updates: the unflushed toilet, covering for a remote coworker, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Employee isn’t flushing the toilet

I opened with telling her that this was going to be an uncomfortable conversation. I explained what was happening and she was MORTIFIED. She explained that her family taught her to always close the lid, and at the end of the day, she gets caught up in all she has to do when she gets home, and just forgot. It hasn’t happened since, and she is still a wonderful employee!

2. Do I need to keep covering a remote employee’s work?

I’m happy to report that I did take your advice! I had the conversation you suggested with my boss, and they were very understanding and said they would make sure they situation was resolved. I don’t know what happened after that, but Alice later reached out to let me know she was going to be coming into the office a couple days per week when necessary to complete her parts of our projects. This has been working out well since. I have been trying to complete my parts of each project well in advance so that she can get multiple done in a day and can minimize the trips she has to make. I believe her team is also working to hire another position to help relieve her of some work.

Thank you for providing great advice, now and always!

3. My family wants to live near each other — how do we do this with work?

In December of 2019, I reached out asking for advice on how to balance the jobs and wants of myself and partner, my brother, and my parents, when we all loved our current homes but also wanted to live closer to each other. The letter was published in Feb 2020 as an “Ask the Readers” question (a little less than a month before the pandemic hit the U.S. in earnest.) There was a lot of great advice in the comments, but the two big messages that came out again and again were: “You have too many maybes right now. Wait and see what happens – will you have actually have a baby and when? Will your brother find a partner? Will something change with someone’s job?” and “Someone (or multiple someones) is going to have to give something up or compromise in this situation. You can’t avoid that.”

A year and a half later, there certainly are fewer maybes, and some things have changed!

For one thing, there was that whole pandemic situation. Except for my dad, not one of us has a job that can really work remotely (two teachers, a nurse, my brother the “sea captain”), but the pandemic cemented the fact that it sucks to live far away from your loved ones, especially when things get scary and travel gets hard.

For another thing – I had a baby! My partner and I now have a 5-month-old wonderful tiny creature living with us. She’s so cool. This fact alone has already changed things. My parents (or us) still can’t afford to fly back and forth super frequently, but instead they’ve been driving here (an ~11 hour drive each way) for a five day visit every month, to help with child care and hang out with Baby. (My partner and I also spent ~3 weeks with them over the summer with the baby.)

And my brother now has a serious girlfriend – they live together now and just got a new puppy together. My brother definitely wants to have kids at some point, but they’re not there yet.

In a way, all of the same difficult situations that I had before still exist. We all still live really far away from each other. We’re making it work for now, with lots and lots of time in the car, but my parents are going to keep getting older, and driving so often doesn’t feel sustainable. My mom will be retiring soon, but they’re afraid that if they move here, then my brother will have a baby in a year or two and will feel left out or sad if he doesn’t get any grandparent help. They feel like they have to pick between kids if they think about a move. At least professionally everyone is doing well! And we have the cutest baby in the world, so that helps too. : D

Thanks Alison and commenters!

P.S. My mom is retiring soon, after working for about four decades as an esteemed and beloved nurse. She loves her job and it’s a core part of her, and the thought of retiring is starting to hit hard. Do you or any readers have ideas for resources for people who are retiring and, while they know the decision makes sense for many reasons, also feel pretty sad and maybe driftless at the thought? Maybe ways to frame it; books to read; types of community groups or resources to search for her in her local area; etc.

4. My manager said something odd in my performance review (#5 at the link)

Thanks for answering my question back in March 2020, but wow the start of some weird, weird times. I did approach my manager and used a bit of your language to understand what that comment was about. It went, well not great? The response was “I know you pushed the internal training group but you know what can you do.” That was ended in a wink. A WINK. From there things got well, worse because 2020. The company announced a 10% pay cut for all employees with the claims that it was done to avoid layoffs. Spoilers: they laid people off anyway and those that stayed still had ongoing pay cut. In our small team meeting my manager discussed the next phase, which was forcing us to use half our vacation time in the next 5 weeks. It was shared as a blessing because in the next breath he pointed out that he fought to keep me on, which was difficult due to my high salary. Again, I was not highly paid for my position. That was an extremely awkward thing to endure in front of my colleagues.

So I did what everyone else did in 2020 and looked for a new job. It was stressful as working in a lab meant I was in the office during the entire pandemic because it’s hard to take liquid nitrogen home. It took a while but I did take a chance on a consulting position with a growing firm back in my past industry. To say it’s been fantastic is an understatement. I now work from home, am well paid with good benefits and killer bonus structure, the work is exciting and cutting edge and I’m highly praised for my contributions. I’m just about rounding up a year here and it feels like I have been and could do this for a long, long time. I never addressed my past manager about the money comments again and honestly I ghosted them when I left, dropped my laptop and keys with an HR drone over the holiday break span and said thanks for laughs. It was 2020 and not worth the 2 weeks. Something I’ve never done in my professional career but was so worth the 2 weeks at home to detox and recenter prior to starting my new incredible job. Thanks again Alison for the advice but the result was just a bad manager unfortunately. Onward all!

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. Nicki Name*

    #3, there was a great “ask the readers” post a couple years ago (featuring Alison’s mom!) about retirement which might have some useful info for your mom. I’ll put a link into a reply to this post.

    1. Kshoosh*

      My mom retired several years ago after teaching 5th grade for 30 years (she’s a special person in so many ways ❤) and discovered a new passion working to train her dogs to do therapy work with her for the local drug court- many stressed kids end up in their waiting rooms- and the airport near them, calming nervous travelers. She spends lots of grandkids time also but in doing this, she gets to volunteer, to put her mind to something, and to give back, and it brings her joy.

      My dad retired last year and has not found a passion in retirement yet, and the difference between their experiences has been stark. For my mom it’s not a matter of staying busy, so much as it is of feeling useful and like she’s doing good in the world, especially as accomplished as they both were before retiring. I’m looking forward to my dad finding that, just as my mom has.

      1. jiggle mouse*

        My mom retired from a family support job at a large school district, and now she cares for her disabled half-sister and early Alzheimers husband full time, in addition to continuing to act as an unofficial support worker for half the neighborhood. Luckily a couple of my siblings are able to help out. Retirement is hard work for folks below a certain socioeconomic level.

    2. a tester, not a developer*

      My MIL retired from nursing, but still wanted to be hospital-adjacent, so she took on a volunteer info desk/porter gig at a small local hospital (not the one she worked at before she retired). We’re not in the US though – I don’t know if that job is available there?

      She also looked at being a classroom lunch supervisor (I think she’d get a small honorarium?), but Covid kind of put the kibosh on that for now.

    3. Gigi*

      My dad retired with his third (third!) pension a couple of years ago and after about six weeks started teaching paralegal students at his community college. He has two classes, which he adores, and otherwise goes to the gym and sends me pictures of stuff he makes in his air fryer. In other words, he’s living the damn dream. She should definitely consider teaching a course at her local community college. It makes a huge impact while still, technically, she’s retired.

    4. Chief Bottle Washer*

      The time to make plans for retirement is well before retirement. Those who don’t already have engaging hobbies and community involvement can really struggle.

    5. Beth*

      One of the best summaries I’ve ever heard is:

      “Don’t just retire ‘from’ your job. Retire TO something else.”

  2. Cedarthea*

    For LW #3 with the nurse mom, from what I can tell (my grandmother, two aunts, and a cousin are all nurses) is that there really is no such thing as a retired nurse, they always find a way back at it, but on their own terms.

    My one retired nurse Auntie is very active in RNAO (the Registered Nurses in Ontario) and their leadership with volunteers, while the other is a diabetes educator so she continues to do the educational component that she can do as contracts and on her own terms. My Grannie worked in long term care as a nurse after she stepped away from the hospital nursing, she also volunteered in the local women’s shelter where she put her nursing skills to work.

    Other options are working as a camp nurse for a week or two a summer, or working in places where she can be like a “substitute” or “supply” nurse so she can stay connected without having to commit to the lifestyle.

    I am grateful to all the nurses in my life (and there is a very good reason why I am an educator, and not a nurse) and want to thank your mom for her time as a nurse.

    1. NerdyPrettyThings*

      My mom is also a nurse. When she “retired,” she worked weekend option two weekends a month for a while, then one weekend a month, then just here and there, then finally stopped working all together. She just needed to phase herself out, I guess. It was just a really big part of her self-identity. She still doesn’t like for someone to say she “was” a nurse. She calls it out every time and says, “my license is current!”

    2. lobsterp0t*

      Yep this. My aunt retired and… immediately started volunteering for contact tracing and vaccine delivery.

    3. desdemona*

      One of my older nurse relatives does ambulance special transport, now – moving patients between hospitals when needed for critical care.
      My understanding is that it’s an on-call position with fairly limited actual hours, but she’s also in a pretty rural area.

    4. KateM*

      Yes, the teachers who retire in our school do after-school programs in their specialty or help out as substitutes.

    5. Ally McBeal*

      Agreed with this. My mother is an RN who always maintained her license/CEUs even when she went a decade or more without practicing. Recently she was putting a deposit down for her spot at an assisted living facility, overheard the charge nurse complaining about being understaffed, and basically walked out with a part-time job that day. She’s in her mid 70s and still enjoying the work.

    6. GNG*

      Nurse here, coming to say the same thing about nurses, especially the esteemed and beloved ones, never seem to retire and have nothing to do. Successful nurses tend to have well-honed leadership, organization, communication, and counseling skills, and tend not to let grass grow under their feet. Totally agree with Cedarthea that they always seem to find ways to keep using these skills, but in different ways than before retirement.

      For example, a few retired colleagues did freelance consulting for healthcare organizations. A few did freelance health-related content review for publication/media companies. Some volunteered in long-term care facilities. Some trained volunteers. Some took up leadership positions in their alumni organizations at their nursing schools. Some taught CPR classes. Some volunteered in church, doing health screenings & education. I know at least 3 nurses who tried to officially retire twice now, but kept getting offers to start new things. I won’t be surprised at all if people in your mom’s network would approach her soon with offers for how she can use her valuable skills in her free time.

      1. GNG*

        Coming back here to add: Lots of suggestions here are good – although some sound more like part time nursing jobs that require an RN license, than retired-nurse jobs that uses nursing knowledge but does not require an active RN license. Maybe your mom would consider those if she would prefer more of a phase-out retirement strategy with an off-ramp.

        Also want to add one more suggestion for retired-nurse jobs: she might consider becoming a standardized patient (SP) at a medical school/nursing school/health professions education program in her area. For those who aren’t familiar with SP’s: They are carefully recruited and trained individuals who portray patients or families (or others) to allow health profession students to practice physical exam skills, history taking skills, communication, rapport building, developing empathy, etc. Not only do the SPs I’ve worked with do jaw-droppingly realistic patient portrayals (many have a theater background), they also rate the students’ performance, and give feedback to them as well. Retired nurses often make good SPs, and many find the work extremely rewarding. She should be able to google it fairly easily if she’s interested to find out more.

    7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My mom was a nurse for about 30 years. When she left she took a part time job as office support at a preschool, and was promptly designated the “official unofficial school nurse” for that preschool. Her duties consisted of: giving out lots of bandaids, giving out lots of hugs with ice packs, and taking to occasional temperature (this was all precovid). Unfortunately the school didn’t survive Covid closures – so she’s looking about again for some other part-time adventure.

  3. Dark Macadamia*

    LW3, I have a relative who is a doctor approaching retirement and already scaled back her hours + was furloughed for awhile. She sought out a lot of stuff like doing Covid testing at a prison, vaccine clinics, etc. Those won’t necessarily be an option post-pandemic but I’m sure there are lots of volunteer or part-time gigs that are nursing adjacent where your mom can still feel connected to her career without making a huge commitment. Or are there other types of service she wasn’t able to do while working but would enjoy now, like mentoring, tutoring, working with an organization to help a local cause?

  4. Librarian of SHIELD*

    OP3, I have a family member who struggled a lot with retirement. They felt really aimless and kept starting new jobs only to “retire” again in a couple of years. What helped in their case was moving closer to younger relatives to make “helping with the kids” their new job. The school runs, sports practice, field trips, classroom volunteering, the whole shebang. I know that’s not a perfect solution to every person who retires, but I think the important takeaway is to have a plan for what you’ll do with your time. Is there an organization near your parents that your mom has always wanted to get involved with but never had the time? Is there a cause that’s close to her heart that she can focus her attention on once she’s no longer working full time? Volunteering can be a great transition to retirement, because it gives you a place to go, a purpose and a passion to fulfill, and a way to stay connected with a community.

    Good luck to you and your family!

    1. Momma Bear*

      I agree re: the nurse finding a new outlet for her passion and skills. Maybe she can be a substitute nurse at a school or volunteer or something. I’d also encourage her to find new hobbies, travel, etc. People in service careers sometimes have a hard time doing things for themselves and putting themselves first.

      And insofar as family nearby – I get it, but I also grew up with one or the other set of grands being far away. You make it work. You make the effort. Your brother’s future children won’t feel left out if they get the time and attention that works for HIS family. Maybe the 5 day trips aren’t the right thing for his household and something else will be better. Focus on quality, not just quantity. Use technology. And maybe your parents split the difference and settle in the middle so they can see both sets of kids. Etc. I think in the end everyone needs to make the choices that work best for THEM and accept the choices of others.

  5. Librarian of SHIELD*

    OP5, your old boss was really, really weird! That wink, as if you should know what he meant for you to do, is just so unsettling even for a random internet stranger. I’m so glad you got out and found a better place to be!

    1. Observer*

      Yes, very weird behavior from your boss. I’m glad you’re out of there.

      OP, are you a woman? And is the factory heavily male?

      1. Handwashing Hero*

        Not sure if you’ll see this (I was on business travel this week) but yes on both accounts. The factory was heavily male dominated and I was a specialized, educated lab function. Not to say there weren’t other women on the floor but certainly less so.

        And yes, the wink was REALLY WEIRD.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      So I firmly believe that we underutilize winking in modern day society. There are so many great uses for it! Letting someone know you’re in on their subtle joke, telling your sweetie the look hot without making a scene, and, of course, in combination with finger guns!

      Conveying professional information, however, is not a great use for winking.

      1. Rav*

        Especially if the information involves 3 babies and a potential anti Christ.

        (Good Omens reference, just in case.)

  6. TimeTravlR*

    I’m with your mom, #3.. what will I do in retirement? I haven’t made the plunge yet but am making preparations and definitely want to have some direction on what to do with this next phase before I actually file the paperwork. It’s on my calendar to do tomorrow for a spring retirement, but I think I am going to kick the can down the road 30 days and see how I feel that day!

    1. Mademoiselle Sugarlump*

      I’m in the same state of mind. For now, I’m 66 and have no plans to retire, and no reason to think my company would like me to go. Kicking it down the road as far as I can!

  7. NewBoss2016*

    OP3- Not sure if this is helpful or not, but my Aunt who is a retired nurse does the following type of short-term gigs whenever she feels inclined: kids camps (summer, church, etc), rodeo and stock shows, retreats, things like that. She seems to always find some sort of group looking to have someone on standby, and gets to do a lot of activities and socialize in the meantime.

  8. Non-Profit Cowgirl*

    LW3: There are soooo many volunteer groups that would welcome your mom’s expertise. Off the top of my head, therapy animal organizations that bring animals into hospitals. Most of the volunteers don’t have an on-the-ground level understanding of the places they’re assigned to, and having someone who knows how to make life easier for volunteers and staff would be a godsend.

    Also? Her local Rotary club. I’m serious. Rotary’s big international flagship program is polio eradication and having someone with a health background who can volunteer on projects like that is invaluable. Plus, our local Rotary used their polio-eradication know how during the pandemic and started setting up vaccine clinics in our area.

    The world is her volunteering oyster, and so many places would be happy to have her!

    1. Ashley*

      Homeless shelters and free clinics routinely need help as well as a phase into retirement approach. I know most shelters try to do flu vaccine clinics and I am sure COVID shots and boosters are still a big thing that is needed for those populations on top of routine check-ups.

  9. Zan Shin*

    To LW 3 : I was a 40+ yr career RN. If she wants to do part time volunteering she might consider more off-beat things like mentoring a nursing student or being a postop helper at a local volunteer spay-neuter clinic. It took me, and most of my retired friends, up to four years of trial and error to settle into something long term.

    1. Ella*

      40+ years is a heck of a lot of valuable experience, so it’s nice to hear that some of you chose to pass it on in different ways. Another way for LW3’s mother to share it could be by writing a book or a small blog.

  10. irene adler*

    For #2: “I have been trying to complete my parts of each project well in advance so that she can get multiple done in a day and can minimize the trips she has to make.”


    This alone makes me wish we were co-workers!

    1. Van Wilder*

      Yeah, I’m having a really hard time picturing that.

      Also, I totally pictured the company sending a drone helicopter to your house to get your laptop at first.

      1. Beth*

        Me too! “The HR drone will land in the back yard to pick up your laptop. Please make sure there is a flat, well-lit surface for it to land.”

  11. Cleo*

    Wonderful updates!

    For LW3 – when my dad retired, he made the observation that there are only a few times in one’s life when it’s really easy to make friends – when you start kindergarten, when you start college (if you go) and when you retire. Every year there’s a whole new cohort of new retirees looking for new activities and new friends.

    My parents found using their local Senior Center useful when they each retired. And they both tried out different volunteer gigs and hobby groups until they found “their people.” My dad also consulted for awhile after retiring, as a way to slowly ease out of working fulltime.

    1. Artemesia*

      We retired to our daughter’s city to be near her and our grandkids – knowing no one else in this city. Ten years later we have a large social circle and active social life — I think you can build relationships at any age, but at retirement you will find it easier to encounter other people seeking new friendships in new places. The move was absolutely the right thing to do and it has made our retirement such a great pleasure..

    2. Ariaflame*

      Possible addition – when you travel. My parents travelled a fair bit (pre-covid) and I swear every trip they went on they met new people they kept in contact with.

  12. More anon today*

    #3 – I don’t have experience about retirement, but will tell you something possibly relevant that I wish I had learned earlier in life: it is okay to grieve for something you can no longer, or will never, do or have, even if you yourself made the decision not to have whatever it was. And being sad about it doesn’t necessarily mean you made the wrong decision! Things like retiring, leaving a job, deciding not to have kids, that time in high school when I decided to stick with science and not attempt to be the next Broadway star – sometimes you can’t have everything, and it’s okay to be sad about what you had to give up even if you’re still sure you made the right choice.

    1. FisherCat*

      Thanks for this! I’m not near retirement but lately I’ve been ruminating on several times I made Big Decisions, and who and what I would be if I’d taken the other fork in the road.

      A little perspective is a wonderful thing.

      1. Pikachu*

        I graduated with a liberal arts degree in 2007… I think about this a lot!

        I realized much later in life that while my degree might be considered “useless,” I got tremendous value from simply learning how to learn. Plus, it turned me into a great writer and that skill has carried me ever since. I became even more thankful for getting here during covid… if quarantine were an Olympic sport, I am Simone Biles. Freelancing on my own terms is the career I didn’t know I could have and didn’t know I wanted. Wouldn’t trade it for anything now.

    2. jiggle mouse*

      I’m a few years from retirement yet, from my paycheck/health insurance-providing job, and just starting to grieve that I will never be able to farm full time. I’ve spent every off the clock moment planning and building and learning about growing food and running successful small farm operations, but politics/pandemic made it impossible to leave my reliable boring job any sooner, so by the time I can retire I don’t foresee having the physical capability to pick up and run with my poor half-born farm.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        How sad! Thinking outside the box: Can you mentor younger people / college students majoring in farming-related topics (agriculture, agronomy, soil science etc.)? You might not be able to pay them but could you host them on your farm for an internship? Or raise funds to hire farm hands by hosting stay-at-the-farm weekend experiences? Or make your place available to a group of 4-H young people, to use for a growing season?

        Please ignore my remarks if they seem more like uninformed raving. I’m sympathetic to your frustration but I don’t know enough about farming to make completely (or even partially?) useful suggestions. I hope you find a way to live your farming dream.

      2. a tester, not a developer*

        I have a few older relatives who have hobby farms, and at least a couple of them have turned a profit by going into niche areas (heirloom vegetables, rare breed animals). Maybe you could do something like that when you retire?

  13. SomebodyElse*

    OP3: Glad to hear all the fun updates from you. I reread the original letter and searched for my name in the comments and yup, I was one of the ones who said that there will be a lot of opportunity to reevaluate decisions along the way. I think my advice still stands, keep being flexible, keep up the communication, and keep your collective options as open as possible.

    To your other question about your mom retiring… I actually chuckled a bit thinking about my neighbor who ‘retired’ as a medical tech. Yeah, he ended up running a free clinic attached to our local homeless mission. I really wouldn’t worry about her finding things to do, as once the volunteer circuit* finds out she’s a licensed nurse they’ll be beating down her door :)

    *Maybe I should have said syndicate? Underground? I am truly amazed at the volunteer organization infrastructure and how they are all interrelated and the volunteers have this great and elaborate system of getting stuff and people in the right place.

  14. Love updates!!*

    It’s such a bummer that we’re getting all these great updates but none of the original letters are updated with links to any of them!

    1. ???*

      Alison is on vacation this week; these posts are probably queued. Surely she’ll update the original posts once she gets back.

    2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      If I recall correctly the links on the original letters were done by an intern that Alison had for a while, it’s a very time-consuming task and I doubt that’s how she wants to spend her vacation!

    3. X-Man*

      Why is that such a “bummer?” Just click the link to the OG letter then click back…

      We got by without those links for years.

  15. lilsheba*

    #1 I’m glad that worked out well but I still don’t understand how anyone could ever forget to flush. The best way to handle that is do a courtesy flush every single time. Then flush again when done. End of story. Then definitely close the lid cause the lid being open is nasty.

    1. Zan Shin*

      Lid should be down before flushing is a rule we learned emphatically with Covid, though should have sooner…. And, alas, it’s easier to space out flushing when “out of sight, out of mind” meets a mind already moving on to the next thing…. But being reminded once should serve any thinking person from erring again

      1. OP#1*

        It wasn’t flushed at all. We both have very busy lives outside of work, and I trust that there was no malicious intent.

        1. GEE*

          So just to clarify; she has the office to herself for 30 minutes, goes to the bathroom during that time, puts the lid down since she might have to go again, plans to come back at the end of the day, but just kept forgetting?

    2. jiggle mouse*

      “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” is the motto in my 2-adult household, as long as no guests are expected. I could see forgetting to flush.

        1. nodramalama*

          I flush every time, but that seems a little unfair. Many people use this rule in order to not unnecessarily waste water, as flushing uses a significant amount of water.

    3. SpicySpice*

      I worked in an office building with the auto-flush feature and I spent a lot of hours there. More than once I used the restroom elsewhere and just walked away because I was so used to the toilet managing all that for me. I generally remembered once I got a few steps away, but probably I missed at least once.

      1. Cat Tree*

        In my department we got a renovated bathroom a few years ago with seven auto flush toilets. One of them broke and they replaced it with a manual flush toilet! I’m amazed anyone remembers to flush it because habit is so powerful.

      2. TechWriter*

        My old building had auto-flush on one floor and manual flush on another, but the bathrooms were otherwise basically identical. I was normally on the auto-flush floor, but on occasion had to use the manual flush floor. It felt very uncanny valley.

    4. Brightwanderer*

      I understood that “her family taught her to put the lid down” as meaning teaching her that you don’t flush every time – which is common in a lot of areas with water limits for one reason or another. You use the toilet repeatedly without flushing to save water. Given that this was an overnight thing, she probably meant to flush it before leaving every night, but was forgetting.

    5. OP#1*

      As the other commenters said, it’s easy to do when your mind is on other things. I have absolute faith that it was not done with malicious intent.

  16. Abogado Avocado*

    #3 – My mother retired after a long and accomplished nursing career and found, when she sought to volunteer, that she was very much in demand as a volunteer nurse at pro bono health clinics run by the Catholic Church in and around her town. It helped that she speaks Spanish fluently, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker because those needing pro bono health services in her area come in all races and ethnicities. I was surprised that there were so many volunteer opportunities for my mother in retirement, but she said there are many medically underserved people and nursing expertise is greatly appreciated. So, my suspicion is that your mama will have her pick of volunteer spots if that’s what she wants to do. Hope this alleviates your concerns.

  17. Plonit*

    I don’t know much about retirement but the lovely people at Volunteer Match https://www.volunteermatch.org/ have filters that will let you search for volunteer opportunities which are for people ages 55+ or which are virtual. When I had a long stretch of unemployment, having to keep a volunteer schedule one day a week gave me structure and purpose.

  18. Falling Diphthong*

    On not taking home the liquid nitrogen: My daughter does “young people in science” outreach and the presenters have discussed how they are giving a warped idea of jobs in science, which very rarely involve dipping household objects into liquid nitrogen.

    1. Student*

      I’ve had multiple jobs involving liquid nitrogen in a lab. All of them involved me using leftover LN2 to goof around with. One of the perks of science jobs is that sometimes you get to play around with the cool equipment and supplies, either professionally or with excess materials.

      I mean, I suppose she could teach them to cryo-weld with it, but that’s a lot less exciting for children than smashing a frozen flower. If she wants to get practical, I’m sure she’s showing them superconductor magnets with the LN2 before using it to smash things, PV=nRT gas law demos, etc.

      Lasers, radiation sources, and big magnets are also prone to getting played with when not in use for an experiment.

      We don’t screw around with the extra liquid helium, though – it’s expensive and much more dangerous.

    2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I routinely put things in liquid nitrogen as part of my science job :) Unfortunately, I don’t then get to smash them, which is usually the fun part of those outreach presentations. If I have only a little bit left over and it’s the end of the day I will sometimes play with the rest though, lol.

  19. Rara Avis*

    LW#3: my brother and I somehow ended up 3000 miles from our parents. My mother’s decision to retire was driven by the birth of her 3rd grandchild and her desire to be free to visit more often. We are incredibly lucky that they can afford to fly out 3 times a year (fall, winter, spring) for a week, and we go home to them for a week or two in the summer. (Not during Covid, but we did go out last summer and they were here in October.) They have been able to help out with my daughter when I travel for work (once or twice a year on a predicable schedule) but having them in the area would have been amazing, as daycare backup was a constant struggle when she was small. They have made noises about moving out to us, but it’s hard to imagine them leaving the community they’ve been part of for 50 years. Despite closing in on 80, they have both been very active in retirement. My dad volunteers at the hospital, writes memoirs, creates acrostic puzzles, jogs, and is active in the retired community of his employer. My mom volunteers for Friends of the Library and a local genealogical library (they are working on photographing and creating a searchable digital record of every gravestone in every cemetery in the state), quilts, rows, and has tea with her friends.

    1. a tester, not a developer*

      I know it’s not what you meant, but I read the last sentence as “quilts with her friends, argues with her friends, has tea with her friends”. It sounded like a British soap opera. :)

  20. LizWings*

    For #3: Definitely have your mother think about things that she loves or things she wants to learn more about to help her decide what to do in retirement. My Dad retired and was soon busier than when he was working! And his retirement activities had nothing to do with his work! He became a museum docent for their special exhibitions (they provided training in exchange for volunteering), he walked dogs for the local shelter, he drove people to Dr. appts for the Red Cross, he taught classes for other organizations, he continued with the 2 sports he plays, he took on leadership positions in local clubs for his specific hobbies/interests, and he particpates in local discussion groups at the library. Another idea- my local university offers classes specifically for seniors/ non-degree-earners about a range of interesting topics. Definitely best to stay active and engaged! Good luck!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed with the sports. My grandfather was an avid golfer all his life (he has finally decided to ease up at 92 – but still played a round a week up till Covid – now he’s only able to play one round a month). But shortly after retiring he was elected to president of the Board of Trustees at his favorite course. He ended up serving four non-consecutive four year terms, and being a volunteer at a Pro-Golf tournament (as a person who helped keep the paying fans off the 18th fairway).

  21. Hlao-roo*

    LW3, thanks for your update! I’m happy to hear everything is going well for everyone in your family (except living close together)!

    I didn’t comment on your original post, but I thought about it many times during the pandemic. The discussions around how to balance jobs, locations, and families on the original post was helpful to me. Living far away from my family was a fun adventure when travel was easy and very scary when COVID first hit. I’m just starting a job search so I can (hopefully) live closer to my parents and some of my childhood friends.

  22. Julia*

    LW 4, I’m glad things worked out and you found a new position. It does sound like you might be well-served to work on mustering the courage to have tough conversations. This whole letter to Alison could’ve been avoided in the first place if you’d said “wait, can you clarify what you mean?” Or it could’ve been remedied later on if you’d said “what do you mean by ‘what can you do’?” Or you could’ve at least preserved the reference and the relationship at the end by saying “I’ve decided to move on. My last day will be X.”

    These are all pretty straightforward messages and it’d probably make your life easier if you could deliver them. Right now it sounds like you avoid it or freeze up in the moment and then make excuses afterward. It’s tough to do, but once you identify the problem and own up to it, it’s possible to fix it.

    1. Handwashing Hero*

      I certainly can agree to this. In the context of the actual moment versus trying to share the tone/weirdness/money comments and angle it was fairly clear it was not salvageable. This is absolutely the only time I’ve ever done a job transition this way and have left several workplaces amicably and well referenced.

      The note to this is, it was an completely different industry that I sidestepped into and that I was not looking to continue in so didn’t feel the need to smooth over the bridge and keep my Covid exposure up. Risk/reward and all.

  23. Mademoiselle Sugarlump*

    I’m in the same state of mind. For now, I’m 66 and have no plans to retire, and no reason to think my company would like me to go. Kicking it down the road as far as I can!

  24. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    #3 would your mom consider retiring in stages rather than going from full- time work to complete retirement? Nursing lends itself to part-time work, either with what your mom does now or in some other role or possibly teaching nursing students. Or she could explore some other type of work she has an interest in. I might be about 5 years away from retirement, especially if my daughter gets good financial aid/scholarships for college starting in two years. I work in the nonprofit field and will probably drop down to my one favorite client. Or maybe I’ll back go back to teaching, part-time, but professional or community classes so I can give feedback but not grades.

  25. RedinSC*

    Oh gosh, #3, my boss is retiring after 40 years and I don’t think he’s handling it well at all, in the office. I get that it’s difficult, dedicating so much of your time and self to your job, but WOW, this is a rough time for us all there.

  26. Pamela Adams*

    My ‘mom, the nurse’ went full tilt into Red Cross disaster nursing after she retired. When she had a stroke, and couldn’t do that any more, she switched to being the senior center advice nurse, and managed flu clinics.

  27. hallucinating hack*

    LW#4, happy for you! But this phrase in your update won’t leave my mind – “dropped my laptop and keys with an HR drone”. I now have this absolutely amazing image of a little flying drone with your old company’s logo on it and a “Property of HR Department” tag swooping by your window to collect your stuff. Please tell me that was what happened, because it’s so much nicer than the sad image of some overworked HR person grinding their way through the paperwork.

    1. Handwashing Hero*

      Wow, that would have been way cooler!! Unfortunately no, it was the least senior HR person left during the week everyone generally takes off between holidays. I just kinda dropped things off, told them it was my last day and to have a good new year. They fumbled and stammered and I almost felt bad but just said sorry to do this to you but just leave it for head HR when they’re back.

      I did get a phone call from head HR after the holiday. Asking if anything had happened (aka do we have to worry about you suing us?!?) but I declined and just said I was ready to move on and wish all the best.

    2. stormtomcat*

      The phrase “HR drone” struck me too, unpleasantly.
      I know there are many letters here where HR isn’t helpful and even several where HR is actively the problem… but why call low-seniority people drones?

      Alison has often mentioned being courteous to the receptionist (esp. when interviewing) is a good habit & I feel the same applies to HR admins. When my department in the office was next to our HR, I’ve seen them going to bat for certain dossiers with their managers.
      It reads a bit like perhaps the OP’s situation about appreciating work and respecting compensation was a cultural issue in that workplace…?

  28. WS*

    My mum is also a retired nurse, and retired nurses are in tremendous demand as volunteers! She’s physically quite frail now, but still able to volunteer – before the pandemic, her volunteer work was at a children’s hospital, where she would be the contact point for the parents of children having surgery. She’d meet them at the foyer of the hospital, show them where to wait, help with basic questions and direct them to the right people for more specific questions, explain the whole process and what was going on at any given time, and basically make the whole stressful process of having a child undergo surgery less of an ordeal. During COVID she could no longer do this, but she’s hoping to go back to it next year.

  29. Ktv123*

    #. 3My mom retired recently from a very much loved job. We didn’t call it a retirement, we called it her graduation onto her next phase in life. So we had a graduation party instead of retirement. Of course, it’s been a few months and she’s busier than ever between side gigs, volunteering and fun stuff but her life is much more flexible now.

  30. CupcakeCounter*

    #3 Not a nurse, but my mom retired from a medical career a couple years ago and it lasted….4 months.
    She now works as a fill in, on-call person and teaches at the local university. That is when she isn’t volunteering in Africa as a medical missionary.
    She only works September – Dec at the local hospital and university, then 3 months abroad, then 2 months decompressing and picking up a few shifts before enjoying a summer on her lake and in their RV.
    Retirement simply means you can work when it is convenient for you.

  31. Anonymously Yours*

    Hey OP #3! I’m not a nurse myself, but work with a lot of them in the course of my work. I run into a lot of retired and semi-retired nurses through our state nursing advocacy organization, and they stay very busy with committees and boards. Their experience is a HUGE benefit. Even though they’re not in practice anymore, they still stay in the loop with their colleagues and get to have a real impact in the profession. I bet she knows if your state (or locality if you’re not in the US) has an active organization, but if not, National AHEC or Nurses on Boards would be good organizations to start with. My guess is that someone in her area would absolutely love her help.

  32. Majnoona*

    That was me! Probably responding too late for anyone to see. I am still working but retiring at the end of next semester and will give an update then. For me the most useful comment was – think about what you most value about your job and try to replace that. So for me, one small thing was the status, that people would think I was nothing without a job. When I heard someone say “I am a retired librarian” I thought well I can just say “I am a retired professor.” Some people said retire gradually – not for me but might work for some. I want to be free to travel, covid permitting. Another idea is nursing adjacent work, volunteer or paid. For me one thing was getting involved in local politics ( blue dot, red state).

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