Three apologies

September 16,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I walked with a friend last weekend. We've been trying to walk once every weekend--2-3 miles, in the name of exercise and staying in shape (or getting in shape, as the case may be). I was feeling low and overwhelmed last weekend, and almost didn't go. But one of the perks of our weekly walks is that we get the chance to talk, she and I, mom to mom, woman to woman, about many different things. I need the mental unburdening in some ways, more than I need the physical exercise. But last weekend was her turn to unburden herself to me and I listened, but inside I felt a swelling up of negative emotion, because I didn't have any room inside to help her with her problems. She has a toddler, with toddler issues. She's tired, and life is strained. I wish I had a toddler with toddler issues, I thought to myself, meanly and selfishly. Sorry, Friend B. A few days ago, after class, a student--a good, quiet, studious kid--came up to me with a documented excuse for his absence the other day. He'd been in court, up on serious charges. His shoulders sagged under the weight of the official note. "What happened?" I asked him. Tears sprang to the corners of his eyes. He'd gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd, he explained, and now he had to carry the weight of that poor choice for--perhaps--the rest of his life. I wanted to help him feel better, somehow, but I felt a part of me close off. I can't help him with this burden, I thought to myself. He'll have to sort it out on his own. Sorry, Student T. Yesterday, a friend called me to talk about a problem and I didn't have anything to offer. "You always have such good advice!" she chastised me gently. "Always something good to say." I made apologetic sounds and quickly got off the phone. Sorry, S. I didn't have any advice for her. I usually like having the answers, giving the advice, being the shoulder to lean on, fixing things, but lately I've been spread too thin, and I'm sorry to all those who have brushed up against that edge of mine this week. I've been feeling protective and selfish of my time, my family, our problems. It's not a nice place to be, but it's where I am now. And I think that's okay, because it's where I have to be. We've all been there at one time or other, haven't we?