Sorry State

March 27, 2007 at 12:01 pm (Uncategorized)

The other night, Andrew fell out of bed and whacked the side of his head. The thud of his skull hitting the wood floor was enough to send me running to him from my own bed across the hall, even though it took him a few seconds to fully awake and start screaming.

I immediately scooped him up and held him close to me. In an effort to reassure him, I told him that he had just fallen out of bed. As I lowered my mouth down to his little ear to kiss away the ouchy, he stopped crying long enough to stutter, “I’m sorry, Mommy.”

I’m sorry? For falling out of bed? When I heard this, it felt like my heart skipped a beat or two. Of course, I immediately told him that he had absolutely nothing to feel sorry about. “Falling out bed is an accident. It’s nothing to be sorry about,” I said a few times. But throwing an excess of words at my whimpering three-year old did nothing to warm my own blood or slow my heart.

As a parent, there is nothing more dreadful than realizing that your actions do indeed speak louder than words, that your child is learning how to approach the world and his place in it not by the careful speeches you deliver but by the unthinking ways you yourself behave. And Andrew’s mournful apology was a perfect example of behaving exactly like his mother.

I probably say I’m sorry on average a half dozen times a day. This over-abundance of apology might make sense if I made a hobby of offending people, firing a rifle in my yard, deliberately backing into cars in parking lots, crank-calling businesses, pulling the tails off cats, kicking people in the knees, or other such behavior. But I think, on the whole, I’m a relatively decent human being, who usually does nothing worse than tell the occasional white lie, get grumpy with my family, or miss an appointment from time to time.

Yet I am always apologizing. I am sorry for not being more involved with friends’ organizations, sorry if our babysitter has to unload the dishwasher, sorry if my parents come to help, sorry if I’m upset and need to talk to Jay on the phone, sorry if I don’t feel up to cooking dinner, sorry if I need to go to the doctor, sorry that I’ve gained weight, sorry if Jay has to do the laundry, sorry I don’t write more on the blog, sorry our house is cluttered, sorry that I need to nap, sorry the cat loses her collar, sorry I don’t have the energy to teach a writing class, sorry I’m not reading more serious books, sorry my hands hurt and I complain about it, sorry I don’t return e-mails promptly, sorry I don’t feel like watching television most evenings, sorry I don’t write thank you notes more promptly and call people back right away, sorry I spend every spare dime on expensive medical care, sorry my cabinets look like a hurricane passed through them, sorry I’m worrying people, sorry that I don’t take Andrew hiking, sorry I need to have expensive dental work performed, sorry that I need help caring for my son, sorry there is a film of ickiness on the bottom of the trash can that I don’t feel capable of cleaning, sorry that Andrew has bratty spells, sorry I don’t always recycle every bit of newspaper or cardboard, sorry I can’t have a real job right now. I am so sorry– for anything not perfect (large or small) in my world.

In a rational moment I can see what this is: bullshit.

I doubt I’m the only person in chronic town who spends half my life apologizing for being sick. And I also doubt I’m the only mother in the world who twists herself into a pretzel for not being able to do it all – all the time. But I’ve been an over-apologizer my entire life, long before I became ill and long before I became a mother. Getting chronic sarcoidosis and a kid has only made my natural tendencies excessive. What Andrew did the night he bonked his head and then apologized for it was hold up a mirror. If I rolled out of bed, or rolled my car, I, too, would first and foremost say I was sorry.

The fact that I always say I’m sorry is no one’s fault but my own. And before I curl myself up into a little ball of self-pity at how sad it is that I feel so sorry, I need to remember that what underlies my omnipresent apologies is ego. Somehow, getting really sick and almost simultaneously having a child, hasn’t yet made it abundantly clear to me that I am not the center of the universe, that I don’t have the power to live forever and live perfectly – if only I would just try harder, try better, and stop making mistakes. For me to stop saying I’m sorry all the time, I need first to accept the imperfections in my health, my career, my relationships, and my home. Or maybe that’s too much to bite off at one time. Perhaps I should first accept that not all imperfections in my health, my career, my relationships, and my home are my fault. But this will entail that I let go of some control, let go of some fear, let go of some pieces of myself.

When Andrew told me he was sorry for falling out of bed, my first inclination was to tell him how sorry I was for always making him sorry. But that’s no place to start. Next time, I will tell him that people fall out of bed. And there’s not much to do about it except kiss the sore spots and love one another – bumps and all.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy said,

    Very true – I thought that my apologies were a way of recognizing my need, showing I recognize the extra effort so many have taken and the truth is, this is who I am, walk ahead, I will catch up – thank those who go the extra- it’s another one of “forced” behavior changes brought to you from the wonderful folks at “SARCOID”. Acceptance of the change you need at the present time is a daily thing with me – some are better then others and some days, I am flooded with apologies because I want all (not some) of me back and I am crabby. Your writing is delicious brain food – thank you and goodness your way – Nan

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