Sorry. It’s one of the toughest words in the English language to say. For kids, it’s a word that has to be teased out under threat of material loss. That’s why I was blown away recently when my 5-year-old son wrote me a letter of apology without any prompting at all.
The offense? Honestly, he hadn’t done anything wrong. We were playing a quick game of Pancake Flip before bedtime. Pancake Flip is a sophisticated game played with plastic rackets and a pair of rolled socks. You lie on a bed and flip the socks back and forth as many times as possible without dropping them or allowing them to touch the walls. Our record is 247 flips. (I know, right?!?) One evening, we were playing and Conor accidentally hit the socks to an inaccessible area behind his bed. A few minutes later, it happened again. Because it was getting late, I gave him the old three strikes and you’re out warning. Sure enough, within minutes the third pair of socks had disappeared into the abyss. Game over.
I could tell he was upset. But it didn’t seem any different than when I ask him to turn off the iPad or to pick up his toys. I retreated to my office to send a couple of emails before starting our bedtime routine. Moments later, he emerged with a piece of paper. In the upper left hand corner he had written the letters SRE. In the lower half, a series of Rs. SRE? I asked, “What’s this, buddy?” “It says sorry, dad. See, I wrote the letters S…R…E.” OH, SRE was his attempt at spelling SORRY! No joke, I about lost it. It was heartbreaking to think that he thought that had let me down in some way. But I was also so proud of him. To sit and write an apology letter on his own accord when he can’t even spell…wow!
But what about the Rs at bottom, I asked? He confessed he isn’t very good at Rs and wanted to practice before writing it in a word. I told him how proud I was and made sure he knew that he hadn’t upset me in any way. He said he was just sad and felt bad we wouldn’t be able to break the record. I assured him that 248 flips would come soon enough. As soon as we bought some new socks.
I will hold onto this letter forever. It will serve as a sweet reminder that sorry may be a tough word to say, but it’s also a very powerful word. No matter how you spell it.