Betty Duffy

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I try to keep the kids (as a subject) off this blog as much as possible, because I consider it sort of my grown up play room, but there are times when the fact that I am a mother becomes impossible to ignore. Right now is one of those times, because if I have not given birth in the next two days, I will be induced. Even prior to the induction date, my mind had turned 100% to every sign of pre-labor activity, every minor contraction, every trip to the bathroom, every grunt and ache in the middle of the night (during which I am more often than not, awake).

I have mentioned before, that I am not an exemplary pregnant woman. I don't glow. I don't do yoga. I read the Dr Sears birth book during pregnancy #1, and never again. This time around, I did not do the "best-odds diet" and ended up an insulin dependant gestational diabetic. I've had a couple of natural labors, a couple with epidurals, and have no opinion on which is better. I enjoy going to doctors appointments, particularly when there is testing to be done, because I love being coddled and having the primary attention of anyone, even if that attention is directed towards my blood pressure, or my urine. And lying in a dark room with a monitor on my stomach is my current idea of heaven, (baby's heartbeat, combined with the slushy uterine background noise...zzzzzzz....).

When I am not timing contractions, I am not doing anything. I have found myself lately sitting in my husband's favorite chair, feet propped on ottoman, staring into space for God knows how long. I have no attention span for reading, slightly more for writing, and slightly more than that for eating. I am grateful my husband is home for this four day weekend because he always has something fun to do, which keeps the kids occupied: trips to the bakery, running back and forth to the lumber yard, watching Norm on This Old House.

I finally broke trance yesterday at my husband's suggestion to go see Twilight at the movie theater here in town (by myself). I loved it, by the way. I only read the first book in the series, and was relieved that a lot of the less interesting and annoying narration was not in the movie. Acting was good and it was an entertaining couple of hours.

Now I am back to experiencing anxiety for labor. It must be done. The baby will come out, and the only way to make it happen is to go through labor. My Parish priest told a story the other day about a woman in the Parish having her fifth child, or something like that, and she had the baby in the car on the way to hospital without so much as an uncomfortable grunt. What kind of bargain could I make with God for an experience like that? Or to be one of those teenagers at the prom, who goes into the bathroom, drops a baby, and heads back out to the dancefloor. I want to hear about happy and brief birth experiences--do you have one to tell?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nun Wanna-be Waxes Philosophical

Nothing new baby yet. Just posting old material. But I thought this one might be interesting. Sadly, I haven't really re-examined my philosophy in the past ten years, so I'd love to hear from any readers who have a different take on the subjects below.

February 12, 1998
Dear (Person Who Shall Remain Nameless),

What fun to think! Of course we do plenty of thinking during prayer but we’re confined by immaterial and infinite subjects. It’s not very often that I get to think about things I can actually put into words: Books, art, music, human nature…my favorite subjects. I notice you enjoy going off on quotes and commentary—isn’t it funny how letters are often more of a reflection of the author, the individual, than they are a means of mutual communication? This is not a criticism, rather, I’m glad that someone else besides me derives so much pleasure from the process of revelation. I’ve held myself back in letters at times when I’ve realized that I was writing for myself and my own enjoyment of writing rather than for the recipient of the letter. It’s nice to know that I won’t have to do that in your case.

Your thoughts on melancholy intrigue me. “Melancholy moments begin and end the search.” I agree, but I think there’s something missing in between there. You said that “in those aching moments we are most alive, alert and willing,” and that’s where I disagree. You’re really missing out on joy—deep, interior joy—the sustenance that keeps us coming back from our restlessness to rest in God. More often than not, joy is a memory, but that’s enough, because the fruit of the search is perseverance in something. And you can’t have perseverance without having experienced the ideal in some way or another.

Sure, only God has full knowledge of the ideal, but he gives us partial knowledge. He gives us himself in what measly portions humans can handle. But that measly portion of divinity, in my life has been enough to cause radical change, and happiness that is more alive, alert and willing than 23 years of stored up melancholy. That’s not to say that I don’t still feel at times the same old melancholy when I’m alone—and I often enjoy the melancholy very much—but it’s too easy to be the greater of the two “alives.”

And now… “The Banality of Evil.” Of course evil is boring. I didn’t used to think so, but that’s only because I didn’t realize how demanding, complex and intoxicating goodness could be. I think one of the easiest ways to express the dichotomy is that evil is finite, whereas goodness is infinite. The greatest evil that man can accomplish is complete separation from moral and rational capacities—becoming like an animal. And it doesn’t take much to get there.

People get caught up in what they think are the complexities of evil when they experience the dualism or division that is an innate desire for goodness suppressed by their passions, egotism, or misinformation.

The trouble is, this division—which is the discomfort of not working to be the creature God intended you to be—since it is uncomfortable, and since it is difficult to face, usually causes the individual to mutilate their conscience to enable the easier path of indulging passions. It doesn’t take much to give yourself everything you want. Everyone has the capacity within themselves for evil, but not everyone has the fortitude to trudge daily towards holiness. You have to ask for it.

But this raises another question in my mind: what are your thoughts on the devil? Because he’s really the only one who gives evil a little bit of interest--to think that there is another supernatural force at work in your soul. How does he get there? Why after all these years is he still at war with God? One of those hard pills to swallow in faith is that Christianity makes no sense without the devil, and yet the devil himself makes no sense to me (but that’s probably the devil making me think that).


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flashback: A Nun's Life (part 2)

Still waiting for baby, and posting material from ten years ago when I lived in a convent for a year.

February 26, 1998
Dear (Person who shall remain nameless),

I guess I’ll begin with the fact that it’s been over 10 years since I’ve actually smashed a grape with my bare feet—but it was once a favorite pastime for myself and an elementary school girlfriend. On rainy days we’d take off our shoes and socks, and grab the yella umbrella and a bag of grapes—yella grapes. Then we walked up and down our street choreographing moves to the Raffy song “Robin in the Rain” stuffing grapes in our mouths between lines and occasionally throwing one down to squash under the balls of our feet to see if that’s what it felt like to step on one of those big fat worms that comes out when it rains. God forbid we step on the real thing.

Grapes have now taken on an entirely different connotation. All of our food is donated here, so when we get in a load of fruit we eat it in every type of concoction you can imagine in order to use them before they rot. I’ve eaten grape pie, grape bread, grapes in salad, grapes in yogurt (eyeballs) and plenty of rotten brown grapes rolling willy nilly on a white plate. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a crunchy juicy grape like the kinds you picture the Romans nibbling off the stem—and I begrudge every fresh grape I wasted when I was little.

But this is poverty, and looking beyond those moments when I really want the instant gratification of eating something delicious, or when I reach for my bent fork, stolen from an airline by one of our unscrupulous Spanish Consas, and it sticks to the vinyl table cloth—when I look beyond these moments, I love poverty. I love not knowing what dishes are going to appear on the table, not having control of the temperature in the dorms.

You said your heater breathes. Ours sounds like a bunch of monkeys beating on their metal cages with hammers and wrenches. And when you’re lying in bed at night, trying to think holy thoughts with which to lull you to sleep—you stop to question for a moment whether it’s better to freeze or listen to that thing clanging all night. But, yes, you look beyond these moments and oh how you love poverty!

Reading your letter reminded me of what it’s like to have complete control over your environment. You can open your window or shut your window, and stay up as late as you want, and smoke when you want, and eat, or not eat—all those things I always took for granted. And yet I’ve found in the surrender of those little amenities an amazing freedom—the freedom to think about other things. I remember thinking once, do I smoke now, or with my coffee, or afterwards, or all three? And then when I did all three I would think that I had been a bit excessive. So now, we get 5 minutes of break time after morning snack. You don’t think about it. You run as fast as you can, and stand outside in the snow, smoking like an idiot, and then you go back to work and don’t think about it again until the next 5 minute break.

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to write out a description of this place. I think I may have found just that. SO I apologize in advance for making you the victim of my artistic license.

It’s a big old house, though I hesitate to call it a house. It has two wings—a north wing and a south wing and a giant chapel to the back that faces west so it probably looks like a big letter T from an airplane. This has been a boys’ home for most of the century—first operated by some nuns, then by the state, and for the past 8 years, by us as the Formation Center of the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi. It’s undergoing constant renovation, but I don’t think it will ever be up to date. There are open pipes in the kitchen so that if you pour coffee down the sink, you can look underneath and see the brown liquid flowing into a pipe. Walk a few yards and you see the pipe send the same liquid into an open drain in the floor. There are open pipes God knows where else.

We didn’t have hot water for awhile and every day after exercise I’d come in thinking, “Today’s the day we’ll have a hot shower.” And I’d prepare myself mentally for a hot shower, and a couple of times when I found it cold again, sticking my hand under the faucet for several minutes waiting expectantly for it to get warm, I almost started crying. It was ridiculous. “Be a woman!” they tell us in our Sunday talks or confessions when we want to go out and look at the street or something because it reminds us of the world. So “be a woman!” I say and dive into another cold shower.

We sleep in dorms. I share a dorm with anywhere form 7-30 women depending on whether or not we have visitors for retreats. The nights are always a little bit noisy even though the inhabitants of this house comply to “absolute silence” from 9:05 – 8:30 am. In the winter we have the heater as I mentioned. There’s a heating unit right by my head, and when the ON cycle is running it singes my hair, which doesn’t need to be any frizzier. When it’s on the OFF cycle, you hear the electric hum of the EXIT light. In the summer, we sleep on top of the covers with the windows open, and then you hear the summer cruisers driving up and down the street with their radios on loud.

I spend most of my days with the same six women. Your friend Julie, is one of the six, so if you ever wanted to know her eating habits or morning routines, I have them memorized. She used to drink coffee but has recently switched to tea for some reason—a penance? In the morning, she blows dry her hair and brushes her teeth simultaneously with her eyes closed, as though she were still sleeping.

This place may be the only place on earth where this many women can live under one roof and practice perfect charity. When there is silence, the house doesn’t respect it, but the people do. They don’t make eye contact—which to an outsider seems rude. But it’s very charitable here, you find, when someone doesn’t interrupt your interior thoughts by imposing the messages of their eyes on you. At meals, you don’t have the burden of making conversations. You are free to eat and go about your interior life (which for me, consisted of a 45 minute insatiable craving for plum wine—I don’t know what triggered it, or even whether or not I like plum wine—but today I wanted it badly).

Moving around the exterior of the building, we have a huge back yard surrounded by a woods on all sides. It’s completely private, which is good because the neighbors don’t get freaked out when they see a bunch of girls playing basketball or ultimate Frisbee in long skirts. If you walk around the perimeter of the yard you see a baseball diamond that’s very overgrown, with deep ruts around the bases. I imagine ghosts of little orphan boys running around those bases ad infinitum to make ruts that deep. More likely the ruts have become little rivers when it rains that carry away more and more of the baseball diamond each summer of its neglect.

Up closer to the house, there’s a Grotto to Our Lady where we say our Rosary in the summer and when we feel hearty in the winter. We say our Rosary at 5 pm so this time of year, there’s always a sentimental sunset behind her that makes you feel kind of moody. If you say the Rosary in the chapel, which also faces west, there’s a minute when the sun shines directly through the rose window above the tabernacle. The window’s blue so the light comes in blue like a search light and targets whoever is sitting in the front left pew.

I appreciate your admiration for light through stained glass at various times of the year and the day. I’ve seen our windows from the inside and out at every hour of the day and night. And I think they’re most beautiful right now viewed from the window by my bed. It’s dark out. The lights are on inside the chapel. Two feet of snow fell last night, the sky is royal blue reflecting the snow, and there’s one star out there that makes it all look like a Christmas card. It’s too quaint, too perfect, but I like it.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Flashback: A Nun's Life (1st Installment)

I am very close to giving birth, and rather than posting about my every contraction, I'm going to mine a little from my past. These are letters I retained from my year in a Lay Ecclesial Movement of the Catholic Church, living the life of a nun.

February 3, Clinton Era (To a friend from College):
And Corey once again rises out of the depths—that voice from beyond, always dissatisfied with something and yearning for nothing. And to whom does he send out this voice—not a plea, not even a comment, just a voice? He sends it to Betty, who is not really on page 37 of the Illinois visitor’s guide having Native American Laughter and fun in a short skirt with long flowing hair—though she is flattered Corey saw a resemblance between herself and said girl in short skirt.

Rather, she is wearing long skirts, and nylons and pumps to walk the secluded old hallways of a building occupied by 120 women. Her hair is chopped off above the ear like a blunt yew hedge, and today she is half asleep, and wishing her water did not taste like stale coffee because of the carafe in which it was served. And her prayers, alas, are a little bit dull like a grandma who takes a shower once a week and covers her odors with baby powder. But days like this happen. Maybe they are caused by New England winters, or hormones. And maybe they would pass by unnoticed if Corey did not occasionally rise out of the depths requesting an accounting.

This is 60 Austin Avenue, Mater Ecclesiae, the Economy of Salvation, where young ladies cross the threshold in jeans with a cigarette in their hands and come out (maybe) dignified, new, with iridescent skin, and a sorrowful joy in their hearts. They work hard doing things they hate, and remind themselves insistently that there are things they will do for Jesus that they wouldn’t do for a million dollars. And Betty lives here in the midst of this exaggerated, romantic, and unattractive description, not yet saintly, not unhappy, not quite authentic, and yet, the last time she ran away, this was her destination—so she must stay for awhile.

My daily life is lived very much like a nun. We work in the blocks of time between prayer which are dispersed throughout the day at 6:30 (Mass and morning meditation), 10:25 (spiritual reading), 12:20 (spiritual balance) 12:30 (invocations), 12:35 (latin hymns), 5:00 (rosary, evening prayers and Benediction), and 9:05 (night prayers, balance, and meditation). Silence begins at 9:05 and lasts until housework the next morning. All our meals are in silence while someone reads. We have conversation in the schedule for 10 minutes twice a day. We have exercise for one hour, during which we go to a secluded piney lake near our house and swim, sometimes after dark, so that no one sees us. Or we play Frisbee and basketball in our skirts. We ask permission to do anything that’s not on our schedule.

I find that the quality of life here varies with the state of our moods: you either feel liberated, and pure to the bone, and holy, or you feel selfish, constrained and like a prisoner, until you realize you can leave whenever you want, but you choose not to.

I’m sorry that you don’t like people. I know it’s hard and people are frustrating. Please let me know whenever you are in the mood for a sermon on universal charity and the discipline of abstaining from preferential friendships.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life in a Box

This morning, sitting down to breakfast, my son asked me, “Can we make milk sometime?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you wanting a pet cow? Cows make milk.”

“But what about the other kind—like this?” he said pointing to the carton of milk on the table.

“Believe it or not, cows made that milk too. It’s just been packaged and sent to the store for us to buy.” I suddenly felt a longing to drink a glass of warm, fatty, fresh-from-the-cow milk. And as cliché as it sounds, I was disappointed that I had lost some of the wholesomeness in this milk I have purchased, not to mention the fact that my kids think there’s some recipe for milk that we can whip up any time we please.

Looking around my kitchen, I am disgusted by the snappy writing on my box of All-Bran, the boxes and wrappers in my pantry that we open and discard every day. My son’s entire lunchbox, from his juice box to his cheese, even his fruit is wrapped in cellophane or foil—and somehow I thought I could ensure better nutrition by fixing his lunch for him at home.

So I entertain for a moment my options. We live on five acres. I could pull a Barbara Kingsolver and try to become totally self-sufficient. But that’s the way zealots think—severe changes of lifestyle are for the nuts of this world. And yet, haven’t I always felt a little bit wrong for this world, always like an outsider looking in—watching the world on a screen, getting all my entertainments from some sort of a box?

Life and all my wants have come in a package with saucy lettering, letting me know that this time I have made the right choice in my quest for material satisfaction. And yet each box has failed to deliver. Time to move on the next box? Try it this way: with ten grams of fiber rather than five, with crunchy nuggets rather than flakes. Try again, and again to beat the code, be in the know, to be part of the elite who know the secret to happy living, to have membership.

So the obvious choice is BACK TO THE LAND! I flip through a couple of slick catalogs offering the perfect apple tree hybrid; big juicy flawless apples when ordered from Stark (and peppered with just a couple seasonal doses of Sevin). Seeds from Burpee offer glossy fruits, heavy crops, disease resistance, exceptionally sweet and juicy confections. What could be wrong with any of that? Aside from the fact that nothing is free in this world (it’s cheaper to buy eggs than keep chickens), and that even the organic seed market is using slick advertising techniques, I have a certain agrarian incompetence.

Yes, I have fallen prey to every type of advertising, and have purchased not one, but ten fruit trees from the catalogs. Of those still living, four have been mauled by slugs and two by caterpillars. A cherry tree that bore fruit was attacked by birds before reaching peak ripeness. The pear tree has produced only mushy brown pears, and the plum tree drops its fruit before I can get to it. And this has been a good year. Last year, a late frost prevented any of my trees from bearing fruit.

Currently I am a dead bee keeper—and by that I mean the bees have died, not me—much the way one of my sons insisted on keeping a “Dead Fish Aquarium” once the aquatic life in our care passed on. Attempts at dog-ownership have proved a failure, and I have fear of taking on any other livestock of greater investment. The great wonder here is that any life in my care (i.e. my children) has managed to survive.

This is a modern quandary. I hate life in the box. But I am one woman with a lot of kids, and a husband, God Bless Him, who does not share my desire to grow things (unless Stark could somehow develop a tree that grows salami sandwiches). The agrarian life is hard. The industrial age obviously grew out of a desire to avoid this work. It would be all too easy to say that the kind of life I was meant to lead has already expired.

I know there are agricultural communities out there where families are helping each other in some urban agrarian pursuits. I happen to live in a community once predominately supported by agriculture, whose inhabitants, including the farmers, now rely on Wal-mart for their daily bread.

I am ready to throw up my hands and say that I belong to a culture in which we are all aliens. If I read another short story about “looking for connection in a modern world” I’m going to stick a needle in my eye. But I think I have fallen into yet another ad-trap: I am not alone in this world because I purchase the brunt of our food at the store, and I don’t live on an organic farm co-op, and I’m not a very good gardener to boot.

I HAVE membership. I have an 80 year old farmer for a neighbor who drives his tractor into our yard every Fall and disks my garden (there's my nod to Wendell Berry). In addition I have membership in a whole slew of imperfect people, some who cause me consternation, some who make me laugh every time I look at them. And some, like my children, who do both at the same time. My husband, my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, my friends: This is my membership. It is not a commune of Gen-X organic farmers. Darn. Only one or two of the people in my membership I actually chose; the rest were given to me and they don’t look a thing like the people in the pages of Country Living, but thank God for that, or I really would be living in that box.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Resurrecting the Dance Party

The arrival in our home of the Barbara Streisand/ Barry Gibb album Guilty, marked the end of the innocence for me. It was 1980. I was five years old. My mom and her girlfriends had a ritual of gathering on Friday afternoons at a neighbor’s house to drink wine coolers, and get down to their album of choice (which would be either a Barbara selection or Neil Diamond).

It was the era of the large stereo cabinet, with speakers the size of an end table. With the volume raised to a deafening level, the women raised their glasses overhead and bumped their hips together at my eye level. Everywhere I turned there were bopping middle aged bottoms, wearing “mom jeans,” sharing the delight of the coming weekend. Certainly, there were other children present, probably a couple of my siblings, neighbor kids, all of us dancing underfoot, convinced that this vision was absolutely normal.

During the long days at home, I studied the album cover: Barbara and Barry in tight white clothes sharing an intimate embrace. It was all the sex education I needed. They were my parents. They did it, and they liked it. What’s more, I wanted to become the Barbara in that embrace as soon as possible.

Well, here I am, probably the same age as my mother in the era of the Barbara dance party. I am as old as my mother was when I thought she was unbearably old, and the thought of having a wine cooler and a dance party is as far from my mind as it can be. I am nine months pregnant and my current and only neighbors are an 80 year old farmer and his fifty-year-old gay son.

Nevertheless, I am interested in the idea that my parents never gave me “the talk.” I don’t remember not knowing about sex. This might be due to the fact that I had older siblings, but I think it also might be because of those obvious artifacts of the adult world that were present every day of my childhood. It was Barbara and Barry. It was women dancing. And I’m sure I could come up with other stories that would embarrass the heck out of my parents if I spent a little time thinking about it.

I wonder what lessons my husband and I are teaching our kids without being aware of it: grown-ups stare at computers, pregnant women are supine and grumpy most of the time.

My kids are getting old enough. It probably wouldn’t hurt for me and Mr. Duffy to have a dance party. Though we probably gave them that lesson somewhere around Baby #4.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Musical Salute to My Family

Mom probably did the most damage to us with this album, Barry Gibb in his tight white pants...

I really thought my Dad might have been in prison due to THIS song.

My oldest brother, Seth, spent many hours blasting this song from his bedroom.

This is for my sister, Emily in her artistic mood.

Me wanting to be a skater.

My baby brother, John, tries to say that this was his favorite song, but I remember him listening to this more often.

But that was then...THIS is us now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Am Ruining My Children.

I don’t know if it’s an act of love or of cruelty that I tend to celebrate the bizarre and socially unacceptable things my children do over their attempts at conformity.

Point: My daughter ate the birdfeeder that my son made at boy-scouts. It was a bagel covered with peanut butter sprinkled with birdseed that hangs on a piece of twine from a tree outside our front door. In the middle of Mass this morning she whispers in my ear, “How do I get birdseed out of my tummy?” I deduce and she confirms that she’s eaten the birdfeeder and assure her that the birdseed will come out the same way it comes out of the birds, but I think this is hilarious. Who wouldn’t want to eat the birdfeeder? Who wouldn’t want to eat it hanging from a string from a tree? Why not hang all of our dinners from the tree and see who can finish eating first without using their hands? Fun.

Counter-point: At that same boy-scout meeting where the boys made bird-feeders, they were asked to go around a circle and say something they were thankful for. Like ninety-five percent of the other boys in the circle, my guys said they were thankful for their Nintendo wii. This upset me for several reasons:
1.) We do not have a Nintendo wii so they were lying (at a boy-scout meeting, no less).
2.) We have told our kids that video games make people stupid by preventing them from reading books, going outside and making leaf forts, pretending to be dinosaurs, etc.
3.) Since our kids, knowing both of these things, still said they were thankful for their Nintendo wii, this means they will pretend to be stupid, and they will tell lies in order to fit in.
4.) What a dumb thing to be thankful for anyway. You’re supposed to be thankful for peace and prosperity, for Mommy and Daddy (who are ruining you and making you unfit for the world).
5.) When does it sink in that it’s cool to be the only boy in boy-scouts who DOESN’T have a Nintendo?

Needless to say, I booed my sons’ false gratitude after the boy-scout meeting.

So moral implications of lying to fit in aside, is my celebration of the alien-ship of my kids another selfish attempt to make my children little mirrors of myself? Is it fair for me to want my kids to feel as uncomfortable in the world as I have always felt? Am I just trying to create my own little community of aliens who will never leave the nest because they feel so different from everyone else?

I tell myself that I celebrate their strangeness because I want them to feel comfortable in their skin, to know that they’re NOT strange, but rather interesting and fun and smart people with good values and neat ideas. But how are they going to believe me about this if they don’t have friends? And, yes, they are a little young still, but they DON’T have friends. Other kids have play-dates and sleep-overs on the weekends. My kids don’t. And I’m not anxious for them to start having play-dates and sleep-overs, in fact, the idea makes me nervous (truth be told, if asked for a sleep-over, I’d probably say no). But they are aware of it, and I feel for them.

Reality is, they’ve probably told all the other boys in school that they’re stupid because they play video games.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Getting back to this idea of my childhood not being very normal…

One tends to think of their own experience as being the norm and everyone else around them being the anomaly. When I was in third grade, a new housing addition went in a mile down the road. These houses had at least four bedrooms, many bathrooms and always, a large bonus room over the garage. Many of my friends from high school lived in these houses, and so I knew from experience that they were also immaculate on the inside. And they didn’t keep books. Their bookcases were decorated with silk ivy plants and ceramics rather than dusty books and butterfly collections. That was not normal.

The more I think about my youth and adolescence, and even my adulthood, the more I realize that I may have been the alien all this time and everyone else is probably just fine. In high school, I fit in with just about everyone, but I felt at ease around no one. To begin, we were about the only Catholics in town, but I could blend in by not talking about that. I was a cheerleader and in the popular crowd, but I never learned how to make use of those buzzwords and intonations the popular kids used to communicate with one another (is this a small town thing?).

I dated skateboarders which made me the only cheerleader who preferred Fugazi to Debbie Gibson. But even with the skater boys, I was a wannabe. They lived in an apartment complex and had parents who were never around. I wanted my parents to divorce and move us all into an apartment complex too so that I could have good reason to be depressed and bitter. My happy home life did not prevent me from writing many death poems, however, and wearing the black clothes—at least when I wasn’t in that cheerleading uniform.

Starting in college and continuing into adulthood, I have felt removed from the groups I belong to by my conservatism and Catholicity. I am drawn to artistic people. I still love those personalities you find on the fringes, and if I could just get comfortable with the idea that being on the fringes means you really are an alien and not meant to fit in, even with the fringe people, then maybe I wouldn’t always be longing to go home, back to “my people,” or more specifically, my family (both the family I’ve created with my husband, and my family of origin).

We don’t want to be aliens, do we? We want to belong somewhere, and if for whatever reason, our upbringing has made us unfit for the world, all we want is to go home. I suppose on the bright side, with only one or two exceptions, my other family members seem to share the feeling. Even though we are spread out across the country, we gravitate towards each other as often as possible (notice comments in previous posts). And my husband’s family is no different. I at times feel like a loser because our primary social life revolves around our siblings and our parents, but I suppose we are lucky to have family members that we actually like and want to be around.

(You guys do like me don't you? Don't tell me I'm adopted, because Mom said I'm not.)

Friday, November 7, 2008


I come from a family of four children, a long line of hunting dogs (several of whom were incestuously related), a Viet Namese pot-bellied pig, an iguana, a hedgehog, several hermit crabs, a hooded rat, a beehive, a flock of pigeons, several domestic rabbits, a savanna monitor, and various other vicious reptiles. All of us lived in the same house (though a few lived in the backyard) in the suburbs (this was before my parents built their log cabin on a farm in the middle of nowhere). It occurred to me while I was driving this morning, that my childhood might not have been normal.

I vaguely remember my mom seeing one of the dogs rubbing themselves on the couch in the living room and complaining "Why can't I have nice things?" And my thoughts as a child went something like, "Why would you want nice things?" If things are too nice, you can't live in them. Hence my bedroom that I shared with my older sister was plastered with pictures torn from magazines. We wrote on our walls and ceilings. There was a hole in the drywall by the door from a fight I had with my older brother, and another hole by the bed where my sister and I did flips off our bunkbeds.

Now that I'm about to have my fifth child, my fourth boy, I am coming to terms with the fact that my house will never be clean, will never have perfectly white walls, clean counters, or toilets that don't smell like pee. It was actually sort of liberating when I found out this child would be a boy because I felt a physical sense of relief about housekeeping: I can give up that fight. I was counting on having another girl to maintain the order in our house, though when I remember the room I shared with my sister it becomes clear how absurd my hopes were.

I am now joining the refrain with my mother, "Why can't I have nice things?" when I see the banister that has been hung on one too many times starting to break free of the wall. Kids do not make for a designer home. Keeping things sanitary has become my goal in housekeeping, not keeping things beautiful. And now that bending over to clean those dark corners of the bathroom has become physically impossible for this pregnant body, even sanitation is suffering.

There was a great line in "A Thousand Acres" about how when the power grid came to the rural areas, all the farmers' wives did not say, "Look how bright things are!" They said, "Look how dirty things are!" I'm going to comfort myself through these next few weeks, and as long as necessary after that with the thought that people survived before they knew how dirty their houses were.