I do not come from an apologizing family. We reconcile, but we do not apologize. We sweep under the rug, but we don’t say the words.
The only time I ever remember apologizing to my mother for something I had done was because she forbade me to join my friends in our regular Friday night outing to the neighborhood skating rink. Holed up in my room, I crafted a saccharine sweet letter, and in that letter I apologized for my wicked teenage behavior. I decorated the edges with flowers and made lavish promises of extra chores, if only she would let me go out. I folded it into thirds, carefully printed her name on the front – MOM – and delivered it to her in the living room, where she sat watching TV. Then I scurried back to my bedroom so I wouldn’t have to watch her read it.
A few minutes later she opened my door. We weren’t a knocking family either. I knew she was calling my bluff. I wasn’t sorry for what I had done or the way I had acted. I was sorry I was being punished, sorry I was going to miss out on a fun night, and sorry I wasn’t going to get to see – not talk to, mind you, but see – the boy I had a crush on. I mean, the fate of my romantic future could have very well rested on this trip to the skating rink.
She relented, and I rushed off to join my friends, but the argument, and my pseudo attempt at a genuine apology letter, put a damper on the evening that no amount of laughter and gossiping could lift. I had cheated and won, but my winnings were bitter and left a bad taste in my mouth. The boy I so desperately wanted to see wasn’t even there that night. Perhaps he too was being punished for his own terrible teenage behavior. In the end, it was a waste of a good apology letter, and I was still stuck doing the extra chores.
Not long into our relationship, my husband let me know that my habit of not apologizing wasn’t going to fly.
“You can’t act like this this,” he would say, as I huffed and gave him the silent treatment if he so much as disagreed with which CD to play on a road trip. Sometimes I would walk away in my anger. One time I actually hopped in my car and drove off, only to return, because I didn’t really have anywhere to go.
With his help, and more often with his example, I learned to swallow my bitter-tasting pride and say those two, gut-wrenching words: “I’m sorry.” And I had to mean it. With time it got easier, and I learned that bucking up and acknowledging my fault felt much better than fuming and going to bed angry, the excruciating act of lying mere inches apart from one another, trying so hard not to touch. After almost twelve years of marriage, it’s almost second nature for one of us to relent and say “I’m sorry,” if only for the sake of agreeing to disagree.
Apologizing comes a little more naturally now, which is good, because as your typical flawed mother, I’ve been apologizing to my children pretty much since the day they were born.
I’m sorry my body wasn’t fit to carry you full term.
I’m sorry, I don’t know why you’re crying.
I’m sorry your sister inexplicably kneed you in the forehead. Maybe you shouldn’t keep your head so close to her knee next time.
It rolls off my tongue now, effortlessly. Maybe I really do say it that often. Sorry. Oops! There I go again.
Back when I was a perfect mother – you know, before I had kids – I swore that I wanted my children to be able to talk to me, to approach me. Confront me, apologize to me, and I to them. I didn’t want to raise a family of sweepers, those who don’t know how to admit their wrongs, or at least assuage a situation. I wanted no awkwardness, no pretending it didn’t happen.
Now that I do actually have children, I’m sadly no longer that perfect mother. I get the chance to apologize to my children a lot. Not just for things beyond my control, like my failing pregnancy health or the inconsolable wails of an infant or two. Now I have the chance to use my apologizing skills for a whole new set of fuck ups.
I’m sorry I yelled at you. I shouldn’t have reacted that way.
I’m sorry, but no I don’t know where you put your [insert favorite, minuscule little toy of the day here].
I’m sorry I forgot to pick you up from early release that time….and that other time.
I’m sorry. I’m not perfect. I’m trying my best.
My twins are six now and full of drama that I wasn’t prepared for at such an early age. One of them in particular often declares vast injustices in her life and takes to her bed. No amount of reconciling or reasoning with her will do. Voices are raised, and I often find myself staring after her in disbelief as she runs from the room, then checking my watch to make sure I have not fast forwarded 10 years. If you are the praying type, please pray for me in the upcoming teen years.
Her mood swings usually indicate that she’s tired or hungry. I know this, but she doesn’t. I know to give her some space, because we both need it. After some time has passed, one of us will relent. I’ll go curl up next to her in her bed, or she’ll seek me out in the kitchen. She’ll lean her head into my belly, stick her left thumb in her mouth, and grab my shirt with her remaining fingers, a stronghold to anchor her to me.
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” she’ll say. And she’ll mean it.
“I’m sorry too,” I reply. And I do too.