My yoga class gets very crowded. Today is no different, late birds are not going to get a spot. Just inside the entrance, the wall is lined with cubbies meant for shoes and bags. Standing in front of the one available cubby is a woman squeezing in a last minute text before class starts. I stand there for what seems like an eternity waiting for her to move, which she doesn’t. I stand there for a while longer, bag and shoes in hand, saying a few polite “Excuse me’s” which she ignores or doesn’t hear. Finally I raise my voice a little louder, smile and say, “Sorry?” as if I’m European while hoisting my bag just beyond her head. I’m fully expecting her to say, “No I’M sorry.” Instead she says, “It’s okay,” and walks away.
I spend the rest of the class reminding myself I’m a total asshole for apologizing to someone who was clearly being an asshole.
My whole life, I’ve had a love hate relationship with the word “sorry.” I catch myself using it all the time, or more accurately misusing it all the time. The proper use of the word sorry should be reserved for when you’re actually at fault, as opposed to when you’re uncomfortable or not wanting to be perceived as a bitch, which is usually when I use it.
Back in my days as a celebrity personal assistant, I got into a 4-day battle with my boss over my use of the word sorry, Or actually, over my lack of the use of the word sorry. I had gotten a flat tire on my boss’ car. Instead of saying, “Sorry” I said, “I’m going to fix it.” This did not sit well with her and for four days my ass got chewed out. She wasn’t mad about the flat tire. She was mad that I didn’t apologize for it.
I dug my heals in because I wasn’t, in fact, sorry. I could have easily ended the whole thing by blowing smoke up her ass. I could have just said, “Sorry,” as if I’d somehow intended to drive over the nail or sharp object, but I couldn’t quite comprehend why I needed to apologize for something that was 1) totally out of my control and 2) an accident. This was my Norma Rae moment, my chance to make-up for all the times I’d sold myself out and apologized for shit that wasn’t my fault.
And yet, when I’m standing next to a real live human stranger who is so engrossed in looking at pictures of kittens on Facebook that she neglects to notice there’s another real live human stranger trying to get past her, I say sorry. I’d always thought I was a recovered apologizer. But when I hear how easily I suck up to the girl in yoga, I wonder if I’ve really recovered at all.
I’m particularly sensitive to the subject of sorry these days because I have a daughter, a future apologizer. Even at 3, Margaux’s already a little too comfortable saying sorry. I can hear how it rolls off her tongue much easier than it rolls off her brother’s. Kids are told all the time, “Say sorry,” for their flat tire moments, the time they hit a kid back, the time they grabbed their own toy back, the time they stood up for themselves. Kids who are professional apologizers are rewarded for their good manners. They’re called easy children who are playdate friendly. Little girls pick up on this. They want to be nice. They want to say sorry.
Justin’s a fantastic apologizer in that he doesn’t; at least he doesn’t feel the need to apologize just to make things nice or comfortable. He’ll apologize to me when he’s at fault, but he doesn’t use the word sorry unless he actually is. He’s unapologetic, as most men I’ve met are. They get rewarded for not apologizing, even when they’re at fault. And yet somehow along the way, we gals learn that apologizing is just the way to go.
As a mom I’m constantly apologizing, mainly because someone’s always pissed off or disappointed. Moms are supposed to be psychic, tireless, with endless patience for being the recipient of everyone’s frustration. So we say sorry a lot because that seems like the right thing to do. Sorry I brought the wrong crackers even though these were the ones you asked for. Sorry I make chicken instead of burgers. Sorry I don’t have time to chat. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
But when I listen to my little girl say sorry, it makes my stomach turn. Because with sorry comes a million other times she’ll make things nice for someone else simply by apologizing for herself. And she’ll learn the lesson that most of us took years to unlearn, that apologizing for yourself is far more important to success than being yourself.
So I’m going to teach my girl the proper way to apologize by the way I apologize, which means I’m going to apologize less or not at all. I’m going to apologize when I’m late or when I’m rude or when I’m forgetful, but I’m not going to apologize for making chicken instead of burgers, for the cracker breaking, or for the sun shining or all the other stuff moms are held responsible for.
Instead of learning to make others feel comfortable with their own shortcomings, my girls will learn to be comfortable with her own. And she’ll stop apologizing for them. Every moment should be her Norma Rae moment. She may never get called sweet, nice or cute , but she won’t feel like a sucker for apologizing for herself just to make someone else feel good. And then hopefully, she can teach me to do the same.