"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, 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.