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That Time I Thought I Was Shy.

larry the lobster

Like many little sisters, I have often been inclined to believe that anything my older sister liked or possessed was probably something I should like or possess, too. When I was little, this went not only for clothing and toys, but personality traits.

One day, I heard my mother talking on the phone about my sister. I was about four at the time; my sister was six. “Rachel’s pretty shy,” Mom was saying. “We’re trying to help her feel comfortable speaking up for herself.”

When she hung up the phone, I said, “I’m shy, too, Mama.”

At that age, I loved when restaurants didn’t have immediate seating available, because while we waited, my parents would let me stand at the door singing to strangers as they entered. No one would have called me “shy.”

Mom looked puzzled. “No, Jennie, you’re not shy.”

“I am shy,” I insisted.  “Rachel’s shy and I’m shy!”

“Jennie, I really just don’t think you’re shy,” she said.

I was dismayed. “Well then what am I, Mama?”

“You’re outgoing!” she said. She explained what that meant, and I decided I liked it. For the next few weeks, I often introduced myself by saying, “I’m Jennie Katherine and I’m outgoing!”

Frankly, I have remained “outgoing Jennie Katherine” most of my life. Still, there was a time when I thought four-year-old Jennie wasn’t entirely wrong.

_____

After college, I spent a full year interning in DC, which meant that I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the country and earning a paycheck of approximately no dollars per month.

God bless the restaurant industry.

They’ll take anyone, from professional servers to “kids” like me who spent their days working for free. I figured I’d be able to pay my rent at least, and I might even enjoy the amity that always develops among restaurant employees. I do love banter, even when half of it’s in Spanish and all of it’s laced with sexual innuendo.  (That banter is the real specialty of every American restaurant.)

So I got a night job waiting tables, and I was darn-near looking forward to that good ol’ restaurant camaraderie. You know, like on Cheers, or whatever that TV show is that my generation was never actually seen but likes to reference to old people.

But here’s the thing about that “camaraderie”:

First, no one else called it that. Second, I sucked at it—even when it was in English.

All the other employees knew each other from outside of the restaurant. They had gone to high school together. They dated each other. They even lived with each other. The server assigned to train me went over all the employee connections and cross-connections as she showed me how the ketchup dispenser worked. Sensing my confusion, she said, “Things get a little messy around here.”

Drinking was apparently a critical part of employees bonding culture. But I didn’t have much money to spend on  booze. Besides, I usually had to go home early so that I could get up early for my “real job”—you know, the one that paid no real money.

So—who woulda thunk it: I became shy. Very, very shy. Miraculously though, this wasn’t true with my tables, only my coworkers. It was like this:

A table of three 80-year-old men? I was golden. I may have forgotten whether they said “decaf” or “regular,” but they tipped me well anyway because I enjoyed talking to them about their grandkids, their service in the War, or the cover story on the newspaper under their coffee. And barring one scare when a fellow happened to have a bit of a heart condition, the coffee confusion never hurt anyone.

Back in the servers’ station, though, a switch would flip and Jennie the Mute would return. I spoke only when absolutely necessary, and even then, those exchanges tended to be brief, like “Hey…so where do we keep the to-go boxes?”

One day, I was preparing a tray full of iced teas when one of the chefs appeared next to me.  “When are you going to come out of your shell?” he asked.

I knew what he meant. I had been wondering the same thing. Not wanting to admit that though, I said, “I don’t have a shell.”  He chuckled. “Yeah, okay, then you’re a hardboiled egg dipped in titanium.”

I called my mom after that shift. I was disconcerted. “I don’t remember how to talk to people,” I said. “Mom, I’m shy now.”

“No, Jennie,” Mom said. “You’re not shy. You’re outgoing.”

She said it in the singsong voice she always uses when telling stories about my siblings and me as kids, but even without “the voice,” I would have recognized the line; my family is big on telling stories.

Mom was doing what my parents have done on so many occasions: directing my attention to something true but forgotten about myself. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe me when I said my self-assurance was shaken; it’s that she knew I was capable of being confident, because she had seen me do so many times before. She wanted me to remember that I could be that way again.

That’s how this kind of exchange has always worked:

  • In third grade, when I wasn’t asked to join the “Talented and Gifted” class because of my hearing impairment was resulting in horrific spelling skills, Mom and Dad told me how smart I was, and that maybe it was time for hearing aids (though I refused them for another three years…).
  • In fifth grade, when I got so angry with my little brother that I finally just smacked him across the face, my parents disciplined me because they knew I was a “kind and loving sister,” and hitting my brother wasn’t “consistent with that.”
  • In middle school, when I came home feeling unsettled by the constant reshuffling of friend groups, and disheartened by the transformation of one of my closest childhood friends into a mean-spirited bully, my Mom told me that she knew I’d be fine, because I was “knew how to build strong friendships when it was smart to do so.”

Mom was reminding me that I was “outgoing” because she knew that I needed to hear that one of the best parts of myself hadn’t disappeared.

When I think about how and when I formed a sense of my own identity, I imagine that at some moment long ago, my parents decided to be on the lookout for any good traits I exhibited from my earliest days, so that they could remind me about them from then on, forever and ever, at least eight times a month, amen. My parents had always been my own walking, talking mirrors, to which I could look when I needed to be reminded of who I was.

Anyway, I guess I’m Jennie and I’m outgoing.

 

 

 

now about that photo: It was during lobster special week. What can I say?

 

 

“These Aren’t Hearing Aids. I’m a Russian Spy” and other ways my parents helped me not hate being hearing impaired.

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As a little girl, I took ballet for five years. One afternoon when I was about six, my father arrived a few minutes early to pick me up from rehearsal. He quickly noticed something strange: I was perpetually one step behind all the other dancers.

Each time the instructor would call out a step, I would freeze a moment, glance at the dancer next to me, and only then do whatever move I was supposed to. They’d twirl—a second would pass—and I’d twirl. They’d leap—a second would pass—and I’d leap. Dad knew that I knew all the steps; I had insisted on practicing them and their fancy French names at home. “So what is she doing?” he wondered.  

Finally, the instructor moved closer to me and suddenly I was in sync. So Dad figured it out: I hadn’t been able to hear the instructions.

I was soon diagnosed with a genetic bilateral sensory neural hearing impairment (i.e. my ears and brain have a communication problem). At the time of diagnosis, the audiologist estimated that I was missing between 40 and 60 percent of spoken conversation. This was a surprise to my family, and to me. Without realizing it, I had apparently learned to read lips and use context clues well, and unlike my little brother’s impairment (diagnosed shortly after my own) my hearing wasn’t bad enough to cause a speech impediment.

The audiologist shrugged off my parents’ concerns about how my hearing might be affecting me in the classroom. “Well, sure,” the doctor said, “Jennie has a moderate hearing impairment but she’s performing above her peers in school. She has obviously learned to compensate. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

My father didn’t appreciate the metaphor. “No, she’s not broken,” he said, “but she is having to work much harder than her peers.” So, the audiologist helped my parents pick out a sound system: speakers for each corner of my classroom, and a headset for the teacher.

I don’t remember being hearing impaired before the diagnosis. I don’t recall, as my father said, that I had to work harder than other kids to learn.  Still, I do remember how different school was for me after the sound system was installed. I remember instinctively leaning forward in my desk when my teacher turned away from me, and I remember realizing that because of the sound system, I didn’t have to, as I no longer had to read her lips to know what she was saying. I remember my surprise, and my relief.

Did my grades go up? Probably not. My audiologist was right: I was doing fine before. Still, school was far less stressful for me, which was good, because I was six years old.

Besides, the sound system made me a bit of a classroom star. A few days before its installation, my mom visited my class to give us some “exciting news.”

“On Friday,” she said, “this class—and only this class—is going to have something really cool happen. A team of technology guys is going to come in and install high-tech speakers in every corner of the room. Mrs. Rhymer is going to have a special headset that she wears every day that sends her voice to all the speakers. This will be the same kind of sound system that famous singers use when they have concerts.”

The class was buzzing. I smiled, waiting for the best part.

Mom continued: “And, Mrs. Rhymer has told me that she thinks the class should celebrate with a pizza party lunch on Friday!”

Mrs. Rhymer nodded her assent. There were cheers! And, we still hadn’t gotten to the moment I was waiting for.

Mom waited for the hullaballoo to die down. Then: “I have to tell you one more thing: The sound system is very expensive and very fragile, so only Mrs. Rhymer and Jennie are allowed to handle it. This special sound system is going to make it easier for Jennie to hear, because—and you may not even know this unless she has told you—she has something called a ‘hearing impairment.’ She can tell you about it sometime if she wants, or you can ask her about it.

Here’s how I measure my Mom’s success that day: By the time she got to the words “hearing impairment,” I was feeling kind of sorry for the rest of the class. They didn’t have a “hearing impairment,” so they didn’t get to have the same kind of speaker system Britney Spears had. But I did! I couldn’t believe my good fortune, so I decided to be charitable.

“Well,” I interrupted my mom, “I mean, if we’re reading out loud during circle time or something, maybe then it would be okay if other kids borrowed the headset for a minute. They know how to be careful.” The class nodded their agreement.

And from there, it was smooth sailing—all the way through fifth grade.

 

 

 

Then came middle school, and with middle school came switching classes. As “high-tech” as my special sound system was, it was not transportable.  I needed hearing aids.

My bald, 80-year-old grandfather had hearing aids.  They were huge and they squeaked when they shifted out of place. Worse, he never heard the squeak. I blushed with embarrassment for him whenever that happened.

My little brother had hearing aids, too. His were fluorescent blue and green and they wrapped around his ears. He called them “his compooters.” But my brother was a little kid. Calling them “compooters” was cute, I thought. But I was going to be in the sixth grade. I didn’t want “compooters” and I didn’t want hearing aids.

Yet, when I first began to write this essay, I had no recollection whatsoever of being anything other than thrilled to get my hearing aids. My parents, however, remember my anxiety about them—anxiety confirmed by my journals from the time, in which I bemoaned that hearing aids were “ugly” and “for old people.”

Any memory of that anxiety, however, is totally eclipsed by the excitement that somehow replaced it. I remember marking out the days one by one until the “Hearing Aids Ready” day. I remember my mother asking me why I was so quiet during a seven-hour car ride to the beach, and I remember telling her that I was just “having fun imagining what it’s going to be like when I have my hearing aids.” And finally, I remember the day I came home from the audiologist’s office, with a bouquet of daisies (a gift from the doctor) and my two, new hearing aids. I remember listing every new sound—leaves crunching, pencils scraping, rain falling—in my journal. I even remember the words to a song I wrote about those sounds.

So, clearly, the mystery is this: How did I go from absolutely dreading the very idea of hearing aids, to being able to think of little else, and with such glee?

The answer: My parents’ deliberate, methodical manipulation of my young mind, of course.

At the end of fifth grade, mom began with a straight-forward approach. “Do you want to consider hearing aids?” she asked.

“Absolutely not, no way, and please don’t bring it up again,” I said. And that was to be that, because I was 12-years-old and so I knew what I wanted, thank you very much.

And that was that…except, I kept finding brochures on hearing aids all around the house. “Oh Mom thinks she’s clever,” I thought. But I knew what was up. This was one of my mother’s favorite techniques. Around the same time, The Period Book: Everything You Don’t Want to Ask (But Need to Know) mysteriously arrived on my night stand, and Growing Up: It’s a Girl Thing was stealthily left in my bathroom.

“Mom, I know what you’re trying to do,” I said. “I do not want hearing aids.

But oh, she was ready for this. “I know, Jennie. Don’t jump all over me! We’re thinking about getting Noah this cool new kind that go all the way inside the ear canal. They’re the newest thing and you can’t even see them so we think he’ll be pretty excited. Honestly, I’m relieved you’re so adamant about not wanting hearing aids. This new kind costs an arm and a leg and we couldn’t afford them anyway!”

Immediately, I stashed one of the brochures in my backpack. There were so many around the house, I figured she’d never notice.

The next afternoon, I asked my Mom to make me an appointment with the audiologist. “I just want to learn about that new kind too, Mom,” I said.

By this point, my mother had gotten downright cocky in her scheme. “No, I don’t think so, Jen. If you don’t want hearing aids, that’s fine, but we don’t need to waste the doctor’s time.”

I responded how she figured I’d respond, because damn it, I was 12 and she was smarter than me. “Nuh uh, Dr. Stone said she’d be happy to just talk to me and it wouldn’t mean you’d have to buy hearing aids or anything.”

On the afternoon my hearing aids arrived, I insisted on going back to school even though there were only 45 minutes left in the day. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail, daring anyone to ask me about my “high-tech computers.”

Lining up to go home, the kid behind me took the bait. His name was Oleg, and his family had just moved to Tennessee from Bosnia. “What’s in your ears?” he asked.

Oh this was going to be fun. “They’re hearing aids,” I said, “but they’re also tiny computers because—don’t you dare tell anyone—I’m a Russian spy.”

He smiled. I didn’t. I gave him a wink as we walked out the door.

 

 

about the photo: That’s me, around the time of the sound system’s installation.  Photo credit goes to Joshua Williams, of course, because he has documented my whole dang life.

 

 

Thoughts on Hula Hooping, Rock Tumbling and Everything Else

IMG_1792About this time 11 years ago, my family was headed for the beach. Everyone was packed and ready to leave…except me. I was looking for more saran wrap.

The one roll I had found was now wrapped around and around the four-foot tall set of plastic drawers containing my jewelry-making supplies (wire, a dozen boxes of beads, pliers, etc.). My hope was that the drawers would stay securely closed for the seven-hour drive from Knoxville to the South Carolina shore. But I had run out of wrap and the bottom two drawers were still loose.

My parents knew their options: stop to buy more saran wrap, find loose beads in the car for months, or ask me to leave the supplies behind and thus endure a week with an extremely stir-crazy daughter. They required no convincing. We stopped for more saran wrap.

I was fourteen that summer; jewelry making had been my favorite hobby for about 2 years. But here’s the most important thing to know about my hobbies: I tend to get really, really into them.

I’ve accepted this, but still, sometimes I wonder. Could I learn to live with just one size muffin tin? Must I store clothing under my bed but devote an entire dresser to stationery? Or perhaps most importantly, how did I get this way? And is there a cure?

Sure, some of my extreme hobbying tendencies can be traced simply to me being me. But an equally large share of the credit goes to my parents, who not only refused to stamp out my hobbying extremism but also encouraged it at every turn.

Perhaps this was because they knew they were dealing with an inherited trait. My mother refers to her Bernina Sewing Machine as her fourth child. My father, walking in a new city without his camera, looks familiar but sort of naked, like your grandfather without his glasses. I’m no freak of nature, and my parents know it. So as kids, if my siblings or I showed any interest in something, our parents’ protocol was to encourage and enable. But it is possible that I may have taken advantage of this standard operating procedure, just a bit.

 

A Brief History of the Hobbies of Jennie

(including brief notations of the cost, material or otherwise, required of each)

Horses (actual, literary, and/or mythological) horse camp, books about horses, My Little Ponies ®
The Fine Art of Rock Tumbling rock tumbler, rocks, earplugs
Spying on Friends, Relatives, Neighbors binoculars, journals, Harriet the Spy (movie), Harriet the Spy (book)
Sculptee Animal Sculpting Scuptee, purchased in bulk, tools
Writings Short Stories about Hamsters eleven hamsters (as inspiration/pets/infestation)
Writing Short Stories about the Holocaust child counseling
Jewelry-making beads, wire, pliers, saran wrap
Soccer, cross country, track equipment, transportation, all available discretionary funds, nights and weekends, medical fees for injuries
Lunastix three sets of LunaStix (“Some tricks require extra sticks!”)
Juggling “professional” juggling balls (“plush,” “bounce,” and “traditional” models), The Calculus of Juggling (book)
Knitting yarn, needles, willingness to wear ugly scarves
The Study of History books, audiobooks, transportation to historical sites, four years tuition at out-of-state “but really historical!” university
Baking hobby adopted as an adult; materials self-provided*.
Hula-hooping hobby adopted as an adult;§ materials self-provided**
* self-provided, except for a KitchenAid mixer, taken borrowed from my mother, who pretty much never used it anyway, and didn’t even notice it was gone for six months. But I’m really sorry, Mom.

**Yes, as an adult. So what of it, thank you very much?

Note: This list is limited to those hobbies lasting a minimum of several months (rock tumbling, sculptee). Most (everything except rock tumbling and Sculptee) lasted several years.

I suppose parents might now have two questions:

  1. Good God, The Money. (Not a question, to be fair, but I acknowledge your point.)
  2. But, why? (What is the point?)

Question #1 is really a function of Question #2, so let’s skip to that. It is my contention that there are many “points” to be found in hobbies. And, if your daughter, like me, develops an intense infatuation with juggling one stick using two other sticks, I hope you’ll say, “Full speed ahead!” Or even better: “Ah, yes, but do you prefer rubber-coated or wooden?”

Do not mention or worry that you cannot see any “life skill” development to be found in sticks. She probably knows that. Even if she doesn’t, she’ll figure it out eventually, because you’re right: There is no future in LunaStix.

Still, perhaps she will learn some of what I have learned from a lifetime of devoted hobbying, including the following:

1. The Skill of Playing

As very young children, “play” is one of the few skills we possess. But think back to the second week of summer as a child. The newness of your freedom had worn off, and to your confusion, you discovered that you were bored. Knowing how and what to play wasn’t so easy anymore.

I recently found this list of “22 Things to Do When You’re Bored” in my bedroom at my parent’s house. I was seven years-old when I made it, but the impulse motivating the list’s creation is still familiar: I was desperate to find things I found enjoyable. Then, I needed my hobbies to fill long summer days without school. Later, I would need them to relieve the stress of AP classes and college applications. Now, I need my hobbies for fun and to unwind.

2. Confidence in my ability to learn new things and a methodology for improvement

To learn a new juggling trick, I would practice until my arms were too sore to move. I will readily admit that my life would not be drastically different if I had failed to master “juggler’s tennis.” However, my life would be really different if I had never developed a comfort with and methodology for trying new skills. Hobbies allowed me to cement this as a central component of my identity: I am able to try new things and I work hard to improve. As for my parents, I imagine this was their thought process:

DOES IT MATTER TO THE UNIVERSE?

  • No? Oh well.
  • Yes? Discuss at cocktail parties.

DOES IT MATTER TO JENNIE?

  • No? This too shall pass.
  • Yes? At least she’ll learn how to work hard and improve.

3. Multidimensional Vibrancy in the Every Day

In an ideal world, one’s career would be among the most fulfilling components of one’s life. For most of us, however, a true vocation comes only at the end of a long line of jobs. Especially during those times of working and waiting for something “bigger,” hobbies can ensure that the color doesn’t drain out of everyday life.

4. A Million Life Lessons

The list of lessons and skills I learned through my “hobbies” is too long to condense here. From years of competitive soccer, I developed a strong work ethic and the knowledge of how wonderful it is to be an integral part of a team. Through jewelry-making, I discovered that artistic creation can settle an anxious mind. Even juggling taught me something: It’s okay to be silly, and it’s okay to enjoy something other people don’t really understand. (On that note, most people will enjoy that you enjoy something, and hobbies aren’t “about” other people anyway.)

And yes, throughout it all, there was always a chance that one of the hobbies could have become a career. But, by now, I hope you’ll agree: That’s just not the point.

 

Note on photograph: No, I’m not hula hooping. But that pose is now one of my go-to hula hooping poses, so there ya go. 

 

 

B Teams, Self-Esteem, and Swimming in the “Biggest Pond”

Many parents, perhaps mine included, sign their daughters up for sports teams because they hope that “being good at something” will help them develop strong self-esteem.

If those were my parents’ intentions, things might have worked out fine for the first few years. I started playing soccer at age five, and I was decent for a rec. league player. But when I was eight, I joined a “competitive” (i.e. traveling, money-sucking) team, and it was readily apparent that I would not be a star.

On the first day of practice, I watched one of my new teammates casually juggle a ball off her thighs. I could tell that this was no big deal for her because she was simultaneously screaming the lyrics of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”. I was impressed.

A few years later, I was just starting to feel like I could keep up when we got word that our team would be merging with a much better team to form two new teams, an “A team” (for the strongest players) and a “B team” (for everyone else).

Of course I made the B team. I told you—I really wasn’t that good. But I was fine with this, until every other player on the B team decided to quit and join another club. I heard the mother of one of my would-have-been teammates explaining her daughter’s decision: “It’s not good for her self-esteem to be on a B team, and I don’t think it’s fair that they put all the best players on one team.”

Later that week, I sat on top of the washer as Mom folded laundry and helped me think through my options. If I left with the rest of the B team players, I would definitely see more playing time. Besides, most of my old team would be on the B team. On the other hand, that team wouldn’t be as good, the coaching would be of a lower caliber, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to play at high-level tournaments, which require invitations. So my second option, my mom explained, was to talk to the coach of the A team and see if he would let me join.

Stealthily encoded (as is sometimes her way) in my mother’s presentation of my choices was a larger question: On what did I want to build my self-esteem? These were my options:

  • Have a decent shot at being a star on an overall less challenging team. (Result: Self-esteem would be strengthened due to being one of the best players on the team.)
  • Work really hard to be a second-string player on a great team. (Result: Self-esteem would be strengthened through the development of my identity as a hard worker.)

I was 11 years old. I don’t imagine I came up with that logic on my own. However, I do clearly remember using that logic to make my decision. It had to come from somewhere; I have no doubt that it came from my parents.

It’s important to clarify that if I had only been interested in playing soccer for fun, and not necessarily to be the best player I could, leaving with the rest of the B team might have been the right choice. But, I very much wanted to improve as a player, and I wanted to play at the highest level possible.

Predictably, the coach of the A team was at a bit of loss as to what to do with me. I wasn’t good enough to be on the A team, but I was the only remaining player on the B team. He had a generous spirit.

I hope this isn’t a disappointment, but no, I did not become the team’s leading scorer. For the last time, I really wasn’t that good. But, I did spend the vast majority of my free-time (outside of team practices) running and practicing on my own. In fact, my teammates  started to call me “Forrest” because of how much I ran—at least, I hope that’s why they called me that.

So if I rarely made the starting line-up, I also never got cut. I had no illusions about why this was. Through the Soccer Mom Gossip Network, I heard that my coach had explained to our team manager that he kept me on the team because I worked “too damn hard.” So, my self-esteem never crumbled when, despite my best efforts, I stayed on the bench. Instead, my self-esteem grew as I realized that I could earn respect, if not playing time, through my work ethic.

That said, if despite my attempts to explain why you shouldn’t, you’re still feeling sorry for me at this point, I can offer you this: A few years later, I finally caught a break. Our team suddenly found itself without a goalkeeper, having cut one before the other unexpectedly quit. My coach bought me some gloves and sent me to keeper practice. I had never played that position, but he figured I’d work to learn it. So here’s your happy ending: We won the state title at the end of that season, and I became a team captain shortly after.

I’m not sure where that medal is. I do know, however, how often I rely upon knowing how to work hard. I also know that while it would have been a lot of fun to be a star in those early years, in some ways, I feel lucky that I wasn’t. I’ve always been really competitive, and I think I would have had a difficult time not linking my self-esteem with being “the best.” And eventually, whether as a result of injury or age, that would no longer have been possible.

This is why I suspect that parents of remarkably talented (or, especially in our culture, remarkably beautiful) daughters may face a special challenge when it comes to helping their daughters develop self-esteem that is not only strong but based on the right things. Self-esteem that is built on enduring traits of character and personal integrity—traits like being a hard-worker, being brave, and being kind, for instance—may be harder to develop than self-esteem based upon beauty, wealth or success finding the largest pond in which one can stay the biggest fish. But I think that’s the kind of self-esteem we’d all like to have.

 

 

Photo credit, as always, goes to Joshua Williams (Dad). Fifteen years ago, pretty much everyone wore war paint with their soccer uniforms. Not sure if you remember. 

How to Make Sure Your Daughter Doesn’t Hate You for Leaving Her Alone in the Dark for Several Hours

Pouting Jennie In Pink Dress

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.

——

PAUSE

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?”

Well. Ah.

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.”

“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:

  1. I made a mistake, an irritating mistake, but an understandable mistake, especially for an 11-year-old.
  2. I did not acknowledge my mistake, though I should have.
  3. Mom made a mistake.
  4. Mom apologized for her mistake, sincerely and without trying to share the blame, even though she would have had a strong case.
  5. I forgave Mom.
  6. 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.