Friday, September 6, 2013

my week living like julia - part two

"For all of the equality feminism has wrought," Karen Karbo says in her new book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, "women are still the Apologizing Gender."

So true. We are the grand apologizers. But why? Is it a way of politeness passed from mother to daughter? Is it hooked up to our instinct to be the nurturers rather than the fighters? Is it some insecurity we don't want to believe we still have, as women, some sense of being less worthy?

I thought a lot about Karen's statement during the week I elected to Live Like Julia, choosing one of Julia's ten rules to adhere to and then write about. The rule I chose was number eight: Cooking means never saying you're sorry. You can see Day One of my attempt here. It wasn't stellar. In fact it was so un-stellar that I amended the plan to change Day One into what was supposed to be Day Two.

But the thing is, I had a lot to overcome. My very first memory is of throwing my apple on the ground in preschool - and then feeling so sorry for it that I picked it up and apologized, softly petting its mushed-up skin.

Sometimes I think my impulse to apologize all the time stems from my woman's mothering instinct. That want to nurture and make better. Another memory: me as a depressed teenager, in a rage, throwing a glass Christmas ornament against my bedroom wall. Smash of tiny violence - very satisfying for a second - but then it hurt my heart. I laid the pieces together like feathers in a nest, putting them back in my box of Christmas ornaments because I was so sorry about breaking this inanimate object that I couldn't bear to throw it away.


I began my Live Like Julia week on the weekend. Saturday was [the new] Day One of no apologies. Tuesday was our wedding anniversary, and my task for Saturday and Sunday was to finish my anniversary card for Stephen. We always photoshop cards, trying to outdo each other in cleverness, artistry or at least twistedness. Like this. And this. And [for the twisted side of things], this.

My idea this year was to take our wedding picture and switch faces.

The original.

And the image for the card.

As I worked, my mind was already apologizing. I could hear myself Tuesday morning as Stephen opened the card: sorry, I just couldn't get it perfect. I didn't 't know how I expected to change my apologizing ways when I was apologizing, in advance, for something I hadn't even finished yet. All alone to myself.

Stephen was probably out there in the studio right now, working on his card to me. His card wasn't going to be only-perfect-enough, it was going to be perfect-perfect. And even if it wasn't, he wasn't of the Apologizing Gender; he wouldn't feel the need to impulsively apologize for it, not like weak, pathetic me.

I was a woman photoshopping her face on a man's body, obsessing over whether she was less than a man.

"Stop it!" I said out loud.

The soft brown curl of Chihuahua on my lap put up his head, quick, at my outburst.

"Sorry," I said.

Those musings on how my apologizing must stem from some nurturing impulse inside me? A crock. Do you want to know what's inside me? It's that thing I pretend isn't there, that spends a little too much time reminding myself that women are men's equals. That thing that weirdly, inconceivably questions - every day - whether it's actually true that women are men's equals. That thing that has no place in the life of the daughter of a strong, capable woman, in a family full of strong capable women. I don't get it, but this thing inside me believes somehow that the apology embedded in my psyche is there because I'm lesser.

When really, the opposite is true. The lesser gets embedded there because of the apology.


I sorted through my proposed apologies as I continued work on the anniversary card. Some, I realized, were instances where, if I apologized later, I wouldn't have to work harder now. So, I worked harder now. In the spots where working harder didn't make it perfect, I let it go. By Monday morning I had my card printed and ready -  no apologies - and Stephen and I were on our way to work for a quick half-day before our anniversary celebration would begin. 

"I've been thinking about your apology thing," Stephen said.


"What if you used the words excuse me instead? Sometimes when you say sorry, what you really mean is excuse me. Which is different."

Thought number one: would that be cheating?

Thought number two: I like this idea.

"When you think about it," he said, "excuse me is much more active than I'm sorry. Excuse me is an order."

Maybe I was going about this all wrong. I was being contrite when I could be contrite and a badass at the same time.


As I went about my day, all my thoughts were a double-exposure with the question of apology superimposed in front. Trying to listen to myself and stop any sorries that wanted to pop out. Trying to perform the sleight of hand that would slip in an excuse me instead.  By midday [this was Day Three], I'd gone from saying "I'm sorry" to "I'm sor-" and sometimes "I'm s-" With periodic bouts of "I'm sorexcuse me."

Passing a coworker in the hall, though I was nowhere near her, I said, "Excuse me."

She put one eyebrow up at me and kept walking.

I felt like queen of the world.

By Tuesday morning, our anniversary, I was knocking off those excuse mes like a champion. I was still letting fly with plenty of "I'm s-" but something in me had changed. In that region of my brain that churned out sorries routinely and without thinking, there was an awareness.

We had mochas and macarons and exchanged anniversary cards. As Stephen studied my card, my mouth wanted so much to apologize, but I just kept shoving cookies in there.

 Stephen's card to me, playing on his recent injury and subsequent tweaked back.
- - - >

[I didn't notice the "excuse me" in it until just now.]

Mid-morning, Stephen made us omelets. And you want to talk about Julia Child? That man can cook. His was the one with dairy-free cheese, mine with real. He made his first, so mine would be hottest when we sat down to eat.

But as he worked, I heard him cussing in the kitchen.

"Oh, yours is kind of destroyed!" he said.

"It'll taste lovely."

"Mine should be the one that gets destroyed," he said. "Yours should be the pretty one."

When he set the omelet down in front of me, he said, "Sorry, sweetie."

The man was apologizing for his cooking.

I was so excited.

I said, "Let me give you a lesson in Julia Child."


Stay tuned for part three, wherein I attempt to cook one of Julia's recipes and present it with no apologies. #LiveLikeJulia

[For more information on how you can Live Like Julia, check this out. To pre-order Karen Karbo's lovely book Julia Child Rules, go here.] 


  1. Love this post! Made me laugh and cry. So much recognition.

  2. I used to apologize to my stuffed animals when I threw them and felt sorry that I showed preference to my favorites while the other ones sat un-played-with. I feel you!

    The next time I fight an impulse to apologize for everything, I'm going to find some macarons to shove in my mouth instead. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Oh, thanks so much, Joy. I so appreciate hearing it.

    Catherine, yes! I so felt the same way. I love it!

  4. I'm a classic apologizer too, Gigi, so I totally related to your weeklong lesson and was reading and rooting for you all the way. Love the turn at the end about the omelets. Can't wait for the final piece!