I’m Sorry … And I Mean It!

Last week my husband was on a flight to Boston when the stewardess spilled a can of V8 all over the man sitting next to him. The man was drenched – V8 juice soaked into his lap, suit jacket, and white shirt. Some even got in his hair.

“I’d like to apologize,” the stewardess said, “But it wasn’t my fault. The can exploded. I can’t apologize for something that wasn’t my fault.”

Outrageously, the V8 can never apologized to the passenger. Perhaps because it was lacking lips and a brain.

A similar incident occurred several years ago. A teenage driver was speeding on our street while texting and lost control of her car. She deftly landed in our yard, though she had to crash through our picket fence to get there. When the girl’s mother arrived at the scene, she studied her daughter’s car and our fence before saying, “This isn’t so bad.” She then proceeded to ask us to not report it to our homeowners insurance.

Of course we were going to. This resulted in an exchange of some heated words.

Woman: My daughter is a good kid. She was in church all day.

My husband: I was in church today too, but you don’t see me crashing through people’s fences. What if my daughter had been in the yard when this happened?!

Woman (looking around): I don’t see any kids.

A simple “I’m sorry” would have made all the difference. Had the woman apologized, perhaps we would have calmed down and not contacted our insurance. We may have taken the woman’s offer to give us money to repair the fence and left insurance out of the equation. But nothing in her attitude gave us the impression she would follow through with that offer. Responsibility was not taken. A much needed apology never given.

If the stewardess on my husband’s flight had apologized for dumping a can of tomato juice on a passenger, other passengers might have felt bad for her. They may have left the flight talking about how well the stewardess handled the situation. Instead they spoke of how rude she was, and encouraged the V8 drenched man to file a complaint with the airline. When she shifted the blame to the self-imploding can, it made her look callous and immature.

Research has shown that patients are less likely to sue a doctor over a medical error if the physician simply says, “I’m sorry” in a kind way.* Whether it is pride or fear of a lawsuit, many doctors don’t take the time to apologize, which only makes the patient more angry and wanting retaliation – usually in the form of suing the doctor who made the mistake. But if the doctor apologizes, anger is quelled and a lawsuit is less likely to happen.

In most circumstances, it seems that two little words can change the course of events in a very big way.

* sources: Apologies and Medical Errors and Physician Apologies

My Disease

I have a disease. Although it’s not recognized by the American Medical Association, it is actually quite common among women. It is referred to as the Melting Flesh Disease.

The symptoms of Melting Flesh Disease occur quite suddenly – in fact, moments after giving birth. The skin on one’s abdomen suddenly sags as though it has lost all hope. Victims of Melting Flesh Disease can go to the gym as much as their hearts content, but this only causes psychological trauma because no matter how many crunches they do or abdominal machines they use, there is no hope for Melting Flesh Disease. The damage has been done. The skin will continue to wrinkle and sag like a deflated balloon. Once round and taught, belly buttons resemble a puckered face.

Some women victoriously avoid Melting Flesh Disease. These women are either 6 feet tall and/or had babies weighing no more than five pounds. For those of us who had hearty-sized babies and are of average height, we paid severely.

It is easy to blame the media for our angst. Every magazine cover, underwear sale flyer, and commercial show women sporting flat abdomens with suspiciously perky breasts. Yet, we can’t fault the media entirely. While at the grocery store recently, a woman in a halter top was sashaying through the aisles. She was not a model, but she had a stomach that did not have Melting Flesh Disease and she clearly enjoyed flaunting it. My reaction? I stood up taller and sucked in my breath until my stretched-out belly muscles ached.

“What can be done?” I asked my physician, “Is there hope?”

“Not really. Multiple pregnancies stretch out abdominal muscles and skin until their elasticity is lost. The only thing that can be done is surgery.”

Upon returning home I did an Internet search. The cost of curing Melting Flesh Disease would be around $10,000 and it’s considered major surgery. There is hope, I suppose, if I had nothing else to use $10,000 on and had a full-time nanny to help me while I recuperate.

Thus, the only option is to make Melting Flesh Disease attractive. Like a war wound that someone is proud of displaying (“See this scar? I got that in ‘Nam”), Melting Flesh Disease must be embraced. When our loose skin peeks out from under our shirts, people would nudge one another and whisper, “See her? She carried another life in her body for 9 months. She then went through intense pain to deliver the baby. Her body and heart were forever changed. She is so brave.”

When society looks at models prancing around in string bikinis they would scoff, “She doesn’t have a mommy tummy. She’s got a long way to go.”  Tummy tucks would be dismissed – a sign of hiding the ultimate sacrifice. Melting Flesh Disease would be renamed. Instead it would be called Warrior Stomach.

Father’s Day Schmather’s Day

Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. In 2011, an estimated 75 million people dined away from home on that sacred Sunday. (If in doubt of these statistics, click here.) While moms were enjoying a meal they did not have to cook, they were also presented with the ever popular Mother’s Day card. Approximately 670 million dollars is spent each year on Mother’s Day cards (Thinking, “That can’t be right!”?  Click here.)

Yet, what about good old dad? I was recently contacted by a reader who wanted to know my thoughts on why there is such a measly selection for Father’s Day cards and a plethora of Mother’s Day cards. An Internet search on Father’s Day statistics resulted in very little information, other than the fact that most people eat barbecue on Father’s Day (which I assume dad grills).

My reader was on to something. Why is Father’s Day not as celebrated as Mother’s Day?

There are several explanations for why Mother’s Day is seemingly more important than Father’s Day:

Mama’s Boys: Typically Italian, these men never really cut the cord with their moms. Some mama’s boys remain living with their mom and never marry. Others do marry, but continue to keep Mama Mia their main lady. While perhaps emotionally stunted, Mama’s Boys aren’t dumb, so they know to buy their favorite lady a card and take her out for dinner on Mother’s Day. Mama’s Boys also tend to find their father a nuisance – even a potential competitor for their mama’s attention. Therefore, Father’s Day isn’t something high on the Mama’s Boys list.

If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy: Need I say more? There isn’t a saying, “If daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We seem to be able to deal with dad’s grumpiness, but not mom’s. Not honoring mom on Mother’s Day is the mistake of all mistakes, and we pay severely. Hallmark knows this.

Greeting Card Writers are Mostly Female: And irate ones, at that. The card company employees use Father’s Day as a time to blow off some steam. Husband forgot to take out the garbage again? Or spent a tad too much playing poker with the guys?  The greeting cards would read: “Father – You Taught Me Everything I Needed To Know. Too Bad My Husband Isn’t As Wonderful As You” or “Dad – You Are So Smart. I Should Have Listened To You And Never Married Him.” Obviously, these cards never make it to the shelves, resulting in a paltry Father’s Day card selection.

Women Live Longer Than Men: Can’t give a deceased dad a card, can you?

Single Parent Homes: According to the 2010 census, there were 11.7 million single parent homes. 9.9 of them were custodial moms (meaning – the mom lived home and the father did not) while only 1.8 million were custodial dads. This means 85% of homes were headed by single moms, and only 15% by dads. These are just raw numbers of course. A mother living with her children instead of the father does not imply the father is an absent one. It does imply, however, that the kids see mom more and they are aware of this when Mother’s Day rolls around. (Remember: when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.)

Statistically speaking, it seems that gnawing on barbecue while giving dad a cheesy card is how Father’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow. Since Hallmark isn’t taking advantage of this holiday, it’s up to us to do so.

The Cold, Hard Truth About Kindergarten

You can imagine my surprise and delight when Little Learners Preschool asked that I give the commencement speech at their graduation. (Granted, I wasn’t their first choice. Raffi was performing a concert elsewhere, and the clown from The Big Comfy Couch had a previous engagement.) I did not take this responsibility lightly. Having been a preschooler myself many years ago, I knew what awaited these children and I wanted to do everything I could to prepare them for the road ahead.

The graduation fell on an unseasonably cold, rainy day. Thankfully the ceremony was held indoors in a classroom that smelled of crayons and Play-Doh. After a lovely reception of apple juice and graham crackers, one of the teachers clapped her hands and asked that all students sit on the classroom rug.

“Criss cross applesauce!” she hollered. Eleven children scrambled to their spots and sat Indian-style. After Joey and Olivia stopped bickering over who got to sit where, I took my place on the child-sized chair a teacher had placed in front of the rug. With my knees hitting my chin, I cleared my throat. The audience was rapt. Aside for Theodore (who stuck his hand down the back of his pants), no one moved.

I began my speech Al Gore style:

“My fellow preschoolers. We are gathered here today to recognize a momentous occasion. These past ten months, you have faced many challenges and have gloriously overcome them. You share better. You now color in-between the lines. You deftly constructed Christmas ornaments out of pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks. Some of you had pink-eye, strep throat or colds, yet you returned once you were symptom free for twenty-four hours.”

I paused to let Liliana – who was suddenly struck with an allergy attack -stop sneezing before I proceeded.

“You have learned the letters of the alphabet and how to tie shoelaces. You know the days of the week, and the seasons of the month. You should be commended for your efforts and accomplishments.”

There was noise. I looked up from my speech to find Matthew whispering to Peter, “What is she talking about?” Matthew looked over at me and I raised my eyebrows. He clamped his mouth shut and I continued.

“Yet, you have only just begun. Kindergarten, my little friends, is no joke. It is there you will be expected to learn how to read. You will even have tests. What are tests? They are a set of questions where you are supposed to know the answer. If you don’t know the answer you receive a bad grade, which is like a punishment.”

Now I had their attention. “Punishment?” Peter said, clearly worried. (“Shhhh!” Liliana shushed.)

“You will be expected to write your name – and not in all caps.”

I wasn’t exactly sure about that, but I still forged ahead.

“Do not be deluded. Kindergarten is the start of real life! Just as life isn’t fair – neither is the big K. The kid you sit next to may not invite you to their birthday party, but they invite everyone else. Your mom might pack you gross snacks like raisins while your friend has yummy snacks like popcorn or brownies – but your friend refuses to share these delectable snacks with you. You may lose your blue crayon, only to discover that the kid behind you stole it. Girls, you may have to sit next to a boy with cooties. Boys, you may have to sit next to a girl who never stops talking. Then she claims you never listen to her.”

Pausing briefly, I glanced at the graduates. They sat wide-eyed and open mouthed. (Except for Nina who was now sucking her thumb – her index finger curled protectively over her nose.)

“I have faith in your ability to handle these challenges! You know the names of colors and have braved an apple picking field trip. These are vital life skills that will help you walk into that kindergarten classroom. So go forth, my graduates, and seize the day! (Just, whatever you do, DON’T eat the spaghetti and meatballs in the cafeteria. School meatballs taste like cat food.)”

Silence. I looked at the teachers who were both frowning. Jacob began to cry. Olivia slowly raised her hand and asked if she could use the bathroom.

“Of course, Olivia. Go ahead,” The teacher turned to me, “Um…thank you Underground Writer. That was … interesting.”

I was presented with a honorary preschool graduation diploma that was framed in dried ziti noodles and fruit loops. The teachers thanked me for visiting and escorted me to the door. When I turned to ask if I could return and give the Little Learners Commencement Speech of 2014, I found they had locked the door behind me.

Losing It On The Job

“Would you care for some more lemonade?” the waiter asked.

“No thank you,” I said, studying my glass, “I think I’m good. But thanks anyways.”

The waiter stepped back – as though slapped – and held his hands up, palms facing outwards. After the waiter walked away from our table, my husband and I exchanged looks.

“Was it something I said?” I asked him.

“I don’t think so … but he did seem a bit offended.”

“Good grief! It was only lemonade!” I looked after the waiter before continuing, “Maybe he’s starting to snap and my declining another glass of lemonade is the tip of the iceberg.”

While we’ve all experienced bad days at work, most of us have managed to hold it together during those times. Granted, we may have been a tad snippy, but we didn’t tell our boss exactly what we thought of her, or lashed out at the difficult customer.

What would society look like if suddenly all social mores were tossed to the curb?

Here’s a glimpse:

The barista: What was that sir? You wanted a quad venti soy white mocha latte? Well, la-te-dah! Aren’t you all fancy and sophisticated. Here. Here’s a large coffee with good old fashioned milk. It tastes better than that fru fru stuff you call coffee. NEXT!

The gynecologist:  Hmmm … so it burns when you pee? I should have gone into psychiatry. Hell, I’m going to need a psychiatrist after doing this for a living.

The guest service desk at a hotel: Your room service hasn’t arrived yet?  Who do you think we have working in the kitchen? Superman? Guess what: You are one of hundreds of guests here and you’re no more important that the other ones. If you’re that hungry go find food on your own. Or better yet: go stay at another hotel. Have a nice day.

The historic tour guide: Hey listen, if your kid touches that vase one more time I’m gonna break it over his head. Seriously. And you! Over there! Didn’t I say no flash photography? What part of NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY do you not understand?

The waiter: This isn’t what you ordered? As my kindergarten teacher used to say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

The fitness instructor: Who are we kidding? We both know you’re not going to stick with this diet and exercise regime. Don’t give me that look! This is the third time you’ve been to this gym and you joined two years ago. And spare me the, “but I rarely eat” song and dance.

The psychotherapist: Lemme guess: It’s not your fault and your parents were terrible. Newsflash: life isn’t fair and it never will be.

The classroom teacher: Why am I crawling out the window? Because I can’t take one more second of your incessant chatter. The 24 of you sound like mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. You’re going to tell your parents? Go ahead! I’m a member of a teacher’s union. Good luck!