Dear Daughter: You Have To Remember How To Say "I'm Sorry"

I'm Sorry

Dear Daughter:

You really need to remember how to say "I'm sorry."

When I originally titled this post, it read "You really need to learn how to say 'I'm sorry'," but I reread it and it didn't sit right with me, mainly because you did learn it. I know you did.

Being your mother requires that I teach you so many things, to the best of my ability. The lessons start young. Please and thank you. I need help, Mom. Let's share. We'll take turns.

Phrases you learn, phrases you apply, because they help you get along in this world. One of those critical phrases that you were taught from your earliest years was "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry." Two little words that are so, so very much more. They mean responsibility for your choices. They mean a sincere effort to do the right thing, after a wrong was done. They mean you acknowledge your own humanity. They mean kindness.

And I have taught you to be kind. You show me that those lessons stuck, for the most part. The depth of your kind and expansive heart has amazed me on many, many occasions. But as you grow a little older, become a lot more independent, and turn into the ever-hormonal, ever-challenging teenage girl, "I'm sorry" has fled in the face of slamming doors and reminders that I don't understand you.

I do, but you can't see that now. You will someday, and that thought keeps me from letting the ugly words that twitch on my lips fly in your direction. That thought keeps me from beating on that closed door and reminding you that I own the damn house and I can take that door off its hinges if I want to.

That thought kept me from shouting at you tonight the one thing that I vow you'll never hear from my mouth, ever.

You're just like your father.

You are in so many ways. You have the shape of his eyes. His easy-tanning skin. His height. His funny, lopsided grin. You have a lot of his good qualities. But it's also a fact that you fight just like he did, and I don't want to yell those words like an epithet when being like your father isn't entirely a bad thing.

You have the same explosive temper, followed by the same shutting down and shutting out, followed by the calming down, and then the same pretending that none of it ever happened.

The same never saying you're sorry.

My mind flashes back as I write this to the night your father told me he was leaving. I got two week's notice, officially. He was simple and to the point:

I'm moving out in two weeks, he said. We should tell the kids this weekend.

Like it was just another item to be added to the big calendar on the refrigerator. No big deal, kids. Dad's moving out to be with his girlfriend and you're going to live in two different places now.

I nodded - after all, I'd known this was coming for awhile - and I told him we should approach the kids together. Then after a long, awkward pause, I said the only thing I really wanted to know. Because I needed to know.

Are you sorry? I asked. Even then, he wouldn't answer me. And I wasn't looking for him to tell me he'd made a mistake. I wasn't wanting to hear that he still loved me, or that he'd reconsidered.

What I was looking for was the simple acknowledgement that he realized he'd hurt another human being. Three of us, actually. That's all I wanted.

And that, my daughter, is why I say to you now that you need to remember how to say "I'm sorry." Because we're all people. We hurt each other, sometimes. And sometimes, the people we hurt are the people we love. We may even be inflicting hurt that's unavoidable, in the scheme of things. But that doesn't change the fact that we need to own up to it, and acknowledge that our choices, or our actions were the cause of pain to another person.

You always find your way to me afterward. You sit next to me on the couch. You crawl into my bed after your brother is asleep. And you show me how very sorry you are for your previously thoughtless words or your slamming doors. I feel it, and I pull you close and tell you how sorry I am that we fought, because I know the weight of those words. The importance of the acknowledgement. The hole it leaves inside you after years of never hearing "I'm sorry," no matter how nicely you're treated in hope of absolution.

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