Everyone Gets Yelled at, Right?

I used to think so.

Posted Mar 30, 2018

As a child, I thought all parents yelled at their kids.

I thought all parents opened their jaws so wide as to appear almost unhinged, then shrieked about unmade beds, unshelved books and untied shoes.

I thought all kids were yelled at not just sometimes—when, say, they broke vases or chased balls into traffic, which made mommies and daddies not just mad but scared and sad—but all day, every day, because we deserved that.

I thought parents yelled behind the windows and doors of every house on earth, whose size I knew because my parents loved me so much that they took me to Denver and Europe. I thought that, strolling down any residential sidewalk, you could hear the tiny high-pitched traceries of screams vibrating in branches and buds.

I thought all parents yelled because they must. Who else cared enough to shape our identities by telling us that we were lazy, ugly, selfish and/or ate like pigs? I thought childhood was a sunny, sea-scented, Snickers-flavored span, soundtracked by Slinky-toy commercials: a time during which we learn how bad we are.

I thought all families had an inside and an outside life. Outside, such as at synagogues, parents brag: Ike plays chess! then, in their cars and houses, yell: You interrupted Mrs. Weiss! Your armpits stink! Because they care. I thought it was every child's task to perceive that the same people who give you pies and watercolor paints also roar Goddamn you to hell, you little slob!

Anneli Rufus
Source: Anneli Rufus

I thought parental yelling was a skill, like sailing boats or singing, and that college-educated adults did it best.

I saw this as arithmetic: All parents love their children, at whom they yell, and who love them back. Those who yell most care most. Those yelled at most are worst.

I assumed this was factual and not debatable as was, say, whether Gilligan ever removed his hat. I never asked my friends whether their parents yelled because I thought it would have been like asking whether they had knees or brushed their teeth.

I never saw their parents yell at them. That was their inside life. I heard strangers yell at their kids in restroom stalls where maybe they believed they were alone. Grandma yelled at Mom across Sunday tables on which tapers burned in whale-shaped candlesticks.

Some of us found out later that some parents never yelled. When Dad gets mad, he calls me Emily instead of Em.

But it was too late to make ourselves never-yelled-at.

I wish I could stop mentioning yelling. I wish yelling and its consequences were as irrelevant to my current life as Bucharest or darts. But telling me to forget yelling is like telling me to make a cake with milk, flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking soda and an ox.

As a child, I thought all adults had been yelled at as kids. I thought my teachers and the mailman and astronauts had mommies and daddies who damned them to hell.

I thought they all remembered being yelled at as they drove dune-buggies and used credit cards to buy hoses and trout while discussing the president and wearing wigs.

Anneli Rufus
Source: Anneli Rufus

I thought the deep-sea diver and the steakhouse waitress and Wilt Chamberlain existed in permanent freefall, their fear-meters cranked so high the handles broke so they just stayed afraid.

I thought the rancher and the doctor, while herding steers and repairing harelips, called themselves Fatface and Shrimp because their parents did. I thought the pet-shop man and pretty bride heard phlegmy echoes in their heads, Pisspants and Idiot. I thought all this but I was wrong.