Betty Duffy


Monday, November 23, 2015

Angry lady syndrome

Costumes, delicious food and old and new friends made for a delightful All Saints Day party that my kids and I enjoyed earlier this month. But as soon as I walked in the door and saw my husband—who didn’t come with us—still at work on his projects around the house, I was a little piqued.

He should have been there.

Other dads and husbands were there, demonstrating the importance of Catholic feast days to their kids, celebrating together as a family. It was true that my husband and I had already discussed the reasons why he needed to complete his projects while I took the kids, and I had been OK with those reasons. But something about seeing other Catholic families doing Catholic-y things together made me feel cheated and resentful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I'm not failing very well

Very pleased to have a post featured at Mind & Spirit, a magazine exploring the intersection of Faith and Psychology:

Beyond the Cult of Failure

When I first started blogging, many years ago, I had a pretty solid formula that always yielded good results (many shares and comments). I began a post by telling a story about some little failure in my life, a trial in housekeeping, or an anecdote about the kids embarrassing me. Often it was a failure in my Christian life.
I set up a soft conflict, that wasn’t really my fault—because clearly, I was awesome—but it allowed readers to relate to me when wild and crazy things just kept happening in life to humble me. Then, in the course of a thousand words or less, I set about learning a lesson from all the madness, some little nugget that readers could take away and apply to their own lives. 
It’s a pretty common formula really. You hear it in talks by motivational speakers of all kinds.
You hear it in homilies and sermons. You see it on commercials. There’s a reason the formula works, and why it’s used often to sell books, movies, theories, and thousands of other products.
It’s called The Pratfall Effect, which in social psychology is the tendency for otherwise competent people to seem more attractive after committing a light, socially acceptable blunder. In romantic comedy, it’s the beautiful heroine who trips on her way into a job interview, but still gets the job. It’s Steve Jobs undergoing trial and error on his rise to becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the 21st Century. 
In the field of economics, risk-taking and low-casualty failures are common factors in the backstory of nearly every entrepreneurial success. And so we find maxims to “embrace failure,” and to “fail better” creeping into popular parlance, and Christian psychology as well. 
The wildly popular writer, speaker, researcher and story-teller, Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and spiritual soul mate of Oprah Winfrey, begins herTED talk with an anecdote about her own life-changing failure. While studying shame, vulnerability, and authenticity, she discovers that her own life choices are not in accord with the outcome of her research. She has a breakdown, visits a therapist and ultimately embraces this dark moment, changing course in her career in perfect time to take her research and her message to an audience of millions. 
Brown’s story is an example of the pratfall effect in action. By sharing her own failure, Brown gains the trust of her listeners, and asserts that they, too, can embrace failure and vulnerability, and change the outcome of their lives. 
For Christians, there is both a grain of truth, and a pitfall in Brown’s message. The grain of truth is that acknowledging failure can be a spiritual turning point or a time of spiritual growth. The pitfall is believing that a subsequent success must validate us as people and Christian souls. In short, the cult of failure is often the cult of success in disguise. 

Read the Rest

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!