought that OP was trying to hurt her. I’ve had multiple miscarriages, and a joke or offhand comment made from someone I don’t know well or a coworker that I don’t much care for could easily have sent me out for blood. That doesn’t make Jane right, but it puts some context to what she was feeling and where she was coming from.

        I think an apology from OP (regarding Jane’s hurt feelings, not about the comment itself) would have been appropriate. I know OP would never in a million years intentionally want to hurt a grieving mother, and but she did. I’m also pretty sure if Jane received this apology, she would also apologize for talking to OP’s boss, and they might be able to salvage a working relationship.

        1. Colette*

          I really disagree that the OP should apologize. She is not responsible for Jane’s feelings and, while Jane may have been struggling with difficult feelings, the OP did nothing wrong. Jane was at fault, and should apologize, not for her feelings but for her behaviour.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          The OP does not owe Jane an apology. The OP didn’t make fun of Jane and didn’t know about the miscarriage. Don’t play into Jane’s temper about this. Jane is allowed to be in pain but she has the responsibility to manage that herself.

          I worked with a woman, years ago, who was pregnant and (her own words) really hormonal* and kept tattling, in tears, on my reports about things she thought they had said about her. She had no proof and they denied it, and I had no reason to think there was some conspiracy to torment her. She literally expected me to discipline them because she was hormonal and had the idea that they might have mocked her.

          *Not saying that pregnant women can’t control their emotions–this was her reasoning, not mine. Although, I’ve had PMS that made me, without exaggeration, borderline suicidal so, while I’ve never been pregnant I have some estimation of how badly hormones can mess with your head.

          1. Girl Alex PR*

            +1. I have lost a child, and while it is so incredibly, indescribably painful, I still deeply believed in this sentiment- “You’re always responsible for how you act, regardless of how you feel.”

        3. Observer*

          I think an apology from OP (regarding Jane’s hurt feelings, not about the comment itself) would have been appropriate

          Nope. There are a lot of reasons. But as a practical matter, it would be a bad idea for two reasons. Firstly, what you are proposing is what is known as a “non-apology apology”. And it never works. In fact it often makes things worse. Secondly, any apology that sounds remotely like a real apology is going to validate Jane’s behavior. And while I don’t think that anything more needs to be done at this point, acting as though the behavior was somehow ok goes way too far in the other direction.

        4. Meep*

          No. OP should not apologize. They have done nothing wrong. Doing such illicit the idea that words should now be banned to protect her feelings and that is the last thing Jane needs.

          I have a lot of sympathy for Jane, but the compassionate thing to do is write this off as a one-time incident until it happens again.

        5. Dona Florinda*

          No, OP does not owe Jane an apology. OP can be sorry that Jane’s feelings got hurt, but she didn’t know about Jane’s issues, and she made an offhand remark about her pet.
          As someone said above, apologizing will only validate Jane’s feeling that is okay to yell at people and escalate to management for something as innocent as cat food.
          If OP wants to be the bigger person here, she can just let it go (both the yelling and the complaint). But not apologize because she literally didn’t do anything.

        6. Big Glasses*

          I think an apology from OP, however carefully phrased, would run the risk of confirming in Jane’s mind that OP really HAD intended to mock her, which would be a disservice to both of them. OP would be left ‘marked’ as a cruel person in Jane’s head, and Jane would stew on the unkindness in the world and continue to feel hurt/insulted. Kinder for the manager to explain to Jane that she misunderstood, and hope that in time Jane can realize she read something into the situation that wasn’t there.

        7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Hard disagree. The OP did nothing that requires an apology. If anyone needs to apologize (and I’m not sure anyone needs to) it is Jane for lashing out at an innocent bystander who had no idea why they got yelled at and reported to management. Having a miscarriage is tragic, but isn’t a pass to lash out at others.

        8. aebhel*

          I strongly disagree that OP should apologize. What she said was not mockery from any reasonable point of view, no matter how Jane took it. I think that Jane deserves the grace of letting a one-time incident go (people are rarely their best selves when they’re grieving), but she doesn’t need to be validated for her behavior.

        9. Not Today*

          Another no on that one here. OP has the right to refer to her cat any way she chooses—and would have that right even if she were aware of Jane’s situation. Jane may fully believe OP was mocking her but we can’t hold people to others’ unreasonable expectations or interpretations. I think it’s as likely that if Jane received an apology she’d assume her complaint was justified rather than apologizing herself. That wouldn’t do Jane any favors.

    2. hbc*

      I think if you get beyond the “deliberately misunderstanding,” it makes a lot more sense. She almost certainly wasn’t tenting her fingers and saying, “Let’s see where I can twist her words.” She was feeling left behind, so “Hey, let’s not do that old documentation” carried a clear accusation in her state, just like the grieving coworker in #1 heard “I’ve got a baby and you don’t, sucks to be you.”

      No reasonable, clear-thinking person could interpret the words that way, and they need to be told that their report is baseless and unfair. But that doesn’t mean they set out to be unfair.

  6. LouLou*

    It’s incredibly bizarre to me how many comments on the original “schmuck” letter thought the interviewer was most likely referring to themselves. People were even saying “I would totally say that about myself in this context!” Really??? No you wouldn’t!

    That said, this scenario has never made any sense to me and I can’t imagine a scenario that wouldn’t make me go hmmm, unless maybe the interviewer stubbed their toe and actually said the f word.

    1. Girl Alex PR*

      I actually do often say things I am thinking aloud if I think I am alone or reasonably isolated. I don’t think that it answers definitively who the comment was directed to/in response to, but it’s not so far-fetched in my mind to believe there’s a possibility he was muttering about himself for forgetting to tell the OP something, etc.

      1. Medusa*

        Me too. I’m a lifelong self talker. I remember my younger sister came into the kitchen absolutely flummoxed because she heard me telling myself to shut up.

        1. Seal*

          Same here. It’s a weird family trait – my father was also a self talker. Over the years, I’ve had roommates and even work colleagues comment repeatedly hearing me muttering to myself. Everyone thinks it’s funny, if not a bit weird.

      2. Allornone*

        Me too. One of the reasons I’m really happy to have my own office is my tendency to think out loud sometimes. I’m constantly talking to myself, even calling myself an idiot when I’m catching myself doing something stupid. Granted, our walls are paper thin and one full wall is actually glass, so I can’t talk too loudly without teammates thinking me a nutcase. But I can talk. And I do.

      3. MoreFriesPlz*

        Same. I do it constantly. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started working with my therapist on on negative self talk. Multiple times a day I quietly say “dummy” or something like that out loud now that I’m WFH. I’ve always been big on talking out loud. I somehow mentally knew not to call myself anything really horrible but still engage in the action, so “shmuck” makes perfect sense to me.

        Also I’m surprised this hasn’t come up more, maybe he was responding to a text. It could have been on a watch if he wasn’t holding a phone.

    2. Green Goose*

      I commented below, but I’m definitely one of those weirdos that would call myself a schmuck. I even say “no” to myself sometimes, and it’s gotten much worse since having kids, face-palm.

      But I like your toe stubbing theory and yelling out the F* because without context I could see the OP hearing that and thinking it was someone yelling “schmuck!”

      1. ceiswyn*

        I have been known to say “No! Bad ceiswyn!” sharply to myself in exactly the same tones I use to my cat, when I’m about to do something unwise. Such as take another slice of cake :)

    3. redflagday701*

      Huh. I don’t think I commented on the original, but I would absolutely say this about myself (and my wife the therapist would readily corroborate me on this). I have a real issue with negative self-talk popping out: I flash back to something I feel embarrassed about, which could have happened 30 minutes ago or 30 years (and which may or may not actually be that embarrassing), and will just say “Stupid man!” or “Stupid weirdo” or something like that. I could absolutely see this happening immediately after an interview, if I respected the person I’d been interviewing and felt awkward about something I’d said. Anyway, I’m glad to hear that doesn’t make any sense to you, because honestly, it sucks and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else. But respectfully, you don’t know what you’re talking about here.

      1. Darsynia*

        Oh god I feel this in my BONES. Add to that my PTSD from a really gnarly leg injury after a fall down the stairs and I literally say ‘NO’ out loud when I visualize it to stop those thoughts in their tracks. I obviously try not to do those things in a professional environment but might by myself in those spaces if I thought no one would overhear me!

    4. Anon for this*

      I am a real jerk to myself sometimes, so I completely believe in the likelihood the interviewer was talking to himself. In the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when I first saw the scene where the lead sings the big showstopper song “You Ruin Everything, You Stupid B***h” to herself, I had never felt so seen.

      It’s embarrassing to admit, but I definitely routinely mutter insults to myself when I think I’m alone.

      1. Purple Princess*

        The first time I saw/heard that song whilst watching CxG I was in floods of tears.. it really hit me in a way that I didn’t expect and me realise some things about myself that I’d never really paid attention to before. Watching the whole show for the first time was as much a voyage of self-discovery and self-reflection as it was an entertaining few seasons of TV.

      2. pancakes*

        I have seen people do this but I’ve never understood why they make a point of saying things like this aloud. Does the distinction between thinking and speaking get blurred in those moments due to a momentary lapse of self-awareness? Or does verbalizing these thoughts rather than keeping them to oneself make them feel easier to let go of?

        1. HoHumDrum*

          For me it’s simply a nervous tic, like biting my nails. I’m not aware I’m doing it. Sometimes the anxiety in my head gets so intense I simply have to verbalize to let it out, like an exhaust pipe. When I’m around other people and more aware I try to tamp it down into groans or other random soft noises in the hopes I just come off as an annoyingly loud thinker vs crazy, but sometimes in high anxiety moments the full words come out.

        2. EmKay*

          We don’t “make a point” of it, it just happens. There’s a constant running dialogue going on in my brain, sometimes it slips out (out loud) and I don’t really notice, unless someone else says something or looks at me strangely.

          1. pancakes*

            Well, that’s why I was asking! The only times I’ve experienced not knowing for sure whether I said something aloud or merely thought it have been once or twice when I was extremely, extremely stoned.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I think MANY people are far harsher on themselves than they would ever be on someone else.
        I often think we need to stress the converse of the Golden Rule:
        Treat yourself the way you would treat others.

    5. Palya*

      If the worst I call myself on any given day is “schmuck”, I’m having a good day.

      I talk to myself all the time, and simply leaving something upstairs that I meant to bring with me will generate a three word phrase beginning with “you” and finishing with “idiot”. You can probably fill in the gap.

      1. allathian*

        Ouch. If I did that, I’d be swearing at myself all the time. I used to be hypercritical of myself, but that only made me unhappy and depressed to the point that I needed therapy. The therapy helped me to be much more accepting of my own failures, and that helped with the depression, even if I didn’t stop messing up.

      2. Well...*

        Yes me too. It’s almost knee-jerk at this point when I have a cringe attack to say something mean to myself, which triggers a weird “why did I say that” thought process that allows me to focus on something other than the cringe attack.

        I’m working on it in therapy but it’s a pretty solidified habit. My husband also insults himself under his breath, so I think a lot of people do it.

      3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Apologies for the unsolicited advice, but that kind of thing was a symptom of serious depression for me, personally, that got a lot better with treatment, and I didn’t realize it was a symptom until after the fact. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone, but if you haven’t been screened you might want to talk to your doctor. Best wishes <3

      4. Jean (just Jean)*

        “If the worst I call myself on any given day is “schmuck”, I’m having a good day.”
        This gives me two totally opposite responses:
        – So sorry you’re fighting this battle. Sending good vibes in the effort to be kind to yourself.
        – Add this sentence to the list of slogans available in my imaginary T-shirt store. Because sometimes the best way not to cry is to laugh (or at least smile sadly).

    6. Tuesday*

      I’m curious to know why the idea that people would say things like this about themselves seems so far fetched. I can definitely see it happening that way.

      1. UKDancer*

        Me too. I wouldn’t say “schmuck” because that’s not particularly a word I’m accustomed to using but I’ve called myself a twit or a tosser before now when I’ve done something I want to kick myself for. One of the difficulties of going back to the office more regularly after working from home for 18 months is remembering not to talk to myself quite so often.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, same! I wouldn’t use the word ‘schmuck’ but if I realise I’ve forgotten something, or if I do something silly then I absolutely do call myself an idiot or say ‘oh FFS’ out loud. You should see me when I’m driving by myself – ‘Oh, well done, absolutely bloody BRILLIANT lane positioning there, londonedit…’. If the interviewer thought they were alone and the OP was out of earshot, I don’t see anything bizarre with them berating themselves for something out loud. Maybe they thought they’d said something stupid, or they realised they’d forgotten something, or whatever. My first thought would absolutely not be that they had a pleasant conversation with a candidate and then immediately yelled ‘schmuck!’ at their departing figure.

        2. Gothic Bee*

          Yeah, I routinely tell myself I’m being an idiot or something though I feel like I’ve cut out most of the really negative self-talk, so it’s usually only jokingly when I do something dumb. My grandmother did the same thing all the time to the point I can still remember exactly what she sounded like when she’d say “you dummy” to herself. And now that I live alone, I’ve definitely fallen into the habit of talking really loudly to myself at times, so I’ve had a few close calls at work where I say something to myself louder than I meant to.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Make more sense the person was either calling themselves a schmuck or the OP misheard what the person really said than the interviewer decided to right after the interview call the OP a schmuck.

        1. londonedit*

          This is what I think – as I said a bit above, I can far more easily imagine someone slapping themselves on the forehead and saying ‘ugh, you schmuck!’ about something they’ve done/forgotten to do than someone having a perfectly pleasant conversation with the OP and then immediately calling them a schmuck as soon as their back was turned.

          1. JSPA*

            Locking themselves out / leaving the key upstairs would do it, right? Or their wallet, if they’d planned to grab a bite? Stubbing their toe hard? All kinds of scenarios that could lead to an interjection.

      3. Beth*

        Yes! I also insult inanimate objects, people on TV, and people who aren’t there at all except in my imagination. If I see someone outside the window doing something obnoxious, I’m likely to insult them. I don’t even think of it as odd; I’m surprised to find there are those who do. (I will not call them schmucks, though, even in absentia.)

    7. ceiswyn*

      In light of the evidence of how many people talk to themselves like this, you may want to cosier that your disbelief is the bizarre thing here.

      (I call myself a ‘compete muppet’ a lot)

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yeh. I have been known to use ‘fool of a [not Took]’, though not at work. Yet. As far as I’m aware.

        I reckon they suddenly realised they’d forgotten to say something in the interview.

      2. bowl of petunias*

        I tell myself off continually throughout the day. I work from home and am very used to being able to chat away to myself, meaning that on the rare occasions when my husband also works from home he gets startled by cries of ARGH YOU TOTAL PLONKER out of nowhere.

        1. Darsynia*

          I adore the way our loved ones end up observing and being drawn into those moments! When my first kid was born I was a typical worried first time mom and I’d make this concerned grunt noise to ‘ward off’ thoughts of the myriad ways I’d picture her getting hurt. At one point my husband asked me what that noise even was, and I explained. “But you make it all the time!” was his response.

          Yes, yes I did. It was very freaky!

          1. bowl of petunias*

            Oof, I remember that constant, vivid parade of mental images of how my first baby could get hurt. I honestly think it’s an adaptive thing to get you up to speed until you spot risks automatically! But it’s brutal.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Calling someone you’ve just interviewed a schmuck out loud, to yourself, loud enough so that they can hear it through a door is not in anyway LESS weird or less likely, though.

      4. ceiswyn*

        So… lots of people are telling you this is common, but you don’t believe any of us.
        Why not? What cherished aspect of your world view does all this self-talk challenge?

        1. redflagday701*

          Right? This is incredibly obnoxious. And I really appreciate the note that we “should make it a top priority to stop.” Gosh, I’d never thought of that!

        2. LouLou*

          The part of my world view where it’s very unusual for people to berate themselves so loudly that others can hear them! I’m truly sorry for all the people here who find this common, but this would really be quite unusual in virtually every setting I’ve been in. I guess we won’t agree here on who the outlier is.

          1. Amaranth*

            Just statistically speaking, if there is one data point on one side and many on the other, the outlier is kind of obvious. It may be that you are simply an outlier in this data set, or maybe you are terrific at blocking out people who talk to themselves.

      5. Rock Prof*

        If I’m going over things with a student or even teaching a class and I catch my own error, I have often make comments to myself about it loud enough for everyone to hear. Something, like, ‘wow, rock prof, what were you thinking here?’ With friends or family, it’s often more along the lines of ‘for craps sake rock prof, what the hell?!’ I don’t think I’m berating myself anymore or less than other people do, as I hear these types of comments all the time from others, too.

        1. Rock Prof*

          Case, in point, as soon as I submitted that, I realized I had a typo in the first sentence and said an audible statement to myself (not printable here) about it. It should read, ‘ …have often made comments…’

      6. HoHumDrum*

        I don’t think anyone is saying it’s normal in the sense that it’s a widely accepted and healthy practice. I think people are just saying it’s normal in the sense that it’s a common enough thing people do that the LW shouldn’t automatically assume the interviewer was talking about the LW.

        Honestly in my life experience I’ve met way more people with nervous tics like talking to yourself than I have jerks who would just yell an insult through a door at someone, though YMMV ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    8. Incredulous in Inkbank*

      It’s incredibly bizarre to decide that you know better than other people how they think and act, and to then declare that they are wrong and that you know better than they do. How self-centred and arrogant do you have to be to assert this?

      For the record, I absolutely say things liek this out loud to myself. All. The. Time. I’m sorry if that breaks your brain’s limited conception of how people work, but you are wrong.

      The only reason I would never say this exact thing is that the word “schmuck” isn’t one I would ever use it not being a comment work in my country, and thus I would only say it if quoting someone else. I do, often, say things like “oh, you twit!” out loud to myself, however.

    9. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My most likely scenario? He spotted something about an unrelated person. One of his reports was goofing off outside instead of doing ‘X until this interview is over”. Maintenance had mowed over litter, shredding trash into the lawn. Neighbor failed to clean up after its dog again and he stepped in poop on the sidewalk.
      Such a shame that we’ll never know!

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          I thought this was the most likely scenario, personally. Checking a message they got during the interview as soon as they were alone just seems so much more plausible than calling the OP a schmuck out loud to themselves as soon as the OP was out of sight.

    10. tamarack & fireweed*

      I looked whether there was an update (no, at least not linked at the original post). But really, I think there are so many things this could mean …

      – Interviewer is looking at their phone, got a message, whatever – remark has nothing to do with OP.
      – Interviewer1 and 2 had a conversation before the interview about how Interviewer3 is an asshole and might leave a negative impression with the candidate. Their fears come true, and after the interview they look at each other and confirm their judgement of interviewer3.
      – How sure can OP be that they heard the word correctly?

      In any event, if the OP never heard back from the employer, then maybe these interviewers came to that conclusion about the OP after the interview and really did voice it in this unprofessional manner. Nothing to do about it, and they’ll never know. But if the OP did receive an offer, and everything sound completely normal in the direct interaction, then in their shoes I’d just assume it had nothing to do with me.

    11. Jay*

      I do this. Not that word because in my house growing up it was totally verboten, and while I’ve gotten over most of my mother’s other rules (turns out you can use the sprayer on the sink to wash the dishes) that one seems to have stuck. But I do say “stupid” to myself far more often than is healthy for me, and when I’m alone I sometimes say it out loud.

    12. Falling Diphthong*

      I remember the shmuck letter, and thinking that waiting until OP got out the door to launch into an inner dialogue with himself (“You schmuck, you forgot to call the vet before the meeting!”) was the script that made the most sense to me. I just think it’s rarer to have an inner dialogue with someone who is a few feet away (but you think can’t hear you) than with yourself.

    13. MustardPillow*

      It’s incredibly bizarre to me that you think that’s bizarre. It was my first thought. Now, the word schmuck? Eh, maybe that’s a bit too kind only because it’s funny word then again, I have made myself laugh out loud with self insults.

      Sometimes the cringe just bubbles up and as Hagrid says, better out than in.

    14. Esmeralda*

      Of course people would! They do! Here’s what I said to myself just this morning, “OMG. screw your head ON! Stupid stupid stupid!” (minor error that added time to my already busy schedule)

      You might not understand it. YOU might not do it. But people DO.

        1. ceiswyn*

          I do, yes?

          And then I say “Sorry, I was taking to myself,” and they nod and go back to whatever they were doing. It’s… not unusual?

        2. NervousHoolelya*

          I’m having trouble with your definition of “in public.” I talk to myself at normal volume pretty much all the time when I think I’m alone. “Normal volume” for when I’m angry (at myself or others) definitely could include a somewhat raised voice, albeit briefly. Now, I have my own office, which my brain interprets as “I think I’m alone” most of the time, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone outside my door who might overhear me. I’m unlikely to speak as loudly in actual public, but I have definitely talked to myself while doing work at coffee shops, while running errands, etc.

          During the pandemic, I sat next to my remote schooling seven-year-old all day every day, and I dialed both the frequency and volume of my self-talk down to try to keep myself from distracting her or getting picked up on her mic when she was unmuted. But, yeah, I still talked to myself loud enough for someone else to hear me.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            “I have definitely talked to myself while doing work at coffee shops, while running errands, etc.”

            The amount of confused narration that happens if I’m alone in a grocery store could easily be its own podcast.

            1. Princess Leia*

              OMG, yes. I totally have conversations with myself on the regular but grocery shopping takes it to a whole another level lol. “No we do not need more cookies”, “don’t buy this cauliflower just because it looks good, you need a plan for it or it will go to waste” etc…

    15. Artemesia*

      ‘What a schmuck’ said self referentially seems more likely than saying it about the interviewee. But either is pretty odd. I think the OP should assume the person was a self talks and chastising themself.

    16. Cheshire Cat*

      Those of you saying you saying you do this are all giving examples like “stupid,” though. You’re not using obscenities to refer to yourselves.

        1. The OTHER other*

          It really depends on the audience. It has crossed over from Yiddish into the mainstream somewhat to mean “idiot” but it’s a word for penis. Among Yiddish speakers it’s not a polite word, a kid wouldn’t say it around his grandmother unless he wanted a smack.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        That’s just that the go-to term isn’t schmuck. I don’t think anyone is saying that they regularly call themselves “idiot” and reserve “schmuck” exclusively for other people–most people never say “schmuck” in any context.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, ‘schmuck’ is not in my lexicon, but ‘oh for f**k’s sake, sort yourself out’ is and is the sort of thing I frequently say out loud when I realise I’ve messed something up.

          1. UKDancer*

            Likewise. It’s not a word I use but I do call myself a twit or a daft cow sometimes, especially on occasions when I’ve walked into something or said something I regret later.

      2. bowl of petunias*

        I do that too, I just try not to use obscenities here because I understand Alison prefers it, so I used a relatively civilised example.

      3. JSPA*

        OK, literally, in Yiddish, it means “penis.” But in broader english usage, often as not, it functions roughly along the lines of, doofus, jagoff, butthead. Especially if you say it about yourself, or in a way that includes you in a group; you’re a schmuck among all the other poor schmucks who didn’t get the memo about the party, or ended up having to work late, again.

        Not that the stronger meaning doesn’t co-exist–but it’s context and tone dependent. Compare the difference between saying “F- you,” and saying, “you poor F-er.”

      4. PT*

        You don’t get to police what words are in people’s inner vocabularies, though. There is a heavy regionalism to such words: you might not even know what putdown words other people have in their heads.

    17. CeeKee*

      Oh, I absolutely would. My first thought was “I bet he tripped over the doormat or something when he was walking back into the building, and called himself a schmuck for that.” I’m forever doing clumsy things and audibly berating myself for them. It sounds like *you* wouldn’t do that sort of thing, but *I* would, and have.

    18. Anonymous Hippo*

      I have only ever heard “schmuck” used in reference to oneself, so it isn’t surprising to me.

    19. Meep*

      I have anxiety and OCD so I have definitely said out loud “What a schmuck.” at myself for doing something I later perceive as embarrassing or silly. Like maybe, they were a little too over-enthusiastic that the interviewee liked to travel? It is really small things that won’t matter to someone oozing confidence at yourself.

    20. Not A Manager*

      The scenario has never made sense to you because you can’t imagine anyone speaking to themselves loudly enough that another person could clearly hear it. But since that obviously did happen to the LW, I don’t see why it’s less believable that the interviewer was speaking about himself, instead of speaking about the LW.

      People generally feel more strongly about themselves than they do about others. If I WERE going to speak to myself in a loud, audible voice, it’s much more likely that I’d be berating myself than it would be that I’d be complaining about someone I just met.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        ^ realistically, whether or not he was talking to himself is not a point up for discussion. If he said something, and was alone, he was talking to himself. The question is who his comment was directed at, and the idea it was directed at OP seems like the least likely scenario to me.

    21. NotARacoonKeeper*

      This is clearly incorrect, and also a very strange thing to decide definitively about other people.

      I scold myself aloud frequently (thanks anxiety!) to the point that my partner just knows not to ask if he hears me talking/chastising myself in the shower. Interviewing (even as interviewer) is definitely a place this would come up for me.

  7. Rose Quartz*

    I vote you have another job advice for fictional characters week! I enjoyed clicking back through those. :)

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, those are all wonderful, I’d love that!

      Alison, would you be open to crowdsourcing this for suggestions? Or if you’re (very reasonably!) looking for an easier option as the year winds down, maybe offering an open thread-type post where people can discuss their favorite examples of terrible (or wonderful) workplace situations in media/fiction?

      1. Mr. Shark*

        That would be a lot of fun. But you might have 1,000 examples from “The Office” that are pretty obviously and intentionally inappropriate!

    2. Michio Pa*

      “Dear Alison, my several romantic partners and I have a small family business in the space llama industry, and we’re currently undergoing an extremely difficult corporate takeover. My boss/wife Camina is dealing with this particularly badly.” XD

    3. Lucy Skywalker*

      I’d really love to see Alison’s take on the episode of “Friends” where Ross’s boss stole his sandwich, and when Ross became visibly angry, the boss fired him.

  8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: this, well similar, happened to me about 6 years ago. I referred to myself as the ‘mum’ of my cat and a coworker went off on me for a good 20 minutes solid about how he’s’just an animal’ and ‘you don’t understand love’ and then into a scathing rant about my childfree status. I was extremely hurt; my beloved William has saved my sanity several times and I reserve the right to refer to him how I like.

    She turned out to have lost a premature baby in the ICU an undisclosed amount of time (time doesn’t matter for grief and I really feel that right now as I’m grieving for a friend lost to Covid last week so apologies if I’m not contributing much) and I didn’t apologise for my words but I did try to minimise talking about my cat like that when she was in close proximity for a while which seemed to calm her and when I did slip up and start calling me a ‘cat mum’ later she seemed a lot better about it.

    (My kitty son is currently purring on my lap which he only does when I’m feeling really done with the world)

    1. Despachito*

      Oh, I am so sorry about your friend!

      I can understand how it can be comforting to have a purring cat on your lap. Can you please scratch your furry child under his chin (of course if he likes it, as our late cat did a lot) for me?

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          Was going to suggest the ear rubs, those are what does it for my Calico fur child.

          And I have 3 human children, just for context. You have every right to refer to your loved ones, human or not, as whatever you like. Obviously one must be forgiving when one is aware that the person ranting unreasonably is suffering at that time, but that’s not an open-ended thing. A single meltdown is unfortunate but totally forgivable, but constantly being berated for your own life and choices is unacceptable.

      1. Worldwalker*

        The cat currently purring on my lap has a couple of stripes on his chin, right where he likes to be scritched. Handy guidelines!

    2. CBB*

      A similar thing happened to me too. I had to leave work early to pick up my baby from daycare because she was sick. The next day a coworker asked me how my baby was doing, and I replied she was still sick but the doctor said she would recover. But stupidly, instead of “doctor” I said “vet,” which made my coworker realize that my baby was of the furbaby variety, and she yelled at me about how I wasn’t a real parent and never would be. After she stopped screaming I calmly informed her that I also have human children.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        My mother in law loves calling my kitty her ‘furry grandson’ (she’s finally accepted she’s not getting human grandkids from me!) and apparently that’s caused a minor argument with another member of the family about how my cat isn’t ‘family’. Family is family.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          My Mom spoiled the dickens out of the fur-grands first. It was practice, she says! (Granted, my Mom loves all animals and 99.9% of animals love my Mom.) She’d be the first in line to agree with your sentiment that family is family and includes all the domestic animals in the household, and would likely have your fur child snuggling her in short order too.

        2. AnonEmu*

          My sibling and I both have cats, they have a black one and I have a tortie cat and a black cat. All of the cats are very vocal and very chaotic. They have had their cat longer, and I jokingly would call the cat my “void niece”. Then I got my tortie and my sib started calling my cat “chaos niece”. I got the black cat about a month ago so now both of us have void nieces I guess! ^^

        3. Dust Bunny*

          My brother and I have four cats between us. Brother has an actual human child, too. But we joke about how his younger cat and my younger cat are clearly cousins–they are not biologically related–since their temperaments are so similar.

          Brother had a stomach disorder when he was a kid. Lots of puking. Our dog at the time had pyloric stenosis. Also lots of puking. Even my mother commented that they were obviously brothers.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I didn’t apologise for my words but I did try to minimise talking like that when she was in close proximity.

      I think this is the way of grace. You can know that someone is wrong and also that they apparently have a huge unclosed wound about this one issue, which may get better with some time.

    4. GreyjoyGardens*

      Call your son “Sweet William” and boop his nose for me!

      That is a terrible loss for your coworker, and I’m sorry for your own loss due to COVID. It sounds like your coworker had a momentary meltdown as she wasn’t yell-y or mean about it when you called William your son later on.

      Still, though…I think that part of being an adult is not taking your grief out on your coworkers over innocent remarks, or, because we’re all human and slip up, a profuse apology later on. Your coworkers are not your therapist or your punching bags.

    5. allathian*

      My parents, especially my mom, referred to their two cats as “your furry brothers” in conversation with my sister and me. It was an affectionate family joke.

  9. Beth*

    #1: This is definitely a “coworker dealing with grief” question, not a “drama over pets” question. We all know that moments of intense grief make people act oddly. It’s normal to give people a lot of leeway when they’ve experienced a tragedy; we know people might say and do things that they’ll regret later, so we tend to make exceptions and forgive without making a big fuss about it in those moments. Miscarriage is a little unusual in that people don’t always talk about it, so others around them might have no idea that they’re grieving–but once that’s known, the same principle holds.

    If this happened without the grief, I’d say that the coworker massively overreacted and in fact OP should be the one asking their manager to step in and correct the behavior. Sure, it’s weird when people start acting like having a pet is literally the same as having a child (my cat might remind me of a toddler when he’s being obnoxious, but having him definitely isn’t the same level of work as parenting a three year old!). But screaming at someone over it or twisting it into “mocking” people who are parents would be such a huge overreaction to that minor weirdness.

    1. Beth*

      And, I should say, most “my baby” or “cat mom” type comments are clearly not people suggesting that having a pet is equivalent to raising a child. Those aren’t even mildly weird. I have met a couple people who very seriously argued that ‘parenting’ their pet was equivalent to parenting a child, and that I did find weird, but that’s a pretty rare attitude.

      1. Apparently victorious*

        Just last week I was complaining about how hard it is to work night shift without reliable childcare and my coworker told me he totally understood since he and his girlfriend have three kids. I must have looked super confused because he clarified that they are dogs. It seemed like a pretty bizarre time to flex the pet parent thing.

        1. whatever*

          Yeah, that’s definitely equating dogs to kids in level of effort and that is absolutely outrageous.

          1. meagain*

            Maybe he was just trying to be sympathetic and show that he understood that it is hard. Sometimes people are just trying to relate or participate in the conversation and don’t actually think their pets require the same effort as children.

            1. Name Required*

              If you don’t actually think your pets require the same effort as children, then probably don’t join a conversation saying you personally understand the hardship of childcare because you have dogs. A sympathetic statement would look like, “Wow, finding childcare sounds really hard. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.”

              1. meagain*

                Well I would take a coworker any day who showed some type of understanding when I was complaining even if it wasn’t identical to my situation. It would be different if he minimize the problem and said, “How is finding childcare so hard? I have no problem finding help for my dogs.” No dogs aren’t kids, but it sounds like someone was venting to him about how it was hard to work night shifts and he was trying to show he understood.

                1. Name Required*

                  I don’t think that making that comparison shows any type of understanding of what it’s like to find overnight childcare. If a coworker made that comparison to me, I would think they were minimizing my issues and were very out of touch. There are better ways to show sympathy and understanding.

                2. meagain*

                  Then maybe the coworker should find a different person to complain to than to their childless coworkers who could clearly never understand in a million years.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              “Wow, yeah, I can imagine — it’s hard enough finding someone to dog-sit, and it must be even harder for kids.”

        2. STG*

          Or maybe it’s difficult to work night shift while still providing care for his pets. They do require attention and care as well.

            1. STG*

              This isn’t the ‘hardship olympics’ though. Both have the same need (to provide some sort of care) during a period when it’s difficult to find care.

              1. Observer*

                Actually, not true. In many cases, you can leave a dog alone, whereas you CANNOT do that with a young child.

                And really, the comparison in this case is, at best, tone deaf. If someone complained to me about their issues with getting appropriate care for their pet I would never dismiss them with “Well, you don’t have any REAL kids so you have no idea how easy you have it” or something like that. Their problem is real and I recognize that. But telling a parent of an actual human child that “My 3 dogs and my issues with the care they need are exactly the same as your human child” is a whole different level.

                1. meagain*

                  Except in this case, a coworker was venting about it being hard to work night shifts because of childcare needs. The guy validated that it was hard and said he totally understood and related it to his dogs, probably thinking about his own experience with care logistics or whatever. I don’t even think it’s tone deaf. The guy didn’t bring up the conversation or his own struggles, someone was complaining to him and he said he understood. Was he really supposed to add a qualifier, “But not as hard as it is for you!” If the guy was dismissing the issue of childcare and relating it to his dogs, I would think he was being a jerk. But someone listening to an unsolicited complaint and immediately voicing understanding even if it’s not completely the same isn’t so outrageous to me.

                  I have married coworkers/friends who are all stressed trying to find someone to watch their dogs who are wild and A LOT while they go on vacation for holidays. It’s actually easier for their in-laws (also my friends) with a 4 year old in this situation because the 4 year old can go along for the trip, whereas the dogs need a caretaker. (And frankly, even if the 4 year old wasn’t invited, I would stay with her in a heartbeat before I take on those dogs.)

              2. MCMonkeyBean*

                Sure and it could be reasonable to say so! But if he literally said “I have three kids” when that is objectively untrue then that is not reasonable.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, I might just say “oh yeah I’ve been worrying about who’s going to care for my dog when I go to Germany at Christmas this year” but I’ll preface it with “I know it’s not on the same level at all as childcare” to make sure they realise I know there’s a difference.

      2. Hats Are Great*

        I always feel like it’s a little unprofessional to talk about a “cat-baby” at work. It doesn’t bother me when my friends do it, but when a colleague does it, I’m always a little taken aback. It seems sort of infantilizing, I guess? But if someone were talking about their spouse and said, “I wouldn’t want my baby to go hungry,” I would also find out a little unprofessional I don’t need to know about your pet names for your humans or your pets.

        Anyway, my absolute pet peeve is when veterinarians say, “okay, let’s go get Mom” and they mean me. Like, I love my stupid furry dinguses, but I am not their mom. It makes me want to cringe out of my skin. I have literally switched vets.

        1. Hats Are Great*

          Actually, on reflection, I’m a little irritated when my pediatrician says “okay, Mom, we’re getting three shots today.” Like, I’m not your mom, and neither you nor I are getting three shots today. I find it mildly concerning that you can’t look at my child’s chart long enough to say, “Okay, JOEY is having three shots today.”

          So I guess what I’m really saying is, before you call anybody Mom or baby in a professional setting, make sure you know how that’s going to go over.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Yeah. I don’t have kids, but I’ve experienced the other side of this, where doctors refer to my mom as just “Mom” — e.g. “now that you’ve had your shot, let’s go back to Mom.” “Your mom” would have been fine, but “mom” seems really strange — it’s how you’d talk to a very small child, if anyone at all. And this was still happening when I was in college and my mom just happened to have driven me there…

          2. Leslie_NopeNopeNope*

            It’s for the child’s sake. Going to the doctor and especially getting shots is scary and painful for most kids, so referring to the parents as Mom and Dad and saying “we” is a way of making the child feel included in the conversation and like everyone is going through it together.

        2. thatjillgirl*

          I don’t like it either and inwardly cringe if a vet tech or whoever refers to me as my dog’s “mom.” But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s unprofessional for someone to call their own pet their “baby” in a casual conversation at work.

      3. Worldwalker*

        I find it irritating that the big chain pet stores call their customers “pet parents”. I love my fuzzy lil’ buddies, but it’s my firm belief that while children need not be genetically related, they should definitely be of the same species. A dog might be loving and protective of a child, too, but that doesn’t make the child a puppy.

      4. Olivia Oil*

        Yeah. “Baby” is a term of endearment and a lot of people refer to their pets as “baby” to express their adoration, but I’m personally yet to meet anyone who literally thinks cats and dogs are like children.

        1. PT*

          My cats are my babies, but lately they have been behaving like raccoons.

          Get off the table and the counter and out of the trash and stop scavenging for food.

      5. Kate*

        Agreed; they’re typically entirely benign comments and not outwardly directed. A classic example of “this is about me, not about you” when said by a self-proclaimed cat-mom.

        I had one time though when I almost came to blows with someone and it was when my mother was in the neuro-icu after she had a sudden aneurysm burst; she was in a medically induced coma and we did not know if she would live or die, nor if she would experience irrevocable brain damage. Family friends stopped by (a couple that’s proudly childless by choice and self proclaimed dog parents) and the man said: “I know exactly how you feel, I was so upset when [my dog] needed to have surgery last year….”

        I held my tongue, but I’ll admit, I’ve never thought of them the same way since.

      6. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, some people can be really over the top about treating their pets as kids but “I don’t want my baby to go hungry” is not that. It seems more of just general “pet name” use than acting like their cat is an actual human baby. Like many people might say a similar sentence about their spouse! It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say, and while I understand that Jane was dealing with unimaginable pain, she cannot be allowed to file formal complaints any time someone simply uses the word “baby.”

      7. EmmaPoet*

        I refer to my family’s dogs as my canine siblings. But I am willing to admit that I am weird, and don’t do it at work.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      My cat certainly gets away with making eye contact with me and slowly pushing yellow glass bird off the table, in a way that would never have flown with my toddlers.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My cats never act worse than when I’m working from home and not paying attention to them–knocking stuff over, fighting, pestering each other, pestering me, and finally falling asleep somewhere weird and uncomfortable. Just like my human nephew. Nephew’s parents pointed out the similarity themselves.

  10. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Oh Jane. I had several losses and can understand how she feels.

    I feel like when there’s something deeper going on, it can make you see every interaction through that lens. A few years ago, I had serious feelings that people thought my position/promotion was undeserved and it made me hypersensitive to any and all comments, esp from 1 person.

    I did confide in my manager; he was sympathetic and said a sit down with the 3 of us would be the best way to resolve but I refused. I’m glad I did though bc looking back, I definitely would not have come off well. I did suspect I was being hypersensitive and also that person did have something going on in their life (small office most of us knew each other’s big events/milestones). Sure enough, it stopped completely after they went on vacation.

  11. Kate, short for Bob*

    For the avoidance of doubt, of you ever hear me say/mutter/scream ‘you stupid piece of s***’ I will be referring to myself.

    Unless I’m urgently trying to print a simple page of text on a printer that says it’s connected and fine. That’s the only exception.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Most of my inner frustrations come from this $@)%&!(@!! work computer! Every time either Outlook, “Quick”Books or some other program I need to get input into and fast decides it would rather take its sweet lovable time processing my request, I’m usually uttering swear words or phrases to the effect of “sometime today, computer!” But sometimes co-workers overhear my mutterings. Thankfully they’re dealing with the same slowness on their computers and thus they can echo my frustrations.

      Time for cheap-o boss to buy some 10 Gb switches and ethernet adaptors. Okay, I’ll stop dreaming now.

  12. VirtuallyOutraged*

    Re the target of the “schmuck”. I wouldn’t be surprised if the interviewer glanced down at messages/emails on their phone after being engaged in the interview for some time. They may have responded out loud to something they saw on their phone. My phone messages often make me want to call people schmucks.

    1. SarahKay*

      Oh, yeah! One of the joys of working from home is that when I get a particularly stupid email or IM I can tell my screen exactly what I think of it, with swearing if I feel so inclined. Then I pull on my professional pants and respond in a work-place-appropriate manner.

    2. Tuesday*

      That’s a really good theory because checking messages is something someone is likely to do right after an interview – especially if they were waiting to hear back about something important.

    3. Dust Bunny*


      We had a microwave at a job, many jobs ago, that was probably the target of more collective swearing than all other appliances and frustrating clients combined. Bosses refused to replace it because “it still worked”.

  13. Laure001*

    English is not my first language, and I was wondering… Isn’t “shmuck” an outdated insult? Is it really still in use? Because if it is outdated, then the probability that the interviewer was, I don’t know, looking at his phone, realizing that he missed a meeting or something and saying “fuck” is greater, I guess.
    Also, wouldn’t “shmuck” used as an insult against someone you just interviewed a little weird? Wouldn’t you rather say or think that the guy you interviewed was an idiot or incompetent or deluded or…who knows?
    Just thinking that the choice of this particular insult is a little strange, and so that there is a chance that the OP misheard, I suppose.

    1. Huttj*

      Depends on region/community/family/generation. You do hear it around at times even today. Also, it derives from Yiddish so if you have family in those groups you’re more likely to have picked it up.

    2. Jesshereforthecomments*

      I think schmuck is outdated, and I’m in my 40s. But I live/grew up in the PNW so maybe it’s regional?

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Sort of? It wouldn’t be the first thing that came to my mind, but it’s not so outdated that it’s off the radar. It’s also less offensive and thus safer for work than a lot of trendier insults.

    4. Lucy Skywalker*

      “Schmuck” is a slang word for penis in Yiddish. It’s basically the equivalent of calling someone a dick.

  14. whatever*

    1. This sort of situation aside, I never understood why people think ‘pet parents’ are being serious when they use this label. It’s never actually equating pet care to raising a human being. Sure, you’ll have those outliers who do, but people parents who take offense to it (once again, outside of a similar situation to the OP) are willfully misinterpreting it. It’s not a new term.
    4. Why do so many people think that it’s an acceptable idea to meet with their friend’s/kid’s/SO’s boss?

    1. river*

      I agree. We can say we love our family and we love icecream, and nobody thinks it’s equivalent. I think of ‘my cat is my baby’ in the same way.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      I don’t think it’s wilful misinterpretation; very few people go out of their way to upset themselves over nothing. It’s more that if you do have trauma around parenting (postnatal PTSD here), it’s so visceral that the comparison hits you harder and faster than your second thoughts can cushion it.

      This doesn’t justify yelling, of course, but let’s not attribute worse motives than necessary. It comes from a place of distress, which is way commoner in parenting than many people realise, because talking about parental trauma is a massive taboo.

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        I hope you’re doing better! And I agree 100%; the narrative is so overwhelmingly “having a baby is The Best Thing Ever” that it’s really difficult to be able to talk openly about anything even slightly negative other than “I’m so tired, but of course the little bundle is worth it”.

      2. hbc*

        It’s not just from people who’ve suffered trauma. I’ve seen it most often from parents who 1) truly think that having reproduced* means that they are superior to non-parents and 2) don’t have a lot of respect for animals. It’d be like telling a French wine snob that you’re an oenophile who enjoys your favorite $7.99 Californian blend every night.

        *Interestingly, I’ve never seen it from adoptive parents. I think they’re more likely to recognize that feelings of parental/protective love are complicated and there’s no point in comparing or competing.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          It’s nicer not to use phrases like ‘having reproduced’. They’re physically demeaning, reducing childbearing to an animal function. Believe me, having it reduced like that during the actual process does not do your mental health any good. Even if they aren’t respectful of you, counter-disrespect creates a blast radius that hits innocent people.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            hbc fully specified that they used that phrase to differentiate biological parents I don’t think nitpicking or calling them disrespectful is helpful or warranted.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              It’s an ugly phrase. That’s not a nitpick; I found it physically upsetting. You don’t have to feel the same way, but that’s how I felt.

              1. littledoctor*

                Sure, but do your personal feelings about a particular innocuous phrase give you the right to police other people’s speech? I would argue they don’t. This is your personal issue around the term reproduction, not something actually wrong with the phrase.

                1. Ice and Indigo*

                  Well, yeah, like I said, I have postnatal PTSD. The co-worker has lost a baby. A lot of people have a ‘personal issue’ around this whole subject. That’s what I was trying to point out.

                  And if you think ‘it’s nicer not to’ is ‘policing’, well, I’m glad your local police force are so agreeable. :-)

                  But ‘personal issue’ and ‘actually wrong’ are a false dichotomy here. It’s a sensitive subject; some people have sensitivities. As I said, it’s not an excuse for anyone to yell, but understanding the processes can be helpful to people.

                  HBC’s language was not a slur, sure, but I didn’t say it was. As to the issue of disrespect, it’s not just that phrase: the whole post was pretty dismissive and focused on creating a negative image of people who don’t like the phrase ‘baby’. All based on the assumption that there’s no trauma there, which is not something you can reliably know about someone. I’m not a fan of people discouraging compassion and the benefit of the doubt.

                  However, I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time or my own on a pointless dispute about this, so that’s as much as I’m going to say on the topic. Have a nice day, all.

              2. Worldwalker*

                It’s not an ugly phrase. It’s a simple, direct statement of fact.

                People become parents many ways. Reproducing is one of them.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            counter-disrespect creates a blast radius that hits innocent people.

            I’m totally stealing that.

          3. littledoctor*

            Imo there’s really nothing disrespectful about describing reproduction as reproduction. It’s not reducing it to anything that it isn’t—reproduction IS a biological process common among various species, including human.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              That’s where I am too. I could understand calling parents “breeders” or something else being dismissive and insulting but this is just…the word for the thing.

              1. littledoctor*

                Exactly. This is literally a completely neutral term to describe a particular process. There’s nothing objectively offensive about it, any more than there is anything offensive in any other term to describe biology.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              Ok, I want to clarify that I’m not saying there’s any moral superiority in childbearing. When I say ‘animal function’, I’m speaking of how the pregnant body can be reduced to its utility without regard for its suffering, much as animals are often abused in meatpacking. That was my experience. I am fairly sure there are abattoir workers more humane than the midwives I encountered.

              Can I point out that this was quite a pile on and very little benefit of the doubt for someone who specifically said they had PTSD around this issue? I am struggling to stay polite, so I’ll stop here before I say something I regret.m

              1. littledoctor*

                Respectfully, other people disagreeing with you when you, frankly, sort of attack another person’s extremely benign and deliberately inclusive word choice is really on you. If you aren’t able to or don’t want to discuss a given thing, maybe don’t accuse a random innocent person of being “disrespectful” in their word choice around a given thing.

              2. littledoctor*

                Like, not to come back to this, but where was your benefit of the doubt towards the prior commenter when you said the term they chose was “physically demeaning”, dehumanized those who’ve reproduced, and said it was “counter-disrespect”? It’s pretty unfair to nitpick and police other people’s language, and then act like other people don’t have a right to express their own opinion to you because of your childbirth-related trauma.

    3. Doreen Kostner*

      I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered someone who got upset when a “pet parent’ wasn’t equating pet care to raising a human being. There’s simply referring to yourself as a “pet parent” and talking about your “furbabies” – which I have never seen anyone get upset about . What I see people get upset about is when pets are explicitly compared to children , such as in the example above where the person says he understands how hard it is to work a night shift without reliable child care because he has three kids (who turn out to be dogs) * or an incident I actually witnessed where someone whose cat had died explicitly said the cat should be treated in every way as if her child – because in her view , it was her child and she should be entitled to the same bereavement leave as someone would get for the death of ta child , she should have been entitled to take FMLA/sick leave, etc while the cat was ill

      * I don’t know anyone who actually uses a pet-sitter on a daily basis to go to work every day – I’m sure some people must , but I’d be really surprised if someone was paying to board three dogs overnight to work the nightshift. And if they aren’t paying someone – for example, someone else in the household is home at night , or the dogs are left home alone while he is working, then it makes no sense for him to say he understands the child-care issue based on having the dogs. He may or may not understand it – but the dogs are irrelevant.

    4. Gothic Bee*

      I agree on #1. Also, I have pets (2 cats, 1 dog) and I actually never refer to them as my kids or refer to myself as their parent specifically because I do not ever want to be a mom and even jokingly referring to them that way weirds me out. But even so, other people (with kids!) routinely call them my babies or call me a dog-mom or cat-mom. I don’t really mind, but even when I try avoiding that terminology, I feel like it’s pretty much unavoidable because of the culture surrounding pet ownership (at least in my neck of the US).

    5. allathian*

      Yeah, I tend to think that they’re serious only if they’re obviously anthrophomorphizing their pets in other ways, such as dressing them in clothes because it looks cute rather than because they need something to protect them from inclement weather, having them eat off a china plate at the table while sitting on a chair, dyeing their fur in unnatural colors, or otherwise treating them in a way that doesn’t recognize their needs as members of their species.

  15. Green great dragon*

    It wouldn’t make good TV, but ‘look, my boss is at the next table, can we move’ seems fine? My boss is great and I still wouldn’t want to have dinner with a friend at the table next to her.

    1. Ashkela*

      Thing is, they totally could have still gotten good TV out of it without the purposeful deception. Boss sees her leaving without eating and starts to wonder why. Brings it up at work but jumps to totally the wrong conclusion and the comedy of errors goes from there.

      But yeah, I’ve left a restaurant just to not run into someone I knew socially but wasn’t up for dealing with that day.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Why not just write the note on a napkin, or even type it on your phone and show the interviewer?

  16. pcake*

    I’m a mother of two humans and have always had cat companions till recently, and from my point of view, love knows no species or boundaries. We are still mourning the loss of our cat of 20 years even over a year later.

    1. Bucky Barnes*


      I am not a mother of humans because I can’t have them, but I do have a 15 lb cat. He is not my kid but he is my companion and I love him dearly.

    2. Anonny*

      Yep, still mourning the loss of my dog from ten years ago. Not so much now, but sometimes there’s a little pang in my heart.

      As for my current dog – she’s the first dog I had as an adult, and yeah I can see that the baby comparison is somewhat appropriate. I have to teach her right from wrong, guide her through new situations and meeting new people, ensure her basic needs are met, make sure she’s loved and attended to, and frequently have to pull her out of trouble. (Terriers.) Like, it’s not the same as raising a child, but adopting a compassionate and understanding ‘parental role’ towards your pet is the easiest way to ensure a happy, well-adjusted, well-trained animal.

        1. aubrey*

          Haha attempted to write terriers, autocorrected to terrors, and screwed up fixing it because I was laughing…

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My childhood cat died over twenty years ago (of old age, not something early and tragic). A couple of years ago, Mom and I were cleaning out some old junk and found a box she had clawed up–she really loved to claw up cardboard. We both started laughing. And then sobbing. Over a cat who had a good life and lived to be old and had been gone for decades.

      No, they’re not human, but they’re still individuals.

    4. Girl Alex PR*

      Yes! I have a dog who is older than my human children, and a beloved cat who recently passed. I have two living children and a deceased son. I love them all. Love is love is love.

  17. Seconds*

    “Schmuck”: I like Alison’s advice to judge this in the total context. It reminds me of my own experience.

    Once, I was interviewing daycare providers for my daughter. I really felt good about a certain in-home provider, but then, from an adjoining room, I heard her call her (overweight) daughter “big pig.” I was shocked, and nearly backed out of the deal—but I weighed it against everything else I’d seen and heard, which all seemed to point to a loving and supportive environment, and decided to trust that there was something I didn’t know.

    It turned out (I learned much later) that Big Pig was the name of a children’s song (I think) that the daughter was listening to. And my daughter completely enjoyed her time in that home.

    1. Drag0nfly*

      The first thing I would have wondered is if the mom was Latina. In my high school Spanish classes our textbook has a scene where parents were calling their chubby daughter “gordita,” which means “little fat one.” Our teacher explained gordita/gordito is a term of affection for small children in some South American countries. The girl in the scene had that “cherub baby” shape, which was associated with prosperous parents and healthy, beloved children.

      Just another reason why it’s better to not jump to conclusions.

    2. Yaz Pistachio*

      Big Pig happened to be the name of my daughters favorite stuffed animal—the one she took everywhere. She was two when she got him and had a limited vocab for naming things. We said that phrase a lot.

  18. Dr Sarah*

    While I would absolutely cut Jane slack for freaking out and having a screaming fit in the moment, the fact that she then went and made an official complaint about something that really wasn’t what happened is of more concern to me. Sure, I’d still be willing to go with the ‘grief makes people behave weirdly’ explanation rather than assuming she’s a horrible person… but, if grief is making her behave that badly, it sounds to me like she actually shouldn’t be at work. Not in a disciplinary sense, but in a ‘this is impacting you so badly that you can’t manage the basics of your job and need to take sick leave’ sense. I agree that it’s not the LW’s place to do anything about this, but it does seem to me that the manager should ideally have taken Jane aside for a quiet word and to arrange some sort of sick leave for her. (Which, of course, I suppose might have happened by now for all we know.)

    1. Elenna*

      My read was that Jane genuinely believed LW was mocking her, due to her pain making her misread things. So from her POV, making the complaint was perfectly reasonable.

      But yeah, this definitely does suggest that some sort of sick leave would be helpful for her, if possible, not that that’s something LW can influence.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is where I fall with regards to “grief makes you do weird things” explanation. If you are having so much trouble dealing with your grief at this moment that you are lashing out and filing complaints about your coworkers – then something needs to be worked out to get you out of there and let you try and get a handle on your grief at home/with a counselor. It’s not ever okay to take your grief out on another person – and especially not at work.

      1. Dr Sarah*

        Yes, this is exactly what I meant. I can understand and sympathise and Jane is probably a lovely person when she’s not in the throes of horrible grief, so this really isn’t something I’d want to see any sort of disciplinary action taken over. But… if you have co-workers, maintaining civil relationships with them is part of your job. Weighing up when it is or isn’t appropriate to use the complaints machinery is part of your job. If you can’t do those things then, by definition, you can’t do your job. (I’d have concerns over how well she was managing other parts of her job, as well, if she’s that badly affected; but, even if she’s compartmentalising them and managing that just fine, she still isn’t managing the bits that involve normal interaction with co-workers.)

        I really hope Jane gets the support she needs, but, if I were her manager right now, I’d be pushing her quite strongly to take some sick leave.

  19. anonymous73*

    #1 – I disagree about Jane. Yes, grief can make you do and say things that in the normal course of events you wouldn’t do/say. So I could get over the outburst at the OP. But she went to her manager and tried to report her for something she didn’t do and that’s 100% not okay. I would not apologize, and make sure my manager had a record of what happened. If this isn’t just a one time incident, OP needs a CYA file. Her manager could leave and something could happen again, and next time the new manager may not be so reasonable.

  20. Falling Diphthong*

    There’s a scene in The Farewell where Grandma (in China) is talking about her American granddaughter’s adorable toddler bubble butt and it’s clearly meant as both a warm and loving exchange and a totally normal thing lots of grandmas say. My sense was including it was to make the point about how Billie code-switched between different contexts, and your grandma can totally talk about your bubble butt. But any classmates in the US should expect to be body slammed for trying it.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Gah, nesting fail–should be under Big Pig and Gordita. I do recommend this movie for warm family holiday viewing though.

  21. Delta Delta*

    Yeah, I’d be giving Jane a wide berth forever after this.

    If it was a one-off, maybe I’d be sort of arm’s-length with her. But the escalation to the manager with something that is completely false is out of line.

  22. Not really a Waitress*

    Grief is tough. Having lost my both my parents in the past few years, I have dealt with a lot of it. Grief never goes away. Part of dealing with it is incorporating it into your new normal. I will never not miss my mom and dad. But I can not get upset every time someone mentions their parents, or I see people with their elderly parents. I don’t tell people not to celebrate Father’s day around me. Or mention their parents, or their children’s grandparents.

    My grief does not give me permission to treat other people poorly. Yes as a rule we should be sensitive. But I don’t think the OP was even remotely being insensitive. (I have three kids and they say my dog is my baby.) But part of managing grief is learning how to work it into our normal.

    1. Anon this time*

      I think timing does matter here. I’ve had multiple pregnancy losses and the last was particularly disturbing, and the grief isn’t going anywhere. But the shock, the hormones, the emotional whiplash, that was a little more contained. The day after my last miscarriage, I was a complete and utter wreck–but I’m in the US, paid sick leave is limited, medical bills are expensive, so I soldiered on as best I could.

      There’s no way of knowing whether Jane had lost her pregnancy a month ago, a week ago, or twelve hours ago. I would be wary around her and keep an eye out, certainly, but not write her off for one misunderstanding that may have happened in a moment of extreme duress. Sometimes we all lose our heads.

  23. Anna*

    I completely agree and understand that Jane’s reaction was due to grief. The outburst in the moment is understandable. But going to a a manager about it is beyond. She thought that her coworker, who didn’t know ab0ut the miscarriage, was making fun of Jane by making a comment about spoiling her cat? I get that “baby” is not a great word for Jane right now, but “baby” is also a common term of endearment for ones pet or car or favorite project or who knows what.
    I completely get that Jane must be devastated right now. That explains the reaction. It doesn’t explain going to management about it.

    1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      As others have pointed out, it’s really easy to forget in the midst of any kind of stress who does and doesn’t know what, and it can easily seem like the thing that is first and foremost in your own mind is super-evident to everyone – or to worry that your situation is being gossiped about and see catty hints in what is merely a conversation about an actual cat.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My reaction is the same – I totally get and sympathize with Jane’s reaction, but she lost me at going to the manager. With a less understanding manager, she could’ve put OP’s job at risk and OP would’ve never known why.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        She went to her manager because she believed someone was mocking her loss. Just because she misinterpreted something in her grief doesn’t mean her complaint wasn’t made in good faith.

  24. Salad Daisy*

    #2 That’s a word I would never use in any context, and I can swear like a sailor in English.
    But here’s a very old joke for all my friends who understand Yiddish:

    A young American computer expert read some books on the early Zionists who came to Israel and worked hard just to develop a bit of farm land. They gave of their sweat and toil so that there should be a fertile country for us. He was impressed with their unselfish toil and decided to immigrate to Israel and be a pioneer.

    He went to the Jewish Agency and applied to come on Aliyah. They asked him what he did and when they found out that he was a computer genius, they promptly assured him that he would be taken care of in Israel. They set him up in a nice apartment in North Tel Aviv in a modern building with a job in a equally modern building a short ride away.

    After a few months in Israel his pioneering spirit began to plague him. He wanted to feel like a pioneer and he felt that there was no difference between his life in Tel Aviv to that of his native New York. So he went out and bought a camel.

    Every day he would ride his camel to his office and in the evening he would ride it back. Now at least he felt that he was in the Middle-East. But after several weeks of riding the camel he came out and it was gone.

    He called the missing camel department of the Israeli police who promptly sent out an senior investigator to help find his camel.

    “Tell me sir, I need some information so that we can look for it. Was it a dark brown camel or a light brown one?”

    “I don’t exactly remmember the color” he said.

    “Okay, tell me did it have one hump or two?”

    “Hmmm, I really did not pay attention, I sat on a saddle”

    “Well then, did it have a long tail or a short tail?”

    “Gee, I really did not notice”

    “Do you remember the color of the eyes.”

    “No, I haven’t any idea.”

    “Well you probably don’t know if it was a male camel or a female.”

    “Ah, that I do know! It was a male!”

    “Now look here sir, if you did not know if it was a one humper or two humper, if it had a long tail or short tail, if was dark brown or light brown, or the color of the eyes, how on earth are you so certain that it was a male?”

    The young man answered “Well, you know that every morning when I would ride it to work, people would come running to the sidewalk to watch me as I rode by. I could hear them call to their friends yelling, ‘Hey, come here and see this big s*****k on a camel!’

  25. Self Employed Employee*

    I read the “schmuck” comment as the interview went well and now the interviewee is going to be stuck working for the company. Interviewer might know the workplace is not ideal and here comes another schmuck to work the grindstone…

    1. pancakes*

      That’s really reading a lot into a single word. It could’ve referred to any one of countless various other things.

  26. Abogado Avocado*

    #1: Without context, Jane’s reaction sounds bizarre. But with the context that your manager has given you in confidence, is it possible to have some compassion for her and, rather than giving her a wide berth (as Alison has suggested), saying to her, “Apparently I offended you when speaking of my cat. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”? You needn’t reference her miscarriage or anything else, just that she was offended and you didn’t mean to do so.

    Please note: I’m not talking about taking responsibility for mocking her, which both you and your supervisor know you did not do. Rather, I’m talking about behaving kindly towards her now that you know she’s suffering a loss and that loss colored her response. At some point, when this loss no longer seems as sharp to her, she will remember your kindness in apologizing, which may make it easier to work together.

    In writing this, I in no way mean to diminish your feelings for your kitties or that Jane complained about you to HR. I have several animal companions, including two gorgeous cats, who I always refer to as my fur-babies, so I do know where you’re coming from. And had your supervisor put you through the wringer for this, it would be harder to counsel kindness.

    1. Okay, great!*

      That kind of acknowledgement sounds like it would be a good thing to do, but right now would most likely just make things worse. It’s just going to bring back up something that is so painful for her right now. It’s not rational, but that’s grief. Giving her a wide berth for a while and just talking about work related things will put some distance and time between them and the incident, and things will normalize. I absolutely understand wanting to smooth over a situation and let them know you meant no offense. It just won’t be received the way its intended with the mindset Jane has right now unfortunately.

  27. CommanderBanana*

    I refer to my dogs as Mommy’s precious angels, but usually sarcastically in the context of describing their latest crimes.

  28. Phoenix from the ashes*

    #2 my first thought was that the interviewer had some sort of Situation going on separately, as soon as the interview was over they checked their phone to make sure it was under control and found that some schmuck had made it worse…..

    I mean, I’ve interviewed some people in my time who I didn’t think highly of but I can’t imagine calling any of them names. To me, that implies a whole other level of frustration.

  29. ElleKay*

    RE: Rachel’s other options.
    Also, in today’s context, she would have had a cell phone and could have sent a text or email to the interviewer while she was waiting too!

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