Betty Duffy

***

Saturday, January 31, 2009

BOYS boys boys

From the time I was about eleven years old, it was my dream to have a collection of boys surrounding me, and giving me attention. Attempts to turn heads of the gents in high school and college met with varying degrees of success and failure. It was motherhood that made my dream come true.

Here on my third snow day with my four male children, and my one haughty girl, I'm finding that the boys are giving me an unprecedented amount of attention, and like all dreams come true, it's not exactly what I'd hoped for. The detritus of the week surrounds us on the floor of every room in the house. The crayons are broken. The model magic has dried out and rolls around under the kitchen table like a spilled bag of rubber balls. For reasons that I will not elaborate upon here, we have a hole in our kitchen floor that gives the kids easy access to our crawlspace, and I have given up trying to keep them, and their flashlights, and toys and shoes out of it.

Usually we are together all day like this in the summer months when I can open the door and dismiss them with a wave of my hand. Winter, in a three bedroom house, with boys who are now big enough to polish off a substantial box of cereal in one sitting, is a different story.

To begin, we are out of food. Two weeks ago, I spent three hundred dollars at the grocery. It was our all time high, and I was convinced that I would not need to set foot into the grocery again for a month, at least. Nevertheless, I was back in four days, then again two days later. Now it’s been five days since I’ve been to the store. And my refrigerator looks like this:




Anyone hungry for some condiments?

I am remembering my latchkey days of coming home from school and stirring up bowls of whatever I could find in the cabinets. I would sometimes eat a bowl of mixed up butter and sugar while I watched Oprah. As I currently have no butter or sugar, I just made cookies with canola oil, corn syrup, oats and past their prime mixed nuts—really more of a granola bar.

Any mother of more than a couple boys has heard someone make the comment: “God must think there’s going to be a war in eighteen years.” Or maybe they haven’t heard that comment. Maybe that comment is dated, and it’s just what I thought to myself after watching “The Fighting Sullivans” this afternoon. It is the classic tale of five fiery Irish Catholic brothers who all went down together on a WWII navy ship.

After watching the brothers Sullivan grow up for an hour and a half, I fell in love with each one of them, and felt cheated when they all died in the last five minutes of the movie. Mrs. Sullivan put on a brave face, Christening another warship in their honor, but what I felt watching the show was that her life was as over as theirs.

Yet literary evidence abounds of tough as nails mothers who encourage their sons to give their lives for the good of the cause--think Maccabees, think Jesus.

Naturally, I do not like the idea of my four boys going down in a war, but I also do not relish the alternative: mama's boys who can't or won't fight when called upon to do so. I want my boys to be masculine, courageous and strong.

In the politics and battles of our little hermitage, things play out like this: My six year old has no “fight” at all. He’s gigantic, bigger than his older brother, strong as an ox, but if his shrimpy big brother socks him, he just lays on the floor and takes it. On the contrary, my oldest son needs to get his rear end kicked because he can dish it out to all of his siblings, but he cannot take it. I find myself discouraging my eldest from fighting, and encouraging my second to fight. This is a quandry for any peace-loving woman.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I find that raising boys requires some relaxation of my innate mothering strictures. It was in fact, “The Fighting Sullivans” that helped me to see that some of the issues we deal with are ancient boyhood struggles rather than long worn discipline failures. Boys do battle. Boys break things. Boys climb. Boys have loving ideas that are sometimes ill-conceived. And sometimes, it takes another male mind to sort these things out--which is why I am grateful that my husband has forced me at times to take a step back from mothering them too much. (Mr. Sullivan does this in the movie saying, "Get back to your work, Woman. I'll take care of this.")

As my husband has illustrated for me again and again, boys have different standards for safety and hygeine, and I’m getting used to it. If at times it seems like the boys are tottering on the edge of the abyss, playing with a screw driver and a saw, shooting each other up with wooden guns, maybe it's just the vocation of mothering boys that is terrifying me--the thought that eventually this is all going to end with them laying down their lives. It happens to the best of men.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When Beauty Bites

My kids have reached the precise moment when laughing in the snow turns to crying in the snow. The muffler has fallen below the chin. The cold has found the vulnerable place between the mitten and the sleeve, the boot and the snowpant. What was pure, white and new has been sullied, stirred with muddy footprints, and turned bitter.

Several times they have come to me so I could shore them back up, tuck the pants into the boots, replace a mitten. But they don't want to play under the strictures of snow gear. They want to talk, so the muffler comes back down. They want to dig and bury things in the snow, so they remove a mitten for increased manual dexterity. And so they come back to the door, cheeks ablaze, fingers limp, bitten and stinging.

Seasonal allegories are as old as time, but for my kids, this is where they learn that what is beautiful also bites. That too much of a good thing can be bad for you. And that if you resist the protections you are given, you will get hurt.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here I advance my naivete: I don't care if the economy collapses.

Where government is concerned, one day I want to lead a coalition to camp out on the Capitol Building steps and chant, "Hell no! we won't go!" until the lives of the unborn are protected. The next day I want to submerge my head in the bathtub and float in some powerless peace. I feel called to action and inaction at the same time.

The dark cloud that's lurking over all this political hubbub is the threat, or the seductive whisper (depending on how I feel that day) that none of it is going to matter. Soon I may need to re-orient myself very simply towards the survival of my family and my people, and I sort of welcome the thought. I live my life so much in the realm of superfluities, and so little in what is essential. It's sort of the modern conundrum that life has become so easy that my very existence seems superfluous at times, that my sole purpose is to consume what can be consumed.

I don't grow my own food or darn stockings or build what's necessary for survival. What I can't make, I can purchase, and honestly, I make just about nothing (a frozen chicken nugget here and there). Everything I need for survival can be mortgaged or is present in abundance at the Walmart down the street. It's community that is scarce. I am starving for community life.

Is it too hopeful to think that if the economy does collapse, and we all have to scrounge around for our survival, that my family, which is currently spread out across the country, would re-unite on some piece of land and set to work for our food, clothing, and shelter? To me, that sounds like some sort of utopia. But I also thought it might be fun to be one of those wives in the Utah compound that was investigated last year--girlfriends to hang out with all day every day.

After working hard as a matter of life or death, we might have more appreciation for the superfluities of life and know them for what they are. I currently consider them necessities, and feel at times a bit slavish to the isolation of my own private leisures.

At one time, it seemed pointless to be in community if the entire community was staring at a movie screen, but that was nothing compared to the nonsense of people coming together, each to stare at the screen of their own private laptops or blackberries. We are beginning to forget how to relate to one another.

I am hungry for community life, and I can't help but mention Wendell Berry here. If his philosphies of agrarian life feel too extreme to enact voluntarily, maybe, just maybe, the collapse of the economy could be part of God's wild and crazy plan to bring families and communities back into essential relationships.



Essential Reading: The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Church Ladies on the Telephone

Pedge calls and says, “Stop beating yourself up! You’re killing us! I thought happy days were here again—remember? It is not the quality of your prayer that makes you a good Christian. You are fine. Your kids are fine. There is no doubt in my mind that your life is completely oriented towards God’s will.”

And this phone call illustrates why friendship is a prayer, and God’s will is community.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, “You can never look for faith in isolation; it is only found in an encounter with people who believe, who can understand you, who have perhaps come by way of a similar situation themselves, who can in some way lead you and help you. It is always among us that faith grows. Anyone who wants to go it alone has got it wrong from the very start.”

If Pedge were in a religious order, she’d be a laid back Franciscan friar. I’d be the self-flagellating monk living on a pillar—only without the asceticism—maybe a secret stock of peanut m&ms. As it happens, we are both Midwestern Catholic moms trying to do God’s will for our families, and supporting each other as we go. Both of us survived our childhoods, and all of the dumb things we did when we were little, and all the things our parents did (or didn’t do) to shape our spirituality. God pursued us when we were ready to answer. We turned out fine. And our kids are going to be fine.

The mistake is believing that I have complete control over how my kids will turn out. I’m not home schooling. I’m half-assed about housework. My prayer life is…flexible. My temptation is to think that if I performed perfectly in these areas I’d be more pleasing to God and I would ensure my children’s holiness. But God made me precisely as I am, and he also gave my children the free will to dispense with everything I teach them as they are growing.

God knew from the beginning that if I had five children I would do a less-than-stellar job on the laundry for awhile. He knew from the beginning that laundry would be the first thing to go for me, which is why he gave me a husband who enjoys laundry, who takes a little pride in how he keeps it circulating and in how he folds it.

He knew that my kids would not have all the one on one attention that a mother of fewer kids can provide—and he knows exactly how each one of them is going to overcome that fact in their lives. God knows more about how my life and my kids’ lives are going to turn out, and he has known it since the beginning of time. He could sum up my life from beginning to end in just a few sentences.

To Mary, he said, “You shall have a son and call him Jesus and he will be the Savior of all people.” And Mary, hearing her life summed up just so, thinks on this for awhile, and says, “All generations will call me blessed for God who is mighty has done great things for me.”

If this conversation were between God and me, he’d say, “Betty, you are going to have five kids, and I have a plan for each of them, which I will reveal when they are old enough to pay attention.” And instead of saying, “But God, I’m going to fulfill this plan poorly, like a spoiled and stubborn teenager, and my kids are too naughty to pay attention—surely you’ve got the wrong lady,” I’ll say, “OK. I’m going to be your handmaid too, without resentment or self-doubt. And thank you, by the way, for giving me these kids and such an amazing and simple life.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Church Ladies and Pious Children

I don’t want to be a Church lady. Church Ladies come in different shapes and sizes. But there’s something similar about them all too, something that smacks of a little too much perfection, a little artificiality.

Maybe it’s just my point of reference—that since I don’t always feel like “each pregnancy is such a blessing” (even though I always come to that conclusion eventually), and because speaking of my relationship with the Lord doesn’t come naturally (though I feel it no less passionately)—that other people can’t really have those orientations without an interior fight. I want to see the evidence of that battle, and sugary Church-speak seems to negate it.

Still, I feel the urge to speak a certain way, in a certain tone of voice when I talk about God or pray spontaneously. It happens on a subconscious level. For instance when I’m trying to catechize my children: I can speak irritably for a better part of the day, but after Mass, because I want to present the goodness and truth of what we just heard to my kids, I’ll adopt a sugary tone of voice that is not natural to me. “Jesus loves you so much—stop kicking your sister!”

Someone, somewhere once said, “I feel like I am going to hell trying to get my kids to Heaven.” My kids are not naturally pious—probably because I am not naturally pious. When my husband and I sound the call to prayer at night, our children take it as a cue to break out in chaos. They roll on the floor, poke each other, bounce incessantly, and secretly read books or play with the nearest toy.

I get so frustrated trying to get them to kneel, show reverence (You are speaking to God, you know), that I often break down, and hear myself following up my insistence on reverence with something like, “Just hurry up and pray so you can go to bed.” How will my children survive it? How will religion not end up being a negative experience for them? It makes Mom and Dad tense. It causes them to use artificial voices. Mom smiles and is friendly to all the people at Church, and then once the car door is shut, she starts griping again.

I think my family history enters the picture here a little bit. I didn’t grow up hearing people pray spontaneously. My parents converted to Catholicism when I was five, but they didn’t get serious about it until much later. When faith is new, sometimes it feels like a foreign language, and they couldn’t control their sugary voices when they talked about it either. There was a whole new vocabulary and jargon I'd never heard before. I was a teenager and a skeptic, so it turned me off.

But here I am, using that tone of voice—trying to relay something that is very personal and very profound to me—and coming off sounding trite and artificial. As a consequence, I can talk about religion all day long, I can talk about Catholicism until I’m blue in the face, but ask me to say a spontaneous prayer over a meal, and I choke up, get embarrassed, feel mute and insincere--because it makes me feel like a Church Lady. And I don’t know how to get around that so that my kids will learn to know Jesus and love him.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's Holding Me Back: distorted self image



A funny thing happened after my post, “I never miss a party or a fight.” Several people approached me to acknowledge how I’d hurt them and to accept the flimsy apology offered in my blog. Not one of them was the person I was referring to in that post—which leads me to believe that I am way more abrasive than I have been willing to admit. The evidence is there: People in isolated incidents, at separate events are hurt after a rub with me. I am the common denominator.

So apparently, all of my wishing and hoping that others won’t take me seriously—that they’ll let the barbed wire of my personality roll off their skin just hasn’t worked. Funny about that: people have feelings.

Tantrum: But I want to score funnies at other people’s expense!

I fancy myself the Shirley MacLaine character in Steel Magnolias—she’s awful, but you love her. Or Scarlett O’Hara, a selfish wretch, but you still want to be her. In real life, however, this behavior makes me an abrasive old coot that no one wants to be around.

I don’t struggle for self-awareness. I know my faults. For instance, why am I always late?

I could say that I am a woman swimming upstream, with five kids hanging off my back. And I do have those moments when all of us are piled in the car dressed and buckled when it becomes clear that someone pooped their pants. So I take the two-year-old in for a change and he has the nerve to fight with me—as though I would take up arms for the right to change his poop diaper.

I’ll play that frazzled mom card when it’s time for a meeting, or even getting the kids to school in the morning (7am?). But the reality is, I am late because I am the woman who values my free time more than yours. Say I need to meet a girlfriend for lunch—I’m up and ready to blow this joint before first dawn.

I know my faults.

What’s my root sin: pride, vanity, or sensuality? Flip a coin, roll the dice—whatever the outcome is, you’ll be right. I’m the artful dodger—the person who’s always dodging the bullet, trying to get by with the least amount of effort and sacrifice. Don’t look at me or you might see through me. It’s so obvious and so much the same as it was ten years ago, thirty years ago. I’m the woman who never gets the message I truly need because I’m so fixated on believing I already have it. I’m so content with my sameness, my averageness because it requires so little of me and I have already proven myself capable of that.

Pedge made a beautiful point in her recent post “Conversion....” It’s not my jeans, or my music or my magazines that will keep me out of Heaven. Though I read recently that St Theresa of Avila once had a similar preoccupation with Romance Novels—that they might be the one thing that puts her under a staircase in hell. Supposedly she toiled away as a mediocre nun until she was 38 years old and realized that these THINGS, were not obstacles to Heaven—they were distractions.

If I can keep myself preoccupied with my Mom jeans and my bad music, then I’ll never have to do the really dirty work of treating other people with charity. If I can keep fretting over my crazy life with kids and how I never seem to get out the door on time, then I won’t ever stop to ask Jesus what he wants of me. What can I do for him (that might require some sacrifice that I don’t want to make)?

Because I’m sure looking in from the outside, I have about as much of a chance at becoming holy as I have of becoming Angelina Jolie, that perhaps this is all some sort of exercise in Catholic guilt. The bottom line is that in spite of it all—I love Jesus and I believe that he loves me. I didn’t ask to be born a sinner. I inherited it. I blame my first parents. But if I love Jesus, I have something to offer him every single minute of the day; my weakness, my selfishness, my sin, and my struggle against it.

(Transform me, Lord. Grant me the miracle of constant change, constant transformation, constant hurt, constant discomfort—so I’m not the old lady who at the end of my life says, “I could have been great. I was meant to be something spectacular—but no one ever handed it to me. Everything, all the circumstances of my life got in the way.” )

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Globes 2009!

The Golden Globe Awards Show brings together all of the biggest talents in Hollywood under one roof. Watching such an occasion on TV inevitably causes people to ask themselves certain questions. My husband asks: “Where are the terrorists when you need them?” And I ask: “Is that a pantsuit you’re wearing, Glenn?” “Mickey Rourke?” and probably the most pressing, “Who do you think should play me in the movie of my life?”

All these years I’ve been thinking, yes, most definitely, Kate Winslet and I are kindred spirits. She’s curvy, a little bit haphazard, and there’s some evidence that she uses the toilet every now and then (that’s something you never see Angelina Jolie do in a movie). The same year that Kate Winslet was posing nude for Leo in Titanic, I posed in an undershirt to be painted for Karly Whitaker’s senior art thesis—free, kindred spirits, no? But I’m saying, there have been years that have gone by since I first considered this question, and though Kate and I are the same age, she has been slightly better preserved. The resemblances between us diminish with each passing year—and I have to say—I don’t especially care for her fake American accent.

Which means, I must ask, “Who is me now?” And I know the answer. She was the only one who gave an acceptance speech that caused my husband to remark, “At least she’s not a nut.” And yes, I have to agree, Laura Linney is not a nut. She is the new me, the thirty something me (even though she’s forty something—that’s the adjustment for a personal trainer, cosmetic surgery, and whatever else serves to pickle the women of Hollywood).

So here it is: The cast of the movie of my life.

Whoever plays my husband needs to be a brave, risk taking, man of action, willing to make politically incorrect comments like, “A four hundred pound man just lost twenty pounds on The Biggest Loser? He probably just took a dump.” So, I choose Russell Crowe—an utterly fearless actor who looks nothing like my husband. My husband looks more like Chandler on Friends, but come bedtime, it would be nice for him to be Russell Crowe.

I’m Laura Linney, not a nut.

My children can be played by the Caulkin brothers (as in Macauley), and my daughter by Dakota Fanning, because they are the only child actors that I know—unless they’ve grown up recently.

Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, and Jessica Lange…all I can say is that my mom is NOT Susan Serandon.

Dad’s Clint Eastwood.

My inlaws? I hate to say it, but there is no one in Hollywood who can play them. They’re as Midwestern and ordinary as you get.

Pedge, I know when we discussed this you thought you might get Katie Holmes to play you, but I really do think you should go ahead and audition to be “Pedge, as herself.” You would totally get the part.

And the rest of you, please include in the comments section who you think you might like to have play you and I’ll see what I can do.

No worries about the screenplay—Pedge and I have already written it. It includes all kinds of fun scenes, like a montage of Pedge and I trying on crazy outfits at our local Goodwill to a funky pop music medley.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mom Jeans and the Kingdom of God

I am wearing “MOM” jeans today—because I had five minutes in Goodwill the other day to try them on while my husband sat in the car with the kids, and they are one of two pairs of pants that fit me in my post-partum state, the other being a pair of maternity jeans, which I refuse to wear (as I am no longer pregnant). Mom jeans got their name because they have the extra fabric to cover that roll of flesh just under the naval that being a mother provides. Resisting the mom jeans on a day like today means resisting my motherhood, which feels like too much strife for my current mood.

I’m thinking that the mom jeans hold the answer to a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: Why do I insist on keeping myself partially planted in the world, when I truly want to be of God? Is it a bad thing to be planted in the world—where I listen to the Pretenders even though they say the F word quite often (excuse: it’s classic rock), and I read fashion magazines (being Catholic doesn’t give me an excuse to be dowdy), and I surf the internet (we don’t get a Newspaper anymore so I need to be aware of what’s going on in the blogosphe…world). What is keeping me back? What in the heck is keeping me back????

Mom jeans are freedom from strife. They are comfort, peace, and even a bit of elasticity. Mom jeans are the Kingdom of God. But they require a trade-off. Wearing mom jeans means relenting to being nerdy and out of style. It means walking around as a living advertisement for “Out of Touch.”

Today, I have no place in the public eye so the mom jeans are fine. When I pick up the kids at school, I’ll cover them up with a big coat and no one will be the wiser. But one of these days I’ll be faced with an invitation to someplace where I have to be wholly present and I will put on cool, even though it is no longer natural to me, even though the standards of cool are frequently dictated by downright evil, like this cultural preoccupation with bikini waxing. Clearly it’s an offshoot of pornography, which has been hyped up by the glamour mags, and adopted by the mainstream, so that suddenly, a Catholic mother of five, who will never again wear a bikini, is asking herself in the dead of winter if this is something she should be doing. I feel drawn into the competition, just to prove I can hold my values and stay in touch (Does that turn your eye? That’s because you haven’t seen CATHOLIC BIKINI WAXING!—and hopefully you never will).

The reality is, I can’t compete, so why am I trying? Trying to keep up with cool--to be Catholic, Mother, and Sexy, to be “hot mama”—it hurts too much, and obviously, a woman who only has five minutes and five dollars to buy a pair of jeans can't hold a candle to Angelina Jolie (She just keeps one-upping me). I would be a fool to waste my energy on it because life has already shown me time and again that there are more reasonable uses for my outputs and pains.

But that’s just how I feel today, when no one's looking at me (anyone smell some vanity?).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Songs of Rebellion, Songs of Hope

I like to think I can walk and chew gum at the same time--that I can be an over-the-top Catholic and still listen to electronica, read my Magnificat every day, and my Harpers every night. Most of me is in God-land except for this hand and this foot that I keep out in the world just to stay in touch, and also because I like the world (probably why I'm not a saint). So I went out in the world today for the first time in a long long time. I took a walk outside with my husband's new ipod, which means that I was able to listen to all the songs I haven't been able to play for the past seven years with kids in the back seat because they (the songs) drop the F bomb.

Music is a double edged sword for me. I LOVE it. I played the cello through gradeschool and college, so my growing up was immersed in classical music. When I was in the convent, music, except for liturgical music, was more or less banned because of its ability to conjure up old emotions and memories. And I am an emotional person. Every day after lunch, I had permission from my spiritual director to go for a run, but I did not have permission to take my headphones. I did take them, nonetheless, and though my selections were not necessarily fight songs (Joni Mitchell, Beethoven) the music always made me feel restless and rebellious. As a married woman with children, my rebellion is more or less the same. I have a bad day or get in a spat with the hubby, and what do I do? Buy a pack of cigarettes and drive around in my mini-van listening to Lucinda Williams. Bad, Betty. Bad.

The ipod is interesting. The sound quality is so good and the experience of the music so much better, it just begs to be shared. And yet, as soon as you put music on some public listening device, you lose the experience to background noise or to awkward events while listening, like someone who insists on making eye-contact that says, "This song rocks, doesn't it?" or a listener who needs to show his intimate familiarity with a song by singing along.

Sharing music always falls short of the intended purpose of sharing, because what I really want to share when I share music are my internal visuals, the fantasy that the music conjures, or the feelings it inspires in me. In those mix tapes I made in high school for the boyfriend, each song was meant to convey a message: I have esoteric taste in music. You would like to have a romantic moment with me to this soundtrack. This is the fantasy impression of me that I would like you to have. I want you to have the same feelings I have when I listen to this song.

But it never works out. The guy in the car with his bass thumping is sharing his thug fantasy with the world. He is sounding his mating call. But all I feel, sitting there inside my house with the window panes rattling, is irritation. How many babies has he awakened up and down the street?

So, therefore, I am not going to put a "music to listen by" thingy on this blog. I am just going to say that I really like Bjork and especially her song, "Unison."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Insulting Parlor Games

Before I have to ingratiate myself to anyone else, I need to clarify that by the term "kitchen bitch" I do not mean any particular individual ("Did she just call me a bitch?"), but rather a universal character, as in, The Kitchen Bitch. Every family has one or two or three of these people: the ones who hop up before anyone else is finished eating and begin to clear the table. While the couch slugs continue to sit around the table having a second helping, or just talking, or perhaps they have removed from the table, leaving a dirty dish in their wake--the kitchen bitch has loaded the available dishes, put leftovers into tupperware, and might even be sweeping the floor under those lazy people who never seem to find it within themselves to pitch in after a meal.

Just for the record, I go both ways. If no one else is cleaning the dishes, I'll do it, and what's more, I like to have the kitchen clean before I go to bed. In my own home, I will clean the kitchen no matter what the hour is, before tucking in. But if I am at a family gathering, and other people are faster than me, and they seem to want to clean the kitchen while blowing out a little hot air, I don't want to deprive them of their satisfaction. I'll join my husband on the couch and see what the slugs have to say (which is usually something like, "I ate too much," if they have not already dozed off).

Because I can go around in both my family, and my husband's family, and predict before every family dinner who will be in the kitchen and who will be on the couch, I think it might be useful, here, to refer to the book, "The Temperament God Gave You" or some other personality indicator. Here's a summary of the four temperaments by Wiki, and also the breakdown in my own words:

Choleric: the people who are about action, type A's, tend to be quick tempered but also high achievers (these are the kitchen bitches)

Phlegmatic: slow reactors, not highly emotional, enjoy leisure, are diplomatic, and often shy (these are the couch slugs)

Sanguine: flighty, emotional, social, and possibly a tiny bit shallow (this is the person who goes back and forth to the couch and the kitchen depending on who's having a more interesting conversation)--this is usually where I fall.

Melancholic: creative introspective types, perfectionists who tend to sit on their hurts, or be obsessed with negatives (this is the one who doesn't speak to you either because you won't help in the kitchen, or because you falsely accused her of leaving her plate out when she certainly did not)

Knowledge of the temperaments does two things: It allows you to let some of these perennial behaviors roll of your back a little, and it allows you to turn guessing each other's temperaments into a parlor game. My siblings and I spent several days playing this game:

"Dammit! I am not choleric!"

"Betty, you cannot be sanguine AND melancholic."

"You think this is a boring game because you are phlegmatic."

And if you get the temperaments figured out, and you want to kick it up a notch, you can play, "Guess the root sin" (out of pride, vanity and sensuality), and if you survive that, and you just enjoy shooting veiled insults at your brothers and sisters under the guise of "understanding each other" then you can guess what animal you would be (For instance, my sister says I am a bear because I am either hibernating or eating, and am mostly happy unless you come between me and a meal. I then call her a rodent because she scurries around munching on pellet size foods while squinting at a book or something).

And all of this is a way of saying that perhaps I did have a few people in mind when I used the term "kitchen bitch" but I hope you'll let it roll off your back because we all know it's just your temperament to want to clean the kitchen after a meal (and I also really like the repetitive "itch" in each word).