As I turned the corner, pushing my cart down the next aisle in search of pickled vegetables, I heard highly agitated yelling. I saw three young children together, the youngest in the seat of the cart with her brother and sister huddled around it. A little further up the aisle, I saw a woman, who I presumed was their mom, pacing and speaking in a scathing voice to whomever was on the other end of her cell phone. I got the sense that if the voice on the line were physically present, there may have been a physical altercation right there in the supermarket.
Though rattled, it was none of my business. No one was in danger, not physically anyway. So I moved along but couldn’t help but look back at the children, which I instantly regretted when I saw the little boy’s shaken expression. It was painful to see. And then I remembered. I was that child once.
I had forgotten how my mother’s yelling, regardless of the object of her wrath, had jarred me that way. My coping mechanism was to find humor in her obsessive arguments, which were often directed at my father. The subject matter was always the same and my father encouraged my giggles, I suspect because he had no retort. I practiced the art of laughing it off for so many years that I had blocked out how troubling it was as a young child to endure the repeated cacophony, until I looked at that little boy’s face. I wanted to run back, hug him and tell him it would be OK.
When I became a parent, I had my bellowing episodes as well and recall wondering how it was possible that my mother’s voice could spew from my mouth. The awareness was a blessing because I consciously made the effort to avoid making a habit of it and was happy when my younger son once reflected that he thought of me as a quiet person. Having a mother who was anything but, I breathed a sigh of relief.
She was a good mom and I felt we were close. Accustomed to her ways, I found comfort being with her. It’s just that she never found a constructive way to express herself and release her anguish. I think she wanted to see change in her life and didn’t know how to make that happen without sacrificing what she had. So she bottled up her angst and released it explosively. Even though she had many friends, I doubt if they ever conversed on such an intimate level as to talk through her agitation, and she was adverse to therapy. She didn’t like to talk about her feelings and insisted on privacy in family matters. As I am writing this post, I can almost hear her turning over in her grave. At least she’s not yelling.