"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.

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.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On St. Maria Goretti

Just two days ago, the Church celebrated the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. As I mentioned in my post regarding her, Elizabeth was married to the King of Portugal at age 12. It's interesting that only two days following her feast, the Church celebrates the feast of a saint who died at age 11, preferring death to rape. At a surface level, their lives make for an interesting comparison. Elizabeth's marriage was likely not a marriage of personal choice, but, given that it was a standard practice at the time, apparently she accepted it and managed to live a holy life in spite of her marriage at a young age. In contrast, Maria Goretti is celebrated for her "choice" of being killed rather than raped. In both cases, we see the worldly powerlessness of girls and yet their potential to be saints despite this powerlessness.

I suppose it's bad to say that one feels ambivalence toward a saint, but I can't help but admit that I do feel ambivalence thinking about the way this saint has been used in material culture. The license plate above seems harmless enough: "St. Maria Goretti's Girls Club" can't be that bad, right? She is, after all, the patron saint of youth. But then, look at the t-shirt below:

You can see that the model for this t-shirt is a girl probably about the age of Maria Goretti at the time of her stabbing. What I was trying to draw attention to is the slogan (bottom left of the design), "Purity's worth dying for." Believe me when I say that I hope and pray that my daughter (and future children) will always live chaste lives. But do I want my daughter walking around with a shirt that proclaims: "Purity's worth dying for"? Let me boldly say "NO" to that.

It concerns me that an 11 year old girl who protested getting raped and instead was murdered should be held up to young girls today as a model of purity. What 11 year old girl does want to be raped? Even sexually promiscuous adult women don't want to be raped. That desire in and of itself does not make for purity. Nor does the desire to be killed rather than raped make for purity.

I don't really doubt that Maria Goretti possessed purity. The accounts of her life - which detail a difficult childhood involving poverty, the death of her father, and fieldwork with no chance for education - indicate that her life was one informed by charity. Contrasting with Elizabeth of Portugal, whose poverty was of a voluntary sort, Maria Goretti demonstrates the sanctity possible for one born into poverty. Like Elizabeth of Portugal, Maria Goretti's life was rooted in prayer. With a consistency of all Christian virtue informed by charity, Goretti undoubtedly was pure.

In a country with a multibillion dollar pornography industry, scantily clad women on billboards, Victoria's Secret window displays at every mall, movie stars and singers who model sexual promiscuity, and mainstream television where women are treated as sex objects, girls certainly do need to be taught the value of purity and chastity. We need to think seriously about the best ways to form our daughters to value chastity while not overvaluing purity. "Purity's worth dying for" seems to be a dangerous overvaluing, and applying it to Maria Goretti on account of her being killed rather than raped seems to suggest that had she been raped, she would have been made "impure."

It makes sense that Maria Goretti would be the patron of the youth. Her death at age 11 and subsequent canonization indicate that even children can be saints; it indicates that children are called to holiness. It ought to inspire parents to pay attention to the spiritual formation of their children. John Paul II's message on the centenary of Maria Goretti's death explains this. But like Pope Pius XII that canonized her, John Paul II also emphasizes Goretti's purity.

Though I said I don't doubt Goretti's purity, I do object to her as the best model of purity for girls and young women. A tried and true purity could be found in many female saints - both those who were mothers and those who were celibate religious. These women of an older age are more likely to have endured sexual temptation and to have subordinated this temptation, directing it by the guidance of Christian love and a desire to do God's will. Their lives of sexual wholeness (whether celibate or conjugal) were lives of spiritual wholeness.

The many female saints seem to indicate that purity's not just worth dying for. As a part of a complete Christian life, it's worth living for.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Elizabeth of Portugal!

Some of my friends have commented that one great thing about living the liturgical year is the way that the Church's Scripture passages for the day really seem to speak to things going on in one's life. I've been in the habit for a few years now of reading the daily Mass readings at the beginning of my day. My husband and I also try to do lauds (morning prayer) and vespers (evening prayer) together each day.

Today in the United States is a national holiday known as Independence Day. I grew up in a pretty patriotic family, but since my college days and beyond, I've had ambiguous feelings about this country of ours. It's one of the richest in the world and yet doesn't seem to be able adequately to help its own poor. It has admirable values, like freedom, but they seem to be manifest in its citizens in credit debt, materialism, obesity, and drug addiction. The celebrated "equality" itself has a complex history, and minorities continue to suffer institutionalized and personal discrimination. This country where women have equal "rights" also has a multibillion dollar pornography industry and inadequate maternity leaves.

When I opened my prayer book this morning, I had this American ambivalence in mind. Friday - the day of our Lord's death - has traditionally been a Catholic day of repentance, sacrifice, fasting, and abstention from meat. The words of Psalm 51 echoed with me so much this morning that I read it twice:

"Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion, blot out my offense.
Oh wash me more and more from my guilt,
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them,
My sin is always before me,
Against you, you alone, have I sinned.
What is evil in your sight I have done,

That you may be justified wihen you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Inded you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart creat for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar."

I have to admit that living an American lifestyle makes me feel implicated in social sin at nearly every turn - from my sweatshop clothes to my daughter's Chinese factory made toys to bananas imported from Ecuador at unjust prices to the abundance of clean water that I waste to the enormous amount of trash that my small family creates. As if to impress this call for repentance more firmly upon me, today's first reading is from the book of Amos 8:4-6, 9-12:

"Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,“that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?” We will diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights,and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals;even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!

On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun set at midday and cover the earth with darkness in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentations.I will cover the loins of all with sackcloth and make every head bald. I will make them mourn as for an only son, and bring their day to a bitter end. Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD,when I will send famine upon the land: Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD. Then shall they wander from sea to sea and rove from the north to the east in search of the word of the LORD,but they shall not find it."

On the liturgical calendar for today, Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. She is the great-niece of my patron (Elizabeth of Hungary) and the patron of Portugal. She was born of royalty and married to the king of Portugal when she was only 12. She was mother to two children, and arranged her day in order that she could attend Mass and recite the Divine Office daily. As queen she did all she could to help the needy: the sick, travelers, women, and abandoned infants. In her own family, she was a peacemaker, as she ended a long-standing family dispute.

When her husband died, she gave all of her property to the poor and became a Third Order Franciscan, continuing to work for the poor and for peace for the remaining eleven years of her life. Today we celebrate her passing on to eternal life.

In many ways, it seems that Elizabeth of Portugal can stand as a model for Americans. All that she did, whether motherhood or caring for the poor, was rooted in her prayer life. She used her wealth to help the needy around her. When the time presented itself, she abandoned this temporal wealth to seek more fully eternal wealth. She devoted herself fully to making peace. We American Catholics ought to be inspired by such a life to do penance for our sins against humanity, and to live lives that are worthy of our true citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Maia the Baptist

I mentioned in two previous posts that my daughter had become really interested in baptizing. This interest has in no way receded recently.

When I was recently looking for footage of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I's visit to Rome on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I came across a youtube clip of Benedict XVI baptizing an infant. The clip is maybe a couple minutes long, but the part with the baby being baptized is only a few seconds. Maia wanted to watch those few seconds over and over when we first found the clip, and now she requests it daily. She'll interrupt my computer work and plead, "Maia want to see pope baptizing baby!" Sometimes I indulge her.

Meanwhile, she's continued to "baptize" her toys. Recently she and I were visiting my husband's aunt (and family). They gave her a new baby doll, and, first chance she got (i.e. while I was using the bathroom), she turned on the bath faucet and doused the doll. It took two hours of hot sunlight to get her dry again. I was a little afraid that the Weiss family would be offended that she had soaked her new toy and I wasn't sure what their reaction would be (given that they are Jewish) if she explained why she had doused the doll. To my relief, they found the idea of her baptizing her new doll to be quite funny.

Even more hilarious did they find Maia's claim that Grandpa Jay (her Jewish grandfather) had baptized her. I corrected her, "No, Grandpa Jay was rinsing the sunblock out of your eye." But she continued then and continues now to insist that what he was really doing was baptizing her. This is odd because she knows that Fr. Satish baptized her, and I've told her numerous times that for Catholics, baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

The latter part of that she certainly doesn't get. Today at the Wilson Center fountain (on the campus of Princeton University), she used a purple sandtoy to pour water over my head and "baptize" me. The good news is that Maia now has the Trinitarian formula down perfectly. The bad news is this increases the chance that she will accidentally (or, I guess, purposely) baptize some stranger's kid in the pool. In fact, that's why I let her pour water on my otherwise dry head. I figure, better she pretends to baptize me than one of the kids... or even worse, one of the dead bugs floating in the water!

Will Maia's obsession with baptism ever end? I hope not! At least, not before the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord... that's when we're planning to have our next child baptized!