Betty Duffy

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The lot marked out for me is my delight.

The weather turns cool, and I want to run. It’s seasonal, the cross country season being in the Fall, so many years of my life spent garumphing through the hills and woods, leaves crunching underfoot. Distance running is my favorite sport. I ran through high school, through college, then I coached it for a year during that very brief stint I spent teaching high school English. I was in the best shape of my life that year because my husband and I were engaged, and I would forget to eat all the time, and I’d run with the girls in the afternoon, then meet my husband for walks at night, clocking about nine miles a day.

That didn’t last, because there was a baby, and another one, et cetera. And these days, not only am I heavier, but my knees, oh my knees. They hurt. After I’d had two kids, the Head Cross Country Coach contacted me to see if I wanted to come back, and I showed up at a practice, two weeks post-partum, with my babies in a double baby jogger, and made an ass of myself. Fortunately, my uterus didn’t fall out on the road, but my walk two feet/ crawl two feet performance didn’t get me the job. And after five kids, my body is so far gone…it’s embarrassing to describe some of the issues I have with running.

So, fine. Running was never the thing I was going to do with my life. I was never much of a competitor anyway. It was just the joy of going from point A to point B on my own two feet with lots of beautiful scenery along the way. It provided me with many happy memories, so of course, it’s something I wanted for my son, and I signed him up for Cross Country at his first opportunity.

He hates it. He hates running, and I keep trying to tell him, “This is what you were born to do.” He has the aptitude, and I want for him what I couldn’t have. But he hates it. He’s the only boy on the team, for one thing, while all of his friends are playing football. And the girls on the team are at their chubby and awkward stage, so my son shows up and he can skip faster and longer than they can sprint, but he hates it. And after he completes his commitment to the team this year, I’m going to drop it.

Lately, I have been praying that God will remove all ambition from my heart. I’m exhausted, having spent the better part of the past year lamenting that I am the jack of all trades, master of none, and that I’m never going to be more than an amateur at anything--amateur Christian, amateur mother, amateur writer, amateur runner. In a couple weeks I will celebrate my 35th birthday. It was to have been the year in which I go pro or die. “Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” Death, apparently, it is. I’m still getting things wrong.

I have, among other things, transferred my former ambitions to my children.

The pro-family standard, “Every child is a gift from God,” always sort of rubbed me the wrong way, because of course children are a gift from God, but I’ve wanted to insist that they’re also an all-encompassing responsibility and challenge. Sometimes kids are difficult, they have problems, and perhaps in rejecting the cliché, I embraced an opposing non-truth that kids require my fixing, and in order to fix them, it helps to make them into someone to whom I can relate, someone a little more like myself…

Henceforth, this one shall be called runner; that one, writer; this one is destined for blithe motherhood, etc.—each one a perfect fulfillment of the partial hopes I once held for myself. And of course they all will be dazzling little Christians.

My poor children—how will they survive their mother? Via a series of circumstances this summer, which have made it clear to me that I need to pray like hell for the innocence and safety of my children, I have once again taken up the daily Rosary. Like an ocean liner making its wide arc in the water, I have noticed a few internal shifts, and if I haven’t talked about God much on the blog lately, it’s because change is difficult.

When I’m in the middle of writing something, it's annoying when my husband asks, “What are you writing?” because I don’t know what I’m writing. I don’t know what God is doing to me. I’m just trying to bend a few things into shape, and one of those things in the forge is the kind of mother I want to be. I do not want to be the melancholy artiste who’s always trying to recreate her own children, or worse, the melancholy artiste who ignores her children in favor of her flights of fancy.

Whatever is going to happen, in terms of my incumbent hopes for myself or my kids, it’s not going to be a trial. It’s not going to come about by yearning, by fantasy or by force; it will happen with the same combination of labor and grace with which each one of these children have come into my life. And if it doesn’t happen at all, it doesn’t happen.

My brother-in-law asked me this weekend if I have plans to publish anything besides a blog, and I answered, truly free of regret, “It’s not my time” (and it may never be). It feels good to accept that, and to accept my kids exactly as they are with their attendant interests, disinterests, strengths and weaknesses. It feels good to make loving them my first priority, and doing what I love its own reward. I might as well allow my kids the same opportunity of pursuing what they love too. My friend, Karly, recently pointed out to me that the root of the word amateur, is love. Of course…for love… what better reason is there to do anything?


Hope said...

I told the doctor that until my uterus fell out he couldn't have it. I hope it doesn't fall out but I'm not holding my breath. I don't know what that has to do with anything other than if I took up running I might just trip over it. :)

I was really scared to dream when I was a kid of what I wanted to accomplish, do or be. I don't remember doing it at all other than I knew I wanted to be a mother. After several miscarriages in the mix I am grateful to be a mother. I'm probably more grateful now that they're grown up than I was at times during the process. I always tell people that having kids is one of the best opportunities given to face one's self in all its beauty and misery. Lord have mercy.

Ah dazzling little Christians.....I wanted that, too. That darn ego will worm its way in wherever there is a chance.

When my mom turned 35 I told her she was at the top of the hill. She nearly didn't speak to me for a long while although today when I ask her which age she wishes she was she always says 35.

Peter and Nancy said...

Before I became a mother, a wise friend told me I'd have to drop my tendency to be a perfectionist. She laughed softly and told me that my kids would embarrass and disappoint me, and things would go better if I could learn to laugh about it. The same advice applies to my pre-children dreams and notions -- not that I should pretend I no longer have any . . . but just that God's best for my life may outshine my limited vision.

kate said...

Mother of 5 myself - but a few years further down the road...
Don't RESIGN yourself to your lot - you have a lot of living yet to do - and writing as well, I would guess. It's a bit trite, but we do indeed have seasons in our lives - and your "professional" season may be just a little further down the road. I'm prone to and annoyed with the propensity of moms at home to imagine that if they just managed better they could accomplish a career-type ambition in their spare time. We need to truly value what we do when we SPEND our time on our families. We are indeed poured out like a libation.....

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

I could relate to this post on many levels. I once lamented to my husband that I'm the Queen of Mediocrity. I'm okay at a lot of things but great at very little, if nothing. And who wants to be mediocre? Certainly not an attention junkie like myself.

Recently, I saw yet another orthopod in hopes that he could solve my chronic injury that has sidelined me from distance running for several years (one sport I was actually quite skilled at probably out of my sheer stubbornness to keep going no matter the cost - including running through a stress fracture). I have a leg length difference that never seemed to be much of a problem until I started getting older. I'm only 31, but running start taking its toll on my body in my late 20s. I've had physical therapy, heel inserts, and shots of cortisone in my bum. Everything offers temporary relief, and then the pain returns.

This particular doctor, unlike others, looked me in the eye after observing my three little ones who had all missed their naps and were handling their exhaustion in different but equally disturbing ways and said, "Perhaps your season of long distance is running is over, but you can still keep in shape. I'd stick to cross training if I were you."

I was crushed to be truthful. I had it in my head that I WOULD run again and maybe I will, but even if I can't, I still can keep in shape. I can still find my rhythm and my happiness and make peace with this aging, mom body of mine.

My oldest daughter is fast. She likes to race me and she sometimes talks trash (in a sweet way). I'm trying to step aside and give her the glory and be happy with my slower, plodding pace. I hope we'll both get to the same place just at different times and in different ways.

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...
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Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...
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Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

I have no idea why my comment appeared several times. My computer is acting haywire. I don't have anything important enough to say to be repeated. Sorry about that.

Mike said...

I'm the father of 5, and can also relate to this post. Though I'm 49 and a bit further down the road, as Kate said.

Yielding my ego, and my dreams, has been a long process for me, but it is one that I stayed with because—well—it was the right and necessary thing to do as a parent and the right thing for me to do, spiritually. The yielding process is slow, but it does happen over time, and I'm now at the point where I no longer think about my dreams. And I'm at peace with it. In fact, I have many of the promises of "detachment"—peace, joy, contentment. Pick a word, you know what I mean.

Sometimes people will ask me how I feel about not pursuing my dreams, and I know that they won't understand that I'm OK with it. Difficult to let go of? Yes. But unhappy because I did? No. Quite the opposite in fact.

I still struggle with control, and I'm not a model father, but I have said "yes" at each step along the way, at the cost of myself, and I will never regret it.

And as Kate says, maybe there will be another season for me to indulge a bit, though I strive to be indifferent about whether that season ever arrives.

For now, I am aware, and remind myself constantly, that I have the riches of a king.

BettyDuffy said...

So many good thoughts in the comments here. I'm pondering all of your words.

SherryTex said...

Dear Betty,

I am a mother of 9, expecting my tenth. At 3 children and 32, I finally surrendered my dream of getting a Ph.D. because the people in my life needed my attention more than I needed/wanted and man did I want that piece of paper to vindicate myself to the world. Since then, I've been a writer, a school leader, a development director and a grant writer, all part time, all occasional, and all as needed for a time; and still had the anchor of being mom,MOM, MOMMY, Mom?, MOM! and Mom to each of them. You will be and are more than you can dream for yourself, and God's plan is always grander and more lavish than anything we can imagine, even if the world cannot see it. Keep writing and keep allowing God to help you find the words, you've expressed what many of us feel as we see our lives unfolding not as we planned, and wondering if we will ever shine, if we will ever know we are shining and have the world know it; and then remember, that we are supposed to shine for the world, not to shine because of it. Prayers.

Elizabeth@GoodnessAdded said...

I loved this post. See, I think you are doing some very important writing. You express the feeling so eloquently that many of us have. You want to know a secret? A great number of my friends don't even know I have a blog. Why? Because it is the only creative outlet I have and I don't think I could take them criticizing it. It is not much but it is mine.

Have you read Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues? It is quite good.

Elizabeth K. said...

(Also for Sherry Tex) I did get my Ph.D., and then for the past five years (I'm about to turn 40) Ihave felt deep angst that instead of getting my Ph.D. and then worrying so long about what kind of job I would get, my husband and I should have started having children right away and I should have stayed at home with them. I came to a more orthodox Catholicism late, and so I see things in hindsight I simply did not know when I was young.

I guess my point is that even though pursuing a dream is sweet, it ultimately can't fulfill you. I know we all know that, but I thought I'd add it anyway.

And I also wanted to say that I've found having a cancer scare last year and heading for forty this year has considerably tamped down my angst. I'm finding it easier to be genuinely grateful for each day, no matter how imperfect (not that I'm all the way there, at all).

I think mid-thirties are really, really hard for women, no matter what choices you've made. Almost-forty is way, way better. :)

Margie said...

Betty, yes. Yes.

And I want to add a word for Elizabeth K: I had my first child at 38 and my second at 40. Later motherhood is wonderful, and maybe even sweeter than it would have been at younger ages b/c life is in better perspective. Please don't believe it's too late to have children. I promise, it's not!

ceciliamschwartz said...

Don't give up on running just yet! Like you said about publishing, perhaps it's just not time yet. But there may come a day when you are surprised at what your body can do.

My mother put her desire to run on hold to raise six kids. Last year (and now that we are adults), she completed a half marathon. She ran a 25k in spring, and if she can make it through another half without injury, my mom is going to train for a full marathon in the spring - just in time for her 60th birthday! I am thrilled to see my mom's dreams become reality after everything she sacrificed for us.

There is always time to rediscover a talent and desire in the days to come!

Elizabeth K. said...

Thank you Margie--I should have clarified myself and said I do already have 3 children, I just kind of want more, and to have given birth to them already. When I had a younger body. But you offer a good reminder that 40 isn't ancient when it comes to babies--I guess I'll just have to open to possibilities!