The Long Tail of Parental Regret

Some childhoods turn out poorly leaving a trail of emotional scars and dysfunctional behaviors. Survivors are left to make the best of it. While dreaming of a Hollywood moment, none of them expect an abusive or absent parent to ever apologize for his or her actions. But some dreams defy the odds and an apology is delivered. Now what?

Sharon Oats’ poem ‘After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood ‘ is about this unexpected moment that brings with it healing and an unexpected loss…

After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood
by Sharon Olds

When you tilted toward me, arms out
like someone trying to walk through a fire,
when you swayed toward me, crying out you were
sorry for what you had done to me, your
eyes filling with terrible liquid like
balls of mercury from a broken thermometer
skidding on the floor, when you quietly screamed
Where else could I turn? Who else did I have? the
chopped crockery of your hands swinging toward me, the
water cracking from your eyes like moisture from
stones under heavy pressure, I could not
see what I would do with the rest of my life.
The sky seemed to be splintering, like a window
someone is bursting into or out of, your
tiny face glittered as if with
shattered crystal, with true regret, the
regret of the body. I could not see what my
days would be, with you sorry, with
you wishing you had not done it, the
sky falling around me, its shards
glistening in my eyes, your old, soft
body fallen against me in horror I
took you in my arms, I said It’s all right,
don’t cry, it’s all right, the air filled with
flying glass, I hardly knew what I
said or who I would be now that I had forgiven you.