Betty Duffy

Monday, September 29, 2008

Beer and Blue Cheese

I obviously have a bit of melancholy that catches up to me every now and then—who doesn’t? But I am mostly a sanguine soul, so by the third day of a slump, I am usually sick of my own sour taste and make a conscientious decision to engage in some joy inducing behavior. One can only handle so much existential angst before it begins to feel self-serving and self-defeating—which, as I’ve mentioned before, is not what this self-titled blog aims to accomplish.

One of my favorite joy-inducing behaviors is eating, which has been sort of a thorn in my side, since I got busted for eating during this pregnancy by developing gestational diabetes. As if eating for two were not restrictive enough, when I have lived the last 32 years of my life eating for four or five and then running it off in the evening, now I have to restrict not only soft cheeses, liquor, and the occasional social cigarette, but also sugar, even fruit and oatmeal. Well, I found a way to work around at least part of those restrictions today: a recipe for gastropub cooking: a Beer and Deer stew, as the kids have been calling it. I’ve been craving a thick hearty stew for several years now, since my sister-in-law made a beef and Guiness stew with Irish Soda Bread for one of our visits to their graduate school apartment. For some reason hearty stews have been sort of awol from our menu here, since the kids aren’t favorable, and neither really, is my husband. But there was a time in my life when people called me Betty Hearty-stew-sted (a play on the maiden name), because that’s what I cooked or ordered when eating out.

In short form, this stew is a pot-pie style with blue cheese rolled into the crust, thus cooking out the risk of dangerous bacteria while keeping that favorite of all my favorite stinky cheese flavors. The stew portion has an English stout broth, which gave me a good opportunity for a moderate glug off the pint of St Peters Cream Stout that’s been in the fridge for close to nine months. The recipe calls for a beef roast, but since my Mom and Dad’s electricity went out several weeks ago, and they salvaged much of their freezer contents by storing them in my freezer, and since that meat has not yet been removed from my freezer, I feel justified in cooking a good looking venison roast that takes up much valuable real-estate. Maybe I’ll give them the left-overs. In short, this meal is costing me very little, and is also providing me with an opportunity to use the sharp knife I got for Christmas last year. Chopping veg with a good knife is one of life’s little pleasures, so that even if the stew stinks, it’s been a good process.

With the smell of a good stew emanating from the stove-top, life feels a little less brutal. The kids have wreaked havoc today on many things. #1 broke a window by swinging a sand-stuffed spandex snake around our entry way (this also ripped the snake which sent a spray of sand all the way into the kitchen). #2 threw the only surviving pumpkin from our garden off the top of the swing-set leaving it splattered in pieces in our yard. And #3 and 4 had suffered negative popularity at the playground this morning due to their poor slide etiquette.

But tonight there will be stew, and warm hearty hops smells, and blue cheese. Maybe I’ll dim the lights, pour a little something sticky on the table, and light a candle that smells like cigarettes for that full pub effect.

(I’m going to put a patent on that cigarette candle.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Disposable Childhood?

Who ever ends up living the life they are groomed from childhood to live? I vaguely remember telling the orthodontist that I needed him to recommend braces to my parents because I was going to be an actress when I grew up, and I, with straight white teeth, did indeed perform in a few school plays in high school. At some point, however, I decided that being an actress was too shallow a vocation to pursue, and that I needed to concentrate on my career as a solo cellist. When I discovered exactly how competitive and unlikely that career would be to realize, I began to focus on writing. And ever since I have displaced that career urge alternately with reading, mothering, and trying to reach some sort of Catholic spiritual enlightenment.

Sometimes I think about all the money my parents spent on me and my various aspirations, and I cringe at the many ways I let that money go to waste. I also sometimes think of my parents as the victims of the “Free to be You and Me” culture that was popular during my childhood in the 70s and 80s. We were all supposed to become amazing individuals who would exceed any creative expectations if only we were provided with the resources and opportunities to do so. Conversely, having it all at such a young age made me not want any of it. By the time I graduated from college, all I wanted was to get married and have babies.

Consequently, at least at this stage, I don’t cultivate music or art in my children much (in the form of lessons and activities), because I cultivated them in my youth only to see them take on such a peripheral roll in my life. Religious art to me is useful and I hope will be appreciated by my kids—but I don’t see it as art so much as I see it as a kitchen utensil or something—a tool in my life, a vehicle through which I go about providing my daily bread. I see it for its purpose, and its beauty is a nice perk. Religious music is the same—it serves a purpose in my spiritual life. But secular music, pop or classical—which used to seem such a personality indicator when I was striving to identify myself as an adolescent—I could now take it or leave it. I don't often feel that particular brand of yearning anymore.

Maybe I’m depriving my children of a gift they truly deserve. I’m depriving them of so much. Right now, it's quiet time, and they are required to play in that abyss of tiny pieces and parts they call their room, or else go outside. I could call them around to do an activity together, but something has gone awry with the creative urges I had in my youth. I feel like my brain is going to dissolve, my head go liquid and melt down my shoulders when I contemplate children’s crafts and entertainments. I don’t understand the intricate cuttings and gluings and tyings and colorings to create some paper sculpture which will require a display for a reasonable amount of time before it can be put in the trash. I spend too much time doing things that are to be undone before the day is over to add to the pile of disposable creations the kids are already making and bringing home from school.

The best I can do right now is read to them, and write stories by their side, and I can write down their stories for them. But I am probably not the mother my children deserve. On one hand I want to save them from the feeling of wastefulness I feel as a grown-up who squandered my childhood advantages. On the other hand, I want to give them the gift of desire, of wanting something so badly they will do anything to accomplish it. And on a third hand, there’s a part of me that thinks living a humble life, getting a useful job, or “just being a mom” is a worthy aspiration that should be encouraged before they set their hopes on some unlikely goal that will leave them in a state of endless wanting. And it could be that this is just my way of projecting myself and my personal failures onto my kids. It was bound to happen somehow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Life is up for Grabs...Any Takers?

One of the retirees at Daily Mass asked me today if there’s anything she could do to help me in these last couple months before the baby arrives. My heart was screaming, Yes! Yes! You can BE me for the next three months. Live in my house, sleep in my bed. This might disturb Mr. Duffy the first time he wakes up to a gray haired woman in his bed, but overall, it’s a better deal for him. Could you do the scurry all day picking up legos from the corners of all my rooms? Pack lunches? Just do it all and I will become an invalid. I’ll be bedridden in some quiet place where my husband brings the children for periodic hushed visits. I will go for months without inhaling the aroma of a dirty diaper, have piles of books within arm’s reach and a stack of Colin Firth movies to watch. People will bring me bouquets of fresh flowers, occasional dinners of filet mignon, and maybe even hand-written letters that let me know how much I’ve meant to them all these years. And the rest of the time will be unadulterated REST. No pain, of course, in this fantasy, no death looming just over the horizon.

If you can’t make this dream a reality for me, Lady, then really, don’t worry about it. There is a sort of fatigue that cannot be cured on a couple hours of free time, or a nap in the afternoon, or being relieved of dinner duty for one night. When you realize that it took YEARS to become this tired, it becomes clear that to really cure the fatigue, you need years to undo it. You begin to seek God in the psalms of the weary. What prayer can I find to support spending the rest of my life in bed? Lord in my suffering, give me rest—maketh me to lie down in the verdant pasture of my bed.

One of the hardest things about being a mother is that you are now irrevocably responsible for creating the safe harbor, and yet you never get to rest in it. It’s easy to become glum at this prospect, to wonder again and again, when it will be MY turn. And the answer is never again. Because the concept of having a turn that is entirely one’s own, is contrary to the premise of motherhood. We practice sharing as children; we have no alternative but to share as mothers. That we become our best selves in service to others is a truth that leaves me constantly pining for my lost youth. But I know it cannot be recovered. I was reading the Wall Street Journal last night and came across an excerpt from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace. The glittering gem in a pile of sadness that apparently led the author to commit suicide was this:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

Who can handle it? My wise sister-in-law made the observation that, “If your life is easy, you’re probably making it hard for someone else.” And she’s right. When I’m slacking off, my whole family suffers. When my husband slacks, I suffer. When I do my work, but don’t do it cheerfully, anyone who reads my blog suffers because I’ll complain about it. In the adult world, no one gets off the hook. And if I live my life as though I’m the center of it, the sad truth is that I will receive the brunt of the sorrow for it. The invalid life is not for me, as I am certain that after a day or two of living within those parameters, I would be sick and tired of it too.

My hope is in the Cross, but I come to this conclusion stubbornly, because there is no alternative, and it is the only possibility of redemption in this Valley. David Foster Wallace, rest in peace. My hope is in the Cross. My life depends on it. I need it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Little House Love

Apparently there is something about my maternity that makes me look like cast members from Little House on the Prairie. For the record, those pictures above are not of me and Mr. Duffy. But they are my grandparents, which means if you marry the offspring of those two English lovebirds with the offspring of a couple of German/ Dutch lovebirds, you get me: A tall, blonde-haired woman with a substantial upper lip, and a chubby-while-pregnant face. During one pregnancy several years ago, when my hair was around shoulder length, and the light was reflecting off my glasses just so, Mr. Duffy was inspired to look at me lovingly and say, “You really look like Doc Baker.”

I have, apparently improved with age. Though I have not worn a long flannel nightgown since we got married eight years ago, I have kept one in a box all these years, because I grew up in Lanz of Salzburg nightgowns, and they are a part of me. As the weather has turned cooler these last few weeks, the call of my nightgown has grown very strong. Last night, I crawled into bed, pulled the flannel nightgown around my ankles, and began to braid my hair, which is now long. “You really look like Caroline Ingalls,” came the voice from the other side of the bed.

I have now decided that this fixation with Little House on the Prairie characters is not my fault. It is most certainly my mother-in-law’s contribution to my husband’s psycho-sexual disposition. Mr. Duffy was allowed to watch one prime time T.V. show during his formative years, which was of course, Little House. Fortunately for me, I came later in the family birth order, and my parents saw fit to leave the house occasionally during prime time hours and on weekends. This left me armed with the remote control and little supervision during those critical years. Night Rider, Miami Vice, Family Ties, Fantasy Island, Little House—I’ve loved them all. Perhaps that has made my tastes a little more…complex.

Mr. Duffy maintains that he likes to sleep unfettered—make of that what you will. But I think there may be a little fantasy that he hasn't felt comfortable sharing with me.

I’m on to you now, though. You’ll get your union suit yet, Mr. Duffy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Adventures of Betty and Pedge with Movie Producer, Jason Jones

Some people dream big. Pedge and I dream out of our league. So we're a couple of midwestern wives with ten kids between us, and no other credentials. But we have a pretty good idea of the kind of movies we'd like to go see, and if Hollywood's not going to make those movies, we want a chance to make them ourselves. Tonight we went to the Right to Life Indianapolis dinner where Jason Jones, the producer of the movie, Bella, was the keynote speaker. Never content to be wallflowers, pregnant Betty and Pedge, with a baby in a sling, skipped the line where Jason was autographing copies of Bella, and jumped right up next to him to slip him our contact information, and give him just a hint of what we were thinking.

Jason, if you read this, please call Pedge or I immediately. Hollywood tells us that they've got this great new movie featuring better rolls for mature women, and they give us "Sex and the City"???? Help us, Jason! And we can help you by providing you with your next life-affirming script for Metanoia films. Pedge is the brain, I'm the pen, and we work really well together. Scroll through this blog for just a taste of the humor and insight you can look forward to, if you pick up that phone (or email us, which really works better since there's a chance you'll meet my four-year-old phone answering secretary if you call).

And really, Jason, even if you don't want a couple of amateurs from Indiana coming anywhere near a script for Metanoia films, please still consider our pitch as an option for your professionals to develop. We'll settle on just being invited to a movie premier.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Morning in Exile

This morning Mr. Duffy didn’t have to be at work until 9 so I got to go to Mass without the kids. When Mr. Duffy asked if I wanted to go, I was still in the fog of sleep, and a little less than enthusiastic about getting up, especially since the last few days have been such an exhibition of my childish behavior. Surely the tone of my most recent posts have given some insight into my interior landscape, but if I narrated the complete extant of my tantrums this week, you would see why I might be a little sheepish about going to face my Creator this morning at Mass. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” What could he possibly have meant by that?

We went to a parade recently here in town, and the kids were collecting candy right and left. A toddler next to us was making his slow way towards a piece of candy while my oldest child was swooping around a wide radius gathering candy before anyone else could get to it—and this child had nearly reached his destination, was only one or two feet away when Duffy #1 dove in for the kill. Poor toddler was so easily distractible, he just turned around to toddle back to his dad. No, it was Duffy #1 who threw the tantrum when we pointed out to him that this other child had made a baptism of intent to eat this particular piece of candy and that Duffy#1 should relinquish the candy to the younger, weaker child. He was not happy to do that. He became blind to the fresh showering handfuls of candy yet being scattered in his domain, and could only feel so painfully the loss of the one piece he couldn’t have. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said. Well this is the kind of behavior I see exhibited in my kids—and also the most common kind of behavior of which I am guilty. What could Jesus possibly have meant? Let those who ignore the pouring forth of Grace in favor of their neighbor’s goods come to me? Or maybe he meant, let those who steal their neighbor’s goods come to me, as Duffy #3 illustrated when she blatantly stole Duffy#2’s Dots from his pile of accumulated sweets, to which Duffy #2 responded by screaming and hitting his sister. Let those who reciprocate bad deeds with tantrums and violence come to me. What could Jesus possibly have meant?

I went to Mass regardless of my bad behavior, and surely Jesus meant what he said in spite of how children behave, because I had one of those moments of consolation that are so rare, but provide such certainty. The minute I walked through the door, I felt the spirit of Christ’s forgiveness come over me. “Don’t hide from me, Betty. I know where to find you.” I heard it, I swear. I hate to say it, because I love to get hung up on my guilt, but none of my bad behavior mattered right then. It just didn’t matter at all, though I certainly felt the stipulation that I need to clean up my act and quit acting like a psychotic pregnant lady, even though that may very well be what I am.

Mass was over ten minutes early, clearly another blessing, and I had an opportunity to go to the grocery for milk without any kids before Mr. Duffy had to leave for work. I was giddy with the wonderful way my day was shaping up. And as I turned into the parking lot of Kroger and saw the flashing red and blue lights behind me, it did not occur to me at all that those lights might be for me. But I pulled over regardless and curiously, the cop car pulled up right behind me. “Any reason you might be in a hurry this morning?” Well you know how this story ends. Betty Duffy, who has never had a ticket in her life, never had an accident, has rarely been pulled over, but has always managed to make her way out with only a warning; Betty Duffy arrived home from her blessed morning raging, with a two hundred dollar ticket in her pocket. It’s all a valley of tears, isn’t it?

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Joke!

Sarah Palin's joke the other night comparing hockey moms to pit bulls had me thinking about lipstick jokes, and I've decided that my lipstick joke for the day is "You can put lipstick on a pig...but it's still a pig." Here I am, I have not bothered with lipstick today, nor my contacts, and maybe I even forgot to brush my teeth this morning, because no matter what I do to sexify this lovely figure, I will still be six months pregnant. I even have on the pink shirt that caused Mr. Duffy to remark, "Have you no dignity at all? It takes one minute to put on a clean shirt." What Mr. Duffy did not realize is that this is a clean shirt. It's just lived through four pregnancies, and is apparently quite stained on the underside of my belly where I go buffing along the kitchen counter as I'm cooking. But I can't see it, so it must not be that bad, and anyway, by the end of the day, the upper side of my belly is decorated in numerous droppings from breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack...(didn't someone say it's a good idea to eat six meals a day?). I could spend my life changing my shirt, but that would just mean more laundry.

So here's a quiz:

What does pregnant Betty do when she is feeling tired, fat and frumpy?
A.) Go for a walk
B.) Take a nap
C.) Make a vat of no-bake cookies and eat 2/3rds of them herself before they reach the wax paper
D.) Make a vat of no-bake cookies, eat 2/3rds of them, then lay on the couch and complain about being too tired to take a walk.

If you answered D, you are correct. On the bright side, no bakes are chock full of nutrituous oats, organic peanut butter, and anti-oxidant rich chocolate; a health food, really. But if you ever hear me saying, "I always gain so much weight when I'm pregnant, no matter what I do. I get fat nose, fat cheeks, fat ankles, fat toenails. It's not fair." Just remember what blogging Betty told you in a weak moment. I have never given up the no-bakes.

So now it's time to put that spiritual spin on this tale of woe...wrap it up into a tidy package with some gem of wisdom for my readers.

...Hold on...

...I'm working on it...

...still thinking about how to do that...

...God's plan...

...personal sanctification...

... This is spiritual constipation...

This is where it becomes very evident that I could put lipstick on this pig and it would still be a pig. I have not come to terms, in five pregnancies, with what pregnancy does to my brain and my body. I know it's a blessing. I know it's part of God's plan. I will do it. I am doing it. But I do it like the spoiled baby that I am. And no amount of moral posturing at this moment is going to make the next three months feel any better. And you'd think that at some point I would learn to embrace this suffering how I'm supposed to--that this coccoon of bodily sacrifice would one day split open and a bright Beatific Betty would burst out rejoicing. It's not going to happen--not today anyway--and probably not until this baby bursts out screaming.

But I do now have a very long list of books to read while I'm moping on the couch in my post no-bake torpor.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How to Get Through This Afternoon?

I need a good book to read. I had a writing prof once who asked the class what we would pass up anything else to read or watch on tv. The question was designed to help us pinpoint what makes a narrative addictive--something we can't put down. I had admitted earlier in the class that I could at times read some piece of chick lit in a day's time--so he sort of assumed that's what it was for me. In reality, it's not that cut and dry. I read in proportion to need--how badly do I need an escape? At this point in this particular week, I need it badly. I don't even need a narrative, I get distracted by a book of coupons. God help my children, because their mother is not at home. She has checked out. And I'm always looking for the sweet deal--when will I happen upon the rare thing of beauty that makes the reality I'm sacrificing for it a fair deal? I need that triple chocolate layer cake that is so good, it would be a sin to pass up. Suggestions?

And I don't want the suggestion that I need to look at my kids a little more. I have been in this house with them for eight years. I love them, and they are a delight to me, but I am bored with their story for today.

And where do I get sentences like, "My children are a delight?" It's a sentence I feel like I should say, but it is not quite accurate. More like, the kids are igniting in me a deep sense of inadequacy and guilt at my constant failings. The kids are beautiful in appearance and wildly unmanageable in temperament. I love them with a dangerous and protective passion, but I am exhausted by their requirements and they are not my favorite labor. But 'tis motherhood. The kids aren't going away any time soon, and neither am I--nor do I want to. I just want a good book to read. PLEASE.

Not Bitter, Just Tired

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pedge...My Answer to Prayer

I made a flier for a retreat my mom was coordinating, one in which I planned to participate, so I guess I can't lay credit entirely on Mom's shoulders. But I did make the flier at her request,and I labored over it for about 15 minutes and emailed it off to my friend Pedge, for her opinion. And Pedge, being the good and honest friend that she is, said bluntly, "You suck at making fliers."

Well, of course, she was right. The flier had no graphics. It was not balanced. It was basically a word document which I fancied up using bolds and italics and different font sizes. Was I really expecting her to say, "Genius!"? Still, my initial response, was to pull out my defenses.

"Well, I only worked on it for about fifteen minutes." Being able to have this response handy may well have been the primary reason for my procrastination. If I don't try very hard, then the stakes are not as high when I fail. With a flier, well, nothing gained, nothing lost. My creative friend Pedge will doctor it up with the keen eye of a Target ad executive.

But in my writing life, could this be why my creative career has been in a long term state of arrested development? I sprint off a poem, a story, a chapter of a novel that will never have an end. I put it away somewhere and think to myself, "When I die and the literary agents come a'knockin' they are going to cash in on this Emily Dickinson." Then again, if they never come a'knockin' at least I won't be there to see it.

When I was in high school, I had a short term career as a high jumper in track and field. I was tall and lean back then, and without much effort I was the highest jumper in my bo-hunk county...until one day I missed the bar and landed on my back. I had a six inch bruise running perpendicularly across my spine and I never jumped over five feet again (for those who don't know high jump, this is not a very high jump). From then on in competition, I ran up to the bar, and kept running right on through. If you do this three times, you're DQ'd, and sometimes I would just go up to the bar and push it off. Needless to say, coach pulled me from the event. What I'm confessing to here is a long term preference for wimpy behavior. I would rather be a wimp than a loser. And I would rather not try at all, than try something and get hurt.

It's funny that Pedge called my foul on this flier. It's funny because for the past year or so, I have been praying a very particular prayer--that God would help me to be a woman who means business. I want to be one of those women who when she says she's going to do something, she does it, and does it well. "Yes, I'll email you a contact." Boom, it's in the inbox. "Yes I'll bring snacks to the meeting." And I arrive on time with fresh made muffins, rather than the usual flustered late entry, and then the cringing apologetic face..."I forgot the snack. Sorry guys." This sounds like I was praying to become PTO president--which was decidedly not my prayer--though for some reason I have become PTO president this year. Even more of a reason to send my plea up to Heaven. "God, make me a woman who means business!"

So I made the flier on time...but it sucked. This is not the action of a woman who means business. I will do it better next time. I might even redo it this time, so that it looks like an ad for the kind of event that my friend Pedge would like to attend.

(Though, Mom, please do not miss the subliminal message in this: There is a better woman for this flier job, and that woman is Pedge.)