Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"I'm sorry" how long does it work

I was talking with a fellow blogger the other day, Her young son was acting up and he knew he was doing wrong. He quickly said I'm sorry as soon as time out was mentioned. She said that he uses "I'm sorry" all the time now thinking it will get him out of trouble. This reminded me of a piece by Erma Bombeck that I clipped out and tucked away many, many years ago. It is one of my favorites. Just think of this the next time someone says, "I'm sorry."

Asking forgiveness is harder than forgiving

"I'm sorry."

It starts as two little words a child puts together when he has broken a toy or wet his pants.

But the two little words have a great effect on Mama. Her eyes soften, her lips part into a smile and she envelopes him with her arms in a show of forgiveness.

To a child, "I'm sorry" is the miracle phrase of the century.

"I'm sorry I pulled up all of Grandma's flowers by the roots." Mama shakes her head and smiles. Grandma even snickers. It's still working.

"I'm sorry I took a candy bar without paying and hid it under my coat." Mama's smile fades. In fact, she insists the child walk right into the store and say those two little words to Mrs. Musselman who doesn't smile at all.

"I'm sorry I didn't clean my room today." "I'm sorry I got an F in geography." "I'm sorry I lost my sweater." "I'm sorry about the TV knob. It just came off in my hand." "I'm sorry I don't like cauliflower." "I'm sorry I forgot to say I'm sorry."

Mama responds numbly to it now. Occasionally she mumbles, "You should be."

"I'm sorry I wrecked the car." "I'm sorry I took the money from your purse." "I'm sorry I lied to you."

Mama has now had it with "I'm sorry." She says, "You think it solves everything. Well, it doesn't. You've said it too many times before." It isn't working. What happened?

Most of the mothers who write me wonder how they can tell when a child says, "I'm sorry," and means it.

There was the daughter who ran away from home to live with her boyfriend in the home of his parents who were really "neat." She was sorry. There was the son who lied to his grandmother to get money to have this truck fixed and used it for an abortion for his girlfriend. He was sorry.

Maybe I'm naive, but I believe every time they say, "I'm sorry," they mean it. It's the only phrase they've got to try and recapture that wonderful moment when our eyes soften, our lips part in a smile and we take them in our arms and forgive them.

It isn't easy to forgive. Never underestimate how tough it is for parents to go back to square one and start trusting them again. They've been hurt, lied to, humiliated and emotionally ripped off.

I have to remember there's only one thing harder in this world than forgiving.

It's to ask for forgiveness armed only with, "I'm sorry."