MTV debuted its reality series “The Real World” in 1992. Young adult strangers lived together in an apartment and were followed by cameras to capture what drama might ensue. In one of the first episodes, a young man asked his roommates to do him a favor. The roommates all promised, then all forgot. When the young man returned and found the favor undone, he was upset.
This wasn’t a dramatic high point of the episode, and it wasn’t spoken of again. But it made an impression on me, and it stayed with me for years. I was particularly struck by how the roommates reacted. Nobody apologized. Nobody said “I’m sorry” or acknowledged that they had failed to follow through on their promise. Nobody sympathized that he was understandably upset because of their negligence. Nobody said a word. They just shuffled around, mumbled excuses, or accused him of overreacting.
“Why couldn’t anyone just apologize?” I wondered. Why is it so hard for people to admit when they are wrong? Fast forward many years. My life now included two beautiful daughters and a happy household. Along with my younger daughter’s impishness was her unwillingness to admit fault. She refused to say the words “I’m sorry.” When an apology was demanded of her (never a parent’s finest moment), she blurted out the nonsensical “Porry!” as a deliberate mispronunciation of “Sorry” to show how little she thought of apologizing. And I flashed back to “The Real World” and remembered how the self-involved young adults also refused to apologize when they were clearly in the wrong. I didn’t want this for my daughter.
Good parenting is hard, and I felt like I was missing the mark. What could I do to make my daughter see the beauty of an apology? In frustration I sat down and started sketching out a story about a girl who wouldn’t apologize. I didn’t know where it would end, but the beginning was quite easy. She was a most wonderful girl and altogether delightful . . . except when she wasn’t. I wondered, what does an apology even consist of? I quickly realized that I wanted to place the question within a moral framework. Luckily our sages have lots and lots to say about apologies, including so much wisdom written about our High Holiday liturgy. But I was writing a story about a young girl apologizing, so I simplified Maimonides’ Steps of Apologizing into an appropriate framework for young children.
From my experience teaching, I knew that children snapped to attention with finger play, hand motions, and moving their bodies. So I incorporated the lesson into a game, and made apologizing something that was memorable and fun to do. I hope I’ve written a book that makes it easier for parents with reluctant apologizers to teach the process of saying “I’m sorry.” I wrote the book I wished I’d had when my girls were young. And I also wanted to express the joy and love that can accompany a simple apology, and how much better it can make everyone feel.