Last year, I took my family to a Super Bowl party hosted by a new friend. She’s younger and doesn't have children. My kids, then ages 7 and 5, were the only young ones there.
I don't generally take my kids to parties without other kids, mostly because I fear they’ll be bored and ask to play with an iPhone, or because they’ll annoy the other adults. I know they didn't really come to a Super Bowl party to hang out with a 7-year-old. But I really liked this friend, and wanted my family to get to know her.
My daughter, then 7, took stock of the guests, identifying an attractive 30-something blonde friend of the host. She has always been drawn, as have I, to gregarious, blonde, actress-y types.
She took off her Uggs, parked herself next to this guest, and introduced herself. She then proceeded to engage in what I imagine as cocktail conversation over the course of the first half of the game.
I imagine it was cocktail conversation because I wasn’t overseeing her. I was busy engaging in my own cocktail (well, IPA, it was a football game, after all) conversations with other guests.
Why my first instinct is always to apologize for my kids
Well into the second or third hour at the party, my 5-year-old boy was busy playing alone with vintage “Star Wars” figurines collected by my friend’s fiancé. I looked around for my daughter. She was still talking to the same woman, having now achieved happy acquaintance status and possibly in the process of making solo plans for Shirley Temples with the woman for sometime in the future.
I scurried over, feeling guilty that I’d essentially dumped my kid in this unknown woman’s lap while I occupied myself with other adults. My first instinct was to apologize.
“I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “I got excited about the beer selection, meeting new people, and I lost track of time.” I explained nonverbally, with my eyes, out of the view of my daughter, that I was sorry for subjecting this childless woman to my kid.
She was gracious, kind, and insistent. “Not at all! We had so much fun.” She was possibly even sincere. It hadn’t occurred to me that she might actually have enjoyed visiting with my 7-year-old.
I apologized twice more that night, and then later sought out the woman’s email and sent her a written apology for imposing on her evening. She replied that I was being ridiculous, and that she had had a better conversation with my daughter than with some 30-year-olds. Well, maybe she didn't say that, but she did say she was great.
Why am I apologizing for someone great?
She is great. So I struggled to figure out why I was apologizing for someone great. And I realized I was apologizing, in part, for the years I have spent inflicting my own personality onto people.
My partner, who loves me dearly, also thinks I am “a lot.” She used to call me the “golden retriever” of our relationship: I would run out into the meadow, find new acquaintances, and, like a ball or a tree branch, bring them back to play with.
My partner would remain the more stable, sensible one. She’s the one who would be waiting at the house for the retriever and the fetched. I am tireless socially. I can enter a party knowing no one, and leave with a new best friend. I can chip away at even the most intractable of personalities.
But a social hummingbird in constant jittery movement is not everyone’s cup of tea. I am highly verbal. In fact, I never shut up. I have a sense of humor, but have little social filter, and often say something off-color to the wrong audience (and when I do offend, I usually write it off as that humorless person’s problem).
I’m incredibly needy and neurotic. As Albert Brooks noted in “Broadcast News,” not everyone finds it cute. And as a general rule, I’m not into introverts. (Why can’t they just open up a little faster? It’s almost time to go home!) My very sensible, rule-following mother also thinks I’m a lot. I’ve spent years feeling insecure about that and on some level, apologizing for it.
As I’ve tumbled through my 40s, though, I’ve stopped.
I’ve read the articles about how women overapologize, at work and in life, and how detrimental it is for us both professionally and personally. Is anything more self-sabotaging than an apology for pretty much your entire identity?
Years ago, I began not only unfurling my freak flag, but hitching it to a Macy’s Day Parade float and dragging it with me everywhere.
And then I had kids. Kids who don't really like feeling different. They don't like having a “weird” mom.
Part of the self-aggrandizing joy of having children is recognizing your best traits come alive again. They do so in a separate, but connected, new body and soul. But unfortunately, we don't get to pick and choose what they inherit. And so, here I am, with an 8-year-old daughter who is also highly verbal, emotional, needy, and social. Who is also a lot. And yes, my partner recognizes she has another retriever on her hands.
And this retriever isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, either. She’ll charm some, offend others. She’ll grow and highlight some aspects of her personality, submerge some, and may experiment with being a hundred different types of girl. This will be before she learns to embrace, I hope, the woman she’ll eventually become. She’ll continue to be mortified by me, as most children are by their parents. I hope one day she’ll learn to accept herself, as I have.
What she won’t do again is hear me apologize out loud for her being a living, breathing, passionate person. She’s always be looking for new ways to connect. She, too, can enter a party knowing no one and fall in love before we call lights out.