Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Failure

I had lunch with my Grandma last week, and talk turned to our morning routines. I told her I had placed a little post-it next to my bed that says “Help me!” so that the first thing I see in the morning is a plea to Heaven. I put it up at the start of Lent, but I have yet to read it because I cannot seem to open my eyes, while still in bed. I sit up, and shuffle to the kitchen, and then slowly open them when I turn on the kitchen light. At that point there is a decision: “Am I going to be awake, or asleep? I cannot be both.” I generally choose to be awake, and begin to make the coffee, so that it’s ready after my shower. Maybe I need to put my post-it over the light-switch.

My Grandma said that when she used to work, she would get up at 5:45 to shower, make her coffee and read the paper before work. When I pictured her in the dark hours of morning with her hair already curled and her steaming mug, and her paper spread out over the table, I thought that maybe there was something elemental to this ritual, something essential to my bloodline that requires it. Coffee and silence in the morning are a multigenerational refuge.

I remember in my school days, being the first to rise, sitting over a bowl of cereal, and not having to speak or listen to anyone for a good half-hour into my day. An old friend used to become very irritable if she had to speak before she drank a glass of orange juice. If the phone rang before she rinsed her mouth out with an acidic beverage, her day was off-kilter.

Having to speak before I’ve had coffee might be one of the most difficult aspects of motherhood for me. The only solution to the problem is to get up earlier, which this little “help me” note was supposed to encourage me to do.

I could never be a give-up-coffee-for-Lent-er, as coffee enables me to do all of my other duties. Laundry alone is an unbearable waste of time. But folding laundry with coffee takes on a leisurely canter. Putting on make-up is an unbearable waste of time. But putting on make-up with a cup of coffee on the bathroom counter suddenly becomes my “morning toilette.” (My husband hates coffee rings on the bathroom counter, and considers the whole business of having beverages in the bathroom terribly unsanitary—but… We disregard the complaint.)

This morning I had the opportunity to wake up at that venerable hour, 5 am, when the dogs started crying, and then the baby started crying, and it occurred to me to go ahead and brew the coffee and just try it; Try five am on for size. But I let the dogs out and nursed the baby back to sleep, and never went near the light-switch, so by default, remained asleep.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bait and Switch

My religious reversion was not complete after my trip to Rome. Nor did I fall for my husband the first time I met him. The pilgrimage was the impetus for disengaging with 'Bob,' but I drifted around for a long time after that, having mountaintop religious experiences at retreats, then returning to a negative lifestyle.

And I’m not even sure if I can call my trip to Rome a pilgrimage. It was an accidental pilgrimage.

My parents had given me an address for a place to stay outside of Rome that would house me for ten dollars a day. They’d made some new friends while I was overseas, who had told them about it. Hostels in Rome were already booked because it happened to be Holy Week, so I had no choice if I wanted to stay in Rome between the Hilary and Trinity terms.

At the line of cabs outside of the train station, I showed a cab driver the address on my piece of paper and he dropped me off at a bus stop with some instructions in Italian that I didn’t understand. I took the first bus that stopped there, and looked around once inside for someone to help me translate. I showed several people the piece of paper with the address on it, and finally said out loud, “Villa Della Giustiniana?” Most people continued to stare straight ahead, but a large, older Italian woman smiled, “Giustiniana?” I nodded, and she came back to sit down next to me. A few stops later, she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me off the bus with her. We walked several blocks arm in arm while she talked. I didn’t understand a word, until she stopped in front of a gate, hugged and kissed me on the cheek and said “ciao.” I assumed that this was my destination, and sure enough, upon ringing the bell on the gate, I discovered that I had indeed arrived at Villa Della Giustiniana, otherwise known as the House of Formation for the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi.

Parents are smart.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Some Quick Takes, because my brain is rot.

***

In the past two weeks my children have been to school once, on a two hour delay. I like having them home. I prefer being snowed in to wanting to go out and having nothing to do. It's a different kind of "stuck at home." There's some psychology at work that says it's good and right to be where you are, because there is no other option. Options, for whatever reason, create dissatisfaction in me.

***

This morning, I caught my boys looking up dirty words in the dictionary. Actually, I didn't catch them; my daughter, always on the alert for wrongdoing, let me know. But it has come to this: rather than getting angry, I said, "Give me that book." And then I got a little tickled myself, because can you believe these words are written right there in Webster? And then I asked my kids if they now understood the meaning of the words they looked up, but they were none the wiser because they don't yet know the meanings of the words that comprised the definitions. What kind of fun is it to look up the word "copulation?" No fun at all (unless you have an inkling of what it means).

***

Watched a dumb movie the other night: "Motherhood" with Uma Thurman playing the anxious and entitled, New York City hippy-mom, who... writes a blog. I sort of enjoyed Uma Thurman in the "Kill Bill" movies (though I wouldn't necessarily recommend them). But it's sort of ironic that after slicing up roughly a thousand kung-fu guys without breaking a sweat in Kill Bill, Uma Thurman can't make it through a day of motherhood without freaking out. Every scene finds her panting and sweating and running from kid pick-ups, to the party store, to sample sales, to her blog, and there is not one thing she does that doesn't exhaust her.

I rented the movie because I'd read an interview with Thurman in which she discussed how this movie presents a side of motherhood that's not often represented in movies. It was supposed to be a motherhood reality check. And yet the movie was one cliche after another. Are there really that many women out there sweating away at their laptops writing something like: "Do I really have to lose my brain to be a mom?" And if there are, let me hang up this blog right now! (see title)

***

Another movie, "Bright Star" about the life and romance of the poet John Keats, had more to like. Jane Campion directed and I can't decide if I like the way she sensualizes everything or not. On one hand, a chaste love affair (Keat's relationship with Fanny Brawne) can be very sexy. The first close-up of their enmeshed palms squashed together in the evening sun, made me think, "Hmmm...holding hands is titillating." The second or third made me think, "Nice try, Jane Campion," which I guess is to be expected. One does not remain satisfied with holding hands for long, and especially not in a movie. Which is not to say that I wanted Fanny and Keats to get it on. Just wished Jane Campion could get over the sensual hand-holding.

In any case, the rest of the movie contained enough empire waist skirts, leather button back chairs, lavender flowers, stolen kisses, and evening sun to please any romantic.

***
And another movie (in case I need to justify my lack of blogable material lately) "Spirited Away," I thought was wonderful. It's rated PG, and had some material that my kids found disturbing, but it was a good kind of disturbing, a good kind of scary. In one of the early scenes, the heroine's parents enter a magical world where they discover piles of delicious food. They begin eating and can't stop. They eat so much they turn into pigs. I've had that very dream--the one where I can't stop eating and food keeps appearing, the dieter's nightmare (or delight). My kids were all worried about it though, and they generally like a bit of violence in their stories and play.

Juxtapose this disturbing material with say, the average Saturday morning cartoon, where everybody has an angry face and speaks disrespectfully and whips out the laser gun at the first threat of, well, anything, and I'll take the over-eating parents. There was plenty of fantasy in "Spirited Away" but also a good portion of "message." Gluttony is a serious threat to anyone, whereas space badguys and ninja turtles...

***
Concerning Japanimation, I just remembered that I used to set my alarm clock for 5:30 a.m. so that I could get up and watch "Robotech" before going to school (until my parents found out).

***

Existential Crisis reading "In This House of Brede," regarding a passage about voluntary poverty and not having as opposed to having: We are not extravagant people really. We own one car, shop thrift, have three bedrooms, one full bath and a random second potty (for seven people). Sometimes things feel tight, but most of what we need, we get, and then some. My attitude towards 'things' tends to be, when you see a good deal, it's an act of poverty to get it rather than to wait until you need it and pay full price. I tend to hoard things and stockpile, especially when I can get things thrift for less than a dollar. This is especially true for clothes and shoes.

Anyway, I was looking through my closet the other day and thought "Why do I have all this stuff?" and I couldn't answer "because I need it." The answer was more like, "because I never know when I might need it" and it gives me pleasure to have... an occasional pleasure. I've found several pairs of very nice shoes, designer shoes, high heels that I take out and try on, but don't really wear. Found them at Goodwill or somesuch, and thought I should get them for... someday. But they suddenly felt like a burden. All of it felt like a burden.

My closet would be diminished by about two-thirds if it only contained the things I actually wear. And I had a compulsion to just empty it, for the sake of poverty, but I couldn't do it. It was my "rich young man" moment because this stuff, harmless as I've always considered it to be, a good even, has somehow become part of my identity, or my imagined identity rather, even as it prohibits my true freedom. The 'things' contain their own promise that is not Heaven. It is the promise of the someday future me that is not really me at all; the someday future life that is not my life; the option of something else that creates internal dissatisfaction.

It's a thought to chew on.

***
More on poverty:

Pedge called not long ago to tell me about a homily she heard on The Feast of the Presentation. Mary and Joseph go to the temple to present the Baby Jesus, and in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord, they brought two turtledoves to offer for sacrifice. There were wealthier families, who had lambs to bring as offering, but the Holy Family was humble and poor and had only the two turtledoves—and yet they also brought with them the Lamb of God.

And so it happens, that everything that matters happens on the “poverty” level—or in the least expected, often humiliating aspects of our lives. We are poor, we have nothing, but we have recourse to the Lamb of God.

I can see areas where this is occuring in my life, and areas in which it is not (see above).

***
It might be interesting to point out that the blonde woman on the far right in the picture on the masthead is my mom circa 1968 or so. I remember looking at this picture, which was in the student newspaper at her college (which is also my alma mater), and thinking that I wanted to be her.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Good Friend

One of Grandma's gifts was her capacity for friendship and her loyalty to friends. I can't think of a single friend whom Granny let go. She kept every friend she ever had, and her friendships ended only when the parties died.

My Aunt recently sent out this missive to all the grandchildren in my generation with some attached snippets from my deceased grandmother’s diary. My Aunt thought we might enjoy reading about her old friendships and courtships. Very true—my Grandmother saved many of her richest treasures for us to find after her death: A love letter to my Grandfather just weeks before he died, and these diaries.

I remember, as a girl, going to visit my Grandmother’s friends, and she had many: Meady, Ruth, Helen...the list goes on. It only strikes me now, how significant it was that these women were in their eighties at the time, and had known each other since they were children. A life-long friend is such a rarity, but my Grandmother had many because she took the responsibility of maintaining them.

I wish I could say the same for my ability to maintain some of the wonderful friendships I’ve had over my lifetime, but I have not always been a good friend. I’m a disaster at long distance friendship, don’t care much for talking on the phone, and assume that I live too far away for people to want to come visit. I’ve had friends with whom I could meet up after years had passed, and say, “Isn’t this great, we can get together and just pick up where we left off?” We say that to make ourselves feel better about dropping out of one another’s lives for years at a time, but it’s not that great, really. It would be better if we had stayed in touch.

And now we can stay in touch on Facebook, which allows me to have in my little online address book everyone I have ever known in my entire life (almost). In a recent Harper’s Magazine, Jaron Lanier wrote: “I know quite a few people…who are proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on Facebook. Obviously, their statements can be true only if the idea of friendship is diminished” (The Serfdom of Crowds, Jaron Lanier, Harper’s, Feb. 2010).

Facebook friends require nothing of me. They’re easy. Maybe my Grandmother didn’t have the resources that we have today to keep our friends at a distance, but I like to think that she maintained her friends out of an innate and unshakeable generosity. Real friendship comes with requirements.

I’m sort of like a Labrador Retriever. I come when I’m called. I like nothing more than to be in your presence and eat your food. My sister wrote recently about love languages, how she responds to gifts of service, and likes to do things for other people. That’s not my love language. I’m not a thoughtful giver, nor a gracious receiver of gifts. I’m not a hugger. I’m too proud to ask for help, and often too scatterbrained to offer it. If there are Marthas and Marys in this world, I’m a Mary. I just want to be there. We don’t even have to talk. It should probably come as no surprise I’m a difficult friend. Any friendships I’ve maintained have lasted only because of the other party’s persistent summoning of this hungry and selfish pooch.

All of this is to say that I’m grateful for the people who haven’t given up on me. I’ve been lucky to make friends with women who are good at bringing people together, magnetic personalities, who open their homes, again and again, and call the Labs in to come and eat at their tables. My Grandmother was that type of a woman, a Martha, and Marthas make the world go round.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

If you remove the sock from the sweaty foot of an infant, hold his foot to your nose and say, “PU,” the child will laugh, every single time. He will proffer his foot again and again, and delight anew, each time in the joy of being stinky.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful

On a Sunday Drive, the sky was blue, and everything else was white, white, white. It made my husband think maybe we should consider having our teeth bleached. He had just asked me to fill his coffee mug from the carafe I’d brought, however, I was two cups ahead of him that morning and when I tipped the carafe towards his cup, I could only work out a couple of drops. It appeared that I had single-handedly emptied the pot of coffee in just two wallops of my Lake Victoria-sized mug.

“We don’t need to whiten our teeth,” I said. “Who would benefit from that?”

“We will,” he said. “It’s good to stay attractive for one another.”

“We’re just going to keep getting older,” I answered. “Pretty soon we’re not even going to have teeth. And… coffee is good.” I had to play adversary, because I was the only coffee consumer that morning, and the thought of bleaching obviously had arisen from his looking at my teeth.

We were on our way to Cincinnati to measure for a new woodworking commission. When my husband creates a piece from scratch, in this case, built in bookcases for a family room, I sketch out the client’s vision, and scribe my husband’s measurements. And then we turn the rest of the afternoon into a date. We’d just delivered a finished commission, a pair of end tables, and were thinking about lunch.

With a limited selection within a certain radius, we ended up at a Claddagh Irish pub, built into a mall, so that he could get a beer, and I could get a salad. We hadn’t been there long before I said, “This place makes me want to poke my eye out.” The walls were painted to look tobacco-stained. The woodwork was cheap plywood stock, stained dark, with faux stone accents. “What an Irish Pub rip-off.”

“You’ve never been to Ireland before,” my husband said, whereas his Irish exploits have taken on a legendary status in his family. When he was seventeen and visiting his older brother in the Seminary, he snuck out for a tour of the Guinness Factory, and ended up spending the night hiccupping in a ditch.

What he had pushed out of his memory, or maybe I hadn’t talked about much, is that I had been to Ireland before, in fact, got engaged there, to a different boy. Got my diamond ring set at a Dublin jeweler, and my fiancé insulted the jeweler by having me examine the stone under their magnifier so that I could be sure they didn’t replace it with a fake. “I assure you, Sir, we are a very reputable establishment.” That ring sat so tall on my finger. It never felt like it was mine. I photographed it excessively, stared at it for the entire ferry ride back to England, as though at any moment it would hop off my finger and run away.

I guess I wasn’t in Ireland for long, but long enough to have visited a couple pubs, and to know that they bear no resemblance to the Claddagh. Plus my salad had wilted lettuce, and as usual, I wanted to eat what my husband had ordered, which was a black and tan, and fried fish and chips.

A passive grumpiness settled over our table as we each considered the other’s dark past. My husband has never given me a hard time about mine, though any mention of former flames tends to silence him.

I’d heard somewhere that letting a boy trample all over your territory before marriage marks you for life, that there is some alchemy that takes place, and that you will harbor forever the microscopic evidence of that visitor’s DNA in your body. When grown-ups pass on such damning “scientific” testimony in efforts to scare young women into chastity, it’s no wonder so many girls enter the Sacrament of marriage, thinking they are already somehow married. Fortunately, I realized long before the wedding that there was nothing Sacramental about that relationship, and escaped, relatively unscathed. And while I remember the diamond quite clearly, I cannot for the life of me conjure up the curves and shades of that boy’s childish face.

When I remember my past, which is not very often, I no longer think of it with a shudder of regret. I trust that somehow it prepared me for the life I now live, for the husband I would soon meet, for a life of grace. There is no doubt in my mind, that the mistakes I made in past relationships triggered in me a movement towards conversion, and for that, I can only be grateful.

I read recently from The Cloud of Unknowing: “I believe that our Lord deliberately chooses to work in those who have been habitual sinners rather than in those who, by comparison, have never grieved him at all. Yes, he seems to do this very often. For I think he wants us to realize that he is all-merciful, almighty, and that he is perfectly free to work as he pleases, where he pleases, and when he pleases.”

What an incredible thought.

But what I do regret about my past, and what I could not possibly have foreseen, is how my history would hurt others: this flicker of sadness that crosses my husband’s face, which he so quickly suppresses. I want to tell him, “It was nothing.” But the fact remains that I visited the real Ireland with some other guy whose love was cheap, while here we sit with our ten years of ever deepening knowledge of and love for one another in a sham Irish pub.

“Let’s go,” we said when the bill came. No point in lingering here in this dark place. Get back out into the sun and snow, where the only stains we see on one another are the coffee stains on our teeth.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I also like to collect taxes.

Here's a bit of playdate fiction. I'm scrapping the rest of the story, because it's boring, but this paragraph, I think fits nicely here:

There was no food for the mothers, Sarah couldn’t help noticing, and she started calculating how she could make a meal out of one or two bites from each of her children’s plates. At home they called that game “paying taxes.” On Saturday mornings, she rarely wanted a whole donut, but craved just a taste of each variety. Her children unquestioningly accepted, as a fact of their lives that she who gave them life would walk around the table and take the first bite of their donuts. She received ten percent of a honeybun, a maple cinnamon, a cream filled long john, and a glazed cake donut. Her hankering for a donut was satisfied, and the children learned that no great reward comes without an initial sacrifice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Like To Do My Taxes.

Taxes are one of life’s surprising, and possibly perverse little pleasures for me. Beginning at the new year, I enjoy collecting the required documents, checking them off as they arrive in the mail: forms 1040, 1099, DIV, INT, mortgage interest, deductible contributions. They all sound so important, so official, and I feel a certain satisfaction in knowing what each document means, and where exactly I should apply it. If I need confirmation that I’m a grown-up, this is it. I pay my taxes.

I’ve always liked to think of myself as a Math Person because of my straight A’s in Calculus in the eleventh grade. My husband, however, thinks that it is immoral to refer to myself as a Math Person when I have to use my fingers to figure the sum of 7 and 8, and I have not committed another singular act of calculus since I graduated from high school.

But it is with pleasure that once a year, I remove my contacts, put on my granny glasses, and hover over my desk sorting through envelopes and receipts and making calculations (calculations not of Calculus, but with a calculator). I get out my Pilot precise V5 extra fine rolling ball pen, and write numbers in little boxes.

My husband yells from the other room, “You aren’t overlooking any deductions, are you?” He has not filled out a tax form since before we were married, a 1040EZ.

“You bring home the bacon,” I say, “But may I please fry it?” (which is not to say I’m cooking the books). There’s nothing EZ about what I’m doing. This is the big-time, the 1040 not-EZ. There are itemizations and forms to attach. We have investments and dividends and losses, and child tax credits, and additional child tax credits, and I want to say, “Don’t speak of deductions, Dear. There are formulas to apply, and a deduction, is never just a deduction.”

I read the instructions every year, all one hundred and something pages of them. I ask myself, “Am I blind? Over the age of 65?” and then check the appropriate boxes. I insert numbers into formulas, and new numbers come out, beautiful, dependable numbers.

And then they are finished, in one sweet little night, when our family rakes in a tidy sum that says, “It’s good to have children.” And I feel gratified that we have not once taken advantage of the government’s generosity with the public school system, or public trash collection. We have never been on any doles. We pay our taxes, we make charitable contributions, and then, because we earn our board and keep, we get most of it back. I am satisfied that there is order and justice in the Universe.

This may seem a little anticlimactic, my zeal for this annual ritual. So may I suggest that you picture me saying what I’m about to say with eyebrows elevated, with tap shoes and jazz hands? It’s this: “I like taxes!” and with a whispering flourish: “Yeah!”

Stay Home Moms, The New Creative Class (rerun from March 09)

From a letter to a friend of mine:

I'm not saying that women all have to be stay-at-home BettyCrockers. In fact, I have yet to meet a woman who really relishes all the crap (literally) taking care of kids involves. My sister and I were just talking last night about how annoying it can be to have literary or scholarly ambitions at the same time we want to offer our kids the best foundation for life we can think of. She actually does home school her six kids, but just turned down a teaching position at Old Dominion University near where she lives, because her husband's in the navy and she can't schedule around his schedule. But hey, we get to stay home, write poetry and novels we'll never send out, and read them to each other over the phone. This is a luxury and I personally wouldn't trade it for the world (though I wouldn't mind actually getting published). Doesn't make me any more or less Catholic. In a different set of circumstances, I probably would get a job--indeed, I've had one before.”


I have a complicated relationship with feminism. I am vehemently pro-woman, but feminism’s pro-woman is not my pro-woman. I’m told by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, that there are a variety of “feminisms,” yet I’ve always been on the wrong side of the feminism du jour.

Can’t I say that I’m a feminist who is pro-life and anti-contraception, and who really wants more women to stay home during the day, so I have some Momrades with whom to play Bridge, drink Bloody Marys and eat mixed nuts? It seems disingenuous. So while I’m happy to vote and if I ever have another job, pay would be nice [though I am in a field (writing) where beggars can’t be choosers], I can pretty confidently say that I’m not a feminist. I’m over it, and I’ve been over it since, like, the nineties.

And yet, I have had countless conversations with women, who are educated—usually an unfinished graduate degree to their credit—who feel a knee-jerk reaction to apologize for staying home with their kids, while they simultaneously espouse feminism as the bearer of many great opportunities (of which they choose not to take advantage).

At this moment in history when motherhood is no longer the logical outcome of a sexual relationship, staying home with our kids is just another "lifestyle choice" on par, or even less than other more "dignified" careers. What I argue now, is that the advent of many modern conveniences has opened up the aesthetic liberation of stay-at-home motherhood, giving it a new dignity that I find preferable to any other career I might have pursued.

It’s taboo to mention that I happen to have some time on my hands. I’m supposed to be so harried and frazzled that I have no time for showering, and any spare time I must fill with excessive doting on my children. The truth is, I can be as harried as I want to be. If I want to run around with all five of my kids to soccer practices and PTO meetings, I can do it, and make my life, and the lives of everyone around me something akin to hell on earth. I can polish the toilet every day with a toothbrush, but no one’s life actually depends on my doing these things.

Therefore, if I manage my time correctly, I can read, write, cook, pray, clean, sleep, and still have a hefty chunk of time to spend on my kids. The stay-at-home mom struggles less with being overworked, than with a kind of boredom or intellectual acedia. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Without a room of one’s own, without a housekeeper, without a lot of money, without sacrificing the well-being of one’s kids, the stay-at-home mom can exercise the freedoms of the creative class, if we allow ourselves. My room of my own is my head, and I inhabit it with varying degrees of contentment all day every day. All I have to do is put my findings down on paper.

I for one am going to quit thinking of myself as a witless nobody confined to a life of vacuums and diapers. I prefer to think of myself as a British aristocrat without the quail eggs and castles. I spent some time with a group of wealthy British Socialists at Oxford, who brazenly proclaimed that their Oxford education was solely for the purpose of finding interesting things to say at dinner parties. So here, my blog is my dinner party. My unfinished graduate degree is a lifetime supply of quail eggs.

In summation: Motherhood already has an inherent dignity because it is the biological design of women to be mothers, but in a worldly sense, mothering our kids is a pretty good deal. What I want to know is why we are still apologizing for following the natural design of our hearts and bodies? Why are we still yearning to be the workhorses of the boardroom, the bedroom, and the kitchen? It feels counterintuitive.

Monday, February 1, 2010

She comes across some old things that recall other days.

“I had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere… people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying… Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them…that I’d been meant to be one of them all along…and they’d know it too.” (--April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates)



At my parents’ house the other day, my mom and I went through old pictures. In my childhood, I was a towhead, a ham, always posing, vain from day one. I told the orthodontist that I needed braces in seventh grade to support my future career as an actress. I always intended to make it into the world of the marvelous golden people. I had to get ready for my close-up.

It’s interesting to look back at those pictures now, having arrived, most likely, at the pinnacle of what my life holds for me: marriage, kids, a little house. I could continue to hold on to the hope of a more "fabulous" life throughout my twenties, but some imperceptible switch flipped in my brain once I hit my thirties, and now, somehow, it seems appropriate to quit yearning for the future and perform a retrospective. If I can’t have the mythical future, I might as well set about mythologizing my past.

The evidence is all there, it’s in the photographs, that while I spent my youth pining for the future, I was in the thick of a marvelous and golden present and I didn’t know it. I had good friends, a good family, good health, and good legs. Any suffering in my life, I’ve had to fabricate. I want to shake that girl awake and tell her how good her life is. I remember so well how nothing was ever good enough.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful though, if instead of looking back on my past, regretting my lost youth, and the squandering of my golden years, I could somehow mine the gold from my present life and savor it? As soon as I envision for myself some other, better reality, past or future, my peace flies out the window.

In Revolutionary Road, April’s better hypothetical life was in Paris. If she and her family could move to Paris and avoid the trappings of a conventional suburban life, she thought she could be happy. Anything that got in the way of her dream was the enemy, including her husband’s success at his job and the conception of another child. When we set our hopes on unrealities, God’s blessings begin to look like a curse.

I could pick my poison on any given day of the week. One day it’s “I’ll be happy when my kids are better behaved in public.” Another day it’s, “I’ll be happy when I have someone else to clean my house.” When I can get through a Mass without taking the baby out, when I have time to read, when I publish a book, when someone notices how hard I’m working, when life is easy and I’m golden, happiness will ensue.

My confessor has said it to me so many times when I come in expressing yet another dissatisfaction or ingratitude: “You are exactly where you need to be. You chose correctly. There is nothing better than what God has given you: your family, your kids, your home. There is NOTHING better. Your life is Eden, and the Devil loves to make you think there is something more. That’s how he tempted Eve, and how Eve lost paradise.”

Hence, here’s a thought exercise for this morning:
1. What is the one thing, the one fantasy that prevents me from loving my life today?

2. What do I consider the obstacle to my achieving that dream?

3. Is it possible that what I consider an obstacle is actually a blessing?

This is Eden. My life is Eden. Ten or twenty years from now, I can look back on the pictures I’ve taken of my family recently. Possibly I’ll have experienced real suffering by then. Maybe for some reason, I will have lost paradise, and I’ll see myself smiling, surrounded by these five little faces, a husband who loves me, every grace and blessing, and I’ll wish that I had recognized what a charming life I had.