My parents never apologized much. Maybe it was the generation, or the world being a slightly different existential place, but when I was a child, adults seemed to me so distant, so far away that they cast very long shadows.
It was hard to imagine caregivers and adults were actually human. They rarely showed emotion, and they were always right. You didn’t ask why, and you didn’t talk back. It was the rule.
I wouldn’t label it all a lack of tenderness, because tenderness was certainly there when I needed it, but perhaps more of a deficiency in relatability, an absence of the touchy-feely, newfangled, 1990′s Full House brand of family communication. A little bit of that may have softened the rough edges.
I grew up with a pair of parents who were superegos with legs. If you remember your high school psychology, you’ll remember that the superego is the more zealous of the triad. Big Brother, if you will. The superego is essentially that voice in your head that points out you’re five minutes late, that you left some toothpaste on the counter, and that the dishes are still in the sink.
Thus, I grew up overly aware of every mistake, every perceived failing. I needed to be right all the time as well. Or ‘doing right’, at least. It was exhausting. And I was rarely either. Conversely, and because they never shared or showed theirs, it was hard to imagine they ever made mistakes.
I was rarely regaled with cautionary tales of their youth, of decisions good or bad. There were many ‘you should’s and ‘you need to’s, but there was little explanation why. The answer was always some permutation of ‘Because I said so’. I was basically on my own, afloat a homemade raft, in the Sea of Life. As a result, I learned a lot of things ‘the hard way’.
As I grew into an adult, I came to know better, the light began to permeate those dark corners. That shiny veneer that so often protects adult caregivers began to buckle around the edges, exposing weathered pieces of the flawed human beings they actually were. I began to see them as actual persons, and who they were beyond the label of ‘parents’. And as I learned more, I sought advice from anyone I could, about friends, about school, about life. I branched out to enhance my worldly education.
I’m not sure whether my upbringing was a result of any particular movement, or a societal shift, or some intergenerational miscommunication, but “Because that’s the way it is” just never did it for me. I needed more. I needed background. I always needed to know why. I wanted to feel like an equal to some degree, another person with whom to share the condition called life, someone worthy of talking to, but, as a child, I was just that – a child. I was a kid, eating at the kids’ table, sent to play outside while the adults talked. I knew my place.
When I had my children, I made a point not to hide that side of me, that fallible, human side. It was my hope that showing them who I was, as a whole person – flaws, stupid mistakes and all – would help them grow into whole people themselves, capable to assessing and negotiating situations on their own. I believed this would make them stronger, and not have to learn as much ‘the hard way’.
When I make a mistake in front of or related to my children, I always apologize. I explain why whatever happened did. I promise not to do it again to the extent that I am able, or explain why things need to be the way they are, even though they don’t like it. So they know I’m there, in body, mind, and heart. The offense can be as simple as my forgetting their juice on the counter, or making a decision not to go somewhere I promised we would. I talk to them. And, in turn, they talk to me.
I want them to feel and understand the consequences of less-than-stellar decision-making, and that I am accountable for my own behavior. I want them to see that Mom can’t be perfect all the time, and they don’t need to be, either.
I want them to see that there’s no man behind the curtain, that there’s no need for a curtain at all. I want to show them I’m simply a woman, a woman blessed with the awesome responsibility of raising three children, a woman who, at thirty-five, is still making mistakes.
This afternoon, I sat in the living room, at the end of the couch, eating an apple, while demanding the twins bring their sippy cups back to the kitchen. Because ‘we don’t eat in the living room’.
And then I dropped my apple on the floor.
And they helped me clean it up and bring it back to the kitchen.
Because mommies drop crumbs, too.