Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rain on My Parade

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The worst travel day of the year in these United States. 

Take a deep breath and drive.

Despite a 5:30 am start, a fairly vigorous storm, and a sleeping teenager in the backseat suffering from the start of a nasty cold, we made it to my hometown in relatively short order. In fact, my mother was surprised by how early we arrived and scolded us because she hadn't finished making beds or putting out fresh towels. 

It was a cold, wet, dreary day so apart from a quick lunch at a local Irish pub, we stayed in the apartment. There was plenty to do: catching up on some client work (that would be me), pulling out tools and playing handyman (that would be my husband), preparing side dishes for the next day's feast (my sister), and looking through stacks of photographs from recent horse shows (my daughter and her grandmother).

Soon, my brother, sister-in-law and marvelous niece showed up. We had chicken chili and watched back-to-back Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials.

The first was familiar. The kids (Ever notice how grownups don't exist in the animated world of Chuck Brown? Except for the occasional "Mwah mwah mwah.") made a holiday dinner that included toast, popcorn and jellybeans. This menu would actually go over pretty well in our house. Except the toast.

The second was new to me, having aired in the early 90s (after I was a child and before I had one). It placed the Peanuts gang aboard the Mayflower, Charlie Brown in a drawstring version of his trademark zig zag shirt. They suffered through the long journey to the new world (including countless scenes of the settlers getting seasick — I wish I was kidding), settled Plymouth Plantation, made friends with the Indians and enjoyed a celebration of Thanksgiving. Essentially the same story we're always fed and less than accurate if you start digging.

Apart from our own family's feast (at my cousin's in Westchester County where there will be much wonderful food and probably no toast), this morning was supposed to be the trip's highlight. Per usual, my daughter and I had planned to walk up to Central Park West and muscle our way into the crowd to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Alas, it's not to be.

Midway through Charlie Brown's pilgrim adventure (really, did Charles Schultz have anything to do with that subpar program?) my daughter fell asleep on the couch. We could barely rouse her to head into the bedroom and once my mother located a thermometer we learned that she had a 102-degree fever. So, apparently, the cold is more of a flu and that means ...

No parade for us. 

She's still sleeping as I type this and savor a cup of my mother's coffee. When she wakes up, she will be p-i-s-s-e-d. But, I'll remind her, as her mom, I have to make the tough decisions. And sometimes the not-so-tough, just unpopular. Taking a feverish teen to stand out in 30-degree weather for three hours wouldn't really qualify me as a responsible parent, would it?

We'll be back here in a couple of years, but meanwhile, you can take a few minutes to read my Thanksgiving parade remembrances on Women's Voices for Change.

Have a wonderful holiday full of love and joy and gratitude. 

And be particularly thankful that you're not on the Mayflower, getting seasick with Lucy, Linus and Charlie Brown.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New Doll In Town

When my now teenage daughter was very little, she had a collection of Barbies. In addition to the standard issue blondes (she had at least a dozen), there were dolls with dark hair and several with dark skin. She paired these "mommies" with Kelly doll "sweeties." And she did so with seemingly no sense that the race of the mother had to match the race of the child. So white Barbies had black babies, and black Barbies had white babies. It was one big global village, and I loved how color blind she was.

Oh, and she had maybe three Ken dolls too. (Suffice it to say, the "daddies" must have been very busy in a polygamous Big Love kind of way. Fortunately, we never really had to have a conversation about that. The whole Barbie/Ken/Kelly phase was over long before my daughter began to understand any of the ... shall we say ... mechanics.)

Soon after the Mattel dolls were retired to a set of colorful canvas drawers, we headed into American Girl territory. On our frequent visits to New York, we made pilgrimages to Fifth Avenue's American Girl Place. There, we browsed through five floors of clever if overpriced merchandise. We saw The American Girl Revue and ate at the American Girl Cafe. One winter, her doll even got a custom coif at the American Girl Hair Salon. (You can't make this stuff up.) Typically, we left with three new outfits: the one my mother liked, the one I liked, and the one my daughter herself liked.

As a marketer, I was invariably awed by American Girl's brilliant strategy and flawless execution. Their customer service was top notch and flowed seamlessly into incremental sales. During one visit, my daughter was looking for a particular character's dog (the dolls all have back stories, complete with truckloads of merchandise) and she was sad to learn that it was sold out. The sales associate acknowledged her disappointment and smoothly explained that each of the characters has a dog and why didn't they look at some of the others. My daughter trotted off happily with him and, sure enough, we went home with a dog. (And a goat too, if my memory serves.)

Still, despite all the conspicuous consumption, I always recognized a couple of redeeming features where American Girl was involved. First, all of the historic dolls as well as the American Girls of Today, had companion books. We enjoyed reading each series, based on historic events, educational and surprisingly well-written: turn of the century Samantha, colonial Felicity, escaped slave Addy, southwestern Josephina. And, second, there was a real focus on inclusion. In addition to gymnastics outfits, riding habits and ball gowns, you could buy wheelchairs, crutches and guide dogs. This was a refreshing change from Barbie's usual pink perfection and ... um ... pie-in-the-sky proportions.

This week, a good friend (and fellow teenage girl's mom) sent me a story about a new doll named Lammily. Lammily is being billed as the "normal Barbie," a doll that better approximates a real body — complete with optional scars, acne and cellulite.


(Between you and me, I don't need a doll with cellulite, thank you very much. I have my own.)

Anyway, this "realistic doll" is the creation of artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm. When he posed the question "What if fashion dolls were made using standard human body proportions?" the response was swift and enthusiastic. Using online crowdsourcing, he attracted more than 13,000 backers and presold more than 19,000 dolls. The first edition doll (a caucasian brunette, shorter and more athletic-looking than Barbie) is available now. The company plans to introduce different ethnic characters and body types soon.

In the past, when Mattel has been pressured to alter their flagship amazon to better represent an actual human female, they've resisted, citing sales pressure. The implication is that the public wants those idealized features, those perpetually high-heeled feet. It was refreshing, then, to see a video of second-graders react to the new doll. I doubt Barbie will ever go away (or even gain five pounds), but it's nice to see an alternative that appears to have a real shot at success.

I wish Lammily had arrived ten years ago. My daughter gave away most of her Barbies, and even the American Girls now live in a forgotten playroom cubby under the eaves. We've moved on to horses and concerts and high school. There's no reason for me to buy one for her now. 

Then again ... I do have a young niece. 

And Christmas is coming. 

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside

If you Google image "New England," you'll find a lot of pictures of Fall foliage. And, it's true, Autumn here is quite beautiful. But, what they don't tell you — before you move here anyway — is that the season lasts about a week or two at best. One minute, it's still warm and sunny; the next you're breaking out the parka, the mittens, hats, scarves and fur-lined boots.

Or you're not. Not if you're a teenage girl.

We had our first 20-odd degree day this week. It was 21 when we got up and 24 when my daughter left for school. (It was a veritably balmy 27 by the time I got back from my walk. Break out the sunscreen and the bikini.)

Here's what my daughter put on: a nylon jacket embroidered with her equestrian team's logo.

"Noooooooooooooo ..." responded her father, putting his hands on her shoulders, firmly spinning her around and sending her back to the coat closet. "Ugggggghhhhhhhhh," she groaned.

She took her ski coat (left the original jacket on a chair, thank you very much), and grudgingly put it on. No cap, no gloves, she didn't even bother to zip the coat.


To my husband's credit, he didn't fight it anymore, and they left.

Meanwhile, I tidied up breakfast (and hung up her jacket), and bundled up for my walk. Here's what I wore: a sports bra, a tank top, a tee shirt, a sweatshirt, yoga pants, two pairs of socks, a two-piece ski parka (it's marketed as multiple jackets in one, depending on how many of the pieces you put together), two scarves (one to wear around my throat and the other to wear over my mouth and nose), fleece gloves and matching hat. I felt like the Michelin tire man; the only parts of my body exposed to the elements were my eyes.

And I was still cold!

Just looking at my daughter and her friends makes me shiver. These are smart girls, honors students, heading to college in less than two years. You'd never know it based on how they choose to dress. And they can't plead ignorance either. Every one of them has a smartphone with a built-in weather app.

Then again, back in prehistoric times, my sister and I were very much the same. We wore flannel shirts instead of jackets as soon as our father let us (I think the rule was 40-degrees or warmer), and I myself practically lived year-in/year-out in a blue hooded sweatshirt (we didn't call them "hoodies" in 1978). Hats? No way! Gloves? Rarely. Boots? Only if they were Frye.

Do teenagers not feel cold? Or is not bundling up just another way to rebel? Like so many things, it was easier when my daughter was little.

One word: snowsuits.

There's a daycare facility downstairs at the Y where I take Zumba and yoga classes. On colder days, the children are out in the playground en force in their snowsuits. I remember the push me/pull you of snowsuits very clearly, and I can't imagine having to get 25 toddlers into them for recess and back out of them after. (We definitely don't pay preschool teachers enough!) 

But, at least the kids are warm.

Next week, my daughter and I will brave the late November chill to stand on frozen toes for two hours watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. If you happen to watch it on TV, you may see us at the corner of Central Park West and 66th Street.

I'll be the one in as many layers as I can possibly pile on.

My daughter will be in a jacket. Maybe.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014


My teenage daughter and I have a running joke these days. I start to tell her something when we're driving somewhere together or settling down to dinner and ...

"You told me that already," she'll say. We both laugh. 

It's true, my memory ain't what it used to be. It's not so much that I'm having what you might call "senior moments" as that I'm just so overcommitted (and overtired) that I can't keep track. Did I tell her that I ordered the purple "galaxy leggings" she needs for Spirit Week? Did I tell her about the nice thing one of the mothers at the stable told me about her? Did I tell her that she needs to send a "Thank You" note to her aunt?

Who knows? I'd better tell her again.

"You told me that already." And so it goes.

Once in a while, she'll repeat something herself and then we really laugh. "Like mother, like daughter." Ha ha ha.

The problem is that memory (or the lack thereof) is not selective. We don't have a choice about what (or whom) we remember. Or what (or whom) we forget.

It seems a waste; there are so many things I'd be happy to forget. Like ...

• Most of the men I dated the year before I met my husband. Oh, I have some fond memories too — my wonderful college boyfriend, a sweet medical student. But by and large? A bit of amnesia would be welcome.

• My haircut in 2009. (Shudder, shudder. Enough said.)

• The time I was performing on tour in a musical and it was the biggest number in the show and I was in the front row at the edge of the stage and the entire cast turned left ... and I turned right.

• All of the Twilight novels.

• When they ran out of tortellini at my wedding. (How could that happen? Sure, there was plenty of other food, but ... HOW COULD THAT HAPPEN??????)

There are things (like tortellini) that can still make us cringe when recalled later. Mistakes made. Lessons learned. Something said in jest that sounded cruel. I've hurt people's feelings, made bad decisions, publicly humiliated myself. Not just as an adult either. I had to miss a kindergarten assembly (with a puppet show!) for some 5-year-old transgression and I was yelled at by a favorite teacher in front of the entire fourth grade. 

And, I somehow remember each of those incidents — in high relief — years or even decades later.

So, why is it so difficult to remember whether or not I've already reminded my daughter to call and confirm her babysitting gig? 

"You told me that already."

Okay, okay. But, have I told you the one about the tortellini?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's Not My Fault ... Really

There was a time — oh, fifteen years ago or so — when I was in control. Not really, of course, but significantly more in control that I am now. It was up to me to take care of my toddler daughter. I chose what she wore, what she ate, when she slept, what we did together on the weekends. It was all about her, but it was all organized by me.

As the mother of a teenager, I don't get a whole lot of appreciation. But, in all honesty, there wasn't much appreciation back when she was little either. She was happy and healthy so I knew I was doing a good job. And, I got hand-drawn love notes on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and my birthday.

Best of all, I was never to blame.

These days, I am to blame for ... well ... pretty much everything. My bad decisions, my lame rules, the weather. Yep, pretty much everything.

For the record, your honor, following is a list of recent crimes against the adolescent, for which I (apparently) can be, but (definitely) should not be, blamed.

It's simply not my fault.

It's not my fault that you were late leaving for work because you set your alarm clock for 7:00 pm rather than 7:00 am.

It's not my fault you can't find your old turquoise North Face jacket. It's also not my fault that I didn't realize that there are "designated stable fleeces" when I suggested you simply wear another one. (You have at least a dozen, dear.)

It's not my fault that your AP U.S. History teacher decided there was too much work for a field trip while the other AP U.S. History teacher took his class to visit the S.S. Constitution (and, adding insult to injury, took everyone for McFlurries on the way back to school — clearly nothing says early American history like Mickey D's).

It's not my fault that one of your favorite bands is coming to town (YES!) and they're playing at an over-21 club (NO!).

It's not my fault that the people who built our house in 1830 didn't anticipate your need for 8 pairs of boots and 4 pairs of Converse and a closet to accommodate them.

It's not my fault that two of your BFFs couldn't go to Laser Quest with you last night after all because their respective parents made them stay home and babysit their respective siblings.

It's not my fault that the third season of Dance Moms isn't available on Netflix or Amazon Prime and that when you found it online the WiFi was buggy and the streaming video was not streaming. (See note above regarding the age of our home — we're fortunate to have indoor plumbing much less reliable wireless.)

I could continue.

My daughter plans to pursue an equine studies business major (yes, that does really exist — who knew?). But, I've asserted for years that she should really be a lawyer. She has a sense of justice beyond the laws of man or nature. She has an unfailing memory for past slights (and anticipated future wrongs). And she has the ability to argue her case, passionately, regardless of rules, evidence or even common sense.

I rarely win these arguments because what my daughter does not seem to have is a willingness to admit defeat. 

Still, on the counts listed above (and countless more), I have to plead "Not guilty, your honor."

Now, if I can just find that North Face jacket, maybe I can get time off for good behavior ...

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I Live Here Now

When you first have a child, older and wiser mothers warn you to savor every minute. "Time will fly," they tell you. "Yeah, yeah," you think as you get caught up in the minutia of motherhood. Diapers and bottles and sleepless nights and croup (just once, thank goodness).

You blink and your baby is a toddler, then a child, then a tween, and suddenly a teenager.

On the one hand it's reassuring, I guess. It feels good to know that we share a common human experience. "Where did the time go?" is the lament heard 'round the world.

On the other hand ...

As my now seventeen-year old (all right, I'll say it ... where did the time go?) needs me less and less, I've found myself looking at my own life and wondering the same thing. For example, I started dating my husband when I was twenty-five, more than half my life ago. I've been out of school considerably longer than I was in school. In fact, my thirty-fifth high school reunion is coming up.

And, I've now lived in this sleepy New England town twenty-four years — that's longer than I've lived anywhere. Longer than I lived in New York or Boston.

I guess I live here now.

It's a sobering thought because my life, my home, my career, this town are not what I had in mind back when I was a teenager planning my extraordinary life. Don't get me wrong, I'm blessed in many ways. I make a fairly good living doing something that's appreciated (and that I often enjoy). I have a lovely family, good friends. It's just not what I expected.

I'm a native New Yorker and will always think of that wondrous city of cities as my hometown. Inherent in that is a heightened sense of vitality, excitement and constant change. And potential. That feeling of potential is what I think I miss most.  

The town I live in now places tremendous value on history. Despite a good number of multimillionaires in multimillion dollar mansions on the water, the locals who are most respected are the ones whose families arrived many — many, like two hundred and fifty — years ago. Even though I know I'll forever be a newcomer here no matter how long I stay, I do appreciate the town's collective pride in its heritage. 

On the other hand, people become New Yorkers in ... well ... a New York minute. I love that about the city. About my city. Immigration reform aside, the promise of Lady Liberty is still very much alive in NYC. And I miss it. Almost as much as I miss the art, and the theatre, and the restaurants, and, and, and ...

Where I live now has been a great place to raise a child — it's small and safe with good schools; it has beaches and bike paths, and it's just half an hour from the stable where my daughter spends most of her time (and much of her love). But, she (and the horse) are off to college in less than two years. I'm starting to wonder where I want to be.

If I returned to New York in my mid-fifties (once again, where did the time go?), could I ever recapture the thrill, the sense of potential? Probably not. Could I ever convince my husband to leave this place he loves so much? Probably not. And if I could, could we ever afford the real estate?

Probably not!

I'll daydream about it, but chances are I'll stay here. It may have snuck up on me; it was never my plan.

But, I guess it's home.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Social Media and the End of Sleepovers

I still remember my first sleepover party. It was thrilling. I had a Girl Scout sleeping bag; I was eleven years old. It was my best friend's birthday and she took a bunch of us to see American Graffiti, most of which, I'm sure, went right over our heads. Then we camped out in the living room of her sprawling upper westside apartment. Between the hardwood floor, the gaggle of giggling girls and the novelty of not being in my own bed, I don't think I slept much.

There were also the cats. I'm desperately allergic, have been since I was tiny. My friend had not one, not two, but three felines. Two orange tabbies and an enormous Persian. So, I went home the next morning sleep-deprived and sneezing, itching and wheezing, and with eyes swollen shut.

I couldn't wait to sleepover again.

For a preteen girl, sleepovers were pretty much the best of the best. As I grew into my teens, I continued to attend (and sometimes host) slumber parties. Lots of them. They fell away once I went to college, of course ("sleeping over" meant something completely different at that point). But, sleepovers will always be an important right of passage in my tween and teen memory.

For my own teenage daughter? Not so much.

She and her cohorts had slumber parties earlier than we did. She was still in preschool I think when a friend had what her parents billed as a "sleepover/half-sleepover" party. The girls all wore pajamas and the more confident ones stayed over while others were picked up by parents mid-celebration.

When she turned seven, my daughter had a "Superstar" makeover-sleepover. Two of her teenage cousins (who were considered cool beyond belief by the guest set) joined us for hair and makeup, manis and pedis. A couple of years later, we hosted another sleepover, this one revolving around her favorite TV show The Saddle Club. We covered the dining room floor in bales of clean hay (to this day, nearly a decade later, we still find the odd bit of straw in the cracks of the floor). Fun was had by all.

Now a junior in high school, my daughter and her friends don't seem interested in sleeping over anymore. In fact, she's competing in a big horse event next week with another rider (and BFF). I suggested, you guessed it, a sleepover. To her credit, my daughter didn't roll her eyes or audibly sigh. But, she politely — and quickly — declined.

Why have sleepovers gone away? Why would an otherwise normal, healthy, red-blooded American teen not want to be up all night gossiping with her gal pals? Looking at pictures of Hollywood heartthrobs, making crank phone calls, participating in seances and eating junk food?


That's exactly what they are doing. It's just that mobile and digital technology allow them to be together ... apart. They are pretty much having remote slumber parties every night. They can Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook. They can Skype or FaceTime or LiveChat. They can group message, share pictures, flirt, tease, post videos.

We insist that my daughter leave her iPhone in the kitchen every night. It's one of the last vestiges of the rules we used to successfully enforce. (Oh, and if you ask her, it's m-o-r-t-i-f-y-i-n-g!!!!!!!) First of all, we leave ours down there too. Second, if we didn't have this rule, she would get even less sleep than she currently does. 

And third, "Because I'm your mother, that's why!"

On the rare occasion that she goes to bed before I do, I can sometimes hear messages pinging through to her phone. Pretty much all night.

Hey, I was a teenager too once. It was the 1970s, which certainly may (which certainly does!) sound like ancient history. But, I'm glad I didn't have to deal with cyber bullying, texting or sexting when I was a teen. I'm glad I wasn't under the kind of pressure that high school juniors and seniors have to live with.

Most of all, I'm glad I got to go to sleepovers. 

Cats and all.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can Teens Stress Less?

Earlier this week, I attended a workshop at my daughter's high school with another mother (and good friend). The topic was helping teenagers handle stress. If you've been following "Lovin'  the Alien" for the past few years, it will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I left the program ...


About 35 parents attended, mostly moms, as per usual. The woman who spoke — she was tall, thin and French, grrrrr — presented findings from the APA, the American Psychological Association. The rather disturbing results were part of a recent Stress in America study.

Our speaker was quick to point out that stress in and of itself is not necessarily bad. Stressors exist (oy vey, do they exist!), and our physiological, cognitive and behavioral reactions enable us to respond. Appropriately. Or not. (It's kind of like a more thoughtful version of the primitive "fight or flight" idea.) It's how we handle the stress, how we cope, that makes the difference.

Today's teens are under an inordinate amount of stress and their coping mechanisms are ... shall we say ... a wee bit underdeveloped.

In the study, teens were asked what they perceived to be a "healthy level of stress." They identified an average of 3.9 out of a 1-to-10 scale. But, when they were asked how much stress they were actually under, they averaged 5.8.

That's a lot of extra stress!

When asked about symptoms of stress, 74% of teens reported having experienced more than one of the following:

Feeling irritable or angry
Feeling nervous or anxious
Lying awake at night
Feeling like they're about to cry
Feeling overwhelmed
Feeling depressed or sad
Changes in sleeping habits
Skipping meals
Upset stomach

Teenagers aren't typically great decision-makers; at least not where the concept of consequences comes in. So even though there are positive, productive things they might do to address stress, many choose exactly the opposite. For example, physical activity (doing calisthenics, taking a walk) relieves stress. But, more teens choose sedentary activities like video games, going online, and watching TV. 

My own daughter is very bright; she certainly knows that vegging in front of Dance Moms isn't going to get her French essay written. Any relief an hour with Miss Abby and the Junior Elite Dance Team provides will be temporary at best. She knows it. And, I certainly know it. But, in the constant push-me/pull-you of parenting a teenager, we choose our battles. Pointing out that procrastination will only increase stress would be ... well ... stressful. Hella stressful!

What about suggesting yoga, meditation, mindfulness?


Pardon me. Okay. I can continue now.

All I can do is try to be aware, try to (quietly, gently, subtly) affect her attitude when I can. Try to model positive behavior and stress management.

Just keep going, I guess. That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. (Or makes us play video games and eat chocolate.) And I'll try to remember ...

"A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well."

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Hashtag A Star Is Born

Tinseltown lore has it that Hollywood starlets of days gone by were discovered at the soda counter of Schwab's on Sunset Boulevard. (Although, in reality, Lana Turner was found down the road at the Top Hat Cafe. But, I digress.)

Today's teen sensations are discovered elsewhere. Like the checkout at Target, by way of Twitter.

Just ask "Alex."

Alex's date with destiny began Sunday morning when someone tweeted a picture of him at work, bagging items for a customer. His impressive hair and adorable young mug spread like wildfire. It's only Monday now and Alex has been retweeted a million times. He's already been the subject of nearly a hundred news articles — serious, real, grownup news articles by such venerable publishers as The Washington Post, USA Today, Time and CNN.

So, who is Alex from Target? (Or, should I say #AlexFromTarget?)

Apparently, he's a kid named Alex who works at ... you guessed it ... Target.

And now, he's a superstar.

An Internet superstar, but a star none the less.

I'm reminded of the schematics the Center for Disease Control publishes when they have to explain how a virus grows into a pandemic. You start with one incident (in this case, a customer who thought her check-out boy was particularly #hot) and then she makes contact with a small group of other like-minded people. And so on. And so on.

And so on.

A young man in Texas, known to the Twitter community as @acl163 is purportedly the real Alex. He now has 397,000 followers. (For those of you in your prime like myself, a follower is a good thing.) He seems to be enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame quite a bit. And who knows where this may lead? Maybe he'll get a reality show. 

The #AlexFromTarget phenomenon is ... well, phenomenal. But, what's even more fun are the people who added a bit of creativity before they tweeted. Here are some of my favorite Alex memes for you ...

1. The "Dress Like Alex" meme

2. The Target circular meme

3. The Jerry Maguire meme

4. The "Girls Just Wanna Have Alex" meme

5. And the "This thing is bigger than both of us" meme

As a marketer, I've admired Target for many years. So, I wasn't surprised when they got into the act themselves. This morning, the superstore super chain posted the perfect response ...

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