Family life

When A Stranger Called Me Out On What's Really Important

On Sunday morning a few weeks ago, my husband and I road tripped through rural mountains to pick up my children from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The weather was perfect:  crisp and sunny and the trees were dressed in their very best shades of gold, red, orange, and green.  I radio played favorite tunes and I nursed a road coke as I drove. It was a rare treat to be with my husband on a gorgeous autumn day and I was soaking in the moment, that is until a blue truck cut me off. 

Life Lessons At the Grocery Store A Lesson on What's Important by Colleen Murphy Duggan

I turned my blinker on so I could merge, but the truck driver in the lane next to me refused to let me over and he sped up to block my entrance.  When we hit a red light, I got behind the truck and I did something stupid:  I made a hand gesture that sarcastically communicated, “Please, after you.”

My performance aggravated the truck driver because he leaned out his window, turned to look at me and then used this his one hand to signal that he was going to slice my throat open.  He dragged his one long pointer finger across his throat and pointed at me with his other.  Then he used both his hands to simulate fake guns, pointed them at me and pretended to shoot me.  He mouthed, “I’m gonna kill you.”

A counselor once explained to me that when a person faces confrontation there are two gut responses:  to flee or to fight.  I’m ashamed to admit this but my instinct in the midst of sticky situations is never to run away, but is always to charge into battle.  The stranger’s threats activated my fight response and despite my internal warning bells ringing loud and proud, I made a split second decision to pretend I wasn’t afraid.

I shoved John’s shoulder to shake him awake and said, “That guy is threatening me!” Then, I reached for my phone to call the police, which made the driver in the vehicle ahead of me even angrier.  His hands flailed in the air, simulating the kind of violence he was going to do to me. 

John begged me to let it go.

“That guy is crazy, Colleen! Quit antagonizing him.” 

John’s nervous admonitions penetrated my anger and though I was furious, when the light turned green, I let the driver speed off and I stayed a great distance behind him.  My stomach lurched and I was shaking all over. I was scared of the man but what frightened even more, though, was my poor response to him.

Why wouldn’t I back down when someone threatened me?

The incident stayed with me and every time I thought about it, I was unsettled by my behavior.

A few days later, I watched, like the rest of the nation, as the country elected Donald Trump as president.  The nation was in emotional turmoil—some people jubilant from the victory and some people devastated and even destructive.  The volatile nature of the country’s sentiments prompted me to extend extra kindness to the strangers I encountered.  I was sensitive to the plight of those who felt threatened by Trump’s politics and demeanor.  

On the Wednesday after the election and just a few days after my fight with the road warrior, I found myself in the aisles of our local discount grocery store.  My toe-headed three year old, Edward, accompanied me as I filled my cart with produce, meat, milk and cheese.  While we meandered through the store, Edward and I kept bumping into this couple making their way slowly through the canned goods and cereal aisles, the produce section, and the frozen meat department.  Every time I turned a corner, I bumped into these two who were focused on their list. 

By the time I got to the check out counter, I had an overflowing cart and a cranky toddler and I was hoping for an open checkout aisle.  When I saw one, I rushed over the lane, which is when I saw the man I’d followed while I shopped.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to him, “Am I cutting in front of you?  I don’t want to cut you off.”

The man flashed me a wide grin.

“No, ma’am,” he said, “You go right ahead, I’m waiting on my wife,” he said and he moved over so I could maneuver my cart through.

“Are you sure?  I don’t mind waiting…I don’t want to be rude.  People are so crazy these days.  Let me tell you what happened to me this weekend while I was driving.“

I’m not sure what prompted me, but I relayed the story to the stranger about the out of control driver.  I also told him I acted like a jerk too.  When I finished, he hung his head and shook it slowly.

“Man,” he whispered, “People really are nuts.  You just don’t know what people are gonna do these days.”

I agreed and he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.  I had started unloading groceries onto the conveyor belt and he said,

“That’s your little boy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you have a husband at home?  Maybe a few other kids?”

“Yes, “ I answered again.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but you have a lot to lose.  You don’t have time to engage crazy people because that little boy needs you.  You need to learn to ignore what isn’t important.  You need to let it go.  Your have more important things to worry about.”

Have you ever had someone tell you something and you knew you were supposed to listen to it?  That’s how I felt when that man spoke to me in the middle of the Aldi’s check out counter.  I knew I was supposed to listen to what he said because what he said was the truth.

I turned and grabbed the man’s hand.

“Yes! “ I said.  “You are so right.  I should never have fought back.  I do have too much to lose.  Thank you so much for the reminder.”

He grinned at me again and walked off to find his wife.

I finished paying for my groceries and bagging my groceries and before he left the store, the man tapped me on the shoulder.

“Remember this,” he said “Learn to ignore.  Some things just ain’t that important.”

It’s a message I’m never going to forget.

Life Lessons At the Grocery Store A Lesson on What's Important by Colleen Murphy Duggan

Two Lessons I Learned About Mothering, When My Son Wouldn't Learn His Math

My sister, Sarah, and I were chatting on the phone as I watched my children swim laps during practice. As we talked about the kids, I confessed to her that my oldest, Patrick, needed to repeat his current math class.

 “He just didn’t do well this year,” I said. “So many aspects of school come easily to him, but with math, Patrick doesn’t have the skill set to persevere and work out difficult problems.”

Sarah was silent as she digested this information, but not for long. “What do you mean you’re going to have him repeat math, Colleen? Patrick is a good student. Did you get him a tutor? Are you making him take summer school? This is unacceptable,” Sarah said.

My sister and her husband, Ted, are second parents to my six children. They both take great joy in my children’s accomplishments and are equally devastated when they see that one of my kids is struggling. Sarah took this news about Patrick’s poor math performance harder than I expected.

“You’ve got to put him on a learning schedule over the summer. He can’t get behind in math. It’s too important. I know you need help, so don’t worry, I’ll handle this problem. I’m going to put him on a math schedule and he’s going to work every day. If he does a good job, I’ll fly him to visit us at the end of the summer.”

That night, Sarah registered Patrick for Kahn Academy, sent Patrick an email outlining what he needed to cover in math, and promised him an all expense paid trip to her home if he completed his course load. Patrick was so thrilled by the prospect, he agreed to the deal immediately.

I, on the other hand, was skeptical Sarah’s plan would work. I was dead wrong.

Read the rest at Aleteia.

When God Picks Your Friends

Jesse and Dan’s ingenious modus operandi in securing our friendship was to feed us.  My husband, John, and I had moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for work, but we were lonely because our immediate family lived several states away.  We knew we needed community, but we didn’t know where to look.  John and I decided to pray for some friends and a few weeks later, we met the Richey family one Saturday afternoon after a Vigil Mass.

Dan, a former Louisiana senator and a recovering attorney, knows more about politics and history than anyone I know.  When my father, a retired Marine Colonel and history enthusiast himself, met Dan for the first time, my dad asked me later, “Do you suppose he has a photographic memory?”

Dan’s brain is tack sharp.

And Dan’s wife, Jesse?  She is all heart.

If Jesse sees a book she thinks you might like, you’ll find it tucked in your mailbox before the day is out.  If you get sick and can’t cook for your brood, Jesse will prepare a casserole the size of Istanbul and put it in your oven.  If it’s two a.m. and you’re in labor, you can call Jesse and she’ll come sit with your other children while you go to the hospital (even if she has to work the next day).

When I had three children under the age of three and was overwhelmed with life, Jesse came to my house every Thursday afternoon so I could go to Adoration and the grocery store, sans children. I would leave for an hour or two and come home, to calm children, dinner in the oven and several loads of laundry washed and folded.

I still don’t know how she did it.

Read the rest at Integrated Catholic Life.

Spaghetti Dinners

Spaghetti Dinners Blessed Silence Colleen Duggan Catholic Writer

Right now, there is blessed silence.

John just took five of the kids to evening swim team practice.

The noise produced and energy required to get that stampede of elephants out the door would make the Ringling Brothers sweat.

Before they left, I told Christopher, the seven year old, no less than ten times to find his flip flops, put them on, and get in the van.

For at least eight minutes, that child wandered about the back yard and then into the house, staring at the ceiling, making small explosive sounds, and simulating bombs with his hands.

He still had no shoes after eight minutes of


, but no actual


We’ve reviewed this difference, he and I, at least one thousand times.

I’ve told him that


is not the same as


, but he stares at me like I am an odd creature speaking in a language he’s never heard.

My lectures don’t work.

The boy can never find his shoes when we need to leave.

But right now, there is blessed silence and I don’t have to worry about teachable moments or Christopher’s flip-flops.

Camille was wearing nothing but a bathing suit just minutes before John corralled the kids.

In a moment of weakness earlier this afternoon, I agreed to let the lot of them turn on the hose to cool off in the summer heat.

Cursed hose!

Harbinger of fights and catastrophe!

For the next hour, I sat in my rocking chair referring arguments and inappropriate hose dousing.

I did convince Camille to put on some clothes before she left, though.

She chose a mismatched ensemble of bright yellow and orange, splattered with spaghetti stains.

Speaking of which, we’ve had spaghetti for dinner for two nights in a row.

Half of me feels guilty that I’ve completely abdicated summer meal planning, but the other half can’t be bothered.

And so, most evenings for the last few months, we’ve dined on sandwiches and quesadillas, and….yes, spaghetti.

So far, the kids are all fine.

And for now, there is this blessed silence; the only sound the pitter-patter of my keyboard.

I’m avoiding the mess in the kitchen, of course.

Meaghan, the almost twelve year old, has been broadening her culinary skills.

She creates simple meals like sandwiches and quesadillas and spaghetti (see above), and she does a tiptop job.

She’s all but mastered the art of spaghetti, really.

But stewarding and bussing tables? I am still cultivating those skills with her, bless her beautiful heart of goodness.

I walked over several strands of sticky spaghetti stuck to the floor as I fled to my office just now and there is red sauce splattered from one end of my white tiled kitchen floor to the other.

But beggars can’t be choosers and at this moment in my life—at all moments, really--I’m most certainly a beggar.

Thank you, Meaghan, for your zealous efforts to supply the family with food.

God knew what I needed when He gave me you.

Right now, though, I’m not worried about the spaghetti sauce or the starch covered pots or the noodles stuck to the floor.

There is this blessed silence enveloping me, a blessed silence indeed.

Edward went with John and the other hooligans.

Edward, wearing only diaper just moments before I secured him in his car seat, was covered in red sauce and had adopted a strange black grime from an afternoon outdoors.

He grinned at me as I wiped him down from head to toe, threw a cotton top and shorts on him, and placed him in the car.

This blessed silence is coming to a close, it will soon be over, my brief moment of respite ended.

Soon, I will rise from this desk and from my keyboard and I will fill the kitchen sink with warm soapy water.

I will submerge the pots covered in filth and grim and I will scrub them clean.

I will mop the floors—again, though I mopped them just last night—and I will wipe down the counters.

I will ready this space for the stampede of elephants who will burst through the door and who will destroy my blessed silence.

But they light up my world.