Over the years, I’ve often noticed how quick women are to apologise for simply taking up space in the care of their kids. However, it was when I ventured into the world of disability support that I noticed how truly widespread this is.
In 2016, I worked in vacation care with kids and teens on day programs. Each morning, families would arrive; backpacks, Webster packs, fannypacks ready to go, and joyous vocalisations when my young clients spotted their friends.
One mum who would arrive each morning with her 8 year old son Adam* must’ve been new to the service. She was always so anxious each morning. I was confident in delivering great care for him even if he doesn’t talk using words. He would tell us in his own way.
She doesn’t know me, though. How is she to know if her son is safe with me? She can’t be expected to know.
She chattered up into my face for a good 45 seconds of pure anxiety. Then she apologised. I reassured her. She apologised a second time. I walked her back outside to see her off while Adam was occupied with a toy. She apologised again, before leaving.
I thought about her for days. What has this world taught her about her family’s position in the community?
"Sorry / I’m sorry / So sorry."
For wanting to be sure your son is safe in my care? For being a family who needed support? Goodness me.
Again, just last month, I was walking through Kmart in Penrith, with a basket of things. A mum aproached, walked in the opposite direction. Her daughter happens to need the sort of chair that can adequately support her neck and head. Those things are hard to manoeuvre. I know this because I've had to push a client as smoothly as possible across uneven terrain in one of them.
She had been sort of diagonally positioned across the aisle. As her mum spotted me coming and hastily repositioned her, I only had to do a bit of a half-second awkward dance while I worked out which direction she wanted to take. Zero inconvenience. It’s fine. As long as she’s out having a stress-free shop with her daughter, that makes me happy.
“I’m so sorry. She has special needs...”
I smiled and continued on my way, but again, I was so disturbed by how much she must have those conversations each and every time she leaves the house, and how easily it would become internalised if one was always apologising like that.
Earlier this week, I was panting and puffing my way up and down the pool (I’m trying to restore my lungs after a life-threatening bout of pneumonia). While I was on a rest lap with the kickboard, I saw a mum and a little girl of about six hop in at the other end of my lane.
It’s busy, so we all need to share. Totally fine.
My head was above water while I was on a kick lap, so I could see this little girl coming up the other side of the lane, all stiff arms and conscientious awkward neck movements, trying to obey instructions she’d been given about her stroke. She had obviously asked her mother to accompany her to the “grown-up” lanes to have a go.
And have a go she did. She struggled and swallowed half the pool, but she did the full 25 metres. She was in her most dogged moment right there, battling it out in a moment of determination against the odds that I immediately identified with.
This little girl, her spangly awkward limbs and sputtering coughs were going to reach the end of Lane 5, or die trying. I admired the shit outta that little girl, and eased my kicks for her as I went past.
Mum calmly followed behind. I smiled at her. She immediately apologised.
“Don’t apologise! I’m inspired!”
And I was.
Not just by Little Spangly Squid but by her mother, diligently, quietly following behind. Having taken time out of the day and the to-do list. Finding the money for the lessons, the swimming cap, goggles and entry fee. Shoving her own stuff aside to make sure her girl can swim. And resisting the urge to scoop Squiddy up in her arms and rescue her when she’s clearly putting herself through hell trying to make it to the other end of the pool.
That’s the hardest bit, most of the time. Letting them decide their own learning route. Not rescuing them just because of a little discomfort.
Straight away, I thought of all the other mums I’ve come across in life who apologise for taking up space with their children. Or.... taking up space at all. Myself included.
Never apologise for being a great mum.
Thanks for the inspiration, Lil Squid.
I’d better get my sorry arse back in the pool.