Recently, I went to visit a new friend. Upon entering her home for the first time, she greeted me with, “I’m so sorry for the mess!”
I looked around, smiled, and assured her I saw no mess. I saw toys on the floor, surrounding her sweet and busy toddler. But no mess.
Her apology was not only completely unnecessary, but also, kinda ridiculous.
Toys on the floor of a toddler’s house are as normal and necessary as furniture. Toys are not “a mess.” Toys are “supplies.” And this is not a showroom. This is their home.
What exactly should the home of a toddler look like, if not stocked with age-appropriate toys? Board books and dolls and play dishes are her child’s gear, her stuff. In her home. It would be weird if there were no toys on the floor. It would be cruel to have all the toys neatly placed on shelves out of the baby’s site and reach. It would be odd if all the toys were hidden in the child’s bedroom, while the child spends her time sitting in the middle of a spotless living room.
I’m not judging her.
I was her.
I am her.
Last spring, we moved into a new home. Over Labor Day Weekend, I invited my out-of-town family to visit. Some of them would be seeing our new home for the first time.
It took a year to build my home; choosing and purchasing the lot, hiring a builder, and making thousands of selections along the way. I spent a week getting ready for my guests; planning the menu, cleaning the bathrooms, doing last-minute decorating touch ups, and cooking meals for a dozen extra people. By the time they pulled into the driveway, everything looked (and smelled!) great.
As each group arrived, I gave them the official New House Tour. They oohed and ahhed over the cabinets and light fixtures. They gasped when they saw our spacious and inviting front porch.
But as I reached the garage, I APOLOGIZED. I said, “I’m so sorry. That furniture over there…we need to put that on Craig’s List, but I haven’t done that yet…”
Even as I spoke the apology, I felt foolish. Why was I apologizing? This is my home and these people are my siblings. Where else am I supposed to store extra furniture? And why would anyone be hurt or upset to walk into anyone’s garage and find garage-type things stored there?
I apologize for this sort of thing a lot. Like, whenever someone comes to my house. Sometimes before I even say hello, I’m taking a quick mental inventory of whatever mess or dirt or out-of-place item they are about to see, and I’m quick to offer, “I’m sorry!”
I’m sorry for dishes in sink. (Where else do dirty dishes go?)
I’m sorry for dirty laundry in the laundry room (Again…isn’t that what this room is for?)
I’m sorry for cat poop in the litter box (OMG, it’s the cat’s toilet!)
I’m sorry for shoes at the doorway, and food crumbs under the table, and unmade beds…
You guys, this is insane!
I am not saying we should be content to live in dirty, cluttered homes. By all means, scoop the cat litter and get the dirty underwear into a hamper, at some point. It’s gross and needs to be cleaned before it grows legs, ok?
But, seriously, does it warrant an apology? Does the sight of the crumbs on the kitchen floor offend you? Is dirty laundry in the laundry room a sign of my corrupt moral character?
The answer is no.
To the contrary, these are signs of a beautiful, vibrant and healthy life, where our families are playing and eating and resting. And where our cat is pooping.
(If anything, when you show up at my house and it’s clean and tidy, I should apologize for giving off the false impression that it always looks like this—for holding up what you might believe to be an impossible standard. )
(Just kidding. My house is never so clean and tidy that you’d hold it up as an impossible standard.)
After the Garage Apology Incident, I got to thinking about how often I apologize for things that don’t warrant an apology. And I started taking note of how often I say “I’m sorry” in a day.
At first, I thought, “Well, it’s better to err on the side of too many apologies than too few. Yay me!”
But the more I considered this and the closer I paid attention to the situations in which I was apologizing, the more I realized half the time I am not actually SORRY.
I am EMBARASSED.
And guess what. This type of embarrassment is not something I should celebrate. It’s actually a symptom of pride.
And pride is a sin.
This Faux Apology says, “I want you to think I’m not messy. I want you to believe I’m perfect and flawless and that my kids don’t drop crumbs and my cat doesn’t actually poop. And, darn it, you caught me. And now I’m feeling uncomfortable about this. Look away. I’m hideous.”
It sounds so stupid when I type it out like that.
I think you deserve a more authentic version of me.
I deserve a more authentic version of me, too.
Therefore, I’m taking a vow: I, Sandy Cooper, vow to stop the stupid and unnecessary apologies.
In addition to never again apologizing for the inevitable evidence produced by living in my home (i.e., toys, crumbs, dishes, cat poop, and the like) I also vow to never again apologize for the following:
1. Letting a call go to voice mail or not immediately responding to a text while I’m driving, eating dinner, helping my children with homework, putting my kids to bed or praying. In fact, I hereby promise, that, should I ever answer a call or text during any of those times, I will apologize to the person in my presence for my rude, inconsiderate (and dangerous, if I’m driving) behavior. I will apologize to Jesus, if I’m praying.
2. Being sweaty after a workout or not wearing make up while running errands or while walking to the end of my driveway to get the mail. I’ve actually apologized for these things. Yes, it sounds stupid to me, too. Instead, I will apologize to myself for thinking that people actually care whether or not I sweat or wear make-up.
3. Crying. Why do I apologize when I cry? I am sensitive, therefore I cry. Sensitivity is a gift, not a flaw. I’m not sorry.
4. Saying “I’m sorry” when what I mean is “Excuse me.” Last night at the grocery store, when I tried to get around another cart in aisle, I said, and I quote, “I’m sorry, excuse me, I’m so sorry.” Am I really SO sorry that I need to get past her? Does this warrant, not one, but TWO apologies? No. Excuse me is both polite and descriptive.
5. Speaking of the grocery store, I’m not apologizing for having a lot of groceries in my cart in the check out line. I always apologize to the cashier and also to the person behind me. Here’s the deal: I have a family of five, and I cook. This is my life, not an offense.
To the cashier: this is your job and it makes no difference to you whether I have 3 items or 300. You are still here until your shift ends. I am thankful for your assistance in checking me out, but I’m not really sorry my cart is overflowing. I’m actually doing my part to secure your position and stimulate the economy. I should be saying, “You’re welcome.”
And to the person behind me: Well, I am kind of sorry you have to wait for me. I’ll still apologize to you. I hope you are not in a hurry. And I hope you choose your check out line more wisely next time.
Furthermore and alternatively, I herby vow to apologize quickly, sincerely and frequently for those things that truly warrant an apology, which include but are not limited to the following:
Hurting you intentionally or unintentionally.
Speaking an unkind word to you or about you.
Gossiping to you or about you.
Losing my temper.
Failing to extend you grace when you mess up.
Forgetting to acknowledge your special day.
Showing up late to your thing.
Failing to help you when you needed me.
Interrupting you to look down at my phone when it dings.
Being too distracted to fully listen to you.
Being too busy or self-absorbed to pray for you.
I’m SO sorry for saying “I’m sorry” too often for all the wrong things, and not often enough for the right things. For real. I’m sorry.
Now, please excuse me.