Thursday, 20 March 2014

“I’m sorry baby”

When I was about eight, I was really into gardening – for some strange reason, because I kill everything now and couldn’t be bothered with plants.  Mum gave me a small garden bed near the back door.  I grew lettuce and radishes and marigolds and all sorts of things that weren’t ever eaten or useful.  And I kid you not, I read to my plants because I heard that plants thrived with attention!  I sat on the back steps and read my stories to whatever was growing at the time.  I was a strange child!  But awesome!

One weekend morning, barely out of bed, mum started yelling at me for moving a tomato plant that she’d planted in my garden.  I didn’t, and told her I didn’t.  She didn’t believe me, continued to yell at me – now for lying to her – and threw in a good smack or several.  It wasn’t until dad walked in and asked why I was crying that mum said “SHE MOVED MY TOMATO PLANT!”  Dad replied, “No she didn’t, I did.”  Silence.

I turned tail and ran to my bedroom to cry into my Cabbage Patch doll, expecting mum to come in and apologise or hug me to make it all better.  She didn’t come. She didn’t mention it again.

I had “one of those days” last week, and my three-year-old daughter and I had a Mexican stand-off in the bathroom.  I wasn’t backing down; she wasn’t backing down.  I was tired.  She was tired.  After repeating a direction for the thousandth time in a very cranky voice, she sobbed, “I just want you to hug me.”  Ow!  Deep, painful, mum ow!  I realised that I was pushing an issue to an unreasonable level.  I got down to her level, held her in the biggest hug and told her I was sorry for being cranky when there was no need to be.  She went to her room and brought me back her favourite soft toy to cheer me up.  And gave me toilet paper to wipe our eyes.  “Don’t cry mummy.”  She really is the most beautiful little kid in the whole wide world.

Anyway, I was relaying this saga to my mum a few days ago, and when I told her that I apologised, she said, “Oh, never apologise!  They need to know you’re in charge.”  Right.  The tomato plant story came back and it all became clear.  She thought that if she apologised to me, my young self would think she was weak.  However, the eight-year-old me actually would have really loved to hear ‘sorry’ – that she knew I was a good kid who always tried to do the right thing; that I was telling the truth.  And not hearing mum say sorry for yelling at me, smacking me and not believing me, really hurt then and it's stayed with me - though I'm definitely over it!  My mum is awesome!

Now, it was the 80s and things were different then – like kids digging in dirt and getting smacked – but now I’m a mum, I feel very differently to my mum.   Mum was quite famous amongst us kids for not apologising or admitting she was wrong.  But I’ve apologised to my daughter twice so far, both times for handling something really badly (usually a direction for her to do something that she ignores on a day/at a time we’re both tired).

I want my daughter to know I’m human, and that it’s okay to make mistakes and be wrong.  I want her to know the power of apologising when it’s warranted.  She knows I’m the mum and in charge, and that she needs to do as she’s asked, and use kind words and be kind to others, to use gentle hands with others (and the cat).  There are firm rules and boundaries in our house, though she does a good job of being three and tests them often to make sure the rules and posts haven’t changed or moved. She gets it.  She knows who runs the house – mum and dad.  But I don’t want her growing up thinking grown-ups never make mistakes and are infallible.  I’m human.  I make mistakes.  But I try to make it right when I get it wrong.

Sometimes I think “I’m sorry” can be as powerful as “I love you”.

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