I have an idea, moms: Let’s stop apologizing to each other.
It’s a stressfest out there, what with summer camp forms and end-of-year ceremonies and pressure (often self-imposed) to fill the next three months with fun and whimsy and the right amount of downtime.
Over the next three weeks, my son has an end-of-year Chicago White Sox game, an end-of-year class picnic, an end-of-year class pizza party and a graduation ceremony. (“Parents: Please bring a dish to pass.”)
He’s in kindergarten.
I’m getting off topic. What were we talking about?
So I was chaperoning an end-of-year field trip the other day at the Garfield Park Conservatory and another chaperone/mom was trying to complete a phone call while the group she was in charge of enjoyed the children’s garden slide.
“I’m so sorry,” she mouthed to me.
This sweet woman volunteered to spend her day being bused to and from the West Side with 120 kindergartners who display only a passing interest in botany and an endless appetite for snacks.
She clearly had more than one thing happening in her life that day, as people do.
She could have taken that phone call from the comfort of her home or her office or wherever she is when she’s not chaperoning field trips. She could have been, in other words, with zero kindergartners instead of 120 of them.
The kids were happy and safe. Her phone call was disturbing no one, least of all me.
“Sorry?” I wanted to say. “You can have a seat and crack open a beer, as far as I’m concerned.”
But I didn’t, because, as I mentioned, she was on the phone. Instead, I did that, “Oh, my gosh! Please!” face that you hope conveys genuine empathy, but might just look judge-y.
Later that day, I picked up my kids from school, and my daughter announced, “I need a plain black skirt with no ruffles by Thursday; the bake sale is actually tomorrow, not Friday; and there’s lice going around at school.”
This happened to be the anniversary of a death that broke my heart and forever darkened the world for some of the people I love best. My best friend’s niece, whom I knew and adored from the day she was born, died on her 22nd birthday three years prior.
So when I dropped off my daughter at gymnastics and hit Target for the essentials – Rice Krispies snack fixings and a plain black skirt, no ruffles – I was feeling contemplative.
Life is such a complicated tangle of stressors, I thought. And how incredibly lucky am I to consider Rice Krispies snacks a stressor?
Then another mom apologized.
We were in line, and her kid was unhappy about not getting something – a situation with which I’m pretty familiar – and he was making his feelings known.
She turned to me and said, “I’m sorry.”
“For trying your best?” I should have said. “For being human and raising a human and finding parts of both processes confounding?”
I didn’t say anything. I just did that same, “Oh, my gosh! Please!” face.
I started thinking that I need to come up with a better response to these apologies, which happen so often and in so many situations.
And then I thought: I’d rather see the apologies go away.
I’d rather see more of us embrace that mantra from Philo (or Plato, or John Watson, depending whom you believe): “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I offer these apologies, too, and they don’t come out of nowhere. They come out of a culture that judges and shames and makes moms, especially, feel as if we’re supposed to have more control – over our kids, our clutter, our cravings.
We’re primed to feel deficient. Guilty. Sorry.
What if we took gratuitous apologies out of the equation?
What if we offered each other boundless, much-deserved grace and expected the same in return?
What if we were just kind?
I’m going to give it a try. And if you see me in Target, barely hanging onto my sanity while my 5-year-old begs for a Transformer, I hope you’ll try it in return.
But let’s stop these apologies.