Making excuses

By now everyone has probably seen this picture that’s gone viral of hot mom Maria Kang posing in body-baring workout gear with her three small children. At the top, it says: “What’s your excuse?”

And ohhh are people up in arms! She’s “fat-shaming” other women. She’s promoting unrealistic standards. She’s a bad mom (because clearly, working out for an hour a day means you’re neglecting your children – somebody call CPS).

All I can do is roll my eyes at the hoopla.

Life is all about choices and trade-offs. We all have different priorities, all of our choices have consequences, none of us can have our cake and eat it too. For example, she says one way she makes time for fitness is by not watching TV – at all. So, she busts ass on the treadmill while I curl up with a blanket and a box of tissues for Parenthood. She can flaunt those abs, but she probably can’t eat cheesecake on the reg (and if she can, then fine, I hate her too). We all make choices!

Look, this woman is a former fitness model. I don’t think her message was “why don’t you look like ME?” I think it was more, “If I can make time for fitness, so can you.” Whether it was in good or bad taste is debatable, but I don’t see why grown women should be so threatened by it if they are content and confident with the way they lead their own lives. Fitness is one of her top priorities — for another person it may not be, and that’s fine.

But I feel like the vitriolic response to her message speaks to so much more than just fitness. To me, the hallmark of being an adult is taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. It doesn’t mean (I’ve learned) that you’ve mastered life, that you have it all together, or that you no longer screw up. But it means you know who’s solely responsible for how your life is proceeding – that’s you.

I think the reason people got so intensely defensive over her message is because they don’t want to have to take that responsibility, whether it be for their fitness or any other aspect of their lives. And I get it – making excuses is so much easier. I do it, we all do it. But where does it get us?

I suspect she struck a chord not only with people concerned with their weight, but with people who are unwilling to take responsibility in any given aspect of their lives. When you see someone who’s where you wish you could be – fitness-wise, career-wise or otherwise – it’s tempting to think that they, for whatever reason, had it sooo much easier than you. It’s easier to think that than to acknowledge that maybe they just prioritized it more than you or wanted it more than you or worked harder for it than you.

It’s not about the abs. I could just as easily look at that picture and ask myself what my excuse is for not writing every day. What my excuse was for putting off cleaning my apartment all week. We could all ask ourselves that question about something – maybe we just don’t want to.

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Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten? (A customer service story)

Yesterday morning I was out of coffee, so I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a grandpa sweater, and drove to the nearest Starbucks. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts right down the block, but their coffee kind of tastes like jet fuel, and besides, I wanted to see if I could get my hands on an apple fritter (no such luck – those things are elusive).

I immediately regretted my decision. I stood in the unmoving line while drama unfolded at the register, ultimately resulting in two women getting their money back. I watched as the two people ahead of me fidgeted and shifted their weight. All the poor guy in front of me wanted was a chocolate chip cookie, and the woman a chai tea. Finally, I reached the register and ordered a grande caramel iced coffee and an everything bagel.

This is not how it went down (source)

“Tall caramel iced coffee,” called out the girl behind the drink counter.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the cashier, “is that my drink? Just checking because I ordered a grande.” She consulted with her coworker; they then proceeded to argue about it right in front of me.

She returned to the register. “Ok, and a multigrain bagel.”

“Oh, no, it was an everything bagel.”

“Ok,” she said, ringing it up. I looked at the screen; it said “multigrain bagel.”

“Oh, um, that was an everything bagel,” I said.

Just then, the other girl called out in an extremely agitated tone, “I have a grande caramel iced coffee over here – SOMEBODY ordered it!” Whoa. I finished paying and walked over to pick it up. At which point the drink-maker muttered loudly, “For fuck’s sake.”

Seriously!?!? (The cashier then appeared – and handed me a multigrain bagel.)

Here’s the thing…it’s not about getting the wrong kind of bagel or the wrong size coffee. Who cares? What I don’t understand is the rudeness. I’ve experienced this several times recently, and I just don’t get what possesses someone to be blatantly rude to a complete stranger, especially one who is being polite to them. It’s so odd to me.

I still have nightmares (source)

I understand customer service jobs suck. I get it. Years ago I worked as a hostess at P.F. Chang’s when it first opened in the mall. If you think people in suburban upstate New York won’t wage an all-out riot when they’ve been waiting three-plus hours for their chain restaurant Chinese food – well, they will. It gets real.

What I don’t understand is what it is about customer service encounters that brings out this rudeness in people – on both sides of the interaction. Didn’t we learn this stuff in kindergarten? Treat others as you want to be treated. Be kind to your neighbor. Say please and thank you. What happened to the Golden Rule? Can’t we all just get along??

Later that day, though, my faith in humanity was restored. I went to my local Italian market for meatballs and the kid behind the counter – probably about 19 or 20 – was the most delightful human being imaginable. “What a nice boy!” I said to my boyfriend as we walked away. (“What a nice boy”!? Am I elderly? I don’t even know.) Then the same thing happened at the supermarket. Two sweet and wonderful people to one horrifying one? Not a bad ratio. 

Still, I did e-mail Starbucks customer service to let them know that in the future, I would go to Dunkin’ Donuts where nobody swears at me.

Eighth grade attitude

The other day I was at Trader Joe’s, and I was in kind of a bad mood. I walked up to the cashier. He took one look at me, furrowed his brow, and said, “Uh oh…looks like somebody needs some stickers!” He then proceeded to hand me a sheet of stickers they keep behind the counter for children. Then he fist bumped my boyfriend.

This is a true story.

My mood rapidly went from bummed out to mortified to semi-delighted (I mean, who doesn’t like stickers?). Then he gave my boyfriend a lollipop because he “didn’t want him to feel left out.” But besides making me love the cashier and confirming that Trader Joe’s is the happiest place on Earth, this incident left me feeling slightly concerned. I mean, he looked at my face and instantly said “uh oh.” That…is not great.

I’ve written before about how my face gives me problems. And if people think something is wrong based on my facial expression even when I’m happy, I guess it would make sense that my unhappy face would be…alarming? But still, it’s a bit embarrassing that it was that obvious to a perfect stranger.

img028One of my earliest recorded eye rolls

The thing is, I’ve never really been good at concealing my feelings. They’re always written all over my face. But it’s one thing in particular that has gotten me in the most trouble over the years: the eye roll. When I was a kid and got called out on it by my parents, I’d feebly protest, “I wasn’t rolling my eyes – I was just looking up!” And every guy I’ve ever dated has at some point during an argument frustratedly exclaimed, “Don’t roll your eyes at me!” (“I’m not,” I’d reply, rolling my eyes.)

But the worst incident happened in seventh grade. My English teacher that year adored me, but by June, the feeling was far from mutual. One day, she was lecturing us about something and, without even realizing it, I rolled my eyes. She stopped and stared at me icily. “Apparently,” she announced to the class, “some people think this is a joke and want to roll their eyes. Some of you already have that eighth grade attitude.” Everyone in the class turned to look at me. My face got hot. “See who’s the teacher’s pet now,” she snapped. (Note to teachers: never publicly identify a student as the teacher’s pet!)

I’m proud to say I now have that eighth grade attitude under control, and no longer roll my eyes at authority figures. If you’re my boyfriend, sister, or woman who cut me off in the supermarket line, though…you might still be fair game.

Hey, I’m working on it. That, and my exasperated sighs.

An ode to omelets and Albany

Sunday morning, I took my boyfriend to our favorite brunch place, Café Madison, to celebrate the awesome completion of his first 10k. We’ve been going to this place for years, and it inspires in me a food-lust like no other. The surefire quickest way to get me out of bed on a weekend morning is to utter its name; I drool over it like my dog when she hears the can opener start cranking at 5 p.m.

Their brunch menu changes every single weekend. Like I said, we’ve been going there for years, at one point two or three times a month, and we have never seen the same item twice. Just the anticipation of seeing the menu is half the fun; it’s against the rules to sneak a peek while waiting for a table – we have to be seated. You know the episode of The Office where they’re having a quiet contest, but then Kevin bites into a candy bar and just can’t help but say, “Oh yeah!”? That’s basically me while reading the menu.

duck blt

One time I had a duck BLT, you guys – a duck BLT. Duck bacon with grilled tomatoes, braised kale, crumbled gorgonzola and a cranberry aioli on toasted homemade white bread. Are you drooling? The chef came out while I was eating to see if I was enjoying it. I praised it effusively. He seemed so pleased I loved it, but not in a self-congratulatory way. You could tell he just loves feeding people, and wants to do it well.

But yesterday – due to the fact that my role at the Dunkin Donuts-sponsored road race was sitting on the curb eating munchkins – I wasn’t really hungry. I thought about just ordering a scrambled egg and my favorite dill-onion toast…but then I saw the menu.

This particular Sunday, there was a street fair taking place outside. In its honor, the chef had made the menu an ode to Albany. At the top, he talked about his love of the city, and each item that followed was named after a significant spot in the neighborhood – the playground where he’d played as a kid, the best street for trick-or-treating, the hospital where his grandmother once worked as a nurse.  “Oh yeah” was temporarily replaced with “awww” as his sincere love of his hometown just jumped off the page.

When you live in a small city, it’s so easy for people to be cynical, to say their city has nothing going on, and to forever blame it for their own boredom. In comparison with the metropolitan areas that surround it – Boston! Montreal! New York! – it always comes up short. And it’s true that Albany will never have the variety or endless options of those cities. But it has its own people and places that make me love it, and some of them are just irreplaceable – my brunch place is one of them.

I wound up ordering The Point omelet – filled with feta cheese and roasted mushrooms, squash, zucchini and onions and topped with hummus, arugula, and a balsamic reduction – and I ate every bite.

It was the best omelet I’ve ever had.

Time to vent (part 2)

I feel bad breaking my long blogging dry spell with nothing more than a rant, but…that’s what I’m doing. Last time I vented, I felt so much better. Today I’m taking issue with…

  • Twerking. Not the dance itself. Not Miley Cyrus. The term twerking. Listen…Miley’s VMA performance was awful. We know this. She looked like a drunk 12-year-old, and it was embarrassing. But for me, the worst thing to have come out of foam-finger-gate is the fact that I now hear the word “twerking” on a daily basis. Still. Can it please just stop? I can’t take it anymore. That, and the fact that every time I see my little sister now, I myself am forced to say, “Please stop twerking.”
  • Littering! Recently I was at my parents’ house talking to my mom on the front porch when a guy drove by, rolled down his window, and hurled his Dunkin Donuts iced coffee cup onto the street. (My blood pressure is literally rising as I type this.) What the %@#&$!? What kind of person thinks that’s ok? Here’s the thing…people do dumb things. People break laws. I’m not saying it’s right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s a bad person. But littering? That tells you all you need to know. If you throw garbage out your window, there is something fundamentally wrong with you as a human being.

  • Online dating sites (yes, sites, plural) for people with food allergies. This is a real thing. You can apparently even search by allergen to find a “match.” Um…is finding The One not challenging enough? Now it has to be The One With The Soy Allergy? I can’t even. Like, “So Jane, what are you looking for in a guy?” “Oh, you know, just someone with Celiac Disease.” How is that even relevant other than being able to share food? Is that really what defines you as a person? I have severe environmental allergies – should my primary criterion for a boyfriend be that we sneeze in unison when there’s a high pollen count? Honestly, maybe these sites aren’t the worst thing, because if two people meet on one…they probably deserve each other.
  • Updated to add: I really, really wanted to vent about this too, but I just couldn’t have said it any better myself. Amazing.

I’m glad I got that off my chest! Anything you need to vent about today?

Princess dreams

When I was a little girl, everyone had a favorite Disney princess. I guess it was kind of an elementary school girls’ version of the Sex and the City game: are you a Carrie or a Samantha? Are you a Cinderella or a Belle? (I was a total Snow White, but longed to be Ariel.)

True story: when I was in fifth grade, I came home from school crying to my mom because a boy I had the biggest crush on had looked at me in class and said, “Uh. You look like Snow White.” My mom was baffled. “Snow White is beautiful!” she said. “No she’s not,” I wailed. “She’s not one of the hot princesses like Cinderella!” HA. I die at this story now.

My point is, Disney princesses were a quintessential part of childhood. And it’s not like they were a new fad. Snow White had been holding steady since, what? The 1930s? But I’ve noticed that now, it seems almost politically incorrect to love the princesses, or to introduce them to a new generation of girls. I don’t think the three-year-old girl I babysit has ever seen Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Cinderella or Jasmine onscreen (she still wants to be a princess, though — the phase is just inevitable).

How can this not make you happy? Look at Sebastian!

I was recently hanging out with a group of women, some I knew from college and some I had just met. I knew the room was on the feminist side (as am I), but I still floated out there my love of Ariel and the magical experience of seeing The Little Mermaid on Broadway – in my twenties. Everyone was on board and immediately started sharing their own childhood connections with the princesses. One woman even said her interest in becoming an archivist stemmed partly from Ariel’s collections in the movie; it made that much of an impact on her as a child. How cool is that?

get the concept of not wanting little girls to think they’re helpless creatures who need a handsome prince to rescue them. But the thing is…who thinks that? None of us remembered thinking, “Well, guess I don’t need to work hard or apply myself in school because a gallant gentleman is ultimately going to come along and provide for me” (and honestly, even if you did think that, wouldn’t the notion be pretty well crushed the second you actually started dating?).

Girls have – or should have – so many other influences in their lives, I find it doubtful that their lifelong values will be based on a princess movie. And if a girl wants to grow up to be a princess when she’s three, so what? If she wants that when she’s twenty-three, well, there are some bigger issues there that probably can’t be blamed on Disney.

What do you think – did you have a favorite Disney princess? Do you think they’re a bad influence on girls?

Scare tactics

I have a serious bone to pick with my local newspaper. Yesterday, I went to their website like I do most days to check out, you know, the local news.

I was met with this headline: “Broadway closed over bomb threat.”

Broadway is a main road in my city’s downtown that houses several government buildings. The article stated that there was a suspicious package found “near the federal courthouse” and that the situation was being investigated.

Now, generally I’m more paranoid than anyone when it comes to things like this. Still, something told me to be skeptical…

And yeah, here’s what actually happened: the fire department responded to that area for an unrelated matter. At that time, someone notified a firefighter of a duffel bag sitting near a dumpster on a tiny little alley/street off Broadway that contains a few small lunch restaurants. Firefighters and police, as a precaution, shut down a small area around Broadway while they checked it out, and the whole situation was resolved in an hour.

                                                                             (source)

At no point was there a bomb threat. Let’s just go ahead and define the term here since the journalists and editors at the area’s largest newspaper are apparently unfamiliar with it. A bomb threat is defined as “a threat, usually verbal or written, to detonate an explosive or incendiary device to cause property damage, death, or injuries, whether or not such a device actually exists” (from Wikipedia; I found the same definition on several state and city law enforcement websites).

THIS DID NOT HAPPEN. A duffel bag was found by a dumpster. At no point was there a threat made or a mention of a bomb by anyone.

I’m not saying the person who reported it was wrong to do so, or that the police and fire departments were wrong to investigate it – of course not. It’s obviously better to be safe than sorry. They all did the right thing.

It’s the newspaper that did the wrong thing. They resorted to pathetic scare tactics – not to mention complete inaccuracy – to get clicks on their website. I don’t know which is worse – the thought that whoever wrote and approved that story actually do not know what a bomb threat is, or that they purposely misused the term to make a mundane story sound salacious.

I also love how they jumped to describe the package as “near the federal courthouse,” implying a would-be target, when – as I described above – it was actually found on a little alley of eateries. Yes, technically that alley is near the courthouse, but had it been an actual bomb, it would have been more likely to take out my favorite panini place.

This makes me angry for so many reasons. We have enough to be scared about in this world; we read about enough heinous things happening in this country on a daily basis – we don’t need to manufacture things to worry people. Beyond that, if every minute (non)incident is reported as though we just narrowly avoided a terrorist attack, it dilutes the impact if there is ever an actual threat. And furthermore, this kind of coverage may discourage people from reporting things that feel suspicious to them.

Like I said, I don’t think the person who reported this was wrong – in all likelihood, they said to the firefighter, “hey, there’s a bag over there that you might want to check out.” But if you know saying something like that will result in a bomb threat being reported to the entire city, you might think twice. And you shouldn’t have to – you should be able to voice your concern if something feels off to you and trust that it will be checked out – not sensationalized by the media.

Whew, I guess I just really needed to rant about that one. How about you — do you get frustrated when the media blows things out of proportion?