Whenever one of my mother's sentences begins with "I swear," I take cover and get ready for the diatribe. If I'm in the kitchen, I stop chopping. If I'm in the car, I put my iPhone on speaker. It's just too good to miss.
"I swear kids these days purposefully dress with no respect. They show their underwear, for crying out loud. Boys' pants are practically falling off. And what's with those stringy things on girls' hips? Do they have any idea how ridiculous that looks?"
"No, Mom, I don't think so."
"If you dress sloppy, you act sloppy. Years ago you would have been scorned by society and looked at askance if you showed your belly button or underwear. Clothes had some sense of propriety and rules of society. There were parameters of knowing what's right and what's wrong. I swear there's just too much laissez-faire nowadays. Kids have opportunity to dress the way they like and express their individuality after school, on the weekends, and all summer long. Dressing properly and acting properly displays a respect for society in general."
"And what about manners?" she continued as I almost blew past a stop sign. "Doesn't anyone teach their kids manners anymore? I was walking into Staples the other day and this kid -- he must have been in high school -- actually walked in front of me and didn't keep open the door. Can you believe that? Someone hasn't taught him anything. In other countries, older people are revered."
"Just plain rude. But then I was meeting a friend for lunch recently and we had the nicest server. I swear it restored all faith in mankind."
"I've been meaning to ask you ... I know kids are finding out what colleges they got into now but what's with visiting a ton of colleges before applying? Didn't you apply to three schools and get into all three? Why do people go all over the country looking at colleges? I swear, can't their kid just pick one and go there?"
"No, Mom. Times have really changed since I went to college."
Fasten your seat belts. We are about to steer away from colleges and go straight to CNN. (And incidentally, 81-year old mothers are allowed to forego segues.)
"You know Gloria Vanderbilt's son who's on CNN? You know, the one who has grey hair but looks young?"
"He's adorable. And speaking of adorable, did you catch Rachel Ray the other day?"
"No, Mom. I was at the office."
"Anyway, she talked about a BLT salad. I've heard about a BLT sandwich, but not a salad. It's great, isn't it? Have you ever thought of that? It's so original."
"Sounds delicious," I said as a fleck of dust got caught in my throat and I began coughing.
"Honey, do you have an appointment with the allergist?"
"Be sure to stay on top of it. I swear, before you know it, it will be summer and you'll be coughing your head off."
"I'm all set, Mom."
"By the way, have you seen 'The Five-Year Engagement'? The movie industry is setting such terrible examples for young people. I swear you'll find a lot of couples teetering on the edge because they just won't think it's the right time to tie the knot. In my day, you fell in love and you got married. That's what happened to your father and me. It's like Hollywood is encouraging indecision. It's just bad news. Not that they have to do pantywaist stories, but they can certainly use their imagination. They have the most fertile minds in the country out there in Los Angeles. And is there a difference now between pornography and regular films? The actors are sleeping all over the place."
"Not in my house," I responded.
"So what did you think of Michelle's strapless dress at the White House Correspondents Dinner? Did you think the print was too bold? I swear she is one of the most beautiful First Ladies but should we be seeing her bare shoulders like that?"
"She's completely buff, Mom," I said. "The lady has the right to bare arms, if you ask me."
"I liked the cocktail ring she was wearing though. You could see it if she held her hand in a certain way. Do you think cocktails rings are back? I wore them all the time when I entertained more."
"I guess they look good." I suddenly remembered my mother when I was growing up and she wore long dresses and cocktail rings to dinner parties.
"Well, have a nice evening, darling. I'll speak with you tomorrow."
"Will do. Love you, Mom."
"Love you, too, dear."