"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and God-with-us

I mentioned in an earlier post that this was Maia's first Advent where she really seemed to understand some of what was going on. Well, the same is true for Christmas... if we haven't managed to confuse her. See, Jeff and I had a few conversations about how we were going to handle Christmas, particularly the Santa Claus stuff. I mentioned before that since Jeff is a convert, he doesn't really have any Christmas traditions, so we can just do my family's traditions. But in our discussions, we had decided to modify some of those; for example, we didn't light up our Christmas tree (which we had been calling an "Advent" tree) until Christmas Eve.



Anyway, despite those conversations that Jeff and I had, there was a little confusion surrounding Christmas. If I had to pick a date that it started, I'd probably say it started on the Feast of St. Nicholas, that is, December 6th. St. Nicholas is one of my favorite bishops (right up there with St. Patrick), and his feast is important in German-speaking countries, among others. Well, in an attempt to re-claim my German heritage (mind you, my family never celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas), I thought it would be fun to have Maia leave her shoes out. We gave Maia a St. Nicholas Day gift of play dough. Initially she was excited, but then she said, "Awww, I wanted a swimming baby doll." And I said, "Well, maybe you'll get one for Christmas." And she responded, "You mean this isn't Christmas?" "No," I answered, "This is the Feast of St. Nicholas." "But I thought St. Nicholas comes on Christmas." "Umm," I stammered, "well, on Christmas we exchange gifts out of joy for the great gift of baby Jesus." "But doesn't St. Nicholas bring the gifts, like in all the books and songs?"

I definitely felt like I was in a sticky spot, as I tried frantically to remember how Jeff and I had decided to explain all this to Maia. I knew that, whatever we had decided, I was doing a very bad job of explaining it! I knew we had decided against promoting the commercialized Santa Claus that you believe in for a few years and then find out isn't real. But I also knew that we wanted Maia to understand that St. Nicholas was a real person who is now a saint that can intercede for us. The problem surfaced again just a few days ago when Maia and I were eating breakfast on the morning of Christmas Eve. What happened was another awkward conversation, and this time I called to Jeff to come in the kitchen and straighten out the situation. I think he did a pretty good job.



Jeff explained that St. Nicholas is like St. Mary or St. Anthony (of Padua) who are always with us and can pray for us and help us out. St. Nicholas is associated with Christmas gifts because he is known for his generosity. But some things are fantasy, he explained, like the idea of flying reindeer and coming down a chimney. "It's like in the Hobbit," he told her (yes, he's reading the Hobbit to our two-year old), "there aren't really dwarves and elves and hobbits, but they are fun to imagine about. It's fun to imagine that St. Nicholas has reindeer and a sleigh, but the real St. Nicholas is even better. We give each other gifts on Christmas because we want to be generous like St. Nicholas, and, more importantly, we want to be generous like God, who loves us so much that he sends his only Son, born of Mary in Bethlehem.



So on Christmas morning, when Maia was opening gifts, we didn't pretend that they were from Santa. We told her the name of her gift-givers. Jeff's point was that it's dangerous to teach your kids to believe in something that you plan on disillusioning them from later. If Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are imagination and we teach our kids to believe in them, what will they think of St. Nicholas, St. Mary, and even Jesus? Are they just imagination too? Jeff thinks somehow this is all tied to the Enlightenment and radical skepticism. The attitude is that sure, kids can believe in imaginary things, but when you grow up you become rational and realize that all of this is make-believe. It's easy for "religion" to slide into this category of imagination. But we'd like our children to grow into adults that maintain their sense of the real supernatural; we'd like them to know that prayer is something active, something that actually does something, not just something to make us feel better. We'd like them to be aware of the communion of saints, the presence of angels, and the person of Jesus, among other things.


Fr. Satish gave an excellent homily, available as a podcast and in written form, on Christmas morning. He started by strapping on his guitar and singing Bette Midler's "From a Distance." (Maia responded in surprise, "But, Mom, Fathers don't play guitar!!!" Meanwhile, I whispered to Jeff, "Either he's going to debunk the song or this is going to be a rotten homily!" Of course it was the first.) Fr. Satish proceded to talk about how Christmas reminds us that God is not at a distance, but close-up. Jesus is God-with-us, God who makes his dwelling place among us. He comes to close the distance between God and humankind, as well as to close the distance among all of humankind, such that magi and shepherds worship the same babe.

This homily seemed poignantly related to the issue of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. Santa Claus seems to create a kind of distance when he's this commercialized figure who is something made-up, something that only kids believe, something that you eventually realize you were mistaken about. But when Santa Claus as understood as St. Nicholas, who, like the entire communion of saints is always with us, who can pray for us, who is a model but not simply a model, we realize that people can be present with us even if we can't necessarily sense them. God's presence, the saints' presence, the angels' presence, then, are all a part of reality. And that means it's something we can't lose, even if we stop believing. My mom used to tell my older brother (in an attempt to prevent his ruining our Christmas), "If you don't believe in him, Santa doesn't come." This is certainly not true when it comes to God-with-us. The truth is much richer than fantasy. Jesus came, and we celebrate his coming each Christmas.

To quote Strega Nona (in Tomie de Paolo's "Merry Christmas, Strega Nona"), "Christmas has a magic of its own!" The fantasy can be fun, but the reality is its own kind of magic, or as C.S. Lewis said, we have with the Incarnation the grand miracle from which all other miracles stem. And, unlike the commercialized, fictionalized Santa Claus, the mystery of the Incarnation doesn't go away when you get older. This is the real excitement of Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

10 Days Later...



Well, little Eva's umbilical cord fell off yesterday, and I've had ten days now to reflect on this last birthing experience. It hasn't been any sort of a conscious meditation, but the kind of thing that pops up as (what I refer to as) a "screensaver for the brain" - you know, what you think about when you're not consciously thinking of anything in particular.

As I've mentioned before, my sister is a midwife (a CNM), and I think it's fair to say that when it comes to pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I know a tad bit more than the average woman on account of this extreme advantage of having a sister in midwifery. As with my first birth, I had certain expectations and hopes for this delivery. And, as with the Maia's delivery, I've learned once more that - even for those who know a tad bit more than the average woman - one simply cannot have complete control over the things that happen in labor and delivery. Of course, this shouldn't come as a big surprise... it's just one instance of the workings of everyday life. We like to think we're in charge of everything, but (as Hauerwas says) when we look back at our life we find that a lot of things just happened TO us, rather than by our own agency.

When it comes to labor and delivery, the United States seems to lead the world in medicalization of birthing and the professionalization of delivery. Along with this, women generally have (or at least feel they have) very few options/choices when it comes to labor and delivery. This is especially true for the average hospital delivery. For more on this, I'd recommend the Ricki Lake/Abby Epstein documentary The Business of Being Born. Jeff and I watched it about a month before Eva was born, and it was good birthing prep.

With my first pregnancy, I specifically sought out a practice of midwives (CNMs). At the time, there was only one option covered by our insurance. So we ended up having to drive about 25 minutes to their office for each visit, and we had a 30 minute drive to the hospital when I was in labor. All in all, I would say we were pretty well satisfied with the midwives in this practice. They had a homey office and alotted 30 minutes per visit. There was never a wait once we arrived, and overall they had a laid-back and empowering approach to pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

On the other hand, the OB director at the hopsital was a first-rate jerk. From research done after the fact on this doc, I'd even probably class him as evil. I won't go into that, however, so as not to turn this into a purely personal attack. I'm a swimmer, and as someone who spends a lot of time in the water, I had planned on a waterbirth. I signed the release form early on in the pregnancy, and I was pretty excited that the midwives had done water births before. So one month before the delivery, the OB director decided (without any convincing medical research) that waterbirths are dangerous. So he locked up all the tubs (which were portable) in a room and took the key. After Maia was born (on land, as it were), he failed to pay the midwives' malpractice insurance and effectively shut down their practice despite the assurances that their office would not close for six months. These issues didn't make the news, of course... the closing of this practice was formally all chalked up to finances.

For this pregnancy, it turned out that there were midwives on our insurance much closer to where we live. I made the appointment for my annual with them before I was pregnant and, by the time of the appointment, I was three weeks pregnant (that's five weeks pregnant in medical terms). In general, this practice had much to recommend itself, not the least of which was convenience in terms of distance. On the other hand, the practice also had one major disadvantage, namely, it is a practice of both midwives and doctors (originally two and two respectively, now three and two). While I have nothing against the OBs as such (both are very nice and provide excellent care), I found it a little discouraging that I sought out (female) midwives only to find myself under the care of (male) doctors. Moreover, unlike my first midwifery experience, their office schedule was routinely running late, so much so that one time the husband, toddler, and I waited an entire hour to get in for an appointment. And, mind you, this was not a 30 minute appointment but a 10 minute (if that) in-and-out wherein we barely had time to ask questions.

Anyway, the most exciting aspect of Eva's delivery was that it was to take place in a birthing center. The hospital where I'd be delivering has both a normal L&D and the birthing center. Jeff and I attended the orientation and toured the center, which has great rooms that include a huge bathroom with a good-sized waterbirth tub. The birthing center has a non-interventional approach that was also appealing to us.

Well, little Eva's due date came and went, much to my delight. I was hoping for a late baby because my sister had off on the 13th, 14th, and 15th and could come down for the delivery. All of the people in the practice that I'd seen (the three midwives and one of the doctors) had said it would be fine if she caught the baby. While Ann was in route to Dayton, my water broke, and this was the beginning of the limiting of my birthing options.

For some reason, shortly after my water broke, my contractions stopped. By about 2:00 a.m., they were pretty insignificant. But by 4:00 a.m. we decided we'd better head to the hospital anyway, since I was GBS positive. GBS positive shouldn't have to be a big deal, but I have to admit, the need for antibiotics put a lot of pressure on me. I never imagined I'd be going to the hospital with such minor contractions, but, already, I didn't feel like I had a choice. We checked into the birthing center and then spent most of the day trying to get my labor going using natural induction methods (including walking, dancing, and a breast pump). It turned out that the person on call from the practice was the one doctor I'd never met. He was willing to be patient for most of the day, but when it got to the point that my water had been broken for 18 hours with no real progress, he very strongly suggested that we do pitocin.

I've spent the last few years nurturing a very strong dislike of pitocin, largely because of my friends' birthing experiences that involved it, but also because it just generally seems to be overused. It's a sort of commonplace intervention that U.S. hospitals assume is necessary and normative. In this case, however, the decision to go on pitocin was made much worse by the fact that it necessitated transferring out of the birthing center and into a normal L&D. So, once more, I was foiled in my expectation of and hope for a waterbirth. And of course, with pitocin also comes monitors - a continuous fetal heart rate monitor and a contraction monitor. So there I was, tied up to an I.V. and two monitors in a normal L&D room without a waterbirth tub. Needless to say, I cried.

I hadn't seen Maia all day (the longest I'd ever been away from her), so once they started the pitocin, my in-laws stopped by with her, and she really cheered me up. Not only that, but their visit was a great distraction from contractions that were definitely growing stronger and more painful. At one point during the visit the nurse came in and looked at the contraction monitor. Then she glanced over at me sitting calmly and talking to Maia. "You have a very high pain tolerance," she said. I attributed this to my being an athlete. She asked what sport, and, before I could respond, Jeff told her boxing and football (the sports of my past!). Anyway, my boxing experience seemed to her a pretty good explanation.

And, after the in-laws and Maia left, I have to say, I did sort of feel like I was in some kind of sparring match. (Someone could make a great Jack Handey quotation about how boxing is a lot like birthing...) The pitocin started at 4:00, the visitors left at 5:30, and the baby was born by 8:08 p.m. After all that time in the hospital, my actual "labor" of painful contractions was only really a few hours. But, although my memory of the pain from Maia's birth (which was also a natural delivery) has somewhat faded, I have to say that this seemed much more painful (supposedly pitocin makes for stronger/more painful contractions) than her delivery. Jeff and Ann thought it went by pretty fast, but I did not share their sentiments.

Some things went exactly according to my plan for this birth: my sister was there with me and my in-laws were in town to watch Maia. On the other hand, as you can see, many things did not go according to my plan: transferring out the birth center, using pitocin, being hooked up to monitors, and not having a waterbirth. One other thing was that the on-call doc didn't really want to let my sister catch: "My name's on the chart," he said, "I've got the head and the anterior shoulder; you can do the rest." Ann still counted it as a delivery (Eva is number 151!), and it was great that she was the one who ultimately caught her and handed her to me. Although he was nice, I never would have chosen to have a male doctor overseeing Eva's birth. And perhaps this is why I was a little antagonistic toward him (we even had a little argument right before Eva was born).

After Eva was born, Maia and the in-laws stopped by (they brought us pizza, which I ate in the delivery room!). Then the hospital staff allowed us to return to the birthing center for recovery. That was great because of the queen-sized bed. Jeff, Eva, and I were able to cosleep on our first night together. Not to mention they had great food in the birthing center.

All in all, it wasn't a horrible birthing experience. My recovery has certainly been a lot faster than last time, and I am glad that we got to spend some time in the birthing center, even if I didn't deliver there. But, as if to prove that I'm not ultimately in control of everything, shortly after our 24-hour discharge, the pediatrician called to let us know that Eva's bilirubin level was high. By the next morning, I was back in a hospital for another 24-hour stay, this time with my newborn under blue lights... and with nurses stopping in every hour to ask if my milk had come in...and with residents pressuring me to use formula ("Either give her formula or I'm going to give her an I.V." was one resident's message, passed on by the nurse.)...and, this time 24 hours straight without Maia (the longest time I'd ever been away from her). Moreover, it appears that Eva's jaundice was pathological- ABO incompatibility. I think this means there's a good chance I'll have to go through this with my next kids as well.

So we can't really control what our kids are like; I certainly wouldn't have wanted Eva to be jaundiced. On the other hand, however, Eva is remarkably even-tempered. She sleeps a good amount and hardly ever cries (this is VERY different from Maia's infancy). Maybe this time Jeff and I really did cancel each other out in terms of personality - a calm baby, could it be true?!?!?! It's a nice (and unexpected!) blessing.

In conclusion, ten days later, I can say that next time, I think I'll have a homebirth. It seems to be the only way to have any more agency in the birthing process. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy celebrating the birth of our savior with my very own newborn.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Maia and Eva's First Meeting

Within two hours of her sister's birth, older sister Maia had big plans for Eva. Here's the transcript:

"And she will grow bigger and bigger and bigger and she will come to talk. She will be bigger and bigger and bigger and she will dress to go to Mass and she will learn how to pray and sing and talk."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Eva Marcella

Eva Marcella, born 12.13.08 at 8:08 p.m., 7 lbs., 3 oz., 19 in.




Moments after the deliveryAt home: Maia and Mom with matching purple slings for their babies

Monday, December 8, 2008

Toddlers in the Mystical Body

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! The Blessed Virgin Mary under this title is the patroness of the United States. This also happens to be the name of our local parish, as well as the name of our university's chapel. And, of course, this solemnity (which celebrates Mary's own conception free of sin) is a holy day of obligation. Given that we are at a Marianist university, it's also a university holiday! So I was excited that Jeff, Maia and I would all be able to go to Mass together. Normally on Mondays I've been going to Mass with the Marianist priest/brother community at Our Mother of Good Counsel Chapel at 6:55 a.m. I would have slept in, but Maia woke me up at 5:00 a.m. by yelling at me in her sleep to give her dinner.

Anyway, Jeff and I had some debate about where and when we ought to go to Mass. Often on such holy days we've gone to the university service since this is our normal spot for daily Masses. But a noon Mass didn't seem like a good idea with Maia-not to mention that she knows how to escape the university chapel. In addition to this, we sometimes don't feel comfortable taking Maia to Mass on campus because, well, she's sometimes loud at Church.

So our parish today had two options: 8:15 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Of those two, we figured Maia would probably be better behaved at the morning option. If we had expected Maia to blend in at this Mass, however, we were wrong. For some reason it didn't really occur to me that not everybody gets off for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The attendees of this Mass basically fit into two categories: 1. the students of our parish school and 2. retired people who don't work and hence could attend a Mass at this time.

Because the students comprised the majority of the main transcept, we sat in a different spot than usual. All was fine in the beginning. Maia was quietly playing with her doll, pretending the kneeler was a balance beam, eyeing Father Satish, and, at one point singing (almost inaudibly) "Yankee Doodle Went to Town." At one point, however, Maia decided to walk down the balance beam to the end of the pew and try to escape. Even at nine months pregnant, I managed to catch her before she made it to the sanctuary. After this, Jeff and I switched spots. When she next tried to escape, the man (an older gentleman) behind us informed us that there is a cry room in the back of the side transcept.

Now, we are perfectly aware of the location of the cry rooms in our Church building. We've been members of this parish since before we were married, long before Maia was born. But I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about cry rooms. Sometimes, parents seem to use them as excuses to let their children run around as much as they want. Occasionally, they are a relief, and we have used the cry room in several instances. But in general, I wonder why we expect that some members of the Mystical Body of Christ belong behind glass if they can't be perfectly silent. Toddlers are part of the Church, and toddlers will be toddlers. Removing them from the Mass setting as a rule is certainly problematic, and removing them when they are creating very little disturbance just seems unnecessary. In my sleep-deprived spark of anger, I wanted to tell the man he should consider joining a monastery. Of course, that would not have been a very Christian response. So - after fantasizing about having glass rooms where we can contain people who want absolute silence at Mass - I prayed to Mary to keep me from sin during the Eucharist in honor of her.

What happened is that Jeff ended up taking Maia to the cry room; he felt obligated to do so after the man suggested it. Once there, she promptly started crying and screaming. Appropriate, isn't it? She was actually more audible with the increase in volume than she had been in our pew in the side transcept. So I went back there and retrieved my family after Maia's promise that she would behave if we took her back to the pew. Jeff and I were both frazzled, however, and we stayed at the far end of the pew, away from the man behind us. I wouldn't even let Maia retrieve her baby doll, which she had left at the other end.

Anyway, I realize that I live with a toddler and am used to the distractions she brings. I value daily Mass without her, just as a I value Sunday Mass with her. It is nice to have a quiet setting in which to pray. But at the same time, my Mass experiences in Kenya prove that children (including toddlers and babies) don't NEED to be separated from the rest of the Church. I sometimes think it's the declining American birthrate that enables us to be so distracted by the small noises of children during services. But then again, I know some cultures (all European, I believe) have traditionally kept children home from Mass. So I have mixed feelings, and I don't want to be a distraction for others. But I do wish that people wouldn't glare at my husband, my toddler or me. And I wish they would leave our decision to go behind glass to ourselves with a slightly higher tolerance for the musings of toddlers, who are, after all, members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Livin' Up Advent


Happy New Year, everyone! This is a pretty exciting Advent for our family because while we await Christ's coming, we also await baby Eva's coming. She should emerge sometime between blue candle number two and the pink candle on the Advent wreath.

What really makes this Advent exciting for us is that it's Maia's first where she actually seems to grasp what's going on. She can participate in the season. Add to this that it's our first holiday season not traveling and my first in awhile where I'm not frantically finishing up papers, and Advent promises to be a growth-filled time.

Given that my husband is a convert to Christianity, we don't have to have a lot of debate about family holiday traditions. In general, mine win out. :) But we've done a little adjusting in light of the liturgical calendar. Admittedly, we went and cut down a tree this weekend. It was awesome! Jeff was a pro; you'd think he'd been cutting down trees his whole life (although this was probably his first). Anyway, we're calling this an Advent tree, and at the moment it's still bare. Each Sunday of Advent we plan on adding one more decoration feature: lights, ornaments, and finally the star. And we won't be lighting it up until Christmas.
Maia and I both have chocolate-filled Advent calendars. They're tree-shaped with drawers; they are actually mine from the last two years that I saved. Maia and I refilled them together and put them on the fireplace mantle. I prepped her for how we'd get one piece of chocolate every day until Christmas. But apparently she couldn't wait. When I was in the kitchen cooking dinner that Saturday, she walked in eating a piece of chocolate. "Where'd you get that, Maia?" I asked. "From the Natibity calendar," she said, mid-chew. Sure enough, she'd moved an end table next to the mantle and climbed up, removing Day 18. So I had to move the calendars to the top of the refrigerator.

Maia seems to like the pre-dinner daily lighting of the Advent wreath and singing of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" too, although she keeps trying to persuade us we'd be better off lighting the pink candle. But I think her favorite part of Advent is playing with the Nativity sets. Initially I thought I could keep the family set away from her, especially since she has her own Nativity set. But of course I was wrong on that. So instead I've made a rule that the family set needs to stay in the living room. Maia has already managed to misplace the empty crib, however. Hopefully we can find it before Christmas. Maia also keeps trying to convince me to tell her where I put the baby Jesus... I just tell her that, like baby Eva, Jesus is still in his mommy's tummy. (The figure is actually in Day 24 of my Advent calendar; I thought I'd be unlikely to lose it there.)
Of course, for Maia her Nativity set constitutes several toys among many. I have to admit it was a little shocking when she enlisted Fred Flintstone to play the part of her missing Joseph the other day. Then, more recently, her baby Jesus was replaced by Sneezy the dwarf. With the family Christmas set, she's borrowed numerous "aminals" to play the part of the hidden baby Jesus. Her little zebra looked pretty funny in the crib (back before the crib was lost). But the sheep's not so bad... I mean the "lamb of God" symbolism at least makes sense when the sheep is standing in the place of the baby Jesus. But I'll leave you all to your own theological reflection on that.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Motherhood: Faith and Perseverance



(Maia, with cut on her nose, and her new best friend Daddy)
Impatience seems to be part and partial of our culture. One of the best examples of this seems to come in the birthing industry. We accept, even embrace "due dates," and we expect our babies to be born by them. The recent rapid rise of inductions (including failed inductions and repeated inductions and eventual C-sections) is evidence of this. Now that I'm in the ninth and final month of a pregnancy, I've had some time to think about patience and perseverance, but my reflections have stemmed not merely from Eva on the inside, but from Maia on the outside.

When I was post-date with Maia, my midwife assured me, "We've never had a baby not come out yet!" and of course, I knew this was true. I think I managed to be pretty patient for her delivery. In the two and a half years since then, however, I've often thought, "Maia will never..." For example, "Maia will never stop nursing!" "Maia will never be potty-trained!" "Maia will never prefer Jeff!" Of course, in each case I knew rationally that at some point these things would happen. But at the time, it FELT like it would NEVER happen. And it took some faith to sustain me. When I think about each of these retrospectively, I see that God did indeed answer my prayers, but that I couldn't force these things. God's gifts come on their own time schedule.

I was still nursing Maia when I got pregnant with Eva. I started having fears of "tandem nursing" (which, yes, many women do, and La Leche supports, but, I just didn't think I could handle it!). Seven months to go in the pregnancy I was convinced Maia would not let go, and I'd have to force it on her. Then one night she suddenly stopped and looked up at me. "It's not working," she said. "No milk?" I asked. "No," she answered. "Ah, Maia, well that happens sometimes when mommies are pregnant." "Humph. New baby drank all Maia's milk!" she exclaimed. Then she asked me for some strawberry Nesquick. And it was all over like that! St. Perpetua must have finally interceded on my behalf (Perpetua's passion details how she prayed for her son to stop nursing before she was executed, and it worked. Ok, my situation wasn't quite as frantic, but she still seemed like a good patron for the task.).
(Maia with Samuel, her potty-training inspiration)
Admittedly, we probably started trying to potty-train Maia a little bit too early, primarily because I was tired of trying to wash diapers every three days while taking a full class load and teaching. At first, our 1.5 year old did great, but then we got busy and found we couldn't dedicate our lives to spending hours in the bathroom. I was sure that when classes ended in May we could concentrate on potty-training again. But then we were traveling and Maia seemed to regress. Finally, we were going to be in Princeton for a month, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the job done. Maia didn't agree, however. Apparently a strange dormroom far from her usual routine was not inspiring for making the switch to undies. She revolted and flatly refused to try using the toilet the entire time at Princeton. We returned to Dayton to find that her friend Samuel was potty-trained. And, literally, within three days, she was potty-trained too. This is why I say she "potty-trained herself."

Maia's been a mommy's girl for most of her life... that is, until recently. It really hit me this morning. Maia wasn't feeling well, and she was pleading with Jeff not to go to work. "I want you," she cried, "I don't want Mommy, I want you!!!" Jeff was holding her and anxiously checking his watch, trying to explain that he needed to shower and get dressed, and that he'd come home right after his class was over. But Maia was pretty much inconsolable. And while it's never nice for your child to say that she doesn't want you, I have to say that I thought, "Thank God! She finally appreciates her dad! And what better time for her to become a daddy's girl than right before baby Eva is born!!!"

My most intense test of perseverance with Maia, however, is related to a tiny little cut that she's had on the left side of her nose. It's been there for about five months - you see, it's right where her left index finger rests when she's sucking her thumb. So, conveniently, thumb-sucking seems to go along with picking off that scab. For the past five months, Jeff and I have tried EVERYTHING. We tried band-aids (believe me, it's a hard spot to bandage), liquid band-aid, socks on her hands at night and during nap, bad-tasting thumb polish (trying to get her to suck her right thumb instead of the left), nail-trimming every three days, and, oh yes, the constant stream of Neosporin, of two types, throughout the day. For five months, nothing worked, and, to be honest, it was becoming a major battle between Maia and me. It was a battle where Maia's success was judged by how bloody her face was when she woke up in the morning and my retaliation was to threaten her with the stinging pain of liquid band-aid (yes, I tried it on a mosquito bite of my own and found out that it REALLY does hurt).
Finally, I did what I had to do--what any good Catholic mother would do. I "let go and let God." Or, in other words, I started a Lourdes Novena. Thankfully, one of my favorite theologian moms brought us back some Lourdes water when she was in France a few years ago. Maia's first experience with Lourdes water was when we discovered that she had a peanut allergy - she was head-to-toe in hives and screaming. So, along with the appropriate dose of Benedryl, we did a little sprinkling with Lourdes water. And, needless to say, she survived. This time Maia received Lourdes water for nine days in a row. And by Day 3, she was the one applying it to her little cut; that was her part of the ritual. Healing the cut took on new meaning. It was no longer simply about getting a toy (yes, I promised her a toy of her choice when the cut was healed). It was about cooperating with Mary. Instead of glaring at her when she started to pick the scab, I said, "Maia, Mary is working really hard praying for that cut to heal. We need to cooperate with her, ok?" and I noticed Maia started to turn her little fist sideways when her thumb was in her mouth, so she wouldn't be tempted to pick at it.

Those who believe in the power of novenas and the power of Lourdes can probably guess the conclusion of this little tale. By Day 9, the cut was - more or less - healed. Admittedly, there's still a mark (is it a scar?), and Maia unconsciously picks at the skin when she gets the chance. But it looks way better than it has looked at any time in the past five months.
(Maia during nap time)
Next up - will Maia ever sleep in her bed by herself all night long? I have to admit, right now, it feels like she NEVER will, no matter what crazy scheme I invent. But something tells me I'm mistaken. Should I start another novena?

Monday, November 3, 2008

For Whom Will Theologian Mom Vote?

Awhile back, I decided to poll blog readers about my voting preference for this year's presidential election. One of my officemates teased me about being vain for having such a poll, but I just wanted to see where people thought I stood politically on the basis of my posts. The results of the poll indicate McCain with a 2-1 edge over Obama (14-7, or 53% and 26%). Three people (God bless 'em!) said I'd vote for CDF head William Levada. Such a write-in would be somewhat pointless, not only because there's no chance he would win, but also because it's against canon law for a bishop to serve in such a political office.

But I am honestly a little surprised that people picked McCain as my choice. Apparently my politically liberal upbringing in a staunchly Democrat household doesn't come through in my writing. Or perhaps it's just clear that theologically I'm not a "liberal" and people think that this means I'm politically conservative.

Anyway, the correct answer is that I'm not voting in this election (even after going to all the trouble of finally changing my registration from Iowa to Ohio!). It's the first presidential election that I'm sitting out. But I honestly can't bring myself to vote for either candidate.

The Catholic debates surrounding this election have been quite nasty for my taste. Today I received an email from my aunt telling me that her parish priest told them it was a "mortal sin" to vote for Obama (see very bottom of hyperlink). The Archbishop of Kansas City, meanwhile, told Catholic radio listeners that were planning on voting for Obama to "consider the eternal salvation of their souls." Now I certainly don't think that voting is an amoral act, but in the grand scheme of things, such emphasis on voting seems unwarranted in the face of countless moral decisions we make each day, every day inbetween the four years that we vote in presidential elections.

For a plethora of descriptions surrounding the election debate in Catholic circles, scroll through my primary news source, that is, Rocco Palmo's blog.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tradition and Indignation

Recently my husband was teaching Genesis 1-3 in the Judaism section of his world religions introductory course. He started the class with a 10 question multiple-choice quiz. One of the questions was, "What did the man and woman eat that got them into trouble? (that's my phrasing, by the way). One of the four choices was "an apple from the tree of life" and another was "unspecified fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."



I'll give you all a second to think about the correct answer to this question based on the text of Genesis 1-3....







Ready?






The answer is the latter, an "unspecified fruit." When he was going over the quiz answers with his class, one student became particularly indignant. She raised her hand with an angry look on her face, "I've gone to Catholic school for 14 years. Are you telling me that all of my teachers were lying to me when they told me it's an apple?" To which my husband responded, "If they taught you this, they were mistaken. There certainly is a long tradition of associating the fruit with an apple, but the text does not specify that it's an apple."



The student didn't let the issue die there. "This is official Catholic Church teaching," she insisted. "Everyone just knows that Adam and Eve ate an apple." Jeff pulled out his pocket-sized Catechism, and he assured her that it was nowhere in the Catechism that the fruit from Genesis was an apple. He also offered her extra credit if she could locate where in Genesis 1-3 the fruit was identified as an apple. Finally the student crossed her arms and closed her mouth.
Since this was in the section on Judaism, Jeff went on to talk about several midrashic interpretations of the passage, one which identifies the fruit as grapes, and another that identifies it as figs. There's nothing patently wrong with variously interpreting the fruit, especially for the allegorical juice (no pun intended). Grapes as the fruit, for example, has a strong tradition because of the association with wine and drunkenness that causes trouble later in Genesis. The figs tradition, meanwhile, is interesting to Christianity in that it makes possible one explanation for Jesus' cursing of the fig tree in the gospel of Mark. I have a hunch that the apple tradition comes from Augustine (probably among others), who would have had a lot of fun playing with the Latin words for evil and for apple.So I guess Jeff shouldn't be too surprised that a student would be absolutely convinced that the fruit in Genesis is an apple. Perhaps for those raised in the Catholic tradition, it's kind of commonsensical- one of those Bible "facts" that we just all assume we know. As testament to this, Jeff's office neighbor polled a listserve of Catholics (not in academia), and found that 22% of them thought the apple in Genesis was dogmatic, an official Church teaching. For the most part, Jeff just found the incident amusing.

That is, until he checked his email a couple hours letter and found a scathing email from the student. "I answered today's quiz based on my previous knowledge. I understand that you drop our three lowest quiz grades, but I didn't want to waste my cushion on a topic that I know. I've been a practicing Catholic for 18 years, and I attended Catholic schools for 14 years. You are basically saying that my parents wasted thousands of dollars on my education and that all the Catholics I know are wrong on this" and so on (my paraphrase).

Well, Jeff's never had his Catholic orthodoxy challenged by a student before, so he was a little taken aback. The real issue of course, was not his orthodoxy, but the text. It's a text-based course and it was a text-based quiz. Upon re-examining the student's quiz, he found she had correctly answered one out of the ten questions (she erroneously answered that the sun was created on the first day, and human beings on the seventh, for example). His Muslim student, on the other hand, had received ten out of ten. Which student do you think actually read the text? Clearly not the one who relied on "previous knowledge."

My husband is a convert to Christianity who was in many ways led to Catholicism because of (and through) the Bible, so he is continually surprised at the seeming ignorance of many Catholics when it comes to Scripture, which is a crucial part of what constitutes tradition.

I told Jeff that he should tell the student to look on the bright side, something like, "I'm not saying your parents wasted thousands of dollars on your Catholic education. I'm saying you're getting money's worth in my class."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Why, Mommy?"

"Mom, when is baby Eva's birthday?" Maia asked me as we were walking home from the park one day last week.

"I don't know yet, Maia." I responded.


"Why?" she asked.


"Because Eva hasn't been born yet. You don't know someone's birthday until she is born."


"Why?" inquired Maia.


"Because a birthday is defined by the day on which the person is born."


"But I thought baby Eva's birthday was in December," suggested Maia.


"Well, we sure hope so," I replied. "It's our best guess. But we don't know the date yet."


As you can see, Maia has hit the question phase full-force. This has been going on for awhile now, especially the "Why?" aspect. I find myself usually pretty patient with answering Maia's questions, although I am starting to realize that some questions just don't have very good answers. Or maybe it's just that I don't have very good answers to her questions.
Also last week, during a quick car trip, Maia asked me why it was painful to die on a cross. And I have to admit that I'm more anxious about answering questions that have some kind of theological significance. I think I said something like, "It hurts a lot to have nails through your hands and feet," and of course, she said, "Why?" I don't even know how I answered this. But then the next thing Maia said was, "I don't want to die." This time, I got to ask why:
"Why, Maia?"
"Because it's painful. I don't want to die on a cross," she answered.
"Well, chances are you won't literally die on a cross, Maia," I assured her.
"Why, Mommy?"
"Nowadays there just aren't many people who are crucified."
"Why, Mommy?"
"Death by crucifixion was characteristic of certain historical time periods and geographical locations. It's not so common here and now."
"Why, Mommy?"
"I don't have a firm grasp of the history of crucifixion, Maia. I'm sorry. Maybe Daddy would know."
"Well, I don't want to die," she said.
"It might not be so bad," I answered. "Then you get to be with Jesus and all the angels and saints, like Mary."

"I don't want to be with Jesus. Because then I was at the hospital and I was sick and Jesus was there, holding me and he baptized me and he wanted to take me to heaven and I said 'No' and, Mommy, Father Satish is not Jesus."
This reply was the recap of a dream she had this past summer. She woke up from a nap in early June, crying and telling me she didn't want to die. I think every parent knows that at some point she's going to have the death conversation with her child. But at 26 months old? Jeff and I scoured our memories to think of where Maia had even encountered the concept of death. Finally we realized that crucifixes were probably her only association with death. I guess it's no wonder, then, that she was afraid. This dream seems to haunt Maia's memory, as she mentions it all the time.
So Jeff and I have tried to have conversations with Maia about why death isn't so bad. But she doesn't seem to get it. Then there was the instance a couple of weeks ago, when Maia was mad at me because it was time to leave the park. "I want you to go away and die!" she yelled at me. "Maia," I responded, "I think you would be very sad if I died." "No, just leave! I'll live with the Peters family!" she answered. So I told her, "I know I will die some day, and that's ok. But right now I want to stay alive so I can be your mommy on earth and take care of you. And it's not very nice to say that you want me to die." Maia put her thumb in her mouth and gave me the cold shoulder for the next five minutes. I don't know if she was thinking how much she'd miss me or how much fun she would have living 24-7 with her friend Samuel.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Scripture and Theology

This summer for the New Wine, New Wineskins conference, I got to read Fr. Robert Barron's Priority of Christ. Barron claims the epistemic priority of Christ for all theological work, and he suggests that this requires looking at Scripture. Barron's own method of doing this is choosing what he calls "icons" of God, that is particular images from the gospel stories.This approach raised several questions for me as I think about how to relate theology to Scripture. Certainly there is a primordial unity here between the two, but in academia there is more often a great divorce, made all the worse because the separation seems rarely felt. Given my husband's obsession with this topic as well as my own experiences, it's no wonder that I've been thinking about this lately.
My concern about Barron's use of Scripture is that these are the images that he chose to highlight, and, of course, they contribute to the rest of his argument. In the end, I think I can grant Barron his chosen "icons," but I'm not sure I would be as comfortable with other theologians and the "icons" they chose. And then I wonder, so is that the way this should work-- we should all just choose our own icons? To every theologian, his or her own images of Christ that support his or her argument?

It struck me that perhaps Barron has an unfair advantage here... Although he chose particular images of God from the gospel, Barron is also a priest who preaches regularly and works with seminarians. His vocation forces him to sit with the daily and Sunday Mass readings. I think this affected how he chose his icons.

Most theologians today have very little time to reflect on Scripture in a theological manner inasmuch as Scripture generally plays a small role in one's academic theology program and publishing career. It is no wonder that we are more drawn to proof-texting, choosing examples here and there to suit our purposes. Doing so provides such odd claims as Jesus' being "anti-family." We tend to start with issues - marriage, for example, or war - and then scour Scripture for soundbytes to include.

For two years now, I've been writing Scripture reflections on the Monday and Thursday daily Mass readings for my parish's website. I can't deny that at times it has felt like a burden. Especially in the midst of taking three classes, studying for an exam, and being a full-time mother of an infant, I've thought to myself, "I don't have time for this," or "This isn't what I'm supposed to be doing now!" Imagine that, a theologian saying she doesn't have time for reflecting on Scripture...Thomas Aquinas would be apalled!

Yes, because these reflections don't get graded or give me credit toward my Ph.D., I've often discounted their importance. But, at the same time, I've often thought, as I'm writing one of these reflections, "Now I'm actually DOING theology!" or even "This is how moral theology SHOULD be done!" The readings for the day are provided to me by the Church, so I do not "choose" passages that suit my purpose or support my arguments. Sometimes it is challenging to find a way to reflect on the readings in a way that is meaningful for a popular audience. Not to mention the passages are often personally challenging (the ones I struggle most with usually seem to involve materialism). Sometimes, a theme for the readings just seems to stand out, and the writing comes easily.
Regardless, when I look back over this discipline of thinking and praying about daily Mass readings and then having to write about them, it seems clear to me that this has contributed just as much or even more to my theological education as my coursework has. At the very least, I will say that the two activities are certainly complementary. Like Barron (though not to the same extent, I'm sure), my theology is being shaped by my active engagement with the liturgical reading of Scripture.
Every once in awhile, someone will find me at Sunday Mass to tell me how much they have been appreciating my Scripture reflections. Although I never cease to be shocked that people actually read them, this helps to remind me of my work as a theologian in service to the Church. Whereas a class paper has a few readers who look to it with a primarily critical eye, the Scripture reflections average about 40 hits each.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scripture Readings for September 11th

In my 4th of July post (Happy St. Elizabeth of Portugal!), I mentioned how the daily Mass readings often seem to fit the occasion. Living the liturgical year immerses one in these insights. It's kind of like the Catholic version of just picking up a Bible and reading whatever page it turns to...except that the Church actually plans out these readings, and when one reads the daily Scripture reading, one joins the larger Catholic community who shares these readings for the day.

When I was writing my Scripture reflection for the Immaculate Conception Ite Missa Est website this Thursday, I had a chance to reflect on the passages for Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time. It's just "coincidence" that these particular readings fall on September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and D.C. But again, it's not exactly coincidence. These things just work out somehow, even though the Church did not plan these readings specifically FOR September 11th.

Today's gospel passage comes from Luke 6:27-38 (NAB liturgy translation):

Jesus said to his disciples:“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measurewill in return be measured out to you.”

These words should surely challenge us today, especially when we recall the events of seven years ago. How ought Christians to respond to our "enemies"?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bowing Out of Politics



I imagine that the title of this post seems a little odd. How is Theologian Mom bowing out of politics? Especially since the one post I wrote on politics I never even published! Well, I admit that my more flexible schedule this year has given me some time to keep on the news as I just haven't been able to in the past two years. I'm sure this would make my dad happy. He could never understand how someone so "educated and smart" could know so little about current events and care so little about politics. Here's to hoping Dad sleeps through this blog post (chances are pretty good since his "retirement" keeps him too busy to read his kids' blogs).


Could there be anything more divisive for the Church in the United States than American electoral politics?


My brief foray into actually thinking about politics has led me to think the answer is no. It seems that only a presidential election can make Catholics so angry at each other. All of the sudden, whether in the news, on blogs, or in my academic department, there seem to be only two kinds of U.S. Catholics: Republicans and Democrats. And the adjectives "liberal" and "conservative" are pretty misleading. Being theologically conservative doesn't make one politically conservative. nor does being theologically liberal make one politically liberal. But most Catholics seem to equate one with the other.


I find this whole deal very distressing since both political parties are constructions, neither of which began with Catholic ideals nor represent well Catholic positions today. But if it were just a matter of preference, like a sports team, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Of course, the choice of a political party is more decisive than that of a sports team. But what's distressing to me is, first of all, the way that these political party convictions seem to outweigh Catholic convictions to some extent. What I mean is that it seems Catholics are sometimes more swayed by their political convictions than their religious convictions. They are more convinced of the Republican (or Democratic) platform than they are of the CCC. They spend more time arguing about politics and law than repenting and worshiping. Not only that, but-also distressing-(at least on the basis of my recent exposure to in-person discussions and Internet discussions) Catholics don't seem to do this arguing in a very Christian manner. Of course the issues being debated are important. But name-calling and non-thoughtful judging don't really help the debate.


It was only four years ago (Kerry vs. Bush) that I found myself in the middle of a petition war at daily Mass in the U.D. chapel. When the priest opened up the floor for "other prayers that we might like to offer" a young undergrad with a "life is not only one issue" t-shirt prayed for all Catholics to have a greater commitment to all issues of life. An older gentleman countered with his much more explicit prayer for "All Catholics to realize that there is only ONE candidate they can vote for in this election." When the third person burst in with a prayer for an ailing grandfather, I'd never been more relieved to pray for a sick relative. This year I've switched to a daily Mass that avoids "prayers of the faithful" altogether. And I can't say I'm really regretting that decision (although it is tough to be out of the house by 6:45 every morning).


On the other hand, the verbal battles I've come into contact with this time around seem just as bad, and pretty removed from the context of worship and holy confrontation. I get the sense that this whole presidential election is making people less charitable to others, and, in general, is making people less holy, as it distracts them from that ultimate goal-the final end of beatitude. I know that following these issues (especially the Pelosi controversy and Obama's pick of a Catholic pro-choice candidate) has made me grumpy and impatient with my fellow Catholics, regardless of their political preferences.


It is for this reason that I am bowing out of politics. Don't take it personally, Clara and Dr. N, that I won't be reading your blogs for a few months. And I will miss keeping up on the Church politics provided by Rocco Palmo's blog. But I'm going to concentrate on becoming a more Catholic Catholic for now and maybe re-enter politics when I'm more spiritually mature.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Top 5 Things About My Husband Finally Having a Job

(Above, back in the days when Jeff was still a student...and Maia was still a baby)

Yes, for the first time in our marriage, one of us has an actual job. Granted, Jeff's position is a one-year lecturer job, but it's great because we didn't have to leave Dayton, and I still have full doctoral funding. So we are feeling absolutely, positively wealthy these days. Or at least, I anticipate that we will feel that way once the first round of bank deposits come through (September 10th, here we come!). So, second in a series of Top 5's, here are my top 5 benefits of Jeff's having a job.

1. Moving from an apartment to a house! That little two-bedroom just wasn't holding us well anymore, especially with a rambunctious toddler and another baby on the way. It's nice to be able to afford a little more rent. And, in general, I think it's fair to say not having to sweat the bills will be a good change in our life (although I highly recommend that couples start their marriage poor--and have children quickly).

2. Jeff has something to do! Granted, last year he was kept busy with conference presentations, submitting a book proposal, parish talks, adjuncting, and, of course, taking care of Maia while I was in class. But teaching a 4-4 load has given him a lot to do; it's a more focused purpose that makes him happy. And of course, it also looks better on his c.v.

3. Faculty member experience. Jeff's finally getting to experience all the joys of faculty meetings. Not to mention that several of the faculty have invited him to call them (gasp!) by their first names now that he's their colleague rather than their student. He's taking his job so seriously that he's been wearing a tie every day that he teaches.

4. The busy-ness factor. With my not having to take classes anymore, we'd just feel overloaded with free time if it weren't for his 5-day a week teaching (plus office hours and meetings). Especially with my taking an exam the day before moving and moving the day before classes started, life hasn't settled down, and we're still stressed out and busy as usual. This is a good thing because I'm not sure how we would handle a laid-back, easygoing life.

5. Even better health benefits. Our institution has very good insurance for grad students. But it turns out that it's even better for faculty members. And since we're both full-time employees, we don't have any deduction for the family plan.
So there you have it. Let's hope that this first year of one of us having a job won't be the last! Of course, this requires Jeff being able to apply for jobs while teaching a 4-4 load and watching Maia enough that I can prep for my qualifying exam. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Top 5 Books on My History Exam List

It's been a very busy past few weeks, including taking (and passing!) a doctoral general exam, moving, and starting the school year. The following list is the top 5 fun books that were on my history exam book list:

1. The Making of the Magdalen by Katherine Jansen. This is a great read, accessible for an educated audience, but a sophisticated piece of history that relies on popular sources (the sermon texts of Franciscans and Dominicans, primarily) from the late middle ages. Jansen uses the images of Mary Magdalen popular at the time as a lens into the issues and concerns of the Catholic at the time. Magdalen served as patron for mendicant preachers, prostitutes, penitents, and the royal house of Anjou among others.

2. The History of Black Catholics in the United States by Cyprian Davis. Like Jansen, Davis relies on a variety of primary and secondary sources, which allows for a complex telling of black Catholics in the United States. Davis also has a regional focus on the southeast, and linguistically includes Spanish-speaking blacks as well as English. Well-written and clear, Davis, a Benedictine, provides a rich picture of black Catholics in the United States, seeing them as spiritually connected to African Christianity.

3. The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700 by Robert Bireley. This book is a retelling of the historical time period conventionally (that is, in the Protestant meta-narrative) entitled the "Counter-Reformation." Bireley's later periodization encompasses various developments of the time (population growth, the missionary movement to America and beyond) and reads the Catholicism of this time period as in continuity with what came before it. Bireley, a Jesuit, describes the Jesuits, for example, as a development in response to the needs of the Church at the time (not necessarily just because of the Counter-Reformation), especially the needs of education and evangeliation.

4. Awash in a Sea of Faith by Jon Butler. This telling of U.S. religious history is unique in that Butler proposes a Christianization of the U.S., in opposition to the conventional narrative of Christianity's decline in the U.S. Butler takes Europe as his starting point and describes the growth of Christianity in the U.S. in relation to this European heritage. This certainly challenges the romanticization of early Christianity in the United States. And, like all of the above, it's also a fun read.

5. Byzantine Theology by John Meyendorff. For someone who has never studied the theology of the East, I found Meyendorff's account fascinating. It is clear and easy to read, with numerous comparisons to Western theology. Meyendorff does an excellent job providing a sort of intellectual history to the development of the important concepts of byzantine theology.

I'd recommend any of these books as casual/fun reads, even to those who are not theologians. Studying for this past exam has made me continually more sympathetic to the claim of Doktoropa that historical theology is the only kind of theology there is.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stories of a Midwife


(Above, Tia Ann with baby Maia on her birth-day.)
Most of us who are mothers can admit that our parenting is affected by our family life. Yes, I've already had those moments where I realize I sound like my mother. But interestingly, one of the important influences on my mothering is actually my younger sister. I say this is interesting because (having just been married in June of this year) she is not yet a mother. My sis, however, has been closely involved with Maia since the day she was born - and even earlier.

Ann took pre-med classes (in addition to her anthropology major) as an undergrad, but it didn't take her long to realize that she didn't really want to be a doctor. What she wanted to do was catch babies and attend to pregnant women. So, following a year of service in Puerto Rico, she started an M.S.N. program and three years later emerged as a C.N.M. (certified nurse midwife). She's been working about one year full-time now as a midwife. And she's now caught about 120 babies. Maia was the first catch recorded in her birth book. At that time, Ann was still a student and working part time as a labor and delivery nurse. But, thanks to my 36 hour labor with Maia, she had plenty of time to drive seven hours south, go to my last prenatal visit with us, and be there with us throughout the labor and delivery. My husband always says he's not sure he could have made it through it all without Ann. :)

Having a midwife as a sister has made me very attuned to the issues surrounding prenatal care, labor, and delivery. Ann always has stories to share with me about her latest catch or the challenges of attending to undocumented patients. I have to say that her stories as a midwife are a great improvement over her stories as a labor and delivery nurse. The latter often featured stories of (obviously unnecessary) routine episiotomies, on-call doctors missing deliveries, doctors and patients getting into shouting matches, epidural encouragement, and the likes. Now that Ann is the one catching, the stories are more often encouraging: a streak of four deliveries without the woman tearing! the latest natural delivery! teaching moments with medical residents! noticing an important condition in a woman that really helped her and her baby!

When I was talking to my sister last week, however, she was telling me about her latest four catches. The one that stood out to me (and her) was a child who was the gestational age of Eva. That's roughly 26 weeks, and obviously far from term. The mother had haemophilus influenza (you might be more familiar with "hib," the vaccine for this), and somehow (I'm not sure how/why), this led to pre-term labor that was truly unstoppable. Given that the woman was a high-risk case, Ann found herself surrounded by various doctors (obstetrics, neonatal) at the delivery. "Careful with the head!" one of them instructed her. I'm pretty sure that Ann is ALWAYS careful with the head, but oh, well. Ann said her reaction upon seeing the head was actually that she wanted to push the baby back in and tell him not to come out yet. But of course she caught the little guy- around two pounds. He's been in the NICU ever since, and she checks on him when she's at the hospital. His prognosis is not so good.

After hearing the story, I patted my belly and told Eva that I didn't want to see her until December. But the story really stuck with me, and it led me thinking beyond the affective mother reflections to issues of medical practice. See, Ann's stories don't just influence my motherhood thoughts, but also my moral theologian thoughts. I can't find the quotation, but I'm pretty sure a theologian mom once told me that in her medical ethics class they had a discussion on Mother Teresa's claim that NICUs are idolatrous of life. Ironically, just days after debating this with her class, she went into pre-term labor with her twins, and both of them ended up in the NICU for a fair amount of time. They're fantastic kids, and I'm pretty sure she can't imagine life without them.

Clearly we want to value the life of such children; we acknowledge them as persons in need of our care. But when does such value and respect for life become an idolatry of life? And how do we avoid thinking about it in utilitarian terms, i.e. how many millions of children who die of malnutrition worldwide could be saved by the money spent on a single NICU in one month (it's a lot, believe me)?

As a pregnant woman - and a theologian mom - these thoughts turn back on me, and I have to ask myself, how would I handle it if Eva were born tonight? How would I make prudential judgment on what kind of care she should receive? Could I let go of her, if I had to do so? And would I be grounded enough (vertically and horizontally) to grieve well?

I can't say it's always fun to reflect on my sister's stories, but I do think it's valuable. I praise God for her work and ministry as a midwife, and I pray that baby Eva stay warm and cozy inside of me for a few more months.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy Assumption!

I have to say that one of the perks of being at a Marianist university is that we get off for the feasts of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. This is a particular treat inasmuch as my grad assistant contract starts on the 15th. "Contract day" is always a feast day. This year there's another consequence, however...with contract day/Assumption day on a Friday, I have to attend orientation events on a Saturday. Alas! I can't have it all. But I really can't complain, given that the Assumption's position on a Friday exempts me from my meats and sweets abstention! I don't know what it says about me that my first reaction to realizing the Assumption was on a Friday was the excitement of being absolved from my meager penitential practices. But it's certainly convenient in that our parish festival begins on Friday, and I have my eyes on those powdered sugar-covered treats, as well as the Indian food booth.

I probably should be theologizing on the Assumption here, instead of fantasizing about parish festival goodies. The Assumption certainly does have a fascinating history that stretches back long before it's solemn ex cathedra definition. But instead-blame it on my just having finished writing a 24-hour doctoral exam on Church history-I think I'll share my favorite Assumption story. When my husband was a neophyte Christian, still of the Evangelical Protestant sort (five years before I met him), he was working as a garbage man for his summer job, and he asked a Catholic co-worker what this Catholic feast was all about. "Well," said the friend, "we KNOW Jesus went to heaven. But with Mary we just assume it. Hence the 'Assumption.'" Alas! Martin Luther certainly wouldn't have been happy with that explanation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Two Baby Gear Additions

One of my new favorite theologian moms alerted me to the new one-sized pocket diapers, Bum Genius 3.0. They look like an improvement over the old Fuzzi Bunz and Happy Heinys. Although I should also point out that Happy Heinys also recently came out with a one-sized diaper. I've never seen the latter in person, so don't take this is an all-out endorsement.

The other baby gear addition I wanted to mention is stick sunblock. It is so much easier than lotion, and we couldn't survive the summer without it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Theologian Mom's Top Baby Gear Picks

I realize my posts have been more on the motherhood side than on the theologian side lately- blame it on summer! But I'm going to take the liberty of posting my top baby gear picks, not just because baby Eva is on the way, but because I've given this information to various friends in various emails over the past couple of years. And it occurred to me that it would be easier to refer people to a blog post than to type up the same information each time. So, here you have it: THEOLOGIAN MOM'S TOP BABY GEAR PICKS! 1. The Maya Wrap Sling (or homemade/other versions thereof), $56. We used this every single day for the first two years of Maia's life. It was great for nursing (even nursing while walking!) and extremely versatile. Early on, Maia faced in. Then after just a few months she sat upright in it. Before long she sat primarily on my hip, and then soon I carried her on my back. It was also a lifesaver for Mass. I managed to kneel with Maia in the sling pretty easily. In terms of fabric, I recommend a pattern; patterns hide spills and the stripes make it easy to tell where to tighten the sling. The one warning I have about the Maya Wrap is that there is a definite learning curve. You have to be ready to stick it out. Within the first month, I was ready to give up and get a Baby Bjorn...but I was too cheap, and in the end, I'm glad I was too cheap. The Maya Wrap is awesome.
2. Cloth Diapers, prices vary widely. They're better for the environment, and, believe me, they are way cheaper. Simple old-fashioned diapers work fine. For more convenience, I recommend pocket diapers such as Happy Heinys. Fuzzi Bunz are similar in construction, but the HH seem to fit better and longer, and the velcro is easier than snaps. The only warning is that the HH are so easy to get off that our baby Houdini figured it out by her first birthday. If you end up getting pocket diapers, you probably want some kind of hemp doubler for extra absorbancy. The pocket diapers take very little detergent to wash and come out clean very easily. I've had great experience both with Wildflower Diapers and Cotton Babies (both also sell the Maya Wrap sling, too). I believe both companies are run by stay-at-home-moms. Btw, we used just a normal sort of diaper pail, and that worked fine with the cloth diapers. Also, I don't like carrying stuff (like a large diaper bag), so we had a very small bag and only brought one or two back-up cloth diapers. If we got beyond that while out for the day, we used disposables, which pack up much easier. But honestly, we rarely needed the disposables. One other addition here: reusable swim diapers are also great, especially since the disposable swim diapers are pricey.
3. Co-sleeping pillow, $140. This is one of the few baby products that we actually bought for ourselves, and believe me, it was worth it. Again, it is a very versatile product. We initially bought it for cosleeping purposes, when Maia had a few falling-out-of-bed incidents (don't worry, our bed was on the ground, so it was a short fall!). Since then we've used it on the foot of her bed (yes, she moves so much when she sleeps that she's come close to going off the end). Currently I'm using it as a pregnancy pillow. It's also great for traveling when you're unsure of sleeping arrangements.
4. Clip-on High Chair, $35. In a small apartment, the last thing we wanted was a lot of baby furniture and baby gear. This high chair was fantastic for a number of reasons. The plastic cover is easy to wipe off. The tray is removable. Its easy to collapse and hence awesome for traveling. The child actually sits at the table instead of away from the table. It takes up very little space. On the few occasions I had to take Maia to my doctoral seminars, I clipped her on to the tables in the classroom so she could have a good view of my classmates whom she was trying to pelt with Cheerios. Don't worry. The chair really is secure.


5. Tie bibs, cheap. But good luck finding them! Our baby Houdini was getting out of velcro and crew neck bibs long before she was really eating solid foods (Maia has never really been into that whole eating thing). Tie bibs are our favorite, but apparently they don't make other people's top pick list.
6. Cosleeper, $140. This cosleeper is great in terms of size; it doesn't take up too much space and is convenient for moving from room to room. In the end we only used it for naps, but it was great for that. It's designed to be attached to a bed for those who want their child nearby but don't feel comfortable sharing the same sleeping surface. The downside to this product is that its use is somewhat short-lived. A good alternative (if you've got the cash or the generous grandparents) for serious cosleeping is a king-sized bed, paired with the cosleeping pillow mentioned above.

7. Non-slip bath mat, $8. We got a fancy cushiony spa-type bath mat at Marshalls, and it just may be the best bathroom purchase we've ever made. It's great for Maia especially because she often prefers standing during baths and also likes taking showers.


8. Bottle brush, $3. We never used a bottle, but this past summer I finally discovered bottle brushes. They are amazing for cleaning sippy cups. We haven't had a dishwasher, and so it's been tough to maintain sippy cup cleanliness. Now, however, it's no problem. I guess for most people this is a no-brainer. But I'm still learning new things.


9. Door-frame bouncy chair, ?. One of our friends (thanks, Sharon!) picked up from a thrift store a bouncy chair that hangs on a door frame. We never had any other kind of little chair for Maia, and this has been a life-saver for shower time when the spouse is away from home. We just hang her up on the doorframe and it easily buys 5-10 mintues! And we've been able to use it now for well over a year. Currently Maia prefers to put her toys in it and swing them while Mom or Dad showers.


10. Robeez shoes (or generic version thereof), $25-40. We received a pair of handed-down Robeez, and Maia wore them literally every day from about six months to 18. They stay on well, they have practically no sole (which is a good thing), and they're cute. Maia took her first steps at 10 months, and the Robeez didn't interfere with her learning how to walk. I've actually seen boxed, unused Robeez at thrift stores before (it blows my mind!), so you might want to check there since the shoes are a little pricey. Or get a generic version; I assume they are pretty similar.

Alright, looking at that list, you can kind of figure out some of our parenting style. Things not on my list: pacifiers and bottles (both of those go against NFP's ecological breastfeeding rules), a crib, etc. In general, I'd like to say that less is more when it comes to baby gear. But let's be honest, Americans likely have way more baby stuff than anywhere else, and our family is no exception (despite our aspirations of simple living).

Here are some other things we appreciate: a nice jogging stroller that I've used constantly, as well as Maia's little bicycle seat; both of these have been great for combining exercise with motherhood. My rockaholic mom would be unhappy if I failed to mention the necessity of a glider rocking chair. She was so concerned about our lack of glider that she gave us her spare. As for toys, we really haven't bought any (ok, excepting the magnetic doodler, which we bought to occupy Maia during Mass). Friends and family seem to have supplied them all. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, as well as several donations of used clothing from strangers, we also did not buy any clothes for Maia's first year of life. We also have been given most of our children's book collection. For purchasing, half-price books has great children's books at low prices. Also, I recommend Once Upon a Child as a great thrift store for baby/kid stuff (as well as maternity wear). And I think this concludes my recommendations.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baby Eva!

Here's little Eva's first picture! I think she'll continue to become more photogenic as time goes on.

I've noticed that people are usually quite convicted about the finding-out-the-sex, not-finding-out-the-sex issue. In fact, people often seem so staunchly opinionated as to make it seem as though it's a moral issue rather than one of personal preference. Are there any moral reasons for not finding out the sex? I have yet to be convinced, (although I have heard moral arguments against ultrasounds in general). I'm a planner, and that's the main reason I wanted to know. But I also really like being able to refer to the child by name. That would have been harder if Eva was a boy; we didn't have a boy's name chosen yet. "Eva" is a family name; my husband's great-grandmother. It also has Marian associations (Mary is the new Eve, Eva is "ave" backwards, etc.). My husband will probably sometimes call her by her Hebrew name, "Havah."

However, we're still undecided on the middle name. If the child is born on December 12th (which is one of the tentative due dates), then I think we really will go with "Guadalupe." Wouldn't it be fun to call our baby "Lupita"? On the other hand, I don't think the 13th will merit the name "Lucy."

Sometimes I wish that we'd had a naming strategy early on. We have friends that are going Old Testament-New Testament-Early Church-Medieval Church and so on through the time periods. So far they have their OT son Samuel and their OT daughter Ruth. The next round will be NT names (Mary and Simon, perhaps?). They are hoping to end the family with Dorothy (after Dorothy Day).

Anyway, we're happy with Eva, both the name and the child. Right now she's very quiet (something we will long for in January), although she already kicks me a lot. Maia is also happy with Eva. Even before we knew it was Eva in the womb, Maia named one of her dolls Eva. So she and I both have baby Evas. And Maia gives kisses to both of them.

Good At Making Friends

Maia loves her friends. The four weeks that we were at Princeton were hard for her because she had to be away from her closest friends, both kids (Samuel, Ruth, Miles) and adults (Mary Lou and Rob, Nikki, Sue). Of course she managed to make new friends, both kids and adults. Here's a great video of Maia with a boy she met. He only spoke Russian, so they couldn't really talk. But they shared the universal language of clapping.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another Baptizing Expedition

In the above video, Maia baptizes herself (I didn't catch the "I baptize you" part, but you can hear the rest of the formula). Theologically, of course, this is problematic. But I have to admit I've been encouraging her to pretend to baptize herself, mostly because I have become her primary recipient of the sacrament, and I am getting tired of coming back from the Wilson Center fountain with wet hair.

The inevitable finally happened today. Maia had made a couple of "friends" at the fountain. So far in my experience at this fountain, there are very few native English-speakers and very few U.S. citizens. One of the boys was Asian and spoke to his mom in some Asian language (unfortunately, I know no languages from this part of the world and could not tell you where specifically they were from). The other boy's father might be a native English speaker... but with such an accent that I've never heard and had no way to place him. I suspect he's from somewhere in Europe. This little boy Lucas was probably about three years old.

Maia got it in her head to perform a baptism. I tried to dissuade her, intimating that she should "baptize" her purple ball instead. But, surprisingly, Lucas's father suggested that she baptize Lucas. Surprised, I asked, "Oh, has he already been baptized?" I was thinking that this might be the only reason that someone would want to play along with Maia's baptizing game. The response was, "No, he's not been baptized. But she's welcome if she wants to." I said, "Well, it will be a valid baptism," but the father looked like he didn't know (or care) what exactly I meant when I said that.

So I gave Maia the go-ahead for the baptism, but said, "Why don't you just pour the water on his arm?" The father then asked Lucas, "Lucas, would you like her to pour water on your head?" Lucas nodded with enthusiasm. So, it happened. Maia poured the water over his head.

And was completely silent. That's right, she didn't say anything. The matter was there, but where was the form? "Maia," I said, "you forgot the words!" So she tried again, and, again, successfully poured water without saying a word. This time the dad decided Lucas was probably wet enough. And as the pair waded away, Maia called out, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!"

But I'm pretty sure that wasn't a valid baptism after all. And, walking back to the dorm, I was reflecting that's probably a good thing. I appreciate Maia's evangelistic zeal, but I don't think this is really the way that Catholic baptisms should happen.