Friday, June 7, 2013

I'm Sorry, Butt-Face

We have a saying in our house:

It’s not an apology if it’s followed by a “but.”

Or a Butt.

Or a Butt-face.

I originally imparted this valuable nugget of wisdom to the boys one summer day when they were four years old and strapped tightly to their car seats with no viable opportunity for escape. The late afternoon heat was piercing the passenger-side window with the precision of a supervillian's laser beam, causing the unlucky twin on that side of the car to swipe angrily at the itchy, wet spikes of hair sticking to his forehead and cheeks.

The full, round sun angled its face down at us and lit up the following scene like a spotlight: Overheated Boy A pelts hard plastic object at Overtired Boy B, hitting him squarely on that jutting part of the eyebrow that heroically takes the brunt of so much damage during the early years of childhood.

The shock of the impact garnered a few seconds of deceptive silence, which increased in suspense until Boy B sufficiently gathered the necessary oxygen into his thoroughly outraged little lungs to let loose a deafening, extended wail, ensuring that ...

1) All of Route One knew he had been victimized; and
2) Every abutting motorist snapped a picture of my license plate to match against future Amber Alerts.

Since I was still a good 20 minutes from home (despite the steadily increasing pressure of my foot on the gas pedal) I thought I’d turn this Kodak moment into one of those teaching moments I had read about in the pediatrician’s waiting room. I sternly commanded Boy A to say he was sorry, which he did immediately. This caused the car alarm that was my other son’s mouth to stutter out a few final beeps before shutting off completely.

Easy peasy.

I was clearly very good at this. I decided to take it up a notch and expound on the importance of a good apology by explaining that one should never qualify an apology with an excuse, thus rendering said apology null and void. But because my current audience still employed the use of training wheels and the occasional nighttime Pull-Up, I opted to keep it simple.

Boys, I said loftily, never say I’m sorry and follow it with a but.

Yes. I used that word.

To two four-year-old boys.

The lesson exploded right then and there into thousands of giggles that bounced around my car's interior like shiny, rainbow orbs before popping into shrieks of full-bellied laughter. The rearview mirror framed two heart-stoppingly beautiful, gap-toothed grins stained the color of Wyler’s grapes.

I’m sorry, BUTT!
I’m sorry, BUTT! 

The joyous refrain rang out all the way home, evolving into I’m sorry, Butt-face as we veered off our exit; and I’m sorry, Butt-head as we pulled into the driveway. They had just latched onto the hilarious favorite of the day, I’m sorry, Butt-nose, as I set them free to fly across our yard, reveling in the unrivaled bliss that can only be found in the magical mix of a gorgeous summer evening and an unfettered stream of potty words released with hearty, outside voices.

We are still, almost ten years later, known to lighten a heavy moment or argument with an I’m sorry followed by an under-the-breath Butt or a loud-and-proud Butt-face. Sometimes someone might even shout from another room an added Butt-head.

I won’t apologize for it.

Because without fail, somewhere behind the butt, comes a smile. 

Did you know it’s impossible … impossible … to stay mad at someone when you’re smiling?

Whatever works, right?