This is my bald statement of truth: I made fun of someone much younger, with much less power, and far fewer resources with which to deal with cruelty. Today, I was an asshole, and instead of a justification, the rest of this post is an apology.
First, some context: I was watching my oldest daughter play baseball. She’s just under 6, and she, like many of her teammates and opponents, doesn’t really know what she’s doing. There are exceptions; the kids with tremendous natural abilities or athletic older siblings or parents who have been shlepping them to t-ball for years. But basically, it’s a bunch of children enjoying being outside with the occasional good hit and well-fielded ball. Mostly it’s just for fun.
As parents, we watch from the sidelines, and chat, and cheer wildly over minute successes and even failures, and sometimes we laugh at our kids. They’re funny, sometimes.
But there’s a thin line between funny and mean.
Today, I crossed that line. I was standing with an old and dear friend of mine. Her daughter was on the opposing team. Her daughter forgot to run from third base to home, and when she did, it was slow and distracted. Because she’s 6. Because maybe she was tired. Because actually it doesn’t really matter why at all. But without thinking, I casually said, “look at the athleticism.”
My friend, a talented athlete herself, kind of bumped my shoulder and quietly said: “Don’t be mean.”
I was being mean.
I felt terrible. I apologized immediately, of course, and then again later in an e-mail. No justifications, no explanations. Just: I was wrong. I’m sorry.
My friend is a generous soul and she will forgive me, but it will take me a bit longer to forgive myself. Not just because her daughter–whom I have known since birth and love dearly–might have heard me. (She didn’t.) Or because my own daughter might have heard me and thought that what I said was okay. (She didn’t).
Instead, here’s what really chills me: What if my friend hadn’t heard? Or what if she had heard me, but didn’t say anything? I wouldn’t have even processed that I had committed a casual cruelty, and the meanness in my comment. It was because of her reaction that I was shaken to recognize my mistake.
How many other times have I said things that I shouldn’t have? How many children have been hurt by my thoughtless words?
This probably seems a little dramatic, and maybe it is. The internal lives of 6 year olds are pretty dramatic. The internal lives of adults are pretty dramatic too. Moving forward, I’m going to try to be a lot more careful and a lot less cruel. I don’t like feeling like an asshole, but more than that, I don’t like hurting other people, on their own behalf or (maybe especially) on behalf of their kids.
But first, I’m going to apologize. Because if I did it today, I’m sure I’ve done it before. It’s not Yom Kippur yet, but I find myself reaching for the vidui, the confessional prayer. I am guilty. I betrayed. I spoke with loose lips.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me.