I spent the better part of my career in the Domestic C-Suite, gamely attempting to coerce apologies out of recalcitrants. It all started with my husband and then eventually trickled downward into years of frustration with our children.
He and I used to argue about apologies.
We actually had arguments about apologies, that later necessitated apologies. Comical, but true. He once accused me of “never apologizing!” which left me quite frustrated, as I was utterly convinced that I was Constantly Apologizing and it was him who “never apologized!”
Once, when he conceded that I was indeed the “Better Apologizer,” he added that it was owed entirely to the fact that I was, “more practiced at it, due to constantly screwing up,” maintaining that since he was “rarely wrong,” he didn’t have quite as much experience at verbalizing remorse.
I mean, he wasn’t wrong. (Per the usual.)
These days our family is raising a new generation and fostering reconciliation is an ongoing effort, so the grandchildren are learning The Fine Art of The Apology. I’m very hopeful this next generation will be better at it than us, or even their parents…
…but so far it’s not looking that way.
Earlier this week, there was some sort of kerfuffle between my 5 year old grandson and his 3 year old sister. The incident resulted in a need for Her to apologize to Him. (Although he is 2 years her senior, they are quite evenly matched in any given verbal debate.)
When she adamantly refused, she was sent to her room to ponder her transgressions, up to and including her refusal to say, “I’m sorry” to her brother. She was permitted to come out when she was, “ready to apologize.” She wasn’t in there mulling things over for very long. She popped back out exuberantly only minutes later.
“Hi, Sweetheart, are you ready to apologize?” her mother asked patiently.
At this point, the child places her hands on her throat in a perfect mimic of a laryngitis sufferer and emphatically and oh-so-dramatically mouthed these words,
“I can’t – I’ve lost my voice!”
It’s a good thing her mother can read lips, because not one audible syllable emanated from this child, not even a hoarsy whisper. Just the pantomiming of her despair that her physical state at the moment precluded her from issuing any apologies.
This child has definitely elevated the art form, just not in the way I was hoping. No DNA test on Earth could ever convince me this child wasn’t my family’s genetic spawn.
This episode reminded me of many hopeless days as a mother trying to elicit apologies out of my own children. There was one time in a school parking lot when one of my daughters refused to apologize to another child for so long the other mother started glancing at her watch. I took that as my cue to set the family free. It was obvious how dug-in my kid was and I didn’t think it was fair to hold another family hostage to her protracted and indomitable will. We’d been there so long that it was starting to get dark outside. I assured the other mother somewhat sheepishly, the apology would be coming in due course.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I know that I constantly preached to my children the value, the necessity and the beauty of a decent apology. I can remember one of my mantras, “In your entire life, you’ll probably only need one hand to count the number of times you’ll get a sincere apology from anyone you’re not married to or related to.” I still adhere to this belief. (And… I certainly don’t mean to imply that it’s a cinch to weasel one out of someone you’re married to or related to.)
I’m considering an oft-quoted line from the 1970s movie, “Love Story,” where the heroine says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!” I was young and immature when I saw the movie, so I never quite connected with the meaning of that line. I’m pretty sure I vehemently disagreed. But lately I’ve been coming around to the concept. That, or I’m just exhausted.
I was thinking the other day about my early years of marriage, when I would get so upset in an argument that I’d flounce off to sleep on the couch. Eventually, my husband would come out and gently nudge me over so he could curl up beside me. That was his apology. I nestled in, knowing his message was, “I’m a jerk sometimes, but I can’t live without you!”
I always knew…without him actually having to speak. Those are tender memories now. Bittersweet and long gone, they occasionally nip at my heart and mind when I recall us.
Perhaps that’s what the movie line meant? Maybe the word “say” is supposed to be emphasized? “Love means never having to SAY you’re sorry!” It’s not that we’re not sorry, it’s just that sometimes we’d prefer to convey our contrition in less traditional, more creative ways.
And now, our family tree is literally showering the earth with all these ripe little crab-apples. The kind that don’t fall too far from the tree. Their parents are astonished, concerned, appalled…but it merely tickles me these days. Because I know they’ll be okay.
Just like we always were.
It’s a beautiful thing when someone you love, “loses their voice” and you can hear them anyway. Because, sometimes “Love means never having to actually SAY you’re sorry…”
Pass the throat lozenges, please.