At the airport this morning, I observed a family of four checking in at the counter for first class. They were a traditional family, with Mom and Dad still married to each other, and their two young daughters, approximately 6 and 8 years old, were well-groomed and well-behaved. As a bonus, they were apparently fairly well-off, since they were flying the entire family first class for an international trip. All appeared picture-perfect, as things so often do to outsiders looking in. Until the youngest asked Mom a simple question, and Mom snapped at her so loudly that she drew the attention of those of us in line. Mom was an ugly dragon with flames emanating from her nostrils as she struggled to refrain from literally biting the child’s head off. A brief pause, and then Mom answered the young girl’s question (a relevant question about checking bags, as it turned out) in the most contemptuous, condescending tone, a tone that implied the poor 6-year-old was the most stupid and most worthless human being on the planet. Mom’s tone made me squirm in discomfort, and I wasn’t even involved.
There was no visible provocation for the mother’s rage. I had the impression she was always simmering just below the surface, ready to explode at any time, as I had just witnessed. As the disturbing dialogue unfolded, I observed the sad and dejected look on the small girl’s face, the completely blank look on the father’s face, and the faraway look on the older daughter’s face, as she pretended not to notice. It was painfully apparent this exchange was not an unusual one and not simply due to the stress of traveling. Mom was a high-strung, short-tempered, family tyrant, and Dad and Big Sister promptly fell into their roles as passive, silent bystanders to this conflict. Certainly, no one was going stand up for the youngest and risk Mom unleashing her rage on them. Silly little girl, doesn’t she know by now to just keep quiet and stay out of Mom’s way? Mom is mean, and she’ll slice through your soul with her razor-sharp words! From the dejected look on her face, I suspect Little Sister will soon fall in line with the others, existing silently under the fury of Mom until the day she can finally make her escape.