Betty Duffy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reality Checks

My cousin had a miscarriage not long ago, and she mentioned, in hindsight, how the fluctuation in hormones caused her to experience sort of a suspension of reality, as though she were watching her life happen. And along with it, came some ugly thoughts, that she knew were not grounded in reality.

"My husband would be ten minutes late from work, and my first thoughts were, He's cheating on me."

They had just moved to a new house, didn't have family nearby, and the vulnerability of the situation caused her to imagine every worst case scenario.

I've been there before. The only cure for such thoughts, is to reach out to someone else--call a friend, get in touch with family, call your husband--replace the voices in your head with real live voices. You'll realize you're not alone, and that the world as experienced by millions of other people, bears little resemblance to the strange world developing in your mind.

I'm writing about the reality check today at Patheos. And the grace of having real relationships with people who know us, and can intervene on our behalf when we're not doing so well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I'm only posting here because I feel like I should, not necessarily because I have anything to say. I'm sure everyone's waiting for an update on how I'm feeling, and where I'm sending my kids to school next year, and what accommodations we might make to this house in order to make room for another kid--these are all the things that have occupied my mind lately. I could have written twenty posts in the past week, each one contradicting the one before it--because damned if I don't keep changing my mind.

For the most part, I feel good. I'm fifteen weeks pregnant. I'm not sick any more. I'm only tired when I stay up too late, which I've been doing, consistently, for the past 30 years.  This is the good part of pregnancy, I'm told by sources consulted on the internet (and yes, I still check in each week to learn what I'm supposed to be feeling and to what-size fruit this baby bears the greatest resemblance--even though this is technically my eighth pregnancy). So that's all going well.

I don't have much get up and go--which has been a source of dismay to my children this summer. Sometimes you just feel trapped by circumstances, all of them, at once. We'd go outside, but it's too hot. We'd stay in, but it's too claustrophobic. We'd go somewhere, but I'm too tired. We'd nap, but then none of us would be able to sleep at bedtime. We'd do chores, but we'd just have to do them again later.  As consequence, I've spent most of the summer dreaming about house renovations and self renovations, and things I'll do when I'm not so--whatever it is that I am--pregnant, I guess.

The kitchen is clean. The legos are picked up. I'm cooking three squares. I've bathed; I've been to Confession. And today I've even vacuumed. We are not a complete shambles. We even had friends over to play. But the overwhelming sensation of this summer has been one of waiting--waiting for something to happen, either my feeling better, or failing that, for the baby to come once and for all (which won't happen until winter) and now, waiting for vacation, for school to start, and decisions to be made. This is not my best mood.

A few sweetnesses: a trip to Chicago for a couple days, me and the three year-old tagging along with my husband to work while the older kids were at camp.  And the three-year-old, who normally speaks in a whisper, with his thumb in his mouth (because he's learned that this is the only way to be heard in our family--to speak softly, so that everyone leans in and looks in his eyes trying to decipher the rare communique from toddler land), suddenly came out of his shell, running around pointing, putting exclamation points on his feelings and observations, removing his thumb from his mouth, periodically, wanting to be understood.

I'm used to three-year-olds suddenly coming out of their shells, speaking loudly and excessively, so much so that you long for pre-verbal days a little. But as soon as we came back home, the boy was back to gesturing with the little barrel of fingers wrapped up in front of his nose, thumb in mouth, and his caterpillar eyebrows. At least we know now he's in there somewhere.

Sweetness #2: A new priest at one of the churches in town, who always, at the daily Mass, makes the sign of the Cross over my pregnant stomach when I go up to receive communion. The first time he did it, tears welled up--the way they do the first time you realize, there's a soul in there, and it is blessed.

I have to admit, that in the darkest first trimester days, when I thought I would rather have died than go on feeling the way that I did, his blessing melted a coldness in me. It was the realization, once again, after all these years--that pregnancy is not really about me. It's not about my generosity as a Catholic, or my selflessness as a mother, or my ability to parent, or what being a mother of six might do to my self-image.

No one can tell you this in a way that doesn't raise all your defenses. What's going on inside you is not about you; it's about another person, another soul that has been blessed and willed into creation. It's an easier concept to understand once they're outside of you, and they assert themselves and their personalities in all their strange splendor. They had some origin in your body--but they are not you.

Anyway, now the baby has been blessed, and blessed again, and sometimes I forget that Father's going to bless the baby in utero, and I start to turn away from the communion line, only to remember The Blessing! And I bring the girl back around so Father can make that sign of the Cross. This is certainly the most blessed fetus in our family.

Hopefully, a sign of good things to come (and not what the superstitious pessimist in me fears--that grace is apportioned according to need--making this the neediest fetus in the family).

Sweetness #3: Vacation, coming soon. I wait for this all year--the lake--my favorite place in the world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Prayer Request

My friend Kimberly has recently and very suddenly lost her husband to an aggressive and rare blood disorder. Please remember her family in your prayers. She and her four young children are trying to figure out how to live without him.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Little Bullies

My two girl cousins, my sister, and I all had the same kind of dolls when we were little--Sasha dolls--which were Swiss dolls with vague anatomical features and hair you could wash and style. We each had a boy, a girl, and a baby.

When I get my dolls out to show my daughter, she'll ask, "What are their names?!" And I sort of wince, because naming my Sasha dolls was one of those experiences in life which ends up being way more indicative of personal flaws than it should be. In short, after 30 plus years, I don't really know what their names are.

When we first received the dolls, the older girls quickly picked out all the "good" names--Anna Elizabeth, James, John (though they were good in my mind only because my older cousins had said they were good.) And then, because I was the youngest and I irritated them, they suggested I name my girl Deborah.

I had a babysitter named Deborah who was a cheerleader, and very pretty, so that's what I called my girl doll, quite happily, until shortly thereafter when the older girls started repeating the name, Deb, deb deb, Debby, debby debby--until it sounded really stupid and I started to hate it.

When I wanted to change her name, the older girls said, Hey, what about Samantha, and then you can name the boy Darren and the baby Tabitha after the characters in "Bewitched." Believe it or not, I fell for their suggestion again--until the teasing started again--and then I ousted those names and just called the dolls whatever I wanted to in my head.

I changed their names all the time, and sometimes made them be siblings, and sometimes I made them get married and have the baby--and all of this shrouded my set of dolls, I believed, in a cloud of questionable relations and identities, where my sister's and my cousins' dolls were all respectable siblings with Elizabethan names.

You hate to say that some particular situation in your childhood made you what you are today, but this one-- the naming of the dolls--made me feel cheap. I suspected that I was too easily manipulated, unmoored, weak, and lacking in character.

I sort of preferred the Barbie dolls to the Sasha dolls, then, because there was no pretense with them that they were anything other than cheap slutty dolls that didn't need a solid family and a good name.

I don't mention this story to castigate my old playmates. They're still my playmates and I love them, and I did turn around and find my own easily manipulatable younger siblings, cousins and playmates to terrorize as well, perhaps spawning in them their own secret doubts about their good character. I have one friend who still reminds me how I used to tell her she was out of style on the school bus in second grade (because I was jealous that she had her ears pierced and wore dangly earrings).

Kids will be kids, I want to say and they all establish hierarchies and come into their powers by dubious means.

But I go back sometimes, to the childhood days when I was always the brat nobody wanted around--annoying to my elders, unkind to my peers and anyone younger--and I wonder what gives. Was I just a difficult person? Or was there some sort of intervention that might have been applied way back when, that might have stopped the many chain reactions that made me the dazzlingly cranky person I am today?

A friend of ours took his son to the playground several years ago when they were living in Mexico. Another boy there was making fun of his son and saying he had big ears or something like that. When our friend caught wind of the teasing, he went to the little boy and said, "You think my kid's ears are funny? Well, I think you're the ugliest little mother effer in Mexico."

I remembered this story yesterday when I found myself stomping across the playground to call out a little hotdog who'd been repetitively shoving one of my boys off the playground equipment. My kids had earlier reported that this same boy was calling my kid "penie-boy" because he had ill-advisedly worn the last dry swimsuit to the park, his swim team speedo trunks that come to his knees but are as tight as biker shorts.

The boy saw me coming and I pointed to him and told him to come here. Strangely, he obeyed, and when we met, I got down on his eye level and said, "I've been watching you shoving, hitting, calling people names, and you're going to stop."

"I didn't do anything," he said.

"I saw you."

He started to protest.

"I saw you," I said, and then he made a swatting motion towards me as he turned his back and walked away.

When I first heard our friend's tale about name-calling the young bully on a Mexican playground, I was a little scandalized, but I get it now. There's nothing more heartbreaking than watching one of your children get pushed around. It's very easy to lose your head in such circumstances.

I called my kids together and we left the park, just in case there was a parent-figure somewhere nearby attached to this child who might have been annoyed by my wagging my finger at him. And I thanked God that knowing exactly what I would like to call others has never been my forte, or this stranger child might have received the name to end all names.

"Thanks Mom," my son said as we were leaving, and while I was glad that he was removed from the situation, I also wondered if I had usurped something from him, either a little bit of dignity he might have gained from sticking up for himself, or a stitch of glee in the gradual, lifelong revelation that his identity is not bound by assumptions made about oneself during these childhood skirmishes.

It's a lesson that took me a long time to learn--possibly when meeting someone as an adult that I had long ago terrorized, I felt chagrinned to know that they remembered me that way, as a bully. I didn't feel like a bully any more. I wanted to be nice. And I wanted to tell them that I've changed, I'm new these days--you see, I'm undergoing conversion.

It can be terribly discouraging when people you've known forever are reluctant to allow you've changed. At the same time, it's one of those stubborn effects of sin that stick around long after the sin has been forgiven.

Perhaps more difficult than revising old impressions of other people, however, is having confidence enough in Christ's redemption to make necessary adjustments in our own souls.

I can tell my son, You are free to be different today than you were yesterday, to be a new creation each day, because each day is a new creation, and hopefully, I can spare him the decades it took me to discover this concept. If you have asked for his help, Christ has released you from yesterday's sins, shortcomings, and humiliations. There's nothing lingering to prohibit your progress in sanctity.

To me it's a more effective response to both the childhood bully and the childhood whipping boy (who are often one and the same) than shrugging our shoulders and saying, kids will be kids.

If I'd had my head on straight, I might also have mentioned it to the little boy I chastised on the playground.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My column at Patheos this week...

Unsurprisingly, it deals with apathy:
My cousin has a beautiful, clean home in a charming urban neighborhood with lots of fun restaurants. Sometimes, when I visit her, I struggle with envy. On a recent visit, I asked her how she manages to home school, cook delicious, mostly whole and organic meals, and still have clean baseboards.
"It helps to start with something new, or a fresh coat of paint," she said, "and then you just care enough to keep it up." I had hoped she'd admit to relying on some sort of wizardry that would put those clean baseboards out of my reach, like having a closet support staff or a weekly cleaning lady. Then I could chalk it up to her life being different than mine, or special, and I could go on not giving a rip about my baseboards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Here's what my husband had for lunch today:

The Thurmanator from the Thurman cafe in Columbus, OH.

The man can't help himself around a sandwich with an "ator" suffix. And somehow, he's skinny.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Skirmish

From the proprietor of many lego creations facing ongoing assault from the commander of evil lego forces: "Mom, tell him that wars are not desirable and that a few weeks for a war is fine. They don't have to go on for years."

From the Evil Commander, red in the face: "Yes they do! I don't build evil fortresses for nothing! I don't assemble enemy armies for nothing! I don't build giant robots for nothing!"

Pray for a break in the heat. These kids need to get outside.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Coughing it out

Let's try keeping an online diary.

I've given up for the moment on writing soul inspiring things. Can't give what you don't have. It's something that's sort of been bothering me lately--I pray with the Magnificat Mag almost every morning. I say the Rosary, on average, four times a week. Mass, on average, 3 times a week. Confession, on average, once a month. It's my unofficial rule of life with a scattering of other prayers and devotions mixed in here and there.

In the past it's worked for me quite well. Not so today. I'll read the Meditation, think, well, that was nice, close the book and go one with my life. After Mass, there's those three minutes after Communion, and I think, Well Lord, thanks again.... And that's about it. Petitions: For everybody! Just take care of everybody. Or there's the Marian Consecration fallback--for Our Lady's intentions--which I know are worthy, but I feel sort of lazy about it.

In short, this dry-heaving theme has taken over my life in so many different ways--body, soul, it's outside, it's inside. All this coughing. No relief.

My impulse, with praying, and with writing, it seems--is just to keep clearing my throat. Just keep working at it. And so I treat you with the current and past missives, which sound, maybe, one step away from the grave. It's not as bad as I make it seem. But I'm discouraged. I cannot tell a lie. It's been going on for too long, and while these two things--praying, writing-- won't let me ignore them, a lot of other things have fallen by the way.

My husband likes cooking, so I let him do it. That's fine. The kids know how to clean up their own messes, so I let them do it, that's fine. But I do have a sense that I should be orchestrating some sort of summer fun for people around here--that there's a giggle missing from the general atmosphere in my home.

I'm hooking onto that word, orchestration, because it's in the same vein with how I man-handle my prayer life, trying to shake the spirit into it, when the Spirit, for whatever reason, has chosen not to come. But I think orchestration applies well to domestic life, because I've seen it done, and I've read about women doing this thing, where they conduct the various components of their lives, and set the household simultaneously in order and motion.

The kids and I visited a friend today, who is one such domestic conductress. She manages to do these things, like using beautiful pottery for every day, making bread every morning, having a cake resting under a dome for after dinner, keeping the house neat and uncluttered, making quilts, home schooling the kids--all in such a way that I always leave her, not feeling inadequate and discouraged, but totally, completely nourished.

There's a wholeness of being in her, a lightness, that enlivens others, or at least, it enlivens me. I want to be like her, or, failing that, I wouldn't mind being her child.

Scarlett O'Hara recognizes these qualities in her mother, Ellen O'Hara, and in her sister-in-law, Melanie Wilkes: kindness, industriousness, comportment, authenticity, selflessness--the qualities of a true lady. I hate reading essays or books talking in pious and raptured tones about all the things a woman ought to be--but when I see these things in action, I find them utterly attractive, as anyone who admires beauty would.

And you, my dear, are no lady. Always looking for some other breast to suckle off of, but rarely providing succor.

I'm experiencing a window of rebellion against what I've made of my life--rebellion against the droopy, sloppy, piecemeal way in which I live. I think it would be nice not to feel crabby. I would like my kids to enjoy having me for a mother. Is it possible for a slug to stand upright? And how does one go about it?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dry Bones

We're in the dog days here. No rain. No rain at all. For the past few days, we've had sort of storms that looked like they might turn into rain --huge windstorms, one that blew down a tree in our yard-- and not a drop fell from the sky. It was such a strange feeling to be out in the yard, seeing lightening in the distance, feeling all the coolness of a front coming in, and the sky does nothing but dry heave gusts at the ground that should yield some sort of moisture. What's wrong with the sky?

Even though I've stayed relatively hydrated, there's a parched feeling that comes over me whenever I go outside, so that I'm smacking my lips together and feeling a little claustrophobic in the great wide open. In addition to the tree that fell in the wind, four trees have died of drought. I've just about given up watering the garden--because of neurosis that a) it's not doing any good, and b) it could dry up the well. There's a sort of dead and barren sensation out there that usually doesn't hit until mid-November.

Meanwhile, I round the corner into the second trimester of this pregnancy, lying on my side for the better part of most days like an old sow. It's different being pregnant when you're older and hotter and drier than you've ever been. All, but one, of my past babies arrived in the Spring after winter hibernations. This one has me doing everything contrary to instinct--sleeping when I should be awake, eating when I'm sick, refusing to reap any seeds I sewed earlier in the Spring, and retreating to the house when everyone else is heading outside.

I keep trying to remember that some people continue to have lives when they're pregnant. I tend to only want to pass time until the end. Some of the earlier days, I spent on the couch with popsicles watching BBC dramas.  Then came a wild and reckless internet binge. Now, I'm reading. Books.

The computer has been cast in a cloud of associative nausea from the long hours I spent on it trying to survive at the height of morning sickness. Now I can just look at the computer and feel a little sick to my stomach--which I have to admit, is a feeling I used to pray for--technological detachment. Do I want it at the expense of vigorous health? Whatever.

I picked up Madeleine L'Engle's Circle of Quiet, which had the light meandering tone of most of the blogs I like reading. Followed by Gone With the Wind, which I've never read before, and had no idea I would like so much. I spend a lot of time picking up and dropping books that fail with the hook after a few chapters. I'm not in the mood right now to labor for a hundred pages, waiting for something to happen.

GWTW, has the addictive quality of being pulled entirely, and immediately, into another reality. I want to sneak away from other things to read it.

This morning I cleaned out my spam folder--which was very deep in viagra ads and invitations from various types of ladies inviting me to start working from home, to view their pictures, and/or try the dieting secrets that changed their lives.

I'm alert to names at the moment, what names connote--as we will be naming another person in less than nine months--and it was interesting seeing all the "names" of these ladies lined up side by side in my spambox. If she wanted me to view her pictures, her name was Kristin, Kelly, or Melissa--girl next door names likely to have been held by gen-X high school vixens. If she was speaking to me "mom to mom" about something, her name was Abby Mc Something--a nonthreatening name that I associate with brown haired ladies in Target Ads. If she had a job opportunity, her name was Millicent--a nude-stockinged, thick-ankled name if I've ever heard one.

It's probably no wonder there's such a trend right now towards non-traditional names, masculine names, or names not held by anyone since 1902. The common names of the past fifty years are so freighted with associations, compounded by media overload and fifteen-minute-celebrities of ignominy.