Stuff Your Sorries in a Sack


My daughter and I really love each other. And like all BFF's, we sometimes fight. Like little children. Or should I say, she fights like a five year old. And so do I.

I am not very friendly in the morning. I wake up fine, but I don't really like to talk much, or do much. Which is why Maya gets to watch TV while she eats her Rice Krispies and I check email, take a bath, have a bite to eat, drink some coffee. I also help her get dressed for school, do her hair, pack her a snack and get myself dressed and ready. But there isn't a lot of conversation and there certainly isn't a lot of playing together.

I am not proud of this. I think it might actually be nice to spend mornings drawing pictures with Maya on the couch, or cuddling under a fuzzy blanket. In fact, right now, sitting alone in the dojo, I swear that that is what I will do tomorrow. I swear I will wake up, make us both pancakes, and eat them with Maya while playing school. I should be able to do this. Lots of moms do this. These same moms also deal with their child's early morning drama with monk-like serenity.

The thing is, I do not have much patience before 10am. Especially not for whining, yelling or mean faces. Or any nos. And there have been a lot of those lately.


My sweet little five year old is going through another joyful childhood "phase". Lets call this one, "Spoiled Bully." Not spoiled brat. Brats just whine and cry when they don't get what they want. Maya gets all aggro on you. Somehow she has gotten it into her tiny brain that if she demands louder and meaner she will get her way. And when she doesn't, she just pushes harder.

It's a pleasure, let me tell you.

Of course, she is not always like this. But when she is, we do not like each other much. And when her bully self meets my morning self it does not go well. There is yelling (her) and threats (me) and inevitably tears and an apology, often from both of us. Since I fight like a five year old it seems only fair that I say sorry like one.

Its a funny thing this sorry stuff. Maya gets it now. When she does something that hurts someone else she feels bad. Sometimes she gives dramatic, tearful hugs. Sometimes she makes cards for us that say things like "I am srry. I love you. Do you frgve me?" What she does not quite get yet is how to feel that crushing remorse and then learn from it.

Yesterday Maya went to a birthday party after school. She had an amazing time so when I arrived to pick her up she was, shall we say, less than thrilled to leave. The other girls threw their excited arms around their mommy's necks in a sugar fueled expression of welcome and love. I got a mean face and a few half hearted kicks at my shins. (I assume her thinking was that if they don't actually make contact they don't count as hitting.) But, as is the way with Maya, once we were outside she was all sobbing hugs and apologies. She was "very sorry". She "felt bad." She just hadn't wanted to leave. I wasted a full fifteen minutes of breath and vocal chords attempting to explain to her that if she did not do the bad thing in the first place she would not have to feel the sad afterwards. Of course, this did nothing.

I often tell Maya that a "sorry" without change is not worth anything. In other words, there is no point in apologizing if you are just going to make the same mistakes over and over again. But is this really true? Is a sorry always a promise to do better or does it just mean that you feel bad right now? And if it does, in fact, signify nothing but a stomachache made from horrible guilt, is it still worth saying?

In one of the many schools I once taught at, I had a boss who was vehemently against the forced apology for kids. She even went as far as to liken it to a kind of abuse, as if making a kid say something they do not feel was in some way hurting them. I used to agree with her but now that I have my own child (and my own household full of wrongdoings) I am not so sure.

There are two kinds of apologies. First, there is the one that you say because you have wronged someone and you feel all twisted and miserable inside. That one is mostly for you, to alleviate that horrible guilty feeling. But it does have the nice side effect of making the other person feel better too. Then there is the apology that is for show. You know, the one you force your kid make purely for the benefit of the other mom on the playground, the one whose kid your little one just pummeled with a shovel. "Johnny say sorry to the little girl so I can show that I am doing this mommy thing right." But the forced apology, however insincere, does have one positive going for it. It teaches your child the appropriate social response to a wrongdoing, so that one day when he really does mean it, he will have the words. This alone makes it worth doing.

Also, its nice.

Maya has the words. She can say them through tears and she can write them, painstakingly, in beautiful rainbow colors on a homemade card. And I have them too. I am sorry I am not better at being a grownup. I am sorry I fight back. I am sorry that I too have a mean face, and an angry voice, and that my daughter has seen both enough times to develop her own. I am sorry I am not better at ignoring, at turning the other cheek, at letting go.

I am sorry I am not more fun in the morning.

I am trying to do better though. My apology is that kind, the kind comes with promises. The grownup kind. Maybe I will make the same mistakes over and over again but one of these days, if I keep at it, I am bound to learn something. I am bound to change.

Maya will too. Change, grow, learn. Everything is "just a phase". Perhaps her next one will include self awareness.

If I haven't entirely screwed her up by then.

Or maybe she'll just send flowers.

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