If I’m honest, it was probably my fault. I probably told her practice was at a different field. And that’s probably why—an hour after practice ended—my mom still wasn’t there to pick me up.
Before heading toward the parking lot, I had disappeared into the woods by the field to look for my ball. By the time I emerged, everyone was gone. So there I was: just an eleven year-old with a soccer ball and an empty water bottle. The other field was an hour and a half away. The sun was going down.
I made a couple dandelion necklaces. I took some shots on goal. I practiced my handstand. When it was finally totally dark, I climbed into a tubular slide next to the field. Yeah, I’d be alright in there. It was what Kevin McAlister would do, definitely.
By the time Mom finally got there—two hours after practice had ended—I understood that I had something special going. My mother, I reasoned, was at least somewhat at fault here. Sure, maybe I told her the wrong field, but aren’t moms supposed to know things anyway? Or couldn’t she have called my babysitter who had dropped me off?
The minivan wound into the parking lot. I could see her look of concern through the windshield. My moment was approaching. I had to make the right moves. Say the right things. Sigh the right sighs.
I opened the front door, tossed my stuff into the back.
“Sweetheart, I am so, so sorry,” she said. “I thought your practice was at Watt Road!”
I slouched down into the seat, wrapping my arms around my knees. “Nope, it was here.”
I had been hiding in a slide. I had to remember that I had been hiding in a slide.
“I was hiding in a slide, Mom, for two hours.”
She looked ready to cry.
So, reader, you think I was being a bit manipulative, don’t you? You think I sensed that my mother had a committed the weighty mom sin of Leaving Your Daughter in the Dark for an Extended Period of Time, and that I was intentionally pulling on her guilt strings?
Well, okay, so maybe I was. But please understand; I don’t remember many times in which my mother had clearly screwed up. So perhaps you might forgive me for wanting to explore this new relationship dynamic? Besides, my admittedly puckish reaction was preferable (to both her and me) to becoming terror-stricken in the solitude of my slide. And that could have been my reaction, which was, of course, my point. So let’s continue.
Mom gripped the steering wheel with both hands. She looked almost physically uncomfortable. Her eyebrows were furrowed too close together and her forehead was too crinkly. Maybe I should cut her a break, I thought.
So, I started to say, “But it’s okay, Mom.” I was going to just let it go, really. I was going to be gracious.
But then she said it. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
I didn’t move. Just my eyeballs swung to the left. I thought just a moment. Inspiration didn’t take long.
“I want a donut.”
“Pink frosting. Rainbow sprinkles.”
We drove to Dunkin Donuts. Mom handed the man in the drive-thru window 32 cents. The man handed her my donut.
And I was so pleased with myself.
Whenever I have to apologize to someone, I think about that donut. Okay, I think about the conversation preceding the donut. If you distill the situation to its essence, this is what happened:
- I made a mistake, an irritating mistake, but an understandable mistake, especially for an 11-year-old.
- I did not acknowledge my mistake, though I should have.
- Mom made a mistake.
- Mom apologized for her mistake, sincerely and without trying to share the blame, even though she would have had a strong case.
- I forgave Mom.
- I got a donut.
You’ll note that the donut actually came after the forgiveness, and so for this story, it’s not really that important. What was important was having Mom role model how to apologize to someone.
Because kids are of still-developing intellect and often don’t have all the information, I imagine it’s quite easy for parents to fudge when they should rightfully apologize. Other times, parents might easily insist that much of the blame is owed to their children. Mom could definitely have taken the latter route.
But she didn’t. She knew I had told her the wrong field. She also knew I knew that. But she apologized, and she bought me a donut.
I’m sure I received many lessons on how to apologize to someone, but none were as impactful as the Donut Mea Culpa. Issuing sincere, humble apologies must be one of those skills that is “easier said than done.” Mom demonstrated an important fact about all of those “easier said than done” life skills as they relate to parenting: If it’s easier said than done, it had better be seen to be done. We learn best from example, and someone has to set the example. Also, sprinkles don’t hurt.
A note about the accompanying picture: I was not that young when my mother left me at the soccer field. I do, however, imagine that I had a similar facial expression (“Really, Mom??”) when she finally showed up.