Wendy Klesch, Special to The Catholic Virginian
From a very young age, Kelly Tallent had her battle plan all drawn out.
When she was 12, she joined the Civil Air Patrol, which serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. In high school, she convinced her mother to allow her to take additional classes during summer so she could graduate early — with the goal of joining the National Guard.
“As soon as I turned 17, I was like: ‘Recruiting station, let’s go,’” she said.
She dreamed of one day joining the Army. And, who knew?
Perhaps, she might even be a general one day.
Instead, not long after departing for basic training in 2003, Tallent found her life marching in an entirely different direction. Today, she is a budding writer, married and a stay-at-home mother of five children, ages two to 11.
Her book and blog, both titled “The Joyful Pessimist,” tell the story of how, in the course of a decade, she went from the military, where she served more than five years, to motherhood, and of how the change in her plans led to a change of her perspective, and then to a change of heart.
Joy, meaning in the joyless, meaningless
Tallent’s journey — which would lead her across the country and across denominations — began in Bethlehem, Pa. Her mother was raised Catholic and her father Lutheran, but her parents began attending an Assemblies of God Church when she and her sibling were children.
She attended a largely Protestant nondenominational Christian school, but she often found herself intrigued, she said, by her few Catholic classmates.
“I remember thinking: ‘What makes you different?’ We were a little more outspoken, a little more wild,” she laughed. “They were very quiet, just very stable people — and now I can see why.”
Tallent, 31, would eventually realize there was a different mentality — “a vulnerability that comes from going to confession.”
“Through undergoing examinations of conscience, you really come to understand who you are, what your failings are,” she said. “You really get to know yourself.”
Tallent began to read about Catholicism and concluded Catholics were not so very different in the essentials after all.
“So, I went home and, being the pretentious senior that I was, I said, ‘Hey, Mom, I want to be Catholic.’ … It was out of the blue, totally random,” she said.
“I never was one to just go by the book,” Tallent said. “I was always one to question things. Later, I felt it was like the Holy Spirit was planting seeds.”
During her advanced training, she met her future husband, Neil, also a Guard member, whom she soon learned — coincidently enough — was Catholic.
“It was funny how that turned out,” Tallent said.
Once she met Neil’s large family — her husband is the oldest of nine children — she felt drawn to the idea of one day having a large family herself.
For a while, she held that hope side by side with her plans for a career in the military. But once she and Neil married in 2006, and the children came along, difficulties finding childcare prompted her to leave the National Guard.
“It was difficult leaving because I had trained for the military; I knew from a very long time that was what I wanted to do,” she said. “When I first met his family, I felt: that’s for us — but I didn’t know then what that meant. After a few years, I felt like all I do is change diapers. Who am I? What happened to my dreams of being awesome? Of changing the world?”
So, Tallent learned how to wage a different kind of battle — the battle of the everyday. Of wiping down the counters. Again. Of getting breakfast during the morning rush. Again. Of searching for peace amid chaos and finding wonder in the small things Again and again.
Tallent explained that she began to look for joy and meaning in tasks that often, seem — well — joyless and meaningless.
Soon, she felt led to share her experiences with others, and the inspiration for her book and her blog was born.
Journal replaces computer
After meeting Neil, Kelly entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program in Arizona and joined the Catholic Church in 2005. Following their marriage, and, soon after their second child was born, the Tallents moved from Arizona to Virginia to be closer to her family. The family attends Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Newport News, where he is part of the men’s ministry, she is part of the Amelia Guild, and both are involved in Cursillo.
As a mom to young children, kept on the go by daily tasks, Tallent found a creative outlet in writing. She loved posting to social media sites such as Facebook, but after a while, she said, she felt she had become a little too preoccupied with checking her posts and adding updates.
So, instead, in May 2016, she switched off her computer and began keeping a journal. In her journal, she gave each of her family members a code name. Tallent became “The General,” she said, in recognition of her in-charge and focused personality. She nicknamed her husband “The Saint.”
“He’s just very mellow, very understanding,” she said. “There will be times when we are fighting, and he’ll just step back and put everything into perspective; and I’ll have to admit he’s right,” she said. “It’s sort of annoying, actually.”
She also gave her kids code names — Carl, Spike, Buttercup, Alfonso Rupert and Johnny Cinco.
As she wrote, she began to look for the things in her life that inspired laughter and gratitude rather than the desire to throw in the dishtowel — literally. Soon, she said, she felt the overall tenor of her life began to change.
‘God got a hold of me’
On her blog introducing “The Joyful Pessimist,” Tallent writes:
“I am a story teller. I take real life situations and share them. Most of the stories I tell revolve around my family … Our stories have a joy-centered twist for the most part; however, there are days when finding joy proves to be quite difficult.
“You see, I haven’t always been a joyful person. Sadly, I was a pessimistic nuisance until one day God got a hold of me. I began my search for joy by giving up Facebook for a year and journaling my life events. As I wrote, I made it a point of describing the joy I saw as opposed to all the misery. I was not always successful in this endeavor of finding joy, but I realized finding joy isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a daily choice. As is love.”
When the year’s project was over, Tallent felt called to share her story with others and self-published “The Joyful Pessimist” on Amazon.
“It is difficult, to make yourself vulnerable. My blog isn’t typical of many that you might see out there. I blog about the good and the bad and the ugly — and sometimes I have a sailor’s mouth, so I have to watch that,” she said, laughing.
She added, “But I wanted to be honest with people. If anyone out there is struggling, I wanted them to know that they are not alone.”
Tallent writes about the ups and downs of family life. About her husband’s knee surgery, and of what a joy it is to be able to care for someone you love.
Well, until it isn’t.
About how she looks forward to creating moments of magic in her children’s lives:
“One of the coolest parts about being a mom is that you get to have fairy wings… If you’re a mom with kids over the age of five, you have been given little, delicate wings that allow you to fly unobserved into a child’s bedroom at o’dark hundred to extricate a tooth from under a sleeping child’s pillow.”
Until the night that, try as she might, she simply can’t find her child’s tooth anywhere. Later, she learned her son decided to catch the tooth fairy by hiding his tooth in his underwear.
“Why don’t you be a normal child and put the bag under the pillow so that next time you can get a coin?” she laments.
Connecting life, Scripture
Tallent also looks for analogies between daily life and Scripture. In an article published on catholicmom.com, “Jesus Loves Potlucks!” she explained that soon after joining their parish, her family held a potluck after Mass, inviting some of the families they had recently met — and how that potluck grew. She wrote:
“Anyway, so you may be asking, ‘How in the world do you fit that many people in your house?’
“The answer? I have no idea. I also have no idea how we always end up with enough food for everyone, but when we look back at the story of the loaves and the fishes, the answer is — Jesus.
“He loves when people bring what they have to the table. He loves to bless it and multiply it. He loves to bless friendships and community. He loves to bless conversations and laughter. That is how our little rag-tag potluck group of four families turned into 40.”
This June, Tallent and her husband, a software designer and computer programmer, began a podcast, “The General and the Saint,” in which they plan to discuss topics such as the important role of hobbies in a marriage, finances, and introducing children to the saints.
“Kelly feels very called to share her faith, and so I want to support that if I can,” Neil Tallent, 39, said.
He said he has qualms about sharing vignettes of his family’s life on-line, but that it’s important to recognize that — whether you are a fan or not — the internet is a place where, increasingly, people go for entertainment and information, and is itself becoming its own form of community.
“If we struggle, if we fail, yeah, we feel embarrassed. But by sharing our lives, we’re not intending to make ourselves the butt of some joke, but rather to let others know: here’s how we handled it,” Neil Tallent said. “To let others who might be going through the same things know that they aren’t alone. It’s about sharing our lives, building friendships, relationships with other people in the community.”
Finding God in the daily course of one’s life is a campaign with no clear end — there aren’t always medals and commendations. Often the only reward is to get up in the morning and do it all again. But starting out with faith, hope and love, blogs “The General,” is oftentimes half the battle:
“Today and every day we will run onto the lackluster battlefield of stale Cheerios, laundry, and more laundry, shouting our praises to our Creator and glorifying Him in our simple yes. We will scoop up our children and kiss them all over their faces when they peed on the carpet yet again, and we will run into the arms of our spouses with a smile, even if our day was full of chaos and stress. And when we fail miserably and kick down closet doors because our husband annoyed us, we will run back to confession and start all over again knowing that every day we say yes to God, we get closer and closer to the awesome soldiers He has created us to be.”
Editor’s note: Kelly Tallent’s blog is www.thejoyfulpessimist.com.