Interview with Susie Lloyd
"If heaven's a banquet, will I have to do the dishes? That's all Catholic mom Susie Lloyd wants to know. Marriage and motherhood have taught her the rest." That's from the back cover of her new book Please Don't Drink the Holy Water! Homeschool Days, Rosary Nights, and Other Near Occasions of Sin released by Sophia Institute Press at the end of 2004. Mrs. Lloyd is known to many Catholic readers for her regular homeschooling features in Latin Mass magazine. But her commentaries cover much more than schooling at home Ė discussing every conceivable challenge or misadventure involved in real parenting in an often unreal society. These themes are at the heart of her book which is fast on its way to becoming a bestseller, and is available from major book dealers and Catholic religious goods retailers.
SEATTLE CATHOLIC (SC): For readers not already familiar with your homeschooling columns in Latin Mass magazine, tell us briefly what your book is about and how you came up with your title.
SUSIE LLOYD (SL): Holy Water is Catholic, big family, homeschool silliness. The title comes mainly from the publisher, John Barger who likes to as he puts it, "act like a queen and give titles." My working title was pretty stale anyway. So we went back and forth on it for a week. It had to have just a few modest features: it had to say Catholic, funny, and homeschooling, it had to play off a familiar phrase and be short enough to fit on the spine. Finding the title was harder than writing the book! In the end though, everyone was pleased with it and I got to contribute the "near occasions of sin" thing in the subtitle.
SC: How long have you been writing for Catholic journals?
SL: Itís been a regular thing for about six or seven years. How I got started was a gift. My mom used to say - "You and Greg have the most interesting things happen to you!" My friend Eddie who was a night editor at the local paper entered the Legionaries of Christ seminary. After that he disappeared for his years of formation. I used to write to him once a year at Christmas. Then after a few years he called. He was working on a paper owned by the Legionaries of Christ called Faith and Family. He asked me to write for it. Heíd seen my letters and thought I had talent. And I was immersed in the domestic scene which was just the sort of material they wanted.
SC: How did you make the jump from periodical essays to the book? Did you write your columns on traditional parenting with a Please Donít Drink the Holy Water! in mind?
SL: Not really. A couple of editors put the thought of doing a book into my head. I did, however, use a few of the columns in my book.
SC: Have your articles always been informal and autobiographical, or have you tried out different approaches before settling on the style we see in your essays and in your book?
SL: The book is styled a bit differently than my articles. I guess thatís because I had much freer reign over the material. They let me go wild at Sophia. On the one hand they would say, "Thereís no way that NAMBLA thing will appear in the book." Then theyíd decide it had really slayed them so it was in. I do all kinds of articles Ė features, interviews, reviews, saint bios, how toís. So I canít always just say whatever I want. The style is always conversational though. I write the way I talk.
SC: Please Donít Drink the Holy Water! reads like diary entries written on the fly. No doubt other home schooling Catholic moms will find this style very sympathetic. Do you write spontaneously, or do you spend a lot of time on drafts before going to print?
SL: Endless revisions Ė and thatís no exaggeration. Finally you decide you have to cut it off somewhere to make a deadline but you could keep going. Dig the word processor. My drafts used to look like scrawls and arrows going every which way.
SC: One reviewer has referred to you as a "Catholic Erma Bombeck." Readers may be curious to know what your literary influences are and who, if anyone, you try to emulate.
SL: Actually, Erma was a Catholic. She converted in college. Her Catholicism was not the theme of her writing, though sometimes it came into it like the time she said her kids hid under the pew and assumed a fetal position during the sign of peace. She was a riot. I have a lot of favorite writers Ė I think writers love to read. Mine range from P.G. Wodehouse to Solzhenitzyn to James Herriot. And I'm a big fan of Pat Buchanan. Pretty eclectic but they are all just a pleasure to read and Iíve learned something from each one.
SC: You offer some amusing observations about the mental habits of the opposite sex that read at times like a Catholic Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus Ė for example, one passage where you're having a conversation with your husband: "...he has been laboring under the delusion that he is talking to another man. His eyes register 'woman,' but have failed to send the appropriate signals to his brain. Consequently his brain persists in offering male solutions to female emotions." Any thoughts on whatís involved in a successful marriage?
SL: It doesnít hurt to have a husband like Greg. His love is unassailable. Iíve tried but he persists in loving me. But if youíre looking for generalities besides matrimonial grace Ė Iíd have to give it to perseverance, commitment, forgiveness, Sundays togetherÖ Also, for us Ė kids. We needed kids. My mom once looked at our baby daughter and said, "Thereís the glue."
SC: You donít gloss over your foibles and, contrary to the "I can do it all" attitude, you arenít shy of offering short-cuts and simplifications for the struggling mom. Thoughts on the never-ending maternal guilt complex?
SL: I still have it. It is eternal. I was talking to a friend the other day who homeschooled four kids. They all grew up, stayed Catholic, no one lives at home, and things are fine. But she still feels that some things were never finished. She found some beads the other day - "We havenít strung the beads!" I told her she had to get over it or I would be doomed too.
SC: Anyone reading your book will get some sense of your pet projects as well as your pet peeves. Can you give readers a "top 10" list of likes and dislikes in the world of Catholic parenting?
Dislikes: Big Brother State regulations; homeschooling during Lent and winter; having too much to do and not enough stamina to do it all really really well; having to invent everything that regular kids just have Ė like all their course work, field trips, activities, social opportunities.
Likes: Having big kids as well as little ones; having good friends in my homeschool group who bring dinner over when I have a baby; hearing from people who get a pick me up from my articles; sharing my favorite books with the girls; understanding math for the first time in my life; all the good examples of religious life and none of the bad ones; having all girls Ė its easier for them socially and we fit better into this row home with one bathroom.
SC: What opinions, if any, do your family members have about your writing?
SL: Greg and the girls are proud of it. Greg is my agent really. He got me the job at The Latin Mass magazine by telling Fr. McLucas I was a professional writer. I was a contributor by then but a far cry from "professional. " To Greg I was. Anyway, it gave me a chance to submit something to Fr. McLucas [editor of Latin Mass magazine - ed. note]. Greg has always been like that Ė when we were first married I went to work part time at a language institute in Austria. They wanted me to act on tape in English but Greg clinched it by telling them I could speak French too. I had had a measly two years in high school and forgotten ninety percent of it. But thatís him. Heís not lying Ė heís just very supportive and he sort of likes me. The girls laugh louder than anybody at the things I say about them Ė some exactly true, others stretched just a bit. Everything I wrote went by them first.
SC: Readers who go to Amazon.com may notice that in the cover art of Please Donít Drink the Holy Water! your husband Greg is shown with a beard, but in the actual sales copy that came out, the beard has mysteriously disappeared!
SL: Originally the cartoonist included the beard but then the publisher had him take it off Ė much to Greg's chagrin. I tried to rescue it, but off it stayed. The girls aren't too accurate either, except the one at the piano. Neither am I, except the smirk is just right. The cartoonist, Ted Schluenderfritz, did all the gags exactly the way I asked. I love the pictures but according to my dad, there arenít enough. I agree.
SC: Any thoughts on traditional Catholic journalism in general?
SL: Itís usually pretty heady stuff. There is so much going on to be concerned about. I guess something on the lighter side could also do some good. Thatís the point of Holy Water.
SC: What are your upcoming projects?
SL: Right now I am getting to know my new little baby, Melanie (6 weeks) and rounding out the school year. Iím still writing articles Ė though time is pretty tight and energy is low. We have talked about doing a sequel. That will depend mostly on whether life lets me.
Excerpts from Please Don't Drink the Holy Water!
How is it that kids have radar for when you're not up to speed? It must be something in the atmospheric pressure that makes their energy levels go up when Mom's goes down.
I am not talking about being actually sick. What I'm talking about here is that phenomenon called "just tired." It's the middle ground between health and sickness. You feel done in, worn out, uptight, and downtrodden, but you're still on your feet. This sig nals to everyone that you are open for business. Traffic continues to pour into your mental office.
"Mom, the baby drank the holy water again!"
"Mom, she threw glue in my hair when I didn't throw glue in hers!"
Your nerves put in for a transfer to a Trappist monastery.
Soon the only sudden noises you can tolerate are coming from you. Sickness, on the other hand, is like going on vacation. When I am sick, there are no sweeter nurses than my five daughters. It's a rare occasion that catches me staggering around before lowering myself gingerly onto the couch, and they never fail to respond with heartwarming sympathy. They rush to my side saying, "Aww. . . . "
Now, my husband and I are fortunate to have honest children, children who know their catechism, children who go to weekly confession.
They do not lie. They shift the blame.
"It wasn't me. It was the inanimate object's fault. It got in the way of the path of my elbow, it knocked off, it fell on the floor, and that is why it is getting exactly what it deserves by being broken into a million pieces. Why make such a fuss about it, Mom? Don't you think it has been punished enough?"
Having kids has made me a believer. I no longer think the excuses you see on judge shows are staged. When Queenticia Jackson was charged with assault, she vehemently denied throwing a chair at Keira Sloane. "I did not throw that chair at her. I most certainly did not! It hit her over the head!" Well, now, that's another story.
Or the one about the accident reports. A man filed a deposition that went something like: "The telephone pole was approaching fast. I swerved to avoid it, but it just kept on coming. Finally, it hit me." I used to think that was made up, but no more. That is just the sort of logic kids give you.
Lent is the homeschooler's longest mile. The kids get their daily constitutional bouncing off the walls, the clutter has built up so long that it has evolved the power of reproduction, and I tell myself I'm not really behind on this year's work: I'm ahead of last year's.
Once you've passed Christmas, psychologically you feel half-way done with your 180-day school year. On paper, however, you could have as many as 105 more days. This at a time when darkness descends before supper, when the jagged brown branches of naked trees scratch the grey dome of a mournful sky, and islands of mud and straw-like grass appear amid random piles of black snow. The multicolored Christmas lights have long come down. There are no diverting holiday parties; there's no windfall of presents to look forward to; and all the bills have come due.
The Real World tries to make up for the general malaise by hawking Valentine's Day as soon as New Year's is over. Candy, flowers, diamonds, dinner at an expensive restaurant Ė glamour plus amour. And who are they selling it to? Men, presumably. But who really cares about this stuff? Women.
I have never met a woman yet who doesn't take Valentine's Day seriously. Meanwhile, men, who are still recovering from the Christmas bills, have no idea why every Valentine's Day ends up like this:
"Honey, why are you crying?"
"Because you don't care!"
"What? I brought home flowers."
"It's the least you can do. If you really loved me, you'd have gotten the Sweetheart Floral Arrangement with Diamond Bracelet for an Additional $300, that says, 'For all the things you do, there's no better way to say: I love you.' The commercials have been on for a month. You just don't love me!"
A month later comes St. Patrick's Day. Most men appreciate this holiday mainly because the female public has not yet learned to expect presents....