Betty Duffy


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Josephite Marriage, Here We Come.

Way back in the summer I went through training to become an abstinence educator in the public schools. I left the training session with an icky feeling about the stealth ninja evangelical Christian aspect of it, paired with irritation about disturbing metaphors in the curricula, on how one becomes a defiled, disposable object that cannot be bought, sold nor even given away once one has been had. "Because purity matters!"

I hemmed and hawed about what I would say to these people, whether I would vocalize my concerns like a grown-up and let them do with me what they will, or whether I would go with them as a stealth ninja abstinence educator with reservations, and then spring my concerns on them at a time of ripeness.

Turns out, when the emails and the calls came for me to do the shadowing portion of my training, I just ignored them. Like a grown-up, I pretended I wasn't here.

I do this kind of thing frequently, it seems, poke fire with a stick and then turn into a hedgehog when it flares on me. I'm always courting conversation about sex, because it interests me, so I suppose I can't be surprised or dismayed when the the conversation courts me. 

Yesterday I received a review copy of a book in the mail from a publisher, which my daughter intercepted before I could get to it, and it had a sassy looking girl on the brightly shaded cover, which interested her. But, as it turns out, the book was about sex.

She was several pages into it when I took it out of her hands. It was titled, "Chastity is for Lovers."

"That book says 'sex' a lot," she said.

"And that is why you shouldn't be reading it."

When the other kids heard the word sex, they too became interested in the book. My oldest noted that, "All the books you get in the mail have a vaguely sexual nature."

This is true. Last week, I received a copy of "Gay and Catholic," which is actually a very good memoir on living celibacy. But it probably looked weird sitting on my dresser. And then there was "Beyond the Birds and the Bees," and "Holy Sex!" which is not vague at all, but one of the kids found it hidden in my bedside table. Truly, it was for review, and I tried to keep it discrete, but… that didn't work out. 

"It's probably because you have so many kids, they want to know what you think," said my daughter, who only recently learned that there is a relationship between an activity known as 'sex,' and the conception of children. She was counting siblings, out loud, and realizing that we had done it at least that many times.

"Nope," said my oldest, "They've done it more than that. I've heard 'em." 

And this was very bad news to me. Once again, poke and flare. Where could I hide? But at the same time--what did he know? And whom had he told? It was happening so fast--my daughter challenging him, my son providing evidence and quotes from an overheard conversation, a rather damning one my husband and I had when we believed he was asleep on the couch in the next room. I had shushed my husband at the time. Now I was shushing my son. What in the hell?

But it was too late, all the little people were there, gathered around my son, blinking at the evidence. Fortunately most of them didn't know what any of it meant. But for the ones who did understand, I believe it is finished. We have become the Catholic Kinseys. 

And I had pretty much just decided that I was done with sex talk. No public abstinence educating-- for the kids, really, so they wouldn't have to endure their mother being the Sex Lady at their school. No more writing or reading books or blogs on sex. I don't even care anymore what the Church has to say about orgasm. I say, I do not.

But the Church "wants" married people to have good sex! 

The more I study it, the more silent Jesus becomes on this issue. Babies are good. The rest is… whatever… and I'm seeing the wisdom in that silence. Sex is neither going to destroy the world, nor save it.

But my kids, oh, my kids! If I haven't destroyed them, they're in for at least a good thirty years worth of recovery. I'll be off tying that millstone 'round my neck.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rapid fire decision making

I'm in the mood for some levity. And life has delivered. Every now and then I'll hear a word or two of what my kids say when they're all talking at once, like when the eight-year-old said, "I want to be a monk when I grow up." It rang out like an angelic cornet, a hopeful prophesy that at least one of my children will leave the nest eventually and find a worthy new home in which to prosper towards the Lord.

I also felt a little pang of sadness because he is possibly the most marriageable of my four bachelors. He's self-sufficient, tidy, and the most naturally pious--characteristics that would suit him well in either a family or a monastery. And I know he's very young, but to offer my first fruits, I started researching nearby monasteries to take him on a little field trip, just so he could see the life in action and normalize it.

Unfortunately, today he came home from school and said, "I don't think I want to be a monk anymore. I'm going to join the navy now."

"Why'd you change your mind?"

"A veteran came into our class. I just think it would be cool to live on a boat. It would be fun to go to war too." He started shooting an invisible machine gun, spitting out staccato blasts of gunfire. 

Then he stopped shooting, overcome with an urgent thought. "Would you be sad if I were in a war and I got shot in the penis?"

I thought this might be the deal breaker. "Uuuuh….." I said.

"I wonder if they'd have to do surgery. Maybe they'd give me a mechanical penis. A mechanical one that shoots real bullets!" And then he went back to rapid fire machine gun charades, but with a slightly lower slung gun.

So I feel like maybe it's too early to sign him up for the monastery, and maybe if we just keep quiet about the military, that plan may change too.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Education of Mother Gorgon

I feel frustrated that my real life is not as peaceful and idealistic as my prayer life. I feel frustrated that I would even differentiate between the two. Why isn't my prayer life my real life?

When I find a moment of silence I always imagine I'm growing by leaps and bounds in my relationship with God, that I'm finally not holding anything back, and things are happening.

Maybe they are, but when the moment of hideous volume strikes as it always does, I'm just not peaceful about it. I keep wanting to tell the kids, "You can get away with anything you want, anything at all, as long as you're quiet. See here, you can read all the salacious Guinness and Ripley's books you want, sneak food out of the kitchen, and that's about it. Just don't yell."

But yell they will, over each other and under each other, and all around me. 

Yesterday morning the younger boys woke me out of a sound sleep with a fight, on my face. Literally, they were on my face. They'd made a dirty deal over a toy. One of them reneged, probably the younger, who took the toy and ran screechingly for my protection, in the wee hours of the morning where the older chased him, bounding up on the mattress.

Alarm clocks are awful, but they do not compare to civil war on your face, to droplets of spittle raining down on your barely conscious mind saying "Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one! Feel the cortisol spike of confusion! There is a very loud and serious problem happening on your face."

There's no rational, reasoned, prayerful response to such an awakening. The Mother Gorgon rises up breathing fire, and for the rest of the day she feels just a bit off kilter, even after coffee, and after peace has been restored among the children. She has survived the rude awakening, but now she gets to self-flagellate for handling it so poorly. Bad Mother Gorgon! So impatient! So not spiritual!

Where is the connection between the me who goes out for sunny afternoon walks, praising the Lord, lifting up my spouse, children and all of my friends into His Glorious Presence--and the me who comes home and wants to throw the salad bowl because one of the kids ate all the craisins (no sneaking food after all.). 

Am I only a good Jesus lover when I'm alone? Because I'm really good at the work of reconciliation when the baby's having a nap and the kids are at school. Then it's all very good to reconcile the kitchen floor to its swept and mopped state, to make the crooked bedsheets straight. When I'm alone, I love the holiness of the present moment--aaah, so Holy and silent!

Maybe it just takes a different kind of thinking to acknowledge God's grace in the absence of a negative, as in, "It's been kind of a long time since I've thrown a dish! Thanks for that, God!" Or, "Lord, I thank you for preventing me from turning my children to stone for fighting on my face today." Or better yet, "Glory be to God that no one's had a fight on my face in the past 24 hours."

I suppose it really is up to God whether or not any of us are good. It sounds like a cop out, but it's the only explanation I have, because there is good will, sound intent, and solid effort on my part to behave well in times of high stress. But still...but still...

Lord, make us good! 

If he answers the prayer, Thanks be to God. And if he doesn't... Thanks be to God.

At patheos, I'm doing re-runs, because I'm finding it difficult to write anything that's not a complaint. 

I'm finding it difficult. 

Actually, nothing's very bad, which is why it's so frustrating that I find anything difficult.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vowed Friendship

Gee, you guys look like you could use a nap.

Unfortunately, only one of us gets the pillow.

eenie meanie, miney-mo

That's alright, you can be my pillow.

And later, I'll be yours.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Break the good, the bad, the bloody...

I made a getaway plan for Joe and me over Fall break. Just one night, downtown. Bought tickets for Rachmaninoff, tapped into the giant well of hotel points accumulated over fourteen years of his being a traveling man. Because what is the benefit of getting older and richer in hotel points if you cannot occasionally have some marital repose at the JW? 

I had a short moment of glee remembering how just the symphony tickets alone would once have been the pinnacle of a half-year, and now, we are so awesome that the tickets are just the intermission between cocktails at the Libertine and whatever might follow. Ignore for a moment, that this getaway was still a half-year coming, and that whatever might have followed had to wait until morning, because I fell asleep during the intermission of our lavish intermission. Next year, I shall doff the cocktails, probably. Maybe the symphony tickets too.

But the leisure was fantastic. Perhaps the greatest blessing of getting older is being able to let go of every bone you're tempted to pick and just enjoy being together. There was a time when I might have seen such an occasion as an opportunity to bring up everything that irritated me over the past six months and try to work on it, which is not marital repose at all, but rather marital boot camp, and is better suited to less expensive venues.

Constructive criticism doesn't even work in writing workshops, or biannual job evaluations, or parental lectures, or, or, or…anything really--I say this as someone who has received constructive criticism and used it as an excuse to exit projects I knew were not going well, or to shore up my own obtuse reasons for continuing to be wrong.

So we let everything be right and good and a gift. I am satisfied.

We dropped tent on our marital retreat a few hours early when it was reported from Mom and Dad's that one of the boys had come down with a high fever. Turned out he had pneumonia. He's better now.

And then a couple days after that, Joe dropped a 500 pound well cover on his hand, and it peeled the skin on one of his fingers like a banana around the bone so that his finger tip looked a little like a pez dispenser. It was fixable.

And then a couple days after that, I realized I'd been about five days without nursing the baby, and that we were both doing alright, but I was sad. She's starting to talk too, which is a good thing, unless like some of the other kids (and perhaps her mother, too), she finds her voice never to be silent again.

Time marches on. Highs become lows, and then highs again. I was thinking recently about how I keep trying to tell stories about my moments of greatest darkness, and how those really are not my best stories, just furrows, really, that bring a finer picture into relief. I can't wait to see it.

At patheos, another furrowing: Goats, Robo-Christians, and God-people

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Studies in Sanctimony

Dear Son/ Ward,

Did I help you study? I don't remember. Actually, I didn't help you. I know that. But what a trippy little letter they had you write. We can feel awful together.


Tell your teacher that I made bread today.

HaHA! Who's the bad parent/guardian now?

Meanwhile, at Patheos:

Happy Fruits of the Papal Synod to Me!

People Before Things, in Life and in Death
This post is a part of the Patheos October Public Square roundtable on death and ritual.