Betty Duffy


Monday, October 5, 2015

A post about sex.

A lot of writing I've done in the past six months has piled up on my desktop. I haven't felt comfortable sharing it-- not sure why. The editor at Aleteia asked if I was interested in writing on the bizarre and troubling advent of sex robots, with a spiritual slant, maybe some insight from Pope Francis or JPII's, Theology of the Body, etc. As it happened, I had a piece already written that mentioned both Pope Francis and sex-bots, but from an entirely different angle. That piece went up at Aleteia today. The part about sex-bots was edited for length, ironically (Also, it was just weird.).

Here is "The Most Intimate Encounter: Called to Consummation"

For my next trick, I will be writing about the sixth stage of psychosexual development, being the spiritual.

Just kidding. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Today

At on how Planned Parenthood could be more forthcoming in correcting misconceptions about the quite narrow menu of services they actually provide.

Planned Parenthood Offers No Help With "Parenthood."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A gentle reminder for the good of humanity

The boys had a friend spend the night last night. We don't usually host overnights--because I hate them, being on guard, all night long, quashing the constant whisper that persists deep into the night.

And then, you can't walk around naked, not that I do that much but I cannot vouch for the other people with whom I live, who tend to shed clothes all over the place. The laundry baskets of clean clothes for instance, live in the dining room. Hence, there are often half dressed people sorting through the baskets looking for socks or more essential items.

Therefore, one of the first things I said to my husband this morning when he woke up was, "Don't walk around naked. That boy's here," lest he rise disoriented and depart from our bed for the kitchen in his underpants…just a gentle reminder for the good of humanity.

Twenty minutes later, my husband, freshly showered in our room behind closed doors, reaches for his drawers and says quietly, "I can't remember what you said. Did you say to walk around naked, or not to walk around naked?" 

I've once in awhile missed out on his jokes because they're so serious.

I'm writing about more of his jokes and not jokes for Good Letters. (P.S. I wrote this piece over a month ago. My husband has since made a near perfect recovery.):

Becoming Food

At five a.m. this morning, my husband woke me while taking money from my wallet to buy donuts for himself and our fourth child who was to accompany him to the lumberyard. He was buying wood to build a picnic table and a couple of porch swings.
My husband shouldn’t be driving a car. He shouldn’t be making things with wood yet. He had shoulder surgery several weeks ago, and at this point, his arm should be immobilized ninety percent of the time. He’s on short-term disability, home from work for an entire month, and he’s bored silly, so immobilization couldn’t last. It barely lasted a week.

Now he’s making furniture and renovating the storm windows. If he gets on a ladder, I’ll scream. And that should stop him. I think it really will. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Notes from exile

Too much time has passed. It keeps passing. More things keep happening. Each day more life occurs, and I'll never get it all written down if I try to go back and hit the high notes. 

I've been up since five AM driving my high schooler (!) to morning Cross Country practice. This fact, of his being in high school, keeps hitting me like a revelation--on the first night after the first day of school, for instance, when I tried to make him go to bed with the other kids at 8PM, and he said, "Mom, I'm in high school. Can I stay up a little later?" 

It usually happens anyway, by the time everyone showers and does homework and piddles around for as long as possible. But I had to concede that a later bed time was reasonable, even though he's still kind of small. Hasn't hit his growth spurt and whatnot. I was so anxious for him to grow up when he was little, just thirteen months old when his brother was born, and I had him counting backwards in Spanish and saying all his prayers, walking on his own while we were at the grocery, and going to bed, come hell or high water, by himself without a whole lot of comfort. I know it's a cliche to look back on these things in this later light, but would it have killed me to rock him to sleep for a bit longer? 

I have many regrets. But I suppose, as my mother recommends, it's time for me to give up hope for a better past. 

My eighth grader made the announcement shortly after the start of school that this would be the year that he starts treating females like human beings. As opposed to ignoring them completely. His older brother reported on him that girls would talk to him, and he acted like he didn't hear them, which I told him was very rude. 

I tried to encourage him, just to be polite, that talking to a girl wasn't a sign that you're in love with her. It's just about treating her with dignity, to listen, to respond. So I ask him each day, "Did you talk to any female human beings today?" So far, no dice.

I've been enjoying long languid mornings home with the baby--even more so that I've been awake for so long. I'm dressed, I've been out of the house, I'm home by seven, and ready to do things around my house, like clean it, and then sit in clean rooms and read books or play my cello (which I've discovered I'm really terrible at. It turns out that not playing for twenty years does actually take a toll on your performance.). I also stew tomatoes and freeze dinner. I'm trying to live a productive life without the internet. I wonder how long it will last.

Of course, I'm still on the internet. I keep going in for my daily scolding from the rhetoricians of the blogs. It's a spiritual mortification.

Also, I'm here, writing about the horrible recognition that while I am mentally about fifteen years old, my body is about to turn forty (that's not really what it's about, but it was in the back of my mind while I was writing it). They must increase. I must decrease. :

My children attend public middle and high school; hence the school year always begins with the ritual of the sports physical. There’s a clinic at the orthopedic surgeon’s office: five doctors, three hundred students, all in a line waiting to have their nuts grabbed and their eyes checked.

At the end of the summer, the teenagers are well tanned, their skin darkened, hair bleached out so they resemble palominos, particularly the long-legged girls in small shorts. Their straight blond manes ruffle when people walk past. And the boys talk with a confidence and cadence I recognize from when I was in school, twenty years ago now.

Small-town boys have an easy banter. They insult each other, hug each other, yell threats across the room, and for some reason, the girls link arms and answer. They walk over to the group in pairs and say, “What are you yelling about?” scolding and flirting at the same time.

We mothers sit around the edge of the room, mostly silent, though occasionally I want to say to someone, “It stinks to wilt while they bloom, doesn’t it?”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The making of a notoriously bad mother

Summer. I'm doing ok with it. The kids slept in for the first two weeks, until nine usually, and that was very nice. We stayed home for the most part, working on the house as usual, planting sort of a garden with which, unfortunately, I'm already bored. 

There's always something wrong with my gardens. The dirt is not well. It dries out too quickly. The grass grows in it, but nothing else does, and there's only one good day in the summer of satisfied weeding. After that, there is only resentful, guilty, sporadic weeding. And then I give up and drive around town thinking everyone else knows some magic that I don't because their gardens are much better off, and I bludgeon myself with this information until I decide that next year, things will be different. They will be smaller, and closer to the house, and in a pot, actually, on the windowsill.

Mostly, I've been reading, which is a possible problem for my garden. There has been a scandalous amount of reading going on here, actually, and I feel like the neighbors might be judging me when I lie on the hammock in the afternoon with a book, as if I have nothing else constructive or meaningful to do. No job for the lady with six kids. No dinner to cook. No house to clean. No garden to weed. Lucky lady who gets so much rest in her life.

Kind of true really. The days are increasing where something like a bedtime arrives, and I realize no one has had dinner. Alright then, smoothies real quick, or cereal, or ham and cheese roll up. And everyone gathers around the fridge and then the counter, and then the table, and we obliterate the kitchen and go to bed.

But enough with all the slovenliness. It was necessary for awhile, to impress on the children that we've had a summer vacation, but it's gotten out of hand. If you enter my kitchen in your underpants, from now on there will be consequences, as long as I remember to enforce them.

I'm sending my oldest on a mission camp next week. And the intermediates have started media camp two afternoons a week, where they write skits and film them, and they LOVE it. The youngers are doing Vacation Bible School. These are half-steps towards becoming responsible citizens again, people who get dressed and brush their teeth, and have relationships with people outside of the home. I really do have built in limits on how much reclusiveness and laziness I can bear and if I don't obey my limits, I start making unwise decisions.

Decisions like taking six kids to a Muzzleloading Competition / Period Reenactment/ Flea Market on a very hot day. Such an event does exist. It even has a website. And the website isn't kidding when it says, "Dress how you feel comfortable" and also that some patrons will interpret this invitation to mean "wear a loincloth." Most patrons choose period dress, buckskins, calico skirts and billowy blouses, and I was sad that I gave away my pioneer dress. I had such a nice one that fit so well and was my favorite color, and I really thought I'd wear it around the house sometimes when I bought it, but never did. I donated it to the fourth grade class for their pioneer days, and my daughter attests it's been worn many times since. But I looked through the sale booths of hand-sewn pioneer pretties with such longing. Where is my world? Why don't I live in it?

I talked to a couple re-enactors for awhile, because maybe that's my window into the time in which I belong. As they put it, once you get all your stuff made (and it does need to be hand-made), it's just like camping. You go for the week, pitch a canvas tent with dozens of old friends, dress in clothes that make you sweat more than usual, and shoot guns. "We're a drinking club with a shooting problem," the man said. He and his wife used to go scuba diving for vacation, but then they had to pay for their kids to go to college. Now, they re-enact.

We only saw one family re-enacting. And I have to say, the children looked miserable. By that, I mean that they were sitting at their distressed trestle table in the hottest part of the afternoon sweating and scowling. We looked at them with curiosity, and they looked at us angrily as we passed, as if they'd been forced to pose there like zoo animals. I never know if you're supposed to talk to the re-enactors.

Down the way, a beautiful teenage girl with sweaty curls on the back of her neck and her dress pulled over her knees, read a book in front of her tent with a half-smile of satisfaction. She was purposefully oblivious to everyone but a cute, long-haired teenage boy camping across the way. He had left the door open to his tent as he removed his shirt to lie down on the cot. The two of them were destroying each other with proximity. Fires burned. Their foreheads were dripping.

Less appealing characters also left their tent doors open. There were hirsute round bellies to observe, and protrusions of dirty bare feet.

But my children missed all the fun. They were so anxious to get back on the grid and over to the flea market side of things. A couple of them had dollars to spend on widgets and whirligigs. Maybe there would also be candy.

There were tie-died shirts, records, sunglasses, yard art, army surplus, tattoos, antiques, mildewed books, and novelties from China. The kids were thrilled at the possibilities. Some of them fell behind me while others got ahead. I ran up with two of them just as they nearly wandered into a booth titled "Adult Movies and Toys." I yelled, grabbed and yanked them out as quickly as I could. "But I didn't get to see the toys!" they said.

Shortly after that incident, I lost my daughter, who has a tendency to hoist her purse up over her shoulder and browse very intently, particularly when jewelry is involved. I went back to the booth where I'd last seen her. I had been trying to encourage everyone to follow me to the car by walking with purpose, and letting the stragglers feel threatened. But the tactic never works on her, and I should have known better. She wasn't there. I asked the attendant if he saw which way she went, because he'd asked if there was anything she'd like to see more closely. But he acted like he didn't know who I was talking about. I thought it was over, and all the flea-marketers were in cahoots, loading children into cargo holders when their parents weren't looking.

But she wandered out of a nearby booth, like a real shopper, looking about her for another place to feast her eyes and walk slowly past. Then of course I wanted to kill her. 

We fought all the way home. Everyone. All the kids fighting all the way. I pulled over to the side of the road nine times to make empty threats. I even reached my hand to the back seat, the way the old parent-legends tell about how their eyes watched the road, while their hand searched for victims. But my son leaned forward just as I reached back and I knocked his glasses, which made me feel guilty and ashamed. He wasn't even a chief offender. I decided not to reprimand anyone ever again. 

I turned on the radio, recalling why I don't like to go places or do things, because activity is hot torture, and interaction always ends in pain. THIS is why I sit in the hammock all day! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

So that I may inflict as much guilt as possible

May 16
I got up very early this morning to clean up dog diarrhea, and Joe was finally home, so I slipped out for a walk to what used to be the brick house. The brick house was a house just like ours, perched on a higher hill with orange poppies lining the driveway. It had a scenic barn and a windmill, until last week sometime, when I walked there, and discovered that the whole place had been bulldozed and pushed into a hole in the ground. 

It made me feel sad, not only because there are so few of these ancient houses left in the county--but because the brick house has been my turning point for so long. I go for a walk, often feeling pent up or a little bruised, and at the brick house, I turn 180 degrees and come home. This exercise makes me feel better.

It rained hard last night. The air was cool and overcast, with a sprinkling mist that couldn't be seen, only felt. All week long, I've been sending Joe pictures of his children, Paul graduating from kindergarten, Jane running her track meet, Andy receiving his honor roll medal. It's the end of the year and awards ceremonies happen every other day. They are very boring--Joe's not missing much-- but one must inflict as much guilt as possible.

At the track meet Thursday, Reba succeeded in falling down on the bleachers the third time she squirmed away from me, trying to scale the heights under the watchful eyes of many concerned grannies in the stands. I had purchased a box of popcorn to distract her, thinking she would then sit placidly on my lap in a haze of carbohydrate and butter-rich hypnosis, but the popcorn only worked on me. It was so good, until I spilled it all reaching out to catch her. And even still I was left holding the box, but not her. Why didn't I let go of the popcorn?

I let Paul sit with Andy at the top of the bleachers and only later found out that he was yelling at all the slowest people running, including his sister and calling them fatties. Nick slipped away from me as quickly as possible and went to bottle neck at another bleacher casualty, a little boy, not mine this time, who slid down the hand rail, bumped his head and got a concussion.

I eventually corralled everyone and made them sit in the car until the meet was over.

Anyway, this morning, I want to steal every free moment and absorb the wind. We're having two birthday parties this afternoon. I need to make some cupcakes. I need to clean. So I got up early and said my prayers, caught up with the Novena to the Holy Spirit that began yesterday because Pentecost is next week. I said my Rosary on my walk, and followed along with my sick dog who shat his way to our destination. Felt like a rube every time a car passed, and I wasn't waiting with my poop bag. I never bring a poop bag.

Jess pointed out the other day that every mystery of the Rosary is not just a touchpoint in the life of Christ, but also a movement of the Holy Spirit, when Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, when John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth's womb, when Mary went with haste to visit her cousin, when Mary presented her child in the temple and was approached by Simeon and Anna. Every major plot point in the life of Mary is a movement of the Holy Spirit.

The other day I was planting some flowers and I came across an old broken Rosary that I'd told the kids to bury several years ago. It was kind of special to unearth it, a treasure buried in the garden. As I was saying my Rosary this morning, it occurred to me to leave it on a fencepost along the road for someone. I've become that kind of person, the lady leaving rosaries around for the unsuspecting. I used to collect sacramentals when I found them, sometimes at Goodwill, sometimes in an abandoned pew. I always thought they needed protection, but God doesn't need my protection. 

So I left it there, so that whoever finds it will know that it's not just a coincidence, and receive it with my intention and blessing--even if that person is only the future me who no longer has a turning point at which to go back home.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bits of May


May 1, 2015
I don't know how the pastries at Starbucks manage to appear both totally synthetic and totally desirable, as if they're manufactured of resin, iced in marzipan, sliced, freeze dried and placed on eternal display. But then you ask for say, a lemon poundcake, and they reach right into the display and take one out for you.  I always want to ask how long it's been there. But would it really matter? Would I not eat it? Of course I would eat it, even if it were minted in the paleolithic era. 

I've been in California visiting Joe who's working here. He's currently on a two week stint, and I came out to spend the weekend with him.

I walked along the beach all morning, got a sunburn through the mist, observed the highly processed, yet totally desirable beauty of the Cali suburbs and the jogging women in neon lycra. It's so easy to think the worst of people. When I dropped Joe off, and toured his campus, I said, "Maybe we should move here, get a vasectomy, and start tanning." And I know that's not the whole of California, nor even the southern half of it. Nor even the entirety of the people on the beach. I still walk along thinking the worst of people, because that's what I do.

I was not even the lone plumpster on the ocean walk. I saw so many beautiful pregnant women and mothers with their babies talking while they pushed their strollers. I was jealous, but smiling jealous, because I was partaking of their glorious weather and their ocean and their fully displayed selves.

The days of my external glory were short lived and are now over. I told my daughter the other day I was just going to smile all the time to distract people from the enormous zit that took up residence on my cheek this week and she said, "Then everyone will see your yellow teeth." Can't win.  From here and evermore the party is inside, and entry is exclusive. Just kidding, tickets are free. Because I'll write about it all and post it on the internet.

Joe and I went to the Sufjan Stevens concert a couple weeks ago, and he got all dressed in his new white sneakers, Carhartt pants and plaid shirt. I said, "You realize we're going to be surrounded by hipsters in skinny jeans. Are you sure you want to go as Elder Hillbilly?" I wish I could say that I'm not a vain person and that I dropped the conversation there, but I pushed him at least to doff the sneakers, and then we went to the concert as ourselves, but older. Our seats were in the nosebleed section, but Joe, being a man of business who knows how to get what he needs from people, went and got our tickets upgraded to the fifth row. And then we were down with all the other elders who could afford to buy the best seats. Pays to get older.

The hipsters at the concert were all nice hipsters, Christian hipsters, the kind with celtic cross tattoos and pompadours. Fresh-faced hipsters, not dour ones. Because Sufjan is "secretly" Christian, or "reluctantly, unconventionally" Christian--however it's ok to be Christian these days--that's the kind he is.

I'm also realizing that hipster-ism is almost entirely a male (though not necessarily masculine) fashion trend.

May 4
Joe and I spent all of Sunday on Coronado Island. We rented bicycles and walked the waterfront. Fell asleep on the white sand. I read my delicious book--"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante--and everything was lovely until I had to pee. And there was no bathroom in sight for miles, not counting the ocean because I wasn't in my swimming suit. So I drove into town, miraculously got a parking space and entered the nearest Subway. But they wouldn't let me have the key to the bathroom.

"We don't have a key." 

"They told me at Dominos that you'd have a key."

"The bathroom is only for customers."

"So if I buy a cookie can you produce a key?" 

He looked at me blankly, "Would you like to buy a cookie?"


"There is no key."

"I'm going to pee right here!" I said. And really, I meant it, if only I'd had the balls to do it standing up, and also if it wouldn't dampen my pants. "You just lost a customer. I'm never going to Subway again."

And then I left in a big hurry. Turned out the nearest bathroom was back at the beach from which I'd come. Barely made it in time. Bulldozed a few people to get there.

I'm left believing that there are certain circumstances that remove inhibitions completely. I don't think of myself as the kind of person who goes around threatening to pee on people. But when I said it, I really thought I might not have a choice in the matter.

Passed a group of surfers standing together watching the waves, and in their midst the aroma of urine. Wherever men congregate in the wild, it smells like pee. It was so on the old Elberta pier in Michigan where my Grandpa use to take my brother fishing. "It's a vile place," my Grandma said to me, "You don't want to go out there." 

And the pier in San Diego--same thing--urine in every corner. Men at their poles, peeing without reserve. Even my own children do it, the boys anyway--all over the yard, or right off the patio.

But I have no pot to pee in.

Meanwhile, Joe had been out in the water. Got tossed about a bit, bruised his foot. I was too scared to swim. The elements are not screwing around--water, fire. Theoretically, even the wind can kill you, but then, we can't live without them either. Joe's been on fire. I've nearly drowned twice. At some point I need to admit that I have not been called to the ocean in order to swim in it. I will gaze on its glories. I will smell it, and repose on its shores. But swim, I will not. I'm remembering now that I went on vacation with my professor's family to chaperone the children to the ocean as a lifeguard and nanny many years ago. Granted it was the Atlantic, which in my experience, is not …the Pacific. But still, they trusted me to save their children. Ignorance is bliss.

We listened to a lot of conversations over the weekend, because we ate in restaurants all over town. San Diego's best sushi, best Thai, best Mexican, best dessert…I love the Local Eats App which scouts all these things out for you. The food was very good, but my conclusion is that 99% of what people say in this world is NOT interesting.

I count myself here too. As Joe pointed out, 99% of our own conversations are me mumbling (the most profound thoughts imaginable), and him saying "What??" He's losing his hearing. He doesn't believe it, but he is. 

A group of women at the Thai restaurant was celebrating a 40th birthday and it was all so familiar--the lady group dynamics. One woman had heard of a bottle of wine that might be good. Clearly, she wanted to get shnockered and benevolently put the bottle on her own tab. One woman was a loud nasal talker who gave very long answers to questions, but could not conceive of a singular question to ask anyone else all night. The honorable forty year old was just so happy to be surrounded by these "beautiful supportive women" who, it turned out, didn't know each other well at all. Sulky, slender gal in the corner was curt and suspicious of everyone. 

"And where do you work, Sulky?"

"I work in landscape design…?" she answered with that California up-lift at the end of the sentence, which turns every statement into a question.

At the Mexican restaurant, we sat next to an engaged couple who was having a very silent fight. She "Just didn't want to talk about it anymore," even though clearly she did want to talk about it, and seemed really put off when he took her literally and went about eating his burrito. She kept ordering drinks, smiling at the waiter, then scowling at her fiance.

Joe likes to fast all day and then eat one large meal, which I found challenging. We almost never eat on the same schedule, so being on his was eye-opening to me. I had decided at departure that I wasn't going to spend the weekend fantasizing and grasping for my next meal, and just eat whatever comes to me. 

Without kids, without sleep disturbances, without a crazy schedule and all the things that I've always thought contributed to my crankiness at home, it really is just the food or lack thereof that makes me edgy. I'm cranky early in the morning and late at night, and also in late afternoon. "So all day, then?" Joe says.

But no. Those are brief windows of low blood sugar easily corrected by eating. I'm very nice after a meal, which is why I need to be fed more than once a day. 

Weirdly, I didn't really want the bonzo shot of Starbucks coffee after three days running on it. It does make my head hurt a little when I try to drink as much of it as I normally drink of my coffee at home. Folgers is my preference. I also really like Krust-eeze pancakes. I like to eat at restaurants for ethnic food, but contemporary American food, even "farm to table" is a real snooze-fest for me. What a lovely sprig of herb, you've placed on the asiago pasta. I hope you've remembered the Velveeta as well.


I'm always glad to come home and open my fridge whenever I feel grouchy. Went to pick up the dog at the kennel, which is very remote, and I am struck all over again by how inexpensive and quiet Indiana is. Even living next to an interstate is nothing like living next to an interstate, a commuter train, an airport, and a million people. I drive on some roads around here for miles and never encounter another person. I love Indiana.

I also love visiting California. At Saturday's farmer's market in Little Italy, downtown San Diego, there were blocks and blocks of beautiful whimsically dressed people, who actually do ride cruiser bikes with woven baskets to market just as suggested in Country Living magazine. The market had jewelry and clothes and gluten free wares, wind chimes, succulents, hand knits, even sea anemones.

Our farmer's market has three mainstays: A pick-up full of corn on the cob, Amish bakers, and a woman sitting on a cooler of sausage. Everything is three dollars: A dozen ears of corn, a pound of ground pork, and a cream cheese pumpkin roll. And I always leave our farmer's market thinking, "This is a racket. I would never pay three dollars for this stuff if it weren't at the farmer's market."  California is an even bigger racket. It may be three dollars per gluten free, sugar free bite.

But it sure is pretty.