One teenage summer, I took a job as a counselor at a summer camp in a Jewish cottage colony. All the campers slept at their cottages, which surrounded the camp, and all the counselors, who also had cottages nearby, slept on-site. The set-up made the camp very exclusive, as rare was the counselor who had not been going to the camp his or her entire life. Still, my BFF, Geddy Lee, whose cottage I had visited many times over the years, convinced me to join her. So, though a bit nervous about how I would fit in, I did.

The camp was (and is) about an hour from the city, and on the day we started our pre-camp training, we threw our sleeping bags and duffel bags in the back of Geddy Lee’s mom’s station wagon (a wood-paneled artifact from around the time Geddy Lee was born) and headed out to the country roads. About five minutes into our drive, Geddy Lee’s argument with her mom began. I think it was about Geddy Lee’s supershort cut-off shorts or maybe her boyfriend (the neighbor’s gardener) or perhaps it was about the clay penis she had sculpted and insisted on leaving out on display in their house. I’m not sure. All I know is that it escalated and escalated and that 70s wagon was vibrating with their voices (OK–or age). I tried to distract myself by thinking about what a fun time I would have at camp.

Finally, the fight hit its climax. “I refuse to have my daughter to talk to me that way!”
“I refuse to have my mother talk to me that way!”

“If you don’t like it, you can get out of my car and walk to camp!”

“We will! Come on, PP!”

The car came to a screeching halt in the middle of nowhere. Geddy Lee’s door flew open. I sat in the back quietly, pretending to be invisible. “Let’s go!” Geddy Lee repeated.

“Do I have to?” The sky was black. I slowly dragged myself from the car.  By the time I was out, I discovered Geddy Lee’s mom had already tossed my stuff out onto the gravel and was gone. The rain began to fall almost immediately.

“Sorry,” Geddy Lee said sheepishly as the rain soaked us. “But I figured you would understand.” Huh? “I mean your house is always high drama.” It was? “It’s just like mine–a yelling house.” She then proceeded to do a perfect imitation of my mother shrieking my name.

It took us about 3 hours to walk to camp. The duffel bags were heavy. I held one handle on Geddy Lee’s bag, one handle on mine, and she did the same, walking in front of me. It poured the whole time. I was starving. And I was thinking. My house was high drama, it would seem. My house was a yelling house. I made myself a promise: when I grow up, and I have kids of my own, my house will be so calm, people will be sure we’re WASPs. No one will call us high drama. No one will call us a yelling house.

So, it turns out that I failed.

That voice Geddy Lee imitated over 20 years ago sounds eerily like my own today.

In truth, I forgot all about that high drama episode between Geddy Lee and her mother, and my internal promise, for the longest time. It was obliterated from my mind by all the fun I had at the camp (and also by a high drama incident of a wholly different kind that happened that very night, involving a drinking game). On Monday, however, staying at my in-laws’ cottage, with my kids attending a similar day camp filled with Jewish kids who summer in nearby cottages, I had a flashback to that stormy day years ago. I remembered, and in so doing, I had a painful realization: I yell almost every day. Sometimes it’s a safety yell (Get off the road!), which I think is OK, but too often it’s a mad yell (Go to sleep already! Who peed all over the floor?).

After dropping off the kids at camp, I was reading this great blog post about Tisha B’av. Now, I actually had no plan to fast (or if I did, it was so fleeting it doesn’t really count), but I decided that to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple, which has been chalked up to baseless hatred, I was going to do a very unhateful thing: I was not going to yell. All week. No matter what. I was going to have a low drama house. I was going to be a WASP.

Wish me luck, will you? I am on day 3, and so far doing pretty well. Mind you, the kids have been relatively well-behaved. It’s possible (highly likely) that will change. And I will have to keep saying to myself: I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. Of course, I didn’t make any such promise about not leaving them by the side of the road in the rain . . . It’s a good thing their camp bags aren’t too heavy.





These bags were made for dancing–not schlepping in the rain.


5 responses »

  1. I’m glad you managed to celebrate tisha b’av in your own way. BTW, that Blog post you reference was written by Becca’s best friend’s sister.

  2. so…how’d you do? I frequently make these non-yelling promises to myself in yoga class….and they last for a while. A little longer than I can hold crow pose but that’s not saying much. And for the record? I’m a big ol’WASP. But I’ve lived in NYC for more than twenty years, so maybe I’ve soaked in the lessons about expressing one’s emotions rather than sinking them to the bottom of a martini glass?

  3. I did not do great. But, to be fair, Aunt Flo came to visit. Also, poor behavior prevailed: one day, for example, LL ordered a whole pizza for himself then decided he didn’t want to eat it because he wanted an omelet instead. I said too bad, you already ordered and we already paid, so the pizza is all you’re getting. So he picked up the pizza and smeared it all over his face as a strange 8-year-old-brain revenge (lucky he’s not in the teenage zit years or we might have called him “pizza face” forever). Hard not to yell there. On the plus side, I was a little more conscious of my yelling all week, um, I guess . . .

    I have offended numerous WASPs by claiming they are all soft-spoken and patient parents! I apologize–I swear! Down with stereotypes.

  4. Pingback: How to Devastate a Jewish Mother | The Poor Princess Diaries

  5. So, I picked up an old copy of this for $1 at a library book sale: http://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/1451663889 I can’t say that I’ve been able “not to yell” but I’m definitely trying other ways to get across to the kids. The whole “listening” thing is working wonders for the 6 year old. As for the the 3+ year old, well, it’s less effective as a potty training technique. Mind you, this book was written in 1980 (thus, designed for parenting US)

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