As much as every parent longs to hear his or her baby utter that first clear, distinctive, adorable word, the milestone also brings with it a new stage of paranoia. The first sweet sounds always seem to be shrouded in innocence, a reflection of the happy world that's been created for them.
The next few words could be anything.
Anything that has ever left your own mouth, intentionally or unintentionally.
My daughter started out strong. Her first word was "mama," and it was just as beautiful and heartwarming as that moment could ever be. She followed it with "dada" and "baba." We were off to a good and predictable start.
A few words later, we had our first challenge. She began to shout "sha!" whenever the dog started to bark. It seemed to be her attempt to emulate her father's constant warning to the dog: "Shut up!"
Less endearing, but we could play it off. We convinced her to say "shhhh!" instead. Crisis averted.
Her pronunciation of the word "carry" sounds a lot like "keel," or "kill." Also awkward, especially when she's yelling it in stores, but her voice is still sweet and whiny enough to make it sound less intimidating.
But now, almost a year after learning her first word, when her vocabulary seems to be expanding every single day, my daughter has learned a word that absolutely breaks my heart. Especially since she learned it from me: "Sorry."
I know it's not a bad word. I know there are far worse words. (Her version of the word "fox" is also questionable.) But it's a word that makes me wince every time I hear it, mostly because of when she chooses to say it.
There are plenty of times when a toddler using the word "sorry" is appropriate or even encouraged (like after tormenting the dog or throwing dinner on the floor). But she tends to use it at other times. She repeats it when I say it to her for doing things like putting her awkwardly into her car seat. She says it when something suspiciously falls in the other room, accompanied by a panicked look on her face. She says it when she trips while walking and I bend down to help her up.
In other words, she says it when she has no reason to be sorry. And I hate it.
I know what it's like to feel the need to apologise when something is not my fault. I've had a habit of doing it all my life. I apologise to people who clearly cut me off. I apologise to my bosses for doing things I know I didn't do. Sometimes it's simply easier than arguing. Sometimes I just doubt myself in the moment and only later come to realise I wasn't actually in the wrong.
But it's not just me. Many women do this, and I feel that we are certainly trained by society to believe that we are usually the ones at fault. Middle and high school girls are told to cover up their shoulders lest they tempt teenage boys. College women are told not to drink too much or they set themselves up to be raped. Working women often have to choose between apologising to their bosses and coworkers or apologising to their seemingly neglected families.
And that's just the beginning.
I'm not saying that I don't think my daughter should ever have to apologise. Far from it. We all make mistakes, and she will, too. I just hate that before the age of 2 it's already becoming a habit. I would much rather listen to her continue to confuse blue and green and accompany the names of animals with their sounds. I would rather listen to the same five Disney songs on repeat because she's slowly learning the words and can sing along. I would rather listen to her running around the house screaming at the top of her lungs while racing against the dog, even if I'm trying to nap.
It means she's enjoying who she truly is. And I never want her to feel the need to apologise for that.