Betty Duffy

Showing posts with label contradicting myself. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contradicting myself. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Tool

I hired a babysitter Friday night so my husband and I could go out for a hot night on the town. We didn't want to pay the sitter for the duration of our commute to Indianapolis, so we had our hot night locally, which means, in a small town in central Indiana. We caught a show at the local movie theater (The Descendants, A-), and afterwards we talked about getting a coffee and working on our budget, but it seemed too late for coffee, and we were too tired to do the budget (it's exhausting just to think about), so we went to the bar.

The waitress took our orders and asked where we were from.

"Indianapolis," we said, though neither of us grew up there; it's where our marriage began.

"So what brings you here?"

"Oh, we live about a mile up the street."

"But you're from Indianapolis?"

"We moved here from Indianapolis."


"About six years ago."

"And you still say you're from Indianapolis?"

My husband and I had driven by three different bars, looking for the hot spot where everybody in town goes, before we settled on the one closest to home. We never did figure out where the locals hang out. No, this town does not feel like home.

We finished out the evening prank calling our siblings in the wee hours of the night, which always makes you feel popular, especially when they hang up on you. But it's an activity I loosely advocate as a marriage building exercise, just because it's better to be tools together than tools rattling around on their own.

I find it more and more difficult to make new friends as I get older. We're trying to teach our kids how to be Catholic, and we're trying ourselves to be Catholic, and we are gradually emerging as a family known to the world as "The Duffys," though what it means to be a Duffy is still yet to be known. We get in trouble a lot. We're a little eccentric. And we keep crawling back to the Church, usually arriving late, and with much noise.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Confession after the School Mass, and when I came out of the confessional some of the school moms were standing around in the Sanctuary of the Church, talking. There was no way to get past them and do my penance without greeting them in some way, so I went and said hello. I was in my freshly washed state, like a locust nymph, giddy with new life.

(perhaps understandable if they were put off)

The ladies were talking about one of their mothers who is ill. I didn't know the woman or her mother well, and the conversation seemed too personal for my intrusion, so I said I would pray for the sick mother, and attempted to release myself to do my penance. The woman with the sick mother didn't hear me because she'd been talking. So one of the other moms tapped her shoulder to draw attention to the fact that I'd spoken to her.

All the moms turned to look at me then, and I had to say it again, "I'll pray for your mother, Leslie."

Her look was strange, like "Why would you do that? You don't know me." She said thanks and and went on speaking to the other ladies with intensity, and I did my penance with a fresh case of vanity to work through. They must think I'm a holy roller. Not only did I just come out of the confessional, now I'm the lady who can't relate on anything but praying, and even that, poorly.

Even though the woman was clearly upset that her mother was sick, I managed to work myself into a tailspin of self-pity for poor me, my lack of friends--one of those dark moods that come upon you, and you don't realize nothing in your life has actually changed. You're only freshly aware of a dark thread moving back through your history, and forward through eternity that cancels out every good you have received and makes you think that things have always been bad, and always will be bad, even though, objectively, things are not bad at all.

I wanted to scapegoat somebody. Catholics must do better at bringing people together! Those ladies must do better at being my friend! My husband must spend thirty minutes each day listening to me! All of which assume that there is an surefire cure to the periodic demon of loneliness, that there's a way to feel perfectly at home at all times in a life that is exile.

My daughter threw up exactly one minute before we drove away to the ten thirty Sunday Mass this weekend, so I stayed home with her, and caught the Spanish Mass later in the afternoon. Once again, a lone gigantic blonde woman in a sea of petite dark haired people, I felt like an alien.

At the front of the Church, I recognized a woman who at the Daily sits in the back with a little huddle of children. She often looks uncomfortable, makes herself small, like she's hiding. She has a child in class with one of mine. I know she doesn't speak much English.

At the Spanish Mass, her husband sings in the choir, and is a lector. She sits radiantly in the first pew. At the sign of peace, she's up and down the aisles greeting people with kisses.

Shamefully, it had not occurred to me that she had any other posture than the one huddling in the back of the Church. I don't know what this observation offers by way of resolution, but you can always find people who appear both more at home in the world than you do, and less at home--sometimes the same person, different day. And it would affirm Amy Welborn's assertion that the Mass is the ultimate small group study, that it brings people from every background to the contemplation of the One Thing--assuming we can take our minds off ourselves.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Changing my mind.

Ten years ago, I almost got a Master's degree. With a semester to go--my on-the-job training--I dropped out to make goo-goo eyes at my firstborn son. A year later, I tried again to finish, and once again dropped out, to make goo-goo eyes at my second born. My advisor became frustrated with me, asking, "When is it going to be YOUR turn?" which I suppose meant, "When are you going to pay attention to yourself for a change?"

But I was very in tune with myself. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.

I thought I might go back eventually. It was a mild irritation to have that semester just hanging there, unfinished in my consciousness. But those credits expired after seven years, and that was the end of that. It wasn't a career I was crazy about--which might have contributed to my moderate feelings about finishing--but also, these babies I was having, kept changing my mind about what I thought I wanted.

Over the past couple years, as my youngest got a little bigger, and no new ones moved into his spot, I found myself with time on my hands and I started to think about grad school again. Not about finishing the old degree, but about starting a new one--doing an MFA--meeting writers, making connections, improving my skills, and giving myself the impetus to finish something really good.

I made a little deal with myself that IF I should find myself pregnant again with a sixth child, I would do the opposite of what I did in those earlier years of motherhood, and reward myself with Grad School. It would be my prize for being so generous with God. And also would affirm in my mind the idea that I am not putting off my life indefinitely.

But no babies came. I waited two years, which might not sound like a long time to wait for a pregancy that may or may not ever come. But it's the longest I've ever gone without getting pregnant, and it was starting to look like our family was complete. So I inched outward a little, and enrolled in a community writing course at the local college.


I loved the assignments. I loved the feedback. I loved feeling as though I were taking steps towards a dream. I loved having a set time to get dressed and leave my house each week. I loved my professor and my classmates. And I thought, heck--why wait to get pregnant for this reward? I'm going to enroll in the Master's Program now!

I downloaded the application materials. I talked to friends who are enrolled in the program. I had my husband's approval. All systems were go.

Then I got pregnant. It's funny how this works on me. Maybe other women don't feel this way about having babies--but I called Pedge on my way home from my last community class in which I'd been a lackluster participant, and asked why it is that I've lost interest, once again, in these projects I've built up in my mind. Is it that I'm chicken? I'm afraid of failure, and having babies is away of excusing myself from trying? Am I just morning sick? Do I harbor some deep-seated anti-feminist notion that I don't deserve further education? Why do these things that were so important and exciting to me just a month ago, suddenly feel so trivial?

Pedge put into words for me what I had begun to sense, but felt sort of stupid saying, since at the time I was only a few weeks along: "You really are a different person than you were two weeks ago. You're now a mother of six. It's completely unknown territory to you and it makes perfect sense that you would want to move other things out of the way so that you have room to become the person you are going to be."

And it doesn't mean I'll never go get that MFA, or nurture anything other than children--but for now there really is nothing else I want to do but allow myself to mother this child.

My high school orchestra once played Max Bruch's Romanze for Viola Op. 85, and in order to help us understand the piece, our conductor said it reminded her of the intense love affair between a mother and child. She stood on the conductor's podium cradling an air baby in her hands as though it were the Holy Grail. I babysat for her kids at the time, and, true, they were very sweet kids, but I could not for the life of me understand what she was talking about. Intense love affair? With a baby?

But it begins with that positive pregnancy test, and it grows in intensity with each passing day. Or at least until they get a little older and start to annoy you (only half joking). People who are not in on this love affair cannot understand it. They may become frustrated by your lack of ambition. But contrary to appearances, you are NOT putting your life on hold. You're doing exactly what you want to do.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Disembodied by Technology

When I was in college, everybody was bungee jumping, skydiving, doing triathlons, and any sport with the word “extreme” in front of it. Leisure activites were all about bodily thrills. But fifteen years later, the world has gone virtual. No more bodies bouncing through the atmosphere (at least not in my set). Static bodies sit unexercised and unimproved, behind the computer screen.

Went camping this weekend with friends, and late night campfire discussion turned to technology, and what to do with technology minded kids, boys especially, who have aptitudes and one-track minds for all things mechanical and digital.

I have first-hand knowledge of what technology does to a thirty-four year old mother with no aptitude for computers, who doesn’t work in the field, and never much cared for video games. She finds it quite absorbing. So much so, that often the important reasons for turning on the computer (checking email, for instance) have completely slipped from her mind by the time she turns it off.

And one of our camping companions, a liberal arts professor, who spends his summers attempting publication in academic journals, expressed a serious amount of distaste for all the women spinning their wheels trying to keep up a blog—something so transient, so inconsequential, so self-oriented. “What are your fans doing while you’re gone this weekend?” he asked, “Did you leave a note so no one would freak out?”

The question hit a nerve, because I do sometimes feel like I’m making a much bigger deal out of my “Writing Time” than it actually warrants. My kids see my absorption in the screen, even while I tell them that computer games will rot their brains.

They play Poptropica in their computer class at school, and the other day, they snuck my laptop up to their room to log onto their accounts now that school is out. I have made their leash so tight that they run away into the neighbors’ yard as soon as they can break free. They've taken to sneaking around behind my back.

Two years ago I started this blog because I wanted to develop the discipline of turning the thought fragments that occur to me throughout my days into fully realized ideas and opinions, and it seemed a nice compromise to writing in a hovel, producing material for a theoretical audience that might never come to fruition.

And so began a series of compromises, not so much related to the blog as to the status of culture in general, that what I really want is a living breathing community, but I will be satisfied with logging into some sort of online community. Naturally, I really want my writing to be material, something I can hold in my hands that has survived the filter of a distinguished publishing agency, but I’ll settle for a blog.

And with my kids, there’s that feeling of wanting to spare them the emasculating disembodied life in front of a screen, but gosh, who can support themselves without an online presence in this day and age? I look online for plumbers, carpenters, even, sometimes, my friends’ phone numbers. One compromise after another.

To say that technology got me through a rough patch in the witching hour of a Friday afternoon—and that’s why I do it--is not good enough. It’s not good enough to keep making excuses for myself and compromises, because I have a faith that makes no compromises, and that is perfectly equipped to handle the mental and physical complexities of my life. I always said that I could never profess a faith that ignored the body, that I need the Incarnation, yet I willingly commit hours of mindless devotion to virtual concepts that neglect the body.

If I want to keep my kids in my own yard, I’m going to have develop a culture and a community in our own family that makes them prefer being here to the greener pastures online or elsewhere. And if that culture can’t stand up to the completely overpowering beast that technology can be for certain addictive personalities, then hopefully it will be a reminder and an impetus for them someday down the road to think, life was pretty good before I was addicted to this soul sucking, body crushing garbage. Maybe I should go back to a culture more like the one we had when we were kids.

Our professor friend and his wife have an envy inducing familial culture of guitar playing and song singing, reading aloud, and outdoorsy activities, not to mention living on the edge of a college campus. I always thought that I'd one day have a Kumbaya Family, but that is not our family's charism. Our charism is loud. It's chaotic and a little antagonistic, and maybe I've let it become that way through my staunch prohibitions, and failures to provide them with other enriching experiences.

When my husband was in the hospital, the nurses kept pushing pain-killers, which my husband refused. They wanted to stay ahead of the pain, one of the nurses said, because if the painkillers wear off, many of their patients are miserable, and then they spend days chasing the pain.

I spend a lot of time chasing negative behavior, and not so much time preventing it. I’m in favor of a fair amount of free-range parenting, but a little guidance and structure is not going to stunt their creativity. And it might spare me the kind of defeat that produces public broadcast of my week's complaints. Loosening their leash with technology a little, maybe getting them a chessmaster CD, could cure their curiosity with the stuff, but it means tightening my own leash as well to provide better supervision and direction.

I want to have a familial culture, even if it's not a perfect culture, that appreciates each member of this family, body and soul, conflicts and gifts. I want to enjoy being with my kids, but to do so, I cannot be disembodied by my little hobby here. And my attitude towards my kids cannot always be an automatic "no," because that means I'm not listening to them.

Sally has written a post about an "embodied" day with her kids.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What I Learned in the First Chapter of This Book I'll Probably Finish Reading in the Car Tomorrow...

I’m writing to the women on this post, so any males reading might want to quietly back out of the room or else make their presence invisible. My little brother used to do this by hiding behind the couch while my sister and I sat on it talking. And my husband: once when I had some girl friends sitting on the front porch, my husband excused himself to go to the workshop. When I went inside to refresh our drinks, I noticed a cord coming out of the mail slot. He’d hidden the baby monitor there so he could listen to our conversation undetected.

Anyway, the point is, Sally T is having a book carnival, where if you’ve opened a book recently and learned anything in the first chapter—whether you’ve finished it or not—you can write it up and link to her linky thing.

I went to Goodwill yesterday morning, and was going through their 50 cent paperbacks and came across a cache of books on chastity. Among them were Dawn Eden’s “Thrill of the Chaste” and “Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment” by Shannon Etheridge. Whenever I find Catholic books or statuary at a second hand store, I can’t help considering it the work of the Holy Spirit somehow—since one never knows what one will find on any given visit. So I bought the books.

And naturally, in my reading last night I cracked open the one with “sex” in the title.

This book is the companion to “Every Man’s Battle,” a book for men that helps them understand the evils of pornography, etc. It’s full of anecdotes, and quizzes that help the reader discern if they are living a sexually authentic life, or if they are allowing their hearts and minds to be led into emotional affairs, whether or not they are acting out on them physically.

While men are more visually stimulated, “for women the battle often begins with a heart full of disappointment…in men, circumstances, God, life, money, kids, and the future.”

Here’s an abridged version of the initial questionnaire. The previous owner had written her answers in the blanks, which was interesting, and let me know that there might be other women struggling with similar issues.

1. If you are married, do you compare your husband to other men (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually)?

2. Do you often think of what your life will be like after your husband is dead, wondering who the next man in your life could be?

3. Do you have sexual secrets that you don’t want anyone else to know about?

4. Do men accuse you of being manipulative or controlling?

5. Do you secretly feel excited or powerful when you sense that a man finds you attractive?

6. Do you have a difficult time responding to your husband’s advances because you feel he should meet your needs first?

7. Is remaining emotionally or physically faithful to one person a challenge for you?

8. Do you often choose your attire in the morning based on the men you will encounter that day?

9. Do you find yourself flirting or using sexual innuendos (even if you do not intend to) when conversing with someone you find attractive?

10. Do you resent the fact that your husband wants sex more often than you do, or wish he would (do something else) so that you would not have to perform sexually?

11. Do you read romance novels?

12. Is there any area of your sexuality that (1) is not known by your husband, (2) is not approved of by your husband, or (3) does not involve your husband?

13. Do you spend more time or energy ministering to the needs of others through church or social activities than to your husband’s sexual needs?

14. Do you use pornography?

15. Do you fantasize about being intimate with someone other than your husband?

16. Do you have a problem making and maintaining close female friends?

17. Do you converse with strangers on the internet?

18. Have you ever been unable to concentrate on work, school or the affairs of your household because of thoughts or feelings you are having about someone else?

19. Do you think the word “victim” describes you?

20. Do you avoid sex in your marriage because of the spiritual guilt or dirty feeling you experience afterward?

Several things stood out for me as being particularly related to the blogosphere in this quiz. The author pointed out that comparing our husbands to other women’s husbands can lead to emotional vulnerability. For instance: her husband always wears a suit to Mass, while my husband wears jeans. Her husband must be holier than mine, which means they must have a better marriage, which means I’m probably less happy than she is and would be happier with someone else.

It seems like two things happen when women write about their husbands on their blogs (and I am susceptible to both): either they acquire an undercurrent of agitation about the things their husbands do, or they present them as flawless heroes. And likely, neither scenario is an accurate description of what’s actually happening in the relationship.

Likewise, comparing ourselves with other women, makes us feel inferior, which makes us particularly susceptible to flattery when it comes from the opposite sex. If we think we have little to offer, we’re surprised when someone points out that we’re actually sort of interesting, and then our hearts can turn.

Then there’s that whole talking to strangers on the internet thing. (guilty)

I know that men and women work together, have conversations with one another, do lunches and business deals out in the world. But I have to admit that when I first started blogging, I was a little surprised by how much back and forth commenting there was between men and women. I looked to other Catholic bloggers for cues, and it seemed like everyone was doing it, so I did too (I know...). And dare I say that there are now a handful of male bloggers whom I consider my friends?

Every now and then, it strikes me as odd though, that commenting on a man’s blog is essentially like going up to a good looking guy at the grocery and saying, “I notice that you’re buying organic greens. I like organic greens too.” I would never do that. But wearing the veil of the blogosphere, I would, often because the topic is of a spiritual nature and it feels innocuous. I want to say that we’re all reasonable adults here, but maybe I’m an incurable flirt, and this is a sin. I generally do like men, which is good because I’m married to one.

So, that’s what I learned in the first chapter of this book. I take it the rest of the book goes into what you should do about it if you’ve discerned that you have a problem with sexual authenticity. (Buy the book here.)

Refraining from attacks on anyone’s character (especially mine) I’m curious what the ladies of the blogosphere think on this subject.

Friday, February 5, 2010

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Praise of Slo-Friends (rerun Aug.08)

Movement towards the truth implies temperance. If truth purifies man from egotism and from the illusion of absolute autonomy, it makes him obedient and gives him the courage to be humble, it thereby also teaches him to see through producibility as a parody of freedom, and to unmask undisciplined chatter as a parody of dialogue. Pope Benedict XVI

As this self-titled blog has developed into sort of a rant against popular self-absorption, you may find it hypocritical of me that I picked up a Self magazine at the gym the other day. Sitting on the stationary bike, I flipped to an article on gossip, and how to do it correctly. How to do it correctly? In otherwords, “How to Hurt People so that No One Gets Hurt?” It didn't make sense. But as “Self” magazine is all about what’s good for the self, it had to be noted that gossiping makes people feel closer to one another, and since being close to other people is good, gossiping must be good. But one should follow “Self’s” particular guidelines to keep anyone from suffering from your criticism of their life for your own benefit.

Self Disclosure: I have gossiped an unconscionable number of times in the course of my life. Starting somewhere around fifth grade, my conversations with friends began with not “What should we talk about?” but “Who should we talk about?” Who was on our nerves? Who should we not like on Monday? By high school, it was who was doing whom? And in college, who "gets it" and who is an automaton? Lord knows what gave me and chosen friend the authority to make such a judgment. But judge we did because all gossip is, just that, a weighing of another individual’s life against one’s own, paired with a preconceived decision that one’s own life is superior. People love to bask in feelings superiority with one another. I love to feel superior with a chosen friend. I love to be the one to say that the emperor has no clothes, which is why gossip is still on my list nearly every time I enter the confessional.

But live and learn. A peculiar thing about adulthood is that everyone knows the emperor has no clothes. Some people choose not to mention it however, in order to protect something that is greater than the ability of the eye to see. One day we realize that people cannot always control their eccentricities. And we will ignore the things someone does, a family member’s idiosyncratic behavior, a member of a prayer group’s need to share too much, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is more important for the family or the group to survive than it is to acknowledge that someone’s behavior is odd or annoying.

As tempting as it is to get together with a girlfriend and dish about these things, in order to forge friendships that are not annoying or troublesome, we will forego friendly closeness in favor of greater goods. And this has been a necessary sadness for me. I have a history of hot and heavy relationships. I remember many a college afternoon spent lollygagging with girlfriends discussing all the irritating people in our sorority. There was a physical closeness that came with this dishing—sort of like monkeys lying around eating the fleas off each other’s backs--and I'd be lying if I said these relationships didn't meet a need for physical and emotional intimacy that as an unmarried person I craved very much. Friendships were forged in a matter of weeks in college, where we had not only the idle time for such chatter but incredible nerve as well. It was important to be close with people and closeness required the revelation of our own secrets, and the secrets of others.

In adulthood, I have been blessed with friends, old and new, who have learned the value of discretion and who care enough about my soul to leave off a conversation that does neither of us any good. But this has also meant that the development of new friendships has moved very slowly at times. Often, I have felt that little rise of adrenaline when a friend has approached the edge of revelation about some personal detail in her life or the lives of others, and then has begged off with, “I really shouldn’t go there.” The initial disappointment when I realize that this friendship will have to forego that particular revelation and closeness is at times akin to having temperance in a sexual relationship. I really want to push you further. But for the good of your soul, we will forgo that closeness, and instead, talk about the weather. Bummer.

But hey, there will be no regrets between us, no murky feelings after a conversation or fears that I have betrayed the people I love most. Our friendship will have to be sustained on something besides the faults of others, which are, after all, finite. Neither one of us will have to make haste to a confessional, and the naked emperor will maintain just a little bit of dignity. That’s a good thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Engorgement is GORGE-y-ous!"

--The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Every now and then, my husband and I call live radio talkshows. He dialed in Carol the Coach to talk about the portrayal of adolescent attitudes in the movie, Juno. The topic was essentially a ruse in order to hear his voice on the air. Carol affirmed his concerns, however, and said “Thanks for calling in ‘Bob,’” with all the requisite smarminess. I, on the other hand, called Dr. Laura for affirmation concerning a marital squabble and was promptly chewed out, and disconnected.

The marital sqabble in question: My husband had a business trip in San Francisco and he wanted me to fly out with him. At the time I was breastfeeding our eight month old and was three months pregnant with baby number 2. The events of 9-11 had just transpired, and hyped up on anxiety and hormones, I did not want to fly.

I expected Dr. Laura to agree that my place was at home with my babies, but instead she said, “Give that baby a bottle, drop him off at your mother’s, then get on that plane with your husband where you belong… What are you going to do when that baby of yours is too scared to give a speech in school? You’re going to tell him to face his fears, just like you do. Click.”

My husband chuckled in victory. I professed my belief that Dr. Laura would disagree with any caller, regardless of how justified their concerns are, and stubbornly remained at home while my husband went on his trip without me.

Nearly ten years later, my husband and I are on our way to Colonial Williamsburg for our anniversary. We have left all five children with my parents in spite of my anxiety about leaving our one year old for the first time. He’s not weaned, but he might be by the time we return and that makes me sad.

My husband is going to participate in a Colonial furniture making workshop with Roy Underhill, of the PBS series, “The Woodwright Shop.” And I’m going to attend lectures on Colonial Art, cookery and fashion, and otherwise luxuriate in our hotel-room, if I can allow myself to be wholy present to my out-of-state condition while the lives of my children tick on without me this week, a day’s drive away.

We passed a car on the interstate full of retirees, two men in the front seat, talking, and two women in the back seat with loosely permed helmet hairdos and pinched expressions. “Look at those grumpy people,” I said, “They’re probably on the way to Williamsburg, too, for an elder retreat. I bet they’re regretting their dried up wombs and wishing they had enjoyed their children more while they were young.”

“Don’t worry,” my husband said, “We can make another baby AND a Thomas Jefferson Table while we’re here.”

I admit, I secretly enjoy letting my husband play the badguy about leaving the baby behind. After five kids and ten years, I really do feel ok about taking this trip, but I want to be persuaded, and go through that lengthy process of submission and acceptance. And my husband does his part in this game with a good nature and appropriate persistence.

I am keenly aware that this opportunity is a gift. My grandma likes to tell me that when she was rearing her children, it would have been unheard of for a mother of five children to go on a vacation from her kids. And I feel blessed that my own parents have not treated their retirement as “their time” but have welcomed the grandkids with unconditional abandon. So many grandparents prefer to say, “Been there, done that, find your own babysitter.”

Another quotable misperception on marriage from the Elizabeth Gilbert interview was that “People will always want intimacy with one chosen person and you cannot have intimacy without privacy, which is why couples draw circles of privacy around themselves. They demand that family, neighbors and the law respect their union, and that is why we have marriage.”

Au contraire, marriage is a public declaration, not an inward turning, but an outward turning of the couple towards the bringing up of children and involvement in community life. Which is not to say that couples should not invest the necessary time in maintaining spousal intimacy. I was probably mistaken all those years ago when I refused to go with my husand to California. But I do not believe that I’m entitled to this vacation. It’s a gift, and a benefit of the outward turning marriage that my parents have practiced for forty years, and continue to exercise in their involvement with their grandchildren.

My kids love it at their house, and maybe, since I’m pumping breastmilk while I’m here to keep supply up, the little one will have me back when we return. Until then, my breast is full, very full indeed.

Similar post on The Public Life of the Family

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Blog as Apostolate

The following was initially a comment I wrote for the previous post.

As I have nothing else for posting today, and as my comment took up a lot of space, and as I'm pretty sure no one is still reading that thread, here it is:

I think it’s true that blogging is an apostolate in the sense that every aspect of our lives is an apostolate if we take our Christian vocation seriously. You tell your story with honesty and a Christ-centered heart. You write beautifully and the final package is entertainment that is edifying and apostolic, even if that is not a stated or intentional purpose of your writing.

I think my understanding of “apostolate” has been colored by my experiences with Regnum Christi, in which apostolate is related to recruitment, and is worked on during hours specifically designated for Christian work. As that Movement undergoes purification, I am also rethinking how I use certain words I am in the habit of using. Part of my objection to the “blog as aspotolate” idea is that, by my former definition, it compartmentalizes aspects of our Christian life.

I appreciate what Jennifer says about our blogs being public, and I agree, as such that it requires prudence and savvy, just as any public life does.

I’m not sure, however, that I can “prayerfully consider” every word I put up here. I think it might make me scrupulous and defeat anything I write before I write it. And even if I agree that I should do it, the fact is, I won’t do it. Just as I don’t always prayerfully consider every word I say to my children when I discipline them. And never am I more entrenched in the work of forming Christian souls than when I am at home with my kids. But if I dwell on the damage I may or may not inflict on my children in my moments of non-reflection, I would probably despair of my vocation to motherhood, and my Christian vocation alike.

I learn from story. I experience my faith in story. Stories can glorify God, but sometimes they don’t. I have personal experience of coming to a deeper embrace of my faith through stories that might even be considered anti-Catholic. I think God can use every aspect of our lives for his Glory.

In “Blogging,” which by its nature orients us towards stories about ourselves, I have to trust that God can use my stories however he wants, even when my intentions are not entirely pure, even when the inevitable self-promotion sneaks into my writing.

If my entire life is an apostolate, of which blogging is a part, then my Christian work must include my errors. It has to include writing that is sometimes just cathartic for me. It has to include my parental and spousal missteps.

And as all this relates to Catholicism, fundamentalism and art, I think that what’s missing from a lot of blogs, and a lot of Christian writing is a humble and deep acceptance of God’s unconditional love and mercy. He forgives us our sins. He uses our sins for his ends. So I think we can relax our fears a little concerning writing with honesty about our lives. If the future of Christian story-telling is in the blogosphere, and I think it might be, then I would be sad if our stories were lost because we were afraid to tell them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Blogger's Meetup....Hmmmmm....

I met the Darwins today. I've never met "people of the internet" before because I've been told it's a dangerous thing to do. Though to me, the greater danger is the loss of my semi-anonymity. Hashing things over with Pedge afterwards, she said, "I know you're going to want to write about this, but you can't now because you've met them." But let me not be deterred, dear Pedge, I am truth teller. Hear me roar.

Upon first meeting, we all do the mutual size up, a split second erases the image you had in mind, and a new one takes shape: So that's how it is... And fortunately the Darwins were friendly, and fun--I could have talked to them all day (I did talk to them all day)--and not murderous or freaky, as one might expect from an internet arrangement.

But I also feel My pretty little cyber-persona has been cracked. I'm supposed to be an "enviably cheery and efficient fifties style housewife" (thanks P) or a "hip Catholic mom" (what?) So you have to wonder, does anonymity supply a blogger with just a little bit more credibility?

There are some bloggers I read who have done such a fine job of shaping their online personality, I'm not sure I could tolerate having my fantasy taken away from me with the dirge of real life. And that doesn't even touch on the expectations I have of you based on your name alone. If your name is "Rich" I've given you a notable adam's apple. If your name is "Kate" you're automatically a brunette. I want to picture you as a melancholic businessman in Italian suits. I want you to be a wood-cut of a Catholic martyr, a Renoir painting, or a dreamy profile on gold damask. It's all part of the fun, or at least, part of the genre. We get to be whomever we want to be. Or we get to be wholely ourselves, but protected.

The Darwins and I had a laugh today about the idea of "making connections in the modern world." So many modern story-tellers are fond of waxing philosophical about it (as I seem to be doing right now). Have you ever read any of Miranda July's short stories? I like one or two of them. I liked her movie, "You Me and Everyone We Know." The rest of her stories made me want to poke my eye out. There's something really corny about getting too complex on the issue. It's just meeting people. It used to happen all the time.

And maybe because there's so much history already aquired by reading one another's lives, things feel instantaneously intimate, even when they're not. How can I look Mr. Darwin in the eye when he knows I posed in the buff? Well, it wasn't that difficult. The Darwins don't make pretenses of being anyone other than who they are. I, however, have made it clear that I stretch the truth a bit on this blog. Or maybe I just say that to bamboozle my mother. I'll never tell.

At the end of the day, these blogs are just a bunch of words. I have a tendency to weigh the words too heavily. In real life, we ate, we drank coffee. Our kids played and fought with one another, and we let them work out who was going to be in who's club on their own, while the adults had conversation. Conversation being an entirely different animal than (and infinitely superior to) this blogging thing.