"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.

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.