The Sorry Stratagem

By: Shannon Ralph

My children are evil geniuses. I do not say this in jest. They are truly exceptional in their ability to concoct schemes to make their mothers crazy. It comes so easy to them. It appears effortless, this wickedness at which they excel.

Their newest tactic to drive me mad involves the employment of the almighty “sorry”. In all honesty, I am not sure my children understand the meaning of the word “sorry”. I am not sure, in their short lives, that they have ever experienced real sorrow. True, heart-wrenching sorrow. So I should probably give them a bit of slack. And I would be willing to do so if they did not employ the “sorry” in a way that annoys the living shit out of me.

It began with Lucas. My eight-year-old son has somehow come to the conclusion that uttering the word “sorry” alleviates all responsibility he possesses for his behavior. On the few occasions that I have told him that “sorry” doesn’t cut it, he has looked at me with complete shock and utter confusion on his face. Obviously, he assumes that speaking this five-letter word rights all wrongs —even in circumstances whereby he is continuing with the offensive behavior that got him in trouble in the first place. He’ll say that he is sorry for sitting on his brother’s head while continuing to sit on his brother’s head. Then he will look at me with dismay when I do not accept his apology. He has even been known to say that he is sorry before committing an act of bad behavior. “Lucas, do not smack your sister’s baby doll.” “Sorry.” Smack. What the hell?! If you feel the need to apologize in advance, perhaps you should really reconsider committing the act of misbehavior altogether. Am I right?

Though Lucas’s behavior is irritating, it is not altogether unexpected or entirely creative as far as childhood misbehaving goes. Sophie and Nicholas, however, have employed a new use of the word “sorry” that is both novel and perturbing beyond belief. They employ the almighty “sorry” (or actually the lack of a “sorry”) as a tattle-telling tactic. Just the other day, Sophie came running into the kitchen in tears, obviously offended to her very core. She announced dramatically, “Lucas and Nicky called me a Bossy Boots.” Sniff. Snuffle. Pause for dramatic flare. “And they didn’t even say sorry!” Apparently, a “sorry” would have negated the Bossy Boots accusation (which, by the way, is an entirely accurate and cleverly alliterative description of my daughter).

Just yesterday, Nicholas came up to me as I was reading the Sunday newspaper to tell me that Lucas had walked in front of him while he was playing the Wii, causing him to lose one of his Mario lives, “And he didn’t even say sorry!” Numerous times every day, Sophie and Nicholas will come to me with some random and ridiculous accusation or another. They are simply tattle-telling. However, every single tattle will end with an “and he/she didn’t say sorry!” Against my better judgment, I will then feel compelled to yell out a half-hearted “Lucas/Nicholas/Sophie, tell your brother/sister you are sorry!” to appease the offended child, if nothing else. That, of course, perpetuates the power of the false “sorry” and encourages all three of my children to continue with their irksome behavior.

Parenthood is just an exercise in self-defeat sometimes.

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S Ralph

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