“Sorry! It’s OK!”
Apologetic child immediately self-absolves
We’re now well into the long apology news cycle, and Kina has now grown accustomed to saying “I’m sorry” in response to her various familial catastrophes. She also now understands the importance of forgiveness, and requires a verbal “it’s okay” in response to her heartfelt apologies. I’m sympathetic—she needs the feedback to make sure she’s getting it right. Imagine how exhausting and confusing it must be to learn that apologies are a thing—that acting on your feelings often requires that you then act on somebody else’s feelings? How can being angry make other people angry? And why are you (possibly still enraged) in those moments suddenly in charge of that other person’s anger? As I think about it now, it does seem pretty unfair, and yet Kina is getting a handle on it. I’m very proud of her, even as her penchant for punching has not quite yet subsided.
It’s not that Kina really understands the various things that she has done wrong. The most difficult lesson I’m learning as a parent is that my anger—even when it’s mostly subtle—is often the most obvious signpost for her as she navigates her way from inchoate id-machine to civil humanity. I have to bear and transcend my anger for my sake and hers, because it is our job as parents to create well-socialized human beings. We have evolved to act as firewalls between these little monsters and the civilization around us, hopefully burning down to coals just before they chew off somebody’s finger. It’s hard work, taming children, but somebody’s got to do it.
So, because Kina thinks she is apologizing for our frustration, she brings the same tenor of apology to the spilling of milk and the drawing of blood. But offering forgiveness is also exhausting (again, that thing about being responsible for another person’s emotions while your own feelings are still aflame) and I just can’t always say “don’t worry”, which really bothers Kina. Her hack, then, for transgressions she’s come to know are minor—like an overturned tumbler full of juice—is a prompt self-absolution. “It’s okay,” she tells herself (and it is) when she knows it doesn’t matter. I must be signaling that back to her, giving her license in those moments to be okay with herself. I’d like to think this means we’re finding another, more understanding, way to guide each other. I’ll still have to clean up the juice, but both of us can accept that it happens and want to spill less.