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Over the space of an hour I yelled at my son for throwing a drumstick and hitting his sister. I yelled at his sister for biting him in retaliation. I yelled at the dog for hysterically barking to go outside while I was trying to feed everyone dinner. And then I yelled at the refrigerator door for refusing to shut and beeping inanely over and over and over. And then I apologized.

Against all natural inclinations, I have become the Casanova of apologizers. So, when things are thrown and people are bitten, my kids know the protocol. They line up like sad soldiers to “say sorry.” It often looks like this:

Me: “Why did you throw that stick at your sister?”

Son: Shoulder shrug.

Me: “Why did you bite your brother?”

Daughter: Shoulder shrug, finger pointing and “He hit me.”

Me: Silence and meaningful stare. “Say you’re sorry.”

Son: “Sorry.”

Daughter: “Sorry.”

Me: “Now mean it.”

Them: “Sooorrrrryyyy” followed by pats on the head and side hugs without eye contact.

I was not a yeller before kids and I certainly wasn’t much of an apologizer. There’s not much need for apology before marriage and babies. Now I drop “sorrys” like curses. Mommy’s sorry she yelled…at you, the dog, the refrigerator, the world. I can lob them into any situation like tear gas diffusing the mayhem, scattering the mob. Unless it’s my husband. Then I am the mob. I am the crazed, hyped-up antagonist circling him and feigning punches. I am not “nice mommy.”

I snap at my husband for showing up from work fifteen minutes before bedtime or playing videogames on the weekends instead of putting the Christmas decorations in the attic (Please? Before taxes? I can’t take Santa overlooking our tax return). It can be over nothing. It can be the fact that he is simply existing in a space that I need no people for half a minute. I make it about him. But these angry hiccups are one hundred percent about me. It’s cathartic somehow with him. He’s not an impressionable three-year old with dirty feet and soft features still waiting to be defined. He has morning breath and his neurological pathways are set. He does not need me to lead by example. So, I don’t. I really really don’t.

With him, apologies get stuck in my throat like a tough piece of meat. I have to Heimlich them out. All my best behavior clocks out when he gets home. Somehow, I turn into a teenage girl sending shock waves of aggression in his direction and expect him to fend them off with zen and the magic of love. That’s not going to cut it if we’re going to survive the next eons of marriage. If we’re in this for life, this needs to me the “adolescent” phase I grow out of quick-like before no one, including me, likes me anymore.

I make my kids apologize, even if they’re not in the mood. But they do it. If I’m going to lead by example, it’s got to be this too. Both my passive aggressive and aggressive-aggressive sides need to woman-up and deal. If we are, as I claimed under that flowery alter on our wedding day, in it “for better or worse” then I’m going to have to be better, because worse can’t be my default setting. Just because I’ve locked him in, doesn’t mean I’ve hit tenure and can coast.

So, the next time I lose my cool (in June, when the boxes waiting to go to the attic reach their Christmas half-birthday) I’m going to suck it up and apologize. Because it’s not that big of a deal in the grand marriage game. He takes all of my neuroses and swallows them whole, all my OCD busyness and short-tempered flares. And so, when the filter in my head goes up in flames, I’ll do it, I’ll say my “sorrys” and move on. Even if I have to pat his head and shrug out a side hug, I’m making the moves toward a better me—resetting those neurological pathways one apology at a time.

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Jamie Sumner

Jamie Sumner is the author of the middle-grade novel, Roll with It. Her second and third middle-grade novels with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out in 2020 and 2021. She is also the author of the nonfiction book on motherhood, Unboundand the forthcoming bookEat, Sleep, Save the Worldfor parents of children with special needs. She is also mom to a son with cerebral palsy and she writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at Jamie-Sumner.com   

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