Betty Duffy

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Quick Takes

Christmas at the Duffy house was a success by a most standards. I did all the Christmas shopping within comfortable limits of both time and money, and felt satisfied with the potential Christmas morning outcome. Typically, my husband saw things a little differently, a philosophical difference, you might say about what Christmas gifts are supposed to accomplish.

I think of Christmas as a time to buy expensive things that we need, but otherwise might not be able to afford, a time to splurge on things like bedding for the boys who've been in sleeping bags on top of their sheets for a couple years now, so that their room resembles a European youth hostel. I bought them matching comforters, so that we can put those dirty bags through the laundry and box them up for camping--also so that they might start making their beds. To fill in between the bedding, each kid would get their own box of sugar coated cereal, beef jerky, and a giant jar of pickles. Kids fed and to bed, all in one fell swoop.

My husband thought that bedding was sure to disappoint kids, who, while none of them still believe in Santa, are still young enough to maintain a sense of wonder at the possibility of getting exactly what they want on Christmas morning. I have to admit, I have difficulty remembering such a Christmas morning, as my mom had thrifty impulses similar to my own, and almost every article of clothing we received bore Mom's favorite label, "Irregular," stamped over the tag. And perhaps subconsciously, we all recreate the Christmas we experienced in childhood. If disappointment was your most common emotion in the Christmas mornings of your youth, you might think disappointment is good for your kids, and even strive for it. Pickles! All around!

Nevertheless, my husband went shopping the day before Christmas and solved the disappointment problem, so that Christmas morning, in between opening BB guns, sling-shots, and e-readers, I pointed to the comforters that hadn't been touched and said, "Did you see those comforters, Boys? Don't they look cozy and warm?" They had not seen the comforters, and didn't see them until much later in the day when we asked them to take their loot up to their rooms to put away.

Next year, I think I'll bow out of Christmas shopping all together. It occurs to me that I'm not saving money with my shopping.

The kids participated in a Christmas Pageant at Church, which was very exciting. On the cast list, one of my boys was listed as a sheep who keeps wandering away, which seemed like a pretty good match for his personality. At the rehearsal, however, the match seemed a little too good, as he was doing some full-on method acting, crawling around on all fours, eating dirty kleenexes out of the trash cans. And his older brother, as a shepherd, was also method acting, and using a large stick to direct his little brother's errant ways.

The DRE, who was directing, said, "I know he's your brother and all, but could you please be a bit more gentle with the stick?"

Gentleness was very difficult for him. It was also difficult for their sister, who, as the Virgin Mary, was the only one NOT in character. An overheard conversation:

Four-year-old: "Are you ever going to be nice to those boys, Janie?"

My daughter: "No, I'm never going to be nice to those boys because they're my brothers!"

For Christmas, my husband gave me a membership to the Y, which, of course, was exactly what I wanted, and made me feel bad for getting him luggage, which was exactly what he needed, but didn't particularly want. So I went to check out my new gym the other day and exercised for two hours, and felt really fit and exhilarated with the possibilities of good health.

I recalled a time many years ago, when my sister-in-law had a boyfriend who was not a very good match, and he made a dinner for us one night which was salmon over a bed of greens or something like that. We ate it, and gave our compliments to the chef, even though salmon was not on our list of favorite foods.

He answered, "You guys better be careful or you might break out in healthy!"

A sampling from any of the Duffy siblings' cabinets in those days would have turned up some Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, cigarettes, salami and peanuts. Perhaps, also a case of beer, though those never stuck around for long. There was no chance that anyone in that crowd would "break out in healthy," by eating salmon for dinner one night.

But after a week's feasting this Christmas, during which time, my gums were raw from eating too much sugar, and every night, I went to bed feeling a little bit sick at what all this eating might do to my rear end, "breaking out in healthy" was exactly the sensation that came to mind as I chugged away the calories on the treadmill.

Been reading Wendell Berry again, or actually, about him, from "The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry," and am faced, again, with the conflicting interests around which we are making our way in the world. If we desire to build a community of multi-generational families, with strong ties to place, is it a good idea to send kids away to college, knowing they may find jobs and spouses that take them to different regions of the country?

I was just thinking the other day how interesting it will be when my kids are marriageable, and I'll have this virtual rolodex of families I've met online who have children of similar ages and outlooks, with whom to put my kids in touch. If my mom had had such a rolodex when I was younger, I would have been quite thrilled, as good men were sort of hard to find in those days, and I'm lucky to have found the one I did, when I did. I had to date a few toads first, and there was a short time when I didn't believe that anything other than toads existed.

Maybe good men will be even more scarce in the upcoming decades, and I'll have no choice but to send my kids off, away, into the universal membership where they'll make their own support networks and communities that don't include my husband and I except once or twice a year when we travel to see them or vice versa. I'm such a homebody, I can't fathom the concept of my children making a life for themselves anywhere other than Indiana. But it most likely will happen.

And yet the internet has made the Catholic Church in America, at least, seem like a very small world. There's the UD Community, and the Steubenville Community, and the TAC Community, etc. and nearly everyone has a crossover between siblings or spouses that connect those communities in peripheral ways. In short, everybody knows everybody in a way that they did not even just a decade ago. I need to reconcile with the possibility that the future might not be terrible.

My youngest has sort of been using the potty, which means he's been running around the house in nothing but his skivvies for several days. Their bottoms always look so cute the first time you get them into underpants.


nicole said...

Must comment on the internet and small Catholic world. The Darwins are parishioners at the parish where my brother has been serving as a Deacon while finishing his time at Seminary in Columbus! They are familiar with each other. As we are in TX, and my brother from East TX, it is funny to me that they have crossed paths.

And I found your Christmas shopping story interesting. We give our kids less gifts than our parents gave us (we give each kid 3 gifts) so I am very intentional in what we give them. Which means it is rarely something practical, but more something they really want. We fill in the practical gaps throughout the year.

Otepoti said...

Merry Christmas, Betty! thanks for the blogging through the year. All the best for 2012.

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks Otepoti! It's been my pleasure.

Melanie B said...

I love the idea of the virtual rolodex of families with similar outlook and marriageable children. Maybe it's because my kids are all so young; but I hadn't thought of that possibility. Oh I wish something like that had been available for us so I didn't have to spend a decade lonely and wandering despairing of ever finding a match. Except of course then I wouldn't have ended up with Dom.

JMB said...

Ha ha I've often wondered why I can't just set up my children with some of my friend's kids, especially since I've known the adults for a long time and the kids since their births. But then I think, what if they just don't like each other? I happen to think this girl in my CCD class is really smart, pretty and charming, but to my son, eh. He won't hear of it. So I guess they will have to muddle through it like the rest of us. Happy New Year!

Peter and Nancy said...

I gave my oldest sons new comforters for Christmas too. :o) But I am growing wiser . . . we also gave them a Lego set to share that was super exciting to watch them open. We also do the 3 gifts thing, with a visit from The Book Elf too (a tradition from my husband's family).

Annalea said...

I've watched families in our very rural area as their children have grown and moved on. Sometimes the family shatters pretty permanently . . . children making lives far, far away from parents. Other times, usually with the families whom I love the most, with parents that make me want to adopt them, or grow up to be like them, the children make their way back to live near Mom and Dad . . . job or no job. They decide they want to live in this beautiful place, near the people they love most in the world. I'm heaven-bent on building a family that loves one another, no LIKES one another, so much that making lives far away from one another just isn't really attractive. Hopefully it'll work out. ;o)