Instant Bad Mood

Brad and I have coined a phrase to describe the sudden onset of irritability. We call it "Instant Bad Mood." While Brad falls prey to Instant Bad Mood biennially -- his even-keel Minnesota stoicism does not encourage such sudden dips in temperament -- I experience Instant Bad Mood fairly regularly. Here are some triggers:

  • Shops that sell Christmas decorations year-round. There I am, browsing Sven and Ole tee shirts and wild rice soup mixes in a Grand Marias, MN, gift shop when out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse twinkling lights, animated Santas, moose-on-skis ornaments and those miniature towns tucked into faux snow. Instant Bad Mood. I'm cranky, I'm grouchy, I want to pick a fight with the cashier. Why in the world do I need to face Christmas schlock on July 14? Isn't it enough that Christmas descends upon us mid-October, even before we've packed away the grimacing jack-o-lanterns and light-up ghosts?

  • Being prodded into watching SNL clips online at 10:56 p.m. My husband has this really annoying habit of booting up Kristen Wiig sketches about 3.5 seconds before I am ready to retire to bed. "Oh honey, I meant to show you this earlier. You have got to watch's really quick, but you are going to die laughing," he says, cajoling me over to the computer. Brad has yet to learn that while I might find Kristen Wiig highly entertaining at, say, 6 p.m., at 10:56 p.m. I am less than amused. Instant Bad Mood.

  • The myth of the family dinner. I am convinced that all the social scientists who have concluded that having dinner as a family every night is a critical activity and imperative to the survival of our society do not, in fact, have any children of their own. If they did, they would realize that the family dinner is a recipe for Instant Bad Mood. They would see that dinner every night with two children under the age of seven results in the following:

  • flatwear clattering to the floor -- at least two utensils per child;
  • milk spillage and occasional gushing (out of nose);
  • falling -- at least one child tumbling from chair and sustaining injury;
  • multiple episodes of uncontrollable giggling;
  • some form of animal noise;
  • 14 complaints about food quality;
  • 12 requests for additional beverages and condiments, each request timed perfectly to the moment I am about ready to pull my chair up to the table;
  • at least one blurt of the following words: poop, penis, toilet, tooty;
  • zero adult conversation;
  • Instant Bad Mood.

So what does all this commentary about Instant Bad Mood have to do with faith, God or spirituality, you're wondering? Nothing really, except that it reminds me that life's disappointments and annoyances are real, here every day, facing us and daring us to contend with them in the best way possible. For awhile I assumed that once I believed in God, once I had faith, I wouldn't fall prey to such lowly faults -- to irritation and crabbiness, envy and gossip. That I wouldn't yell at my kids and sigh at my husband and wish that dinner didn't really involve children at all. That Instant Bad Mood would vanish along with all my other faults.

But more and more I'm realizing that I'm the same flawed person. The only difference now is that I know God, and that knowledge alone inspires me to strive for fewer Instant Bad Mood moments. Fewer eye rolls. Fewer sighs. And a little more appreciation, especially for the dinners that don't involve clattering flatwear and tumbling kids.


The Moth

I've always been terrified of dying. As a kid, I would lie in bed at night, gnawing on my cuticles and staring at the ceiling, limbs rigid, body motionless, as I tried to fathom what it would be like to be dead. I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that the world would go on, life would continue, yet I would not. The thought paralyzed me. Of course it did; for someone who doesn't believe in God (or, in my case, was pretending to believe in God), death is not a very comforting thought.

This fear continued for decades. As recently as three or four years ago, the "death dread" would creep over me every night at bedtime. It literally became part of my routine: change into pjs, brush teeth, climb into bed, obsess about dying. I was an adult, and I was still trying to fathom death.

Last year, we experienced death up close and person, in our own backyard, when Noah discovered that his moth friend had been devoured by a bird. The kids had spotted the gigantic moth hanging from the river birch tree the day before, and we had marveled over its bat-like body and owl-spotted wings. We even took pictures, all of us standing next to the moth like he was a movie star.

The next morning though, the moth was gone from its perch, and an hour or so later, Noah came across what was left of its body -- just part of the head and a shredded wing -- lifeless on the wood chips. Overcome with grief, Noah wept and howled, hunched over the moth as I hugged him on the grass. And when the tears slowed, the questions began: "What happens to moths after they die? Will he go to Heaven? Is there a separate Heaven for moths? How will I recognize my moth when I get to Heaven?"

Of course Brad wasn't home. The man with divinity degree always seems to be out when the theology questions start to fly. So I did my best, in my waffly, non-committal way. My answer was sort of a cop-out, but at least it was the truth. "I don't know," I told Noah. "I'm not really sure how it all works. Sometimes we just have to realize that we can't know all the answers, that it isn't time for us to know all the answers, how everything works. I'm hoping it all becomes much clearer when we meet God face-to-face." Noah actually seemed okay with this non-answer.

Having kids has offered a fresh opportunity for me to re-examine my own relationship with death and God. Noah and Rowan's questions and ponderings are helping me realize that questioning is okay, that perhaps questioning is even part of the process. Although my role is to help my kids, to guide them in the best way I can, in doing so I am perhaps uncovering some understanding myself.


The scapular

I once wore a scapular every day beneath my clothes. I was in the third grade, and had recently stolen a necklace right out of my classmate Kim’s desk. After about the fifth time I failed to confess the theft to my priest, I started wearing the scapular in a desperate attempt to save my soul.

My scapular consisted of two small squares of cloth which were connected by a loop of thread and worn over the shoulders, so that one square rested on my chest and the other on my back between my shoulder blades. It was of the "brown scapular" variety (nicknamed for the color of the cloth) – officially called The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – and it was authentic, having been blessed by a priest when I made my First Communion in second grade. I was wearing it for one reason and one reason only. Inscribed on the scapular in gothic script was this line: "Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." This, I felt, was like Monopoly's much sought after "Get out of Jail Free" card. This was my loophole; this scapular was my free pass into Heaven.

Ah, the scapular, what a blessed relief. It felt like I was wearing an invisible, magical cloak, a shield of protection. Wearing it beneath my clothes, I felt invincible. So what if it was a bit of a hassle? I wore the scapular all the time, 24 hours a day, even under my soccer uniform and nightgown. Unsure how bathing worked, I stashed it on the sink counter and splashed through my shower at breakneck speed, hoping I didn't slip on the soap, crack open my head and plummet straight to Hell without the safety of my scapular protecting me. For weeks I turned down open swim night at the town pool; after all, I couldn’t take it off altogether, but I couldn’t very well wear the scapular over my bathing suit like a nun going for a dip.

Wearing the scapular, though, was worth all the trouble; wearing the scapular released me from the fear and allowed me to feel free and safe again. Feeling the rough fabric against my skin, its constant, chafing presence, was a reminder of my sin, a penance of sorts. In my mind, the subtle but ever-present discomfort was an atonement, a substitute for the fact that I hadn’t actually confessed my sin to a priest.

The scapular didn’t affect my feelings or thoughts about God. In fact, in my mind, wearing the scapular didn’t have anything to do with God at all. I viewed it more like a passport, a document that declared in writing that I was not bound for Hell. I never connected faith and the scapular; I never connected the fact that I would first be required to have faith for the scapular to make good on its claims at all. I simply wore it as proof, like it was a legal deed granting me the “right” to enter Heaven. I figured if I followed the rules just right – wore it appropriately and didn’t ever remove it from my body – the words inscribed on it would come true.

It all worked really well for a while…until I lost it.


Welcome to the techno-phobe's blog

This is my first-ever blog post, and for people who know me, this fact alone is quite amusing. I am what you would call technologically un-inclined. I don’t do Facebook. I don’t Twitter. Or tweet. Or whatever it’s called. I don’t text. It takes me an average of 14 minutes to compose a three-line text because I haven’t mastered the three-letters-per-one-key arrangement on my cell phone. I once answered a text my husband sent me with this response: “I am laughing out loud” -- all meticulously spelled out like that (for which I was mercilessly ridiculed).

I still can’t quite wrap my mind around how the regular old telephone works, how my voice is magically carried over those thousands of miles of wire and mysteriously arrives in mother’s ear, 1,500 miles away where she stands ironing in her kitchen in Massachusetts. I am the woman who recently bemoaned to my sister that I couldn’t imagine getting a wii because I didn’t want to deal with “the tangle of wires and joy sticks spewing from my TV cabinet and littering my living room floor.” Yes, I said joy sticks. Until she corrected me (“Seriously? Are you serious? There aren’t wires, Michelle!”), I had assumed wii was like Atari, with a trendier name.

Suffice to say, technology – even more precisely, social networking – is not my thing. This is ironic, especially for a woman who works in the broadcasting industry. Despite all that, I thought I’d try my hand at blogging, for a couple key reasons:

1. I like to write in my spare time, and I like the thought that perhaps someone might like to read it (someone other than my poor husband, who is matrimonially contracted to read my ramblings and comment encouragingly).

2. I am actually writing a book (it’s entitled Graceful…you see where I’m going with this), so I figured the blog might be a useful way to share some of that writing with someone other than the previously mentioned husband. Also – pie in the sky here – the blog could ostensibly be used to promote said book, if said book ever gets published (hey, I said pie in the sky).

3. I have some thoughts on faith. Lots of thoughts on faith, actually – on finding faith, learning faith, keeping faith – that I am hoping might positively influence someone, someone who may be a little bit like me…me two or three years ago, when I didn’t have nearly as many thoughts on faith. I’ll get to more on that later…

So…I am officially a blogger. Welcome to my technologically unsavvy blog.

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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