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August 01, 2008

The Yelling Legacy

J0427604 My very first "real" job, outside of babysitting, dog walking, and occasional cleaning, was in a Stride Rite shoe store when I was 17 years old. I was incredibly nervous about my interview, but I happened to be wearing my band jacket when I walked in. I didn't know it then, but the manager was a former band member at my HS, so his opening line to me was "Is Mr. D still there?" Surprised, I nodded, and then he said "So you'll need some Saturday's off. Got it." That was my interview.

After I had worked there about three weeks, during back-to-school season, my boss received a phone call that I answered. He was with a customer, so I did what we did when someone got a phone call at home: yelled "M, the phone's for you" loud enough to be heard above the craziness that is back-to-school season in a Stride Rite (you know, 40 people waiting, mothers trying to look at the shoes on display while their kids ran all over the place and climbed on the store displays).

M very politely excused himself, stalked up to me and through gritted teeth asked me to step into the back room. We were barely through the curtain when he whirled around to face me and said furiously "Never. Do that. Again. If I am with a customer, you calmly tap me on the shoulder and quietly let me know I have a call." He turned and went back out to his customer while I stayed in the back to compose myself, face flaming with mortification.

I'm so lucky he didn't fire me. I still don't know why he didn't. The simple fact is, though, that I honestly didn't know any better. I had no clue that not everyone shouted everything all the time. I learned my lesson and never made that mistake again. In a professional setting, that is.

Old habits die hard. The truth is, I'm still a yeller. It's stupid, I know it is. I yell at my kids constantly, and you can imagine what the decibel level is around here on a daily basis with four little kids and all the craziness that ensues as a result. Sometimes I have to yell just to be heard, not because someone is in trouble. But more often than not it's because the day-to-day frustrations of dealing with the constant fighting and whining and mess and sass and just plain overstimulation cause me to lose it far too quickly. And I worry what I'm teaching my kids, what impact it will have on their future lives. On the one hand, they aren't learning appropriate behavior. On the other, coming from a household of yellers gave me a leg-up when I had to deal with a boss who was a yeller (not the shoe-store boss, he rocked), and that's not a bad skill to have. What will my kids take away from our house? I just don't know.

Either way, it's not the legacy I want to leave. I've been trying so hard to model appropriate behavior, by going to my husband when the phone is for him, by lowering my voice to a whisper instead of shouting above the din, by taking a timeout for myself to calm down when I get frustrated. I haven't been overwhelmingly successful, but then again, maybe the perseverance of sticking with it and trying to change will leave a legacy, too.

Original DC Metro Moms post. When she's not worrying about all the yelling going on around her house, Mary/FishyGirl blogs in a more normal tone of voice at The Fish Pond.


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