It’s amazing how those words can change the mood. And, even if you think you are not sorry—try saying it, sometimes you realize you actually are sorry.
You know how it is living in house with little people. They take everything of yours—even if you hide it. My favorite Pilot Precise V5 pens, which all now have bent tips. My scotch tape dispenser is almost always empty. Tape is something I actually have to buy at Costco because they use so much (and don’t ask me what for, because I don’t know). My scissors are always missing and my post-it notes never resemble the neat stack they come in but instead often look like a pile of cocktail napkins twisted in to a spire by a bartender. I can’t keep a pack of gum around to save my life. They find it, hunt it down and chew the whole damn thing at once.
It happens with everything around here. Nothing is sacred. There is nothing they won’t seek, use and destroy. Including my husband’s tools and lawn equipment.
The boys started a lawn business—actually my youngest started the business. I helped him create flyers and he passed them out to the neighbors. He will cut grass, pick up leaves, shovel snow, walk dogs, whatever. Once he gets a job, he decides if he needs help or not. If he does, he asks if any of his brothers are interested. If they are, he lets them in on the cut. If not, he goes at it alone.
He uses his dad’s equipment as his recent efforts of trying to talk us in to buying him a $5,250 stand-on mower have failed. One day, after a pretty lucrative job, Jeff went to do some work in our yard and tried to start his new blower. It wouldn’t start.
“Those damn kids fucked my brand new blower up and now it doesn’t work,” he says as he slams the garage door and walks in to my office.
I peer my head from around my giant monitor and said with what I am sure was a completely annoying smirk on my face, “Well, don’t let them use it.”
“If I don’t let them use it, then I am the dick.” He’s right. If he tells them no, then I give him shit, call him crabby and ask why he has to be so mean.
But, instead of admitting that, I argue further. “Then watch them when they use it.” I mean, he is after all, the guy that tells them they can’t start a fire outside without him. He helps them start a fire and then comes inside. “What about the fire?” I ask him. “It’s fine,” he says only for me to walk outside and see them putting sticks in the flames and pulling them out like torches and running around like natives. You know, those moments where you realize…okay, maybe a bit of adult supervision is in order after all.
“They don’t do that to your stuff,” he insists as he leaves the room.
“Are you fucking kidding me!?!?” I yell after him with no response.
Later, I pass him on my way upstairs to take a shower. “Sorry about your blower…” and before I could get the “but” out of my mouth to finish my statement, he interrupts me.
“That’s all I wanted to hear. The whole time.”
Ah, I realized. He just wanted me to acknowledge that it sucked. I didn’t need to defend them, fix it, or punish him. I just needed to acknowledge. Okay, then. I opted to not finish my thought and let this one die on a happy note. Interesting.
It happened again recently. I responded in a completely irrational way to the news that he had to attend some training that would alter his regular work schedule during one of my busiest times at work. I really lost it. I said mean things, hurtful things and wanted to make him feel bad for the shift in schedules.
After a few hours, I realized how ridiculous my response was and I found him simply to say, “I am sorry about the way I responded earlier.” There was a “but” in my head, but I left it where it was and kept the self-serving “but” to myself. And, the “but” wasn’t bad, but it was unnecessary extra words that added no meaning to the apology. Probably something like, “but I am really stressed out and worried about how I am going to get all of this work done.” Or could have been something like “but I can’t remember changes in your schedule; I need you to write them down.”
And even if they were valid points, they did not need to be connected to my apology. The “but” represents a totally separate conversation. My sorry is best left to stand on its own. I am sorry. That’s it. Whenever my kids apologize for something I ask them, “What does sorry mean?” and the answer they are supposed to give is sorry means I will change. It’s not enough to do something that hurts others and keep doing it because you can just say sorry. Sorry means you recognize there is something wrong and you will change it. Sorry is a challenge to yourself; but now I see “but” as a challenge to the other person—like a pushback on your apology.
I am working on my “buts” and my apologies. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I am also working on my butt.