"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, 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?

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