Betty Duffy

Friday, November 7, 2008


I come from a family of four children, a long line of hunting dogs (several of whom were incestuously related), a Viet Namese pot-bellied pig, an iguana, a hedgehog, several hermit crabs, a hooded rat, a beehive, a flock of pigeons, several domestic rabbits, a savanna monitor, and various other vicious reptiles. All of us lived in the same house (though a few lived in the backyard) in the suburbs (this was before my parents built their log cabin on a farm in the middle of nowhere). It occurred to me while I was driving this morning, that my childhood might not have been normal.

I vaguely remember my mom seeing one of the dogs rubbing themselves on the couch in the living room and complaining "Why can't I have nice things?" And my thoughts as a child went something like, "Why would you want nice things?" If things are too nice, you can't live in them. Hence my bedroom that I shared with my older sister was plastered with pictures torn from magazines. We wrote on our walls and ceilings. There was a hole in the drywall by the door from a fight I had with my older brother, and another hole by the bed where my sister and I did flips off our bunkbeds.

Now that I'm about to have my fifth child, my fourth boy, I am coming to terms with the fact that my house will never be clean, will never have perfectly white walls, clean counters, or toilets that don't smell like pee. It was actually sort of liberating when I found out this child would be a boy because I felt a physical sense of relief about housekeeping: I can give up that fight. I was counting on having another girl to maintain the order in our house, though when I remember the room I shared with my sister it becomes clear how absurd my hopes were.

I am now joining the refrain with my mother, "Why can't I have nice things?" when I see the banister that has been hung on one too many times starting to break free of the wall. Kids do not make for a designer home. Keeping things sanitary has become my goal in housekeeping, not keeping things beautiful. And now that bending over to clean those dark corners of the bathroom has become physically impossible for this pregnant body, even sanitation is suffering.

There was a great line in "A Thousand Acres" about how when the power grid came to the rural areas, all the farmers' wives did not say, "Look how bright things are!" They said, "Look how dirty things are!" I'm going to comfort myself through these next few weeks, and as long as necessary after that with the thought that people survived before they knew how dirty their houses were.


Sara said...

You may not have the best furniture, but you'll have a very happy family!!

JenX67 said...

I neeeded to hear this today. I worry way too much about having a clean house. My son goes to peeing and half the time doesn't hold his wee, and then there's the pee, running down the wall. I'm like, "YOU HAVE TO HOLD IT! NOW YOU HAVE TO SHAKE THE PEE OFF OF IT." I take a deep breath and wonder if I'm damaging his future manhood, and maybe pee on the wall isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.

I had no idea you were pregnant. That makes that video that much harder to endure. Oh, how I remember the pain of bending over. Be well and take care of yourself, Betty. You are in my prayers tonight.

Emily said...

Okay, Sister, you are giving boys a bad rap. Just have to clarify here: it was your knee through the wall, pushed in a tussle with me, not your brother (although does that make for a better story?) And I think it was your foot that went through the cheap door as I held it shut. My version of the story goes that most of the detritus around the house that Mom railed about was deposited by you and me; although army guys and legos occasionally littered the floor, most of the boy stuff stayed upstairs. And we all know that our Little Brother is by far the neatest person in the family, (even if he did pee in cups). But it is true that the boys' bathroom smelled far worse than the girls'. Dan just uprooted our toilet while touching up the bathroom and the entire wax ring had been melted away by urine (some of that, though, came through the crack between the seat and the stool when little girls sat there to pee.)Guess you'll just have to get busy trying to conceive a girl after Duffy is born. Try early in the cycle.

Betty Duffy said...

Actually, sister, hole in door was most definitely from Seth when I was eavesdropping on his phone conversations and he busted door to unplug phone from our wall. Hole in wall by bed was from my butt doing a flip. And yes, you're right, hole in drywall by door was one of our knees. Major damage was done on carpet and wood floors by dogs, but the boys...
1. remember the light under the boys' bathroom always leaking water from their shower?
2. Seth's room was NEVER clean.
3. Warm milk on the counter, always. (this was possibly Dad)
4. I'm just saying the boys didn't do chores. You and I always did the dishes, the dusting, the sweeping. What did they do?
And you're right, the rest of the mess was ours.
Girls are dirty too.

Kate said...

John was the neatest one?!?!? You guys are gross.

Kate said...

p.s. It's only up to girls to do chores if you choose to assign them thusly. So, Eliz, instead of lamenting the weener in your womb as the final nail in your fight for sanitation and order, why don't you make your boys do chores?

Betty Duffy said...

OK, so I do make the kids do chores, even the boys. I think it's the pee thing that bugs me most about boys (and I count my husband among them).