"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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Eva!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bring on the Terrible Twos!

Well, it's started. Eva can now shake her head "NO." She's kind of done it before, but tonight at the dinner table I asked her if she wanted her sippy cup and she shook her head, no, no, no. It was so great that we all clapped and then had her do it several more times, one of which I captured on the camera.

In my baby sign language book, the author tells readers that sign language can cut out a lot of the "terrible twos." The theory is that two-year olds get frustrated with their inability to communicate verbally. If they just know how to sign, they can communicate the basic things they want to tell you.

My book uses the example of your baby is crying and you ask what he wants. He signs juice, you give him juice, and you've avoided the tantrum. Great, right? Well, but what if he's not supposed to drink juice (my pediatrician friend says no, no, no to juice for babies/toddlers)? You acknowledge his communication and tell him no. He throws a tantrum. In this case, the problem is not communication, but the fact that the baby can't have what he wants. And if you ask me, much of "the terrible twos" is the child realizing that she can't get what she wants and using every possible way to try to get her way.

So anyway, bring on the conflict! Eva can now communicate "NO!" which is a big part of any toddler's life (just ask Maia). The head shake is just in time for her first birthday this Sunday.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Matching Sweaters

It's hard to choose just one photo of the girls in their matching sweaters. Next-door neighbor Anna got one too, as did cousin Eliza.

Babies: What I Wish I Would Have Known

A friend having her first child has made me want to write a blog post on things I wish I would have known about caring for a baby. For the moment, I've only come up with a few tips...but more may surface.

1. Eczema. I know SO many parents that have struggled and struggled with their poor babe's dry skin, especially in the winter. Finally my pediatrician friend passed on the advice of a pediatric dermatologist. One bath in clear water (NO SOAP!) per day. Pat dry, and put on hydrocortisone cream. Also use the cream several times during the day if necessary. This was the only tactic that worked for Eva, and it got rid of her eczema within two days. (Note: Any "moisturizer" that has water as a first ingredient will only dry skin out further.)

2. A baby cannot be held too much, but YOU can hold your baby too much. Sometimes parents will say they don't want to "spoil" their baby by holding them too much. This is ridiculous. Babies are born dependent on the care and love of others, not as individuals in a war of all against all. A baby cannot be held too much. On the other hand, YOU can hold your baby too much. I know I was trying so hard to be counter-cultural (avoiding the carseat "potted plant" phenomenon) that I ended up making my life kind of difficult when Maia was a baby. Parenting is a very physical thing, and if you wear your baby in a sling for the majority of your day, you'll feel it. It's nice to hold a sleeping baby, but unless there will ALWAYS be someone available to hold your child while she's sleeping, it's better to set her down so she gets used to sleeping nearby rather than on a human being.

3. Sometime between five months and eleven months, a baby's wants and needs diverge. In the early days of life with a baby, you may become accustomed to meeting his every desire, and this is perfectly acceptable. Babies want to be fed, to be changed, to be cuddled, to sleep, and so on. This is also what they need. But you have to be cognizant of the change that is coming. Some day your baby will want something that she doesn't need. You may be so used to meeting all your baby's desires that you don't realize the change that's occurred. Be on the lookout and plan in advance for dealing with it.

4. Resign yourself to less-than-ideal sleep. Regardless of the book or method, I've yet to meet a parent who NEVER has any problems with their child's sleep patterns. So regardless of the strategy you adopt, just know in advance that you will not get the same kind of sleep you had before. Sometimes your child seems to be a great sleeper, and you count on her usual nightly sleep pattern only to find out that she's not going to sleep well that night (teething or whatever). Every night, when you go to bed, tell yourself that you very likely will not get as much sleep as you would like.

5. Don't let your pediatrician push you around. I admit, we had no idea what to expect with pediatricians, and we didn't have a great first experience when we took Maia to her first appointment (no - not just because she peed all over Jeff when we took her diaper off for the weigh-in). Many pediatricians are not breast-feeding friendly. Their offices have formula ads plastered everywhere (in the form of the waiting room toys or clocks or requests for participating in formula studies where you get free formula), and the doctor will tell you that your child certainly needs an iron supplement, and flouride, too. "If they're only breastfeeding, then they're missing out on all the flouride that's in water!" Who cares. Our dentist told us that children with healthy diets who brush their teeth do not need flouride. But that's just one example. If your pediatrician tries to do a table examination, you can suggest that they look at the child on your lap, especially if your baby is upset and scared. Remember, it's your child. You're there for the pediatrician's help and advice, but you are the real expert on your baby. Don't let them make you feel incompetent or unduly worried about your child's health.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Counting on Too Much: Yes, Advent Should Be Penitential

In their 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstience, the U.S. Bishops noted that changing customs around Christmas had diminished the appreciation for and understanding of Advent (#5). They noted that some Christians had tried to restore the spirit of Advent by recomitting themselves to the austerities of traditional Advent. "Perhaps their devout purpose will be better accomplished, and the point of Advent will be better fostered if we rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy to restore its deeper understanding as a season of effective preparation for the mystery of the Nativity" (#6).

The Bishops went on to encourage Catholics to meditate on the lessons of the liturgy and to participate in the liturgical rites of Advent (#7). They also suggest that "If...liturgical observances are practiced with fresh fervor and fidelity to the penitential spirit of the liturgy, then Advent will again come into its own" (#8).

The section on Advent concludes with the Bishops saying that they are "counting on the liturgical renewal of ourselves and our people to provide for our spiritual obligations with respect to this season" (#9).

Now that it is 43 years later, I think we can examine this text and see that it was counting on too much. For one thing, of course, it is somewhat vague on the Advent practices that ought to be adopted by the people. Are they just supposed to "try harder" at Mass now that it's in English? Are all families supposed to have an Advent wreath? And why the judgment against those who engage in penitential practices during Advent?

When I read this section four decades later, it seems to me that what happened here was an attempt at replacement. They wanted to replace practices of the virtue of penance with "liturgical renewal." Or maybe we could say that they thought since the people would now understand Advent liturgies, Advent would be more meaningful to them, and they would have no need of those penitential practices that reminded them daily that it was Advent.

I'm a big fan of liturgy, so don't get me wrong. But considering that most Catholics participate in only five liturgies in the season of Advent (four Sundays plus the Immaculate Conception), it seems a little pollyanish to think that the liturgy by itself will be effective preparation for Christmas. Undeniably, there is great grace in the Eucharist regardless. And yet the Eucharistic training or liturgical training of the Mass only "comes into its own" when it is tied into a network of practices. This is true year-round, but it is especially true in those special seasons of the year - Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Something has to mark these seasons in the everyday.

Most Catholics are aware that Lent is a penitential season; we make our little Lenten sacrifices or "fasts." We might add a special time of prayer or give alms. We make a special effort to get to the sacrament of confession. But few Catholics have any association with Advent as a penitential season. One sign of this disconnect is the common change of liturgical colors, from purple to blue. Advent is meant to be purple, identifying it with Lent as a time of special preparation and penance. Churches nowadays seem to favor blue, to make it clear that Advent is NOT Lent. This might be a case of "liturgical renewal" gone awry. Replacing the penitential practices of Advent with an increased emphasis on the liturgy was not a fair trade. It not only removed the everday markers of the season, it made the season evolve into something entirely different, as indicated by the new colors.

Advent is a season of longing - longing for light, for warmth, for the entry of Christ into the world and the coming of Christ at the end of the world. There are many ways to mark this longing. We have our Advent wreath and our Advent calendars, for example. But there are other ways that we can make this longing felt, namely, by acts of penance, similar, though perhaps less intense, to those that we do during Lent. Because, while it is easy to SAY that we OUGHT to feel longing for Christ during Advent, if we don't change our habits during this season, we are unlikely to feel that longing, especially while we are surrounded by Christmas songs, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, Christmas parties, and Christmas shopping.

During this season of Advent, we are called to recognize our sins and how they separate us from God. This is part of our longing for our Redeemer and Savior; we realize our own humanity and our need for God. By engaging in penance, we use our sins as an opportunity to grow closer to God, an opportunity to accept God's mercy and forgiveness. We prepare ourselves to accept the great gift God gives us - the gift of his Son.

Both worship and penance are species of the virtue of justice. By worshiping God in the Mass, we give God his due. By seeking to make amends for our offenses against God, we are giving God his due. We are called to both penance and worship. Acts of these virtues train us - not only in performing justice - but in receiving God's grace.

Maia's Favorite Words

(During lunch)

M: "When I was two, I would say 'NO! NO! NO!' because 'no' was my favorite word. 'No, no, no' all day long. Now that I'm three, I have another favorite word: 'poop.' That's why I have to say the word 'poop' all day long. I miss when Samuel and I would play at the park and say 'poop' together the whole time we were playing. But at least I can still say it on my own. Poop."

TM: "Well, honestly, Maia, I think I liked your two-year old word better than your three-year old word. But here's hoping your favorite four-year old word will be the best yet."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Busy Girl

After several attempts, two days in a row, to get Maia to let me read to her, write with her, color with her, or generally speaking, just play with her, I finally talked to her about it.

TM: "Maia, you seem so busy lately - too busy to read with me. Why is it you're so busy?"

M: "Well, first of all, I have to take care of my children. That takes a lot of time you know. Then, I have to play with my dolls."

(Side note - Wait, aren't those two things the same???)

M:"Then I always have artwork to do. Then I also have all my homework. So I just don't have much free time. Sorry, Mom." (Of course, she doesn't have homework. She's only three!)

Later, Eva woke up prematurely from her nap and I rocked her back to sleep downstairs. Maia took a break from putting her children down to bed to confront me.

M: "Mom, what are you doing?!"

TM: "I'm just sitting here with Eva because she fell asleep on me, and I'm afraid she'll wake up if I move."

M: "Well, she won't. You need to go put her down in her crib upstairs so you can get back to your cooking."

TM: "Really, you think she'll stay asleep?"

M: "Yes. Come on, you have work to do."

TM: "Thanks, Maia."

(And yes, Eva stayed asleep in her crib in time for me to finish preparing my turkey wild rice mushroom soup.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Very Tall Mouse and Very Short Mouse

(Sister Deb with Eva)

"Once there was a very tall mouse and a very short mouse who were good friends. When they met Very Tall Mouse would say, 'Hello, Very Short Mouse.' And Very Short mouse would say, 'Hello, Very Tall Mouse.'

The two friends would often take walks together. As they walked along Very Tall Mouse would say, 'Hello birds.' And Very Short Mouse would say, 'Hello bugs.'

When the passed by a garden Very Tall Mouse would say, 'Hello flowers.' And Very Short Mouse would say, 'Hello roots.'"

-From MOUSE TALES by Arnold Lobel

(Sister Deb, busy painting the girls' playroom on her day off)

When I realized that we were moving to New Jersey, one of the few things that excited me was the thought that I would be closer to my friend Sister Deb Wilson, MSBT. Sister Deb was one of my classmates in my M.A. program. She made a good impression on the whole class when she showed up one day for 500D with loaves of pumpkin bread for each student. But even beyond that, she seemed to be such a calm, happy person (not to mention smart but humble).

So I shortly accosted her and persuaded her to join a prayer group that I was starting. She later told me that she felt obligated to say yes because she thought it would look bad to refuse, since she is a nun. But thank goodness she joined! For the first two years, our group was blessed with her peaceful presence. Then Deb graduated and was sent to Connecticut, to Trinita, a retreat center run by the MSBTs.

Being a Missionary Servant of the Blessed Trinity keeps Deb pretty busy, but she managed to come out to visit recently while Jeff was away at a family wedding (ahem, where no children were invited). If you think that my version of hospitality is to let a friend enjoy her day off in a relaxed fashion at my house, you're wrong. I warned Deb in advance that we'd be painting the girls' playroom.

I've been itching to paint something (first-time homebuyers' syndrome, I guess), and the playroom seemed like a great option. (Jeff's too busy for these kinds of projects.) I showed Deb the room the Friday night that she arrived (after working a whole day and driving three hours to Jersey), and she assured me that there was no need for ladders, "I scoff at the thought of ladders - ha-ha-ha!" she said, looking around the room.

So Saturday morning we headed to Home Depot for some paint, rollers, brushes, and a really crappy (but expensive) canvas drop cloth that leaked paint all over the floor. We started taping and preparing the room at about 8:00, after both girls were finally asleep for good. Then we painted. Deb did the high parts, and I did the low parts - since she is a Very Tall Mouse, and I am a Very Short Mouse. It didn't take too long... but we ran out of paint.

(A glimpse at the finished project - a cheery shade of yellow)

There we were, after Church the next morning, back at Home Depot buying more paint. Only now, what were we to do? Jeff was gone, so I was still watching the girls. Deb needed to leave, but the room was unfinished. Deb excused herself from the living room and went upstairs, changed into her painting clothes, and painted by herself while I raked leaves with the girls. (Take this as a warning, friends...if you come to visit you may end up painting a room all by yourself.) When Jeff got home, I was able to help finish up the job, but I never could have done it without my Very Tall Mouse.

(Eva tries out the new playroom)

It was great to see Deb, and, in addition to our disparity in heights, I reflected about the different ways we live out the Catholic life. John Paul II calls it "complementarity." (Check that out - "complementarity" in TOB is more often in reference to religious life and married life than to the relationship of husband and wife.) Deb kept suggesting that I needed a nap, seeing how exhausting it is to take care of the girls. For me that's just daily life, one of the many sacrifices I make as a full-time mom. "Middle-class asceticism" is my best option for growing closer to God these days, and it comes in lots of little ways.

Deb, meanwhile, endures a different set of hardships, which she mostly laughs about and takes in stride. These are things like living in a space where she doesn't have room to stretch her arms straight up above her head. Or having to act like a "friendly, happy morning person" when she'd rather not. All just part of being a missionary, she says.

I say, thank God for Sister Deb! And not just because she painted the girls' playroom, but because she makes me appreciate both of us more.

(Maia and Eva playing in the playroom)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mom has the greatest ideas.

Wasn't it a great idea to put a leaf pile at the bottom of the kids' slide?

Giving Away God's Gifts

(While raking leaves)

M: Mom, here's a beautiful leaf for you. I know you say that when God gives you a beautiful gift, it's good to give it away. I found this pretty leaf, but I'm giving it to you. Isn't that good?

TM: Yes, Maia, that's great. And it is a beautiful leaf.

M: See, I'm not like that girl at the park yesterday.

TM: Which girl? The one named Zinia? Why?

M: Yes, Zinia. She found a beautiful green hair rubberband at the park. I kept telling her that she should give it to me because God wants you to give gifts away, but she didn't want to give it to me. After I explained to her a few times, I finally convinced her that the good thing was to give it to me. That's how I got to take it home from the park.

TM: Perhaps we need to have a more extensive conversation about giving away God's gifts... it's not something you say to try to get someone to give something to you...

M: But I REALLY wanted it!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lunchtime Conversation With a Future Princess Nun

M: Was Tia Ann inside Granny Kathy's uterus?

TM: Yep.

M: What about you, were you inside Granny Kathy's uterus?

TM: Yes, I was. But Tia Ann and I weren't there at the same time. First I was there, and then after I came out, a little while later Tia Ann was in there and then she came out.

M: Just like me and Eva! First I was in your uterus, then Eva.

TM: Yes, and so, like Tia Ann and I, you'll be sisters forever. Even when you grow up and both become nuns you'll still be sisters.

M: But wait- when we grow up, I'm going to be a PRINCESS nun, and Eva will just be a regular nun!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Announcing: Caritas et Veritas

Here's a new blog, started by four really cool Catholic guys. Check it out at www.caritasetveritas.com .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

St. Michael at the Door

Last year, I bought Jeff a gift in celebration of his first decade as a Catholic. It was an icon of St. Paul (his confirmation saint), a print of Rublev's image. Somehow I accidentally ordered two, and instead of returning one, he kept one at home and took the other to school.

In the process of "decorating" (this might be too strong of a description) our house, I hung up St. Paul next to a crucifix. Something was needed on the other side. None of our other icons were close enough in size or style. So at first I wanted to get an icon of my patron, but I couldn't decide exactly who that was (I have too many). Anyway, to make a long thought process shorter, I ended up purchasing St. Michael the Archangel, also depicted by Rublev. Jeff's had a devotion to St. Michael, and the size and style were similar to St. Paul (since it was the same artist).

I had been tracking the UPS package, so when the doorbell rang today and Maia asked, "Who do you think it is?"

I said, "St. Michael the Archangel, of course... I told you he was going to come today." I glanced out the window to see a UPS man on the front porch, and knew I was right before I opened the door. Maia hung back, uncharacteristically nervous and shy.

I opened the package right away and showed Maia. "See," I said, "St. Michael the Archangel was at the door. You've heard that prayer Daddy says, right?"

"Yes," she answered, but she looked confused. I hung up the icon, and we went in the kitchen for lunch. Maia still looked confused.

"But St. Michael was at the door?" she asked.

"Yes, and now he's hanging on the wall."

Another puzzled look. "But how did he ring the doorbell?"

It warmed my heart so much that I couldn't bring myself to explain all. Maia actually thought that St. Michael the Archangel had rung our doorbell and was coming to live with us. So I told her that the icon on the wall was a representation of St. Michael.

"Then where is he RIGHT NOW? Is he here?" she asked.

"Hmm... good question. Well, he probably is right here with us. Angels are always around, but you don't always know they're around."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Announcing: Heart and Hands Blog!

My ultra-cool sister has finally started her own blog. If you read her post on my blog, then you know she's both a great writer and very smart. Her life as a midwife is fascinating. So check it out: http://hrtandhnds.blogspot.com/2009/11/sitting-on-my-hands.html

Also, my bro continues to have a fascinating life in Benin, West Africa. You can read about it at revolutionme.net.

Given the Nod

I absolutely love how communicative Eva has become. In addition to now saying "duck," "mom," "dad," "ba"(nana), "hi," "bye," as well as signing a few things, Eva is an expert nodder. The first few times she did it I thought it was an accident. But now it takes just a quick game of 20 questions. For example, I walked in from my morning run. Eva, who was in the kitchen, heard the door open and came to the foyer to meet me. I kissed her and went past. She made frustrated noises as she followed me back to the kitchen. I picked her up, "Do you want something, Eva?" (Nod, nod). "What do you want - a drink from Mama?" (Nod, nod). Or at the park, she walked over to the swing, touched it with her hand and then looked at me expectantly. "Eva, do you want to swing?" (Nod, nod).

Of course, these are the times that it's easy to tell what she wants. At the dinner table tonight I asked her what she wanted and she nodded. I tried to explain to her that I had not asked a yes-no question. She looked confused, then nodded again, in the direction of the bread. I gave her some bread, which she quickly threw on the floor. She loves to watch the food drop to the floor. Hmm... not sure what she wanted there.

I should also add that she can shake her head "no," too. She doesn't do that as much, but I'm sure she'll be quite adept at "no" thanks to her sister's pedagogical influence. Maia loves telling Eva "NO" at the top of her lungs.

Anyway, in the above video, Eva nods to the question of whether she wants me to read her a book.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Few of Eva's Favorite Things

Now that Eva is "highly mobile," she's enjoying exploring the house more than ever. Here are a few of her favorite things to do.

1. Stand on the baseboard heater and peer out the window. Sometimes, if she's lucky, she gets to wave and say "hi" to our next door neighbor Margaret or her daughter Anna.

Unfortunately, Eva has a tough time reaching up to the ledge, so she has to persuade her big sister to lift her up a bit (her mom certainly is not willing to assist!). Fortunately for Eva, big sister is obliging when it comes to such things. Recently, however, I locked the window, and this has made it harder for Eva to get a good grip. But it is saving us some on our heating bill, since the window was left open a few times after Maia and Eva had a window party.

2. Destroy the kitchen. This is a broad description, so I can list particularities, as well: 1. Pull down all the dish towels. 2. Open the potholder/bib drawer and remove contents. 3. Get into the pantry and pull down all food storage containers. If possible, take lids into living room or dining room. 4. Seize Mom's sweeping as an opportunity to grab some of her leftovers from the "dirt pile." 5. Dig through recycling. 6. Remove lid from trash can.

3. Eva's third favorite thing to do around the house is try to catch a moment when the gate is down, and then furiously climb up the stairs. So far she's only made it to step four before we grab her, but she's so quick that we have to be super cautious about this one. She loves climbing the full set of stairs, but that requires a spotter!

4. Pulling down all the books off of the bookshelves. Maia loved doing this too, but fortunately, now that we live in a house instead of a tiny apartment, the only books Eva's pulling down are hers and Maia's. Mine and Jeff's are safe in their respective places.

5. Trying to get in to the front closet, especially if there's a chance to pet the vaccuum cleaner.

6. Picking out the outlet plugs. I've never seen a kid as adept at this as Eva. But the good news is that she's more interested in the plastic plug than in the outlet itself. Although, of course, those plugs are a choking hazard too. We always keep our eyes on the babe, so don't worry.

There you have it. Although it's kind of annoying to have an Eva-mess at all times, it's kind of fun to see what she thinks is interesting and entertaining.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I know how to save the healthcare system billions of dollars

No, actually, I don't know how to save the healthcare system billions of dollars. But my little sis does! The following was written by my sister, who is a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) and caught both of my babies. She did it as a facebook note and has allowed me to post it here (thanks, sis!). Ann writes:

Hey, guess what? Barack Obama is right. It is possible to cut health care spending AND provide better quality care at the same time. Trust me, I work in one of the most wasteful areas of medicine (OB/GYN). Here are my ideas that could save SOOOO much money. I'm no rocket scientist-these ideas have all been shown to result in cost savings by people way smarter than me.

Hope I don't sound too judgmental here...I could never write this if I were running for office, but here's what I think:

1. Insurance companies should refuse to pay for elective inductions of labor (before 41 wks of pregnancy, no medical indication). NUMEROUS studies show that induction of labor increases the c-section rate and leads to worse outcomes for babies too.

2. Insurance companies should refuse to pay for elective c-sections. If a mom wants a c-section, she should pay for it herself, out of pocket, because it's shown that c-sections yield more complications for moms and babies and are therefore more costly. If a mom wants to take this risk for no good reason, I think it should be on her and not at the expense of insurance companies/taxpayers-SORRY!

3. Hospitals that want to do OB should be required to offer and provide 24hr OB backup coverage for VAGINAL BIRTH AFTER CESAREAN and women should be highly encouraged to chose this option if they are a non-risky candidate. VBAC attempts are shown to result in cost savings and better outcomes...it's a win-win! And if hospitals have competent OBs on staff to appropriately screen out high risk women and act quickly in emergency cases, really bad outcomes should be extremely rare.

4. OB wards should stop pushing epidurals on women. Yes, many women want epidurals, and that's fine. But what about the women who DON'T want them and are told they simply can't give birth without one? In some places the epidural rate is as high as 95%! (So glad the hospital I work at is not like this). Of course an epidural is a good intervention in some circumstances, but many, many women have uncomplicated labors and are MORE than capable of giving birth without them. Epidurals are expensive and occasionally have side effects that lead to increased medical spending (bad fetal heart tones>CS, spinal headaches, back problems, etc).

5. Insurance companies should refuse to pay for all these needless ultrasounds. Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should have 1 ultrasound in pregnancy, and if it's normal, confirms the due date and reveals no evidence of problems with baby, why waste money on more scans? Yes, it's fun to know the sex of your baby, but it's certainly not medically necessary so if you want more than 1 ultrasound just because they couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl, pay for it yourself! News flash-ultrasounds aren't even shown to improve outcomes.

6. Being a "baby friendly" hospital should not be optional. All hospitals that do OB should be required to adopt practices which have been shown to increase breastfeeding rates. Of course breastfeeding can be challenging, so hospitals should have several lactation consultants on staff to help women learn to breastfeed. The public health implications of this are ENORMOUS because numerous studies show that breastfed babies get sick less, and breastfeeding moms are less likely to get breast cancer down the line. Besides, guess who the biggest purchaser of formula is in this country? THE GOVERNMENT! Yes, it's true, WIC (God bless them) provides formula to poor women. We'd all save money if these women breastfed instead! Sounds like health care dollar savings to me, people! http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/

7. Circumcision-hate to say it, got nothing against it, but insurance companies and taxpayers shouldn't be paying for elective surgery done mainly for aesthetic reasons. If you want your baby circumcised that's fine by me-but shell out the 500 dollars yourself then.

So see...it IS possible to improve quality of care and save money at the same time!!! Wow, I better get off my high horse now. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them to the list!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

Recently I was inspired to bring my Danielle Rose "I Thirst" cd into the house from my car. Maia's favorite song on the album is "The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength." Here are the girls dancing to it. The second video is particularly short but sweet.

More Videos

Maia keeps dreaming of dancing like a ballerina. Here she is on a rainy day, giving it a try, with no help from her sister.

Beware of the walking pumpkin! Here comes Eva!

Now here's a difference in kid personalities. Maia was so scared of the vaccuum cleaner that Jeff always had to take her in a seperate room when I was vaccuuming. Eva is so fascinated that she follows me around trying to touch the vaccuum. Finally I just stopped moving so she could come up close and get a good look at the fascinating machine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

After Virtue: Coffee or Tea?

Thanks to the computer problems, I've recently been finishing my first complete read of MacIntyre's After Virtue. Although I had class with him as an undergraduate, this is the first opportunity I've had to go through the text in a leisurely fashion. As I was heading upstairs to read, I asked Jeff if he thought MacIntyre went better with coffee or tea. Jeff has a lot of opinions about certain foods and certain activities, see. He can give an account of exactly which brand of pizza and toppings go best with certain movie genres.

I was leaning in the coffee direction, but Jeff insisted it was tea, due to MacIntyre's country of origin. Coffee seems more philosophical for some reason. And I'm pretty sure that Celestial Seasoning's Caramel Enchantment Chai does not fit After Virtue. I just thought I would inform my readers of this so that they might not make the same mistake. If you go for tea, do something more basic.

This reminds me of one of Maia's favorite nursery rhymes:

Molly my sister and I fell out,
and what do you think it was all about?
She liked coffee and I liked tea,
and that was the reason we couldn't agree!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Seat of Wisdom

In one of my earliest posts, I wrote about Mary as the Seat of Wisdom, and how this is such a powerful image for any theologian mom. Since then, I've kept Mary, Seat of Wisdom as a particular patron. It is interesting to me that we often associate wisdom with age, but this image seems to subvert that. Mary, whose lap was the seat of the child Jesus, was the seat of Wisdom. The image of a young mother as the seat of wisdom also attests to the words of Scripture: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom like a little child will never enter it" (Mk 10:15).

There is a real wisdom in childhood - a sense of wonderment, excitement, energy, exhaustion, and love - a truly full expression of life and enjoyment of all of God's gifts. We seem to lose this childlike humility with age, but being around children and exposed to their wisdom can help!

Eva Walking

Now that I have my computer back, here's Eva at 10 months, one day old. Since then (the last two weeks), she's gotten so used to walking that she hardly ever wants to crawl anymore.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Eva at 10 Months!

I've been having some computer problems here, so unfortunately I have only one video to share. When Eva was ten months, one day old, she walked about eight steps in a row - the cutest thing ever. Since that day she seems to prefer walking. She really delights in it, even when she doesn't go precisely her intended direction. The video above, however, is not of Eva walking (since that video is still trapped on my frozen computer), but of Eva signing "all done."

We tried to teach Maia sign, but she's so verbal that she never signed anything she didn't also say. Eva, on the other hand, waves hi and bye, nods for yes, and now can tell us she's all done. In the above video I had asked her if she wanted more applesauce and she signed all done. I thought it was just a fluke, so I tried to feed her some more and she kept turning her head away. There she was, working so hard to communicate with a sign-word I had taught her, and it took her several attempts for me to figure it out!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Idiosyncracies of Parishes (and Priests)

Ah, well, there's nothing like a move to another parish to help one reflect on the idiosyncracies of parishes. Because I am the petty, spiritually immature type who needs to grow in holiness when it comes to concentrating during Mass, I've spent a fair amount of time over the past few weeks thinking about the differences in parishes - in particular the one I came from and the one I have arrived at, both of which are named for Marian dogmas. We went from Immaculate Conception to Assumption.

It seems to me that there are basically two types of parish idiosyncracies - ones that matter and ones that don't. Or perhaps I should say there is a spectrum, on which idiosyncracies are more or less theologically problematic. As the saying goes, lex orandi, lex credendi. How we pray indicates what we believe.

My last parish had an idiosyncracy I've never encountered elsewhere. The communion line always starts from the back. In other words, it is the last pewfull of people that are the first to receive the Eucharist. My first time at Mass there, I found this quite confusing, maybe even distracting (because, like I said, I'm the petty, spiritually immature type). But it only took a few Masses before I no longer thought about it. And, if we had to put this on a spectrum, I'd say it's not theologically problematic. We could even theologize it to say that it represents the last shall be first gospel message. Another idiosyncracy was that the parish sings the gospel acclamation both before and after the gospel reading. Visitors to the parish often sat down immediately following the gospel because they didn't expect another round of alleluia. But again, this seems not to be really theologically problematic (and it happens to match the parish's liturgical motion).

I find that many times, parish idiosyncracies can be directly tied to the idiosyncracies of the pastor. It oftentimes occurs that priests instruct their congregation to do things that are not in keeping with the GIRM. I can remember one incident of this at my parish in California where, on the occasion of Pentecost, we were made to hold a red tissue-streamer during the Our Father. It was supposed to be a visible symbol of our unity and the Holy Spirit's presence. For some reason, I just prefer receiving the Eucharist to holding a long red streamer across the pews. Much worse, even, was when an American flag processed down the aisle following September 11th during the entrance procession. But let me not digress with memories of the California parish. I don't want this post to be book-length.

Anyway, as I was saying, the idiosyncracies of parishes are often tied to the pastor. In fact, it may even be unfair to call them idiosyncracies of the parish as such. Our new pastor, who is a fine, friendly man who has already recruited us to help out at the parish, has more than a few difficulties when it comes to following the GIRM. The biggest distraction I've had is in his decision to replace the word "disciples" with "friends" wherever it occurs in the Mass. So, on the night he was betrayed, he took the bread, broke it, gave it to his friends and said...

I've already spent a couple of Masses mostly musing over why "disciples" and "friends" are not equivocal. Even aside from the issue of following the Mass guidelines, I think there are theological reasons (and biblical) that make his little practice problematic.

I usually find that after a few months of being at a new parish, the idiosyncracies start to fade from sight, and it seems normal to clap at the end of Mass (which it's not) or to have a priest roaming the pews during the homily (also not normal) or to hold hands during the Our Father (should not seem as normal as it does).

I have met many wonderful priests, and I'm close to several. I have a high respect for the priesthood. And that's precisely why I wish that priests could stick to the script. Usually an anomolous practice comes from good intentions, some of which are to "be more inclusive to the laity." But ironically, by changing words or motions, priests often make the Mass more priest-centered than lay-focused (or Christ-focused!!!). One priest at my last university chapel liked to sit with the congregation instead of in the sanctuary. It was highly effective for drawing attention to himself and away from the Liturgy of the Word, but I assume that his intention was actually the opposite.

For now, my spiritual director has assigned me the task of praying daily for my pastor. I hope this will help me to be charitable toward the idiosyncracies of my parish that come from his many good intentions.

Learning A's

I've been trying to teach Maia some letters. We started a couple of weeks ago with A. I made this picture for her and wrote at the bottom "Maia, I hope you always make A's. Love, your mommmy." I meant it to be funny just for myself, as obviously she wouldn't catch any double meaning.

Theological Parenting Conundrums

(Above, Mom loves Eva so much that she really doesn't want her to die anytime soon.)

Every so often, I find myself experiencing tension between the sort of common cultural standards and the sort of Christian values I hope to instill in my children. Recently two particular episodes have occurred to make me think about two important general issues.

The first event that happened was that a child got hit by a car in our neighborhood (right down the street in fact). She was fine; she walked away from the accident, until some police made her stop so they could get details. At the time I wasn't too surprised. After all, our "borough" as they call in in NJ, is only one square mile, and people walk a lot because everything is so close (library, post office, farmer's market, the schools, the parks, etc.). But there is also a lot of on-street parking, and people don't always stick to the 25 mile speed limit. So with kids darting through parked cars and people driving faster than they should, it's somewhat inevitable that a kid would get hit at some time.

But after it happened, Jeff spent a fair amount of time thinking about the possibility of Maia getting hit while we're out walking. So then I started to think about it, too, and started to get worried about her dying. And, truth be told, I do not want Maia to die at such a tender age. Since that girl got hit, I've spent a fair amount of time when we're out walking, reminding Maia to be careful and stay by me so that she doesn't get hit by any cars.

(Above, Dad with the girls, at a non-worrying moment.)

In case you can't tell, the general issue here is that I find the common sense parenting wisdom to be instilling in one's child a fear of death. We want our children to fear death so that they won't put their lives at risk by doing things like running into a busy street, or sitting down to put on their sparkly pink princess shoes in a driveway where an SUV is backing out.

I think Jeff (Dr. Worst-Case Scenario), if not I, has done a pretty good job of getting Maia to fear death, sickness, and injury. But wait! I don't want my daughter to fear death! As a Christian, I want her to know that there are worse things than death, and that death represents the opportunity of eternal life participating in the life of the divine Trinity. I don't really want her to be afraid of death, so to speak. But I don't want her to live recklessly either.

A related theological parenting conundrum I've met with is wanting my kids to see Christ in every person, regardless of age, ethnicity, economic stance, etc. I want them to be kind and sympathetic to strangers. But I also don't want them to go anywhere with strangers. In short, I want them to see strangers both as Christ and as potential perpetrators of kidnapping and violent crimes.

(Above, the girls and Mom in a moment of natural beauty)

The second episode that raised a theological parenting dilemma for me was nothing as dramatic as a child getting hit by a car. It had to do, rather, with picture day at Maia's nursery school. Ah, picture day! From my memories as both student and teacher, it consists of a headshot. The day before picture day, Maia and I picked out a nice solid color shirt for her picture. Then that night I read the informational sheet they had sent home from school. This sheet informed me that girls usually wear pretty and colorful dresses and have their hair nicely done for picture day. Apparently the group photo would actually be a group photo, rather than a picture chart of headshots.

Hmmm... what was I to do? We had already picked out a shirt, not to mention that Maia doesn't have any long-sleeved dresses for this fall/winter. But what if Maia showed up to school and was the only girl not wearing a dress? What if she realized that all the other girls were wearing fancy clothes, and she was not? Would her self-esteem be ruined? Would she be worried? Would she feel unpretty?

Not to mention that with my morning schedule, I get back from Mass and have about ten minutes before we have to walk to school. Would I be able to do her hair successfully in that short amount of time (given that it's something that she dislikes and I'm not great at) while trying to get everything else ready?

(Above, sleeping beauty, getting some beauty rest, not that she needs it to be more beautiful than she already is)

When I tried to talk to Jeff about the issue, he didn't seem to think it was a big deal. While I was mulling over the options, he started to read me blurbs off the dust jacket of the new book he started reading until I informed him he was being insensitive. It helped me to realize (not the blurbs, but his lack of concern for the issue) that part of this is my own issue. Like most females, I had (and have) times where I worry about my appearance not being satisfactory. I always felt I was too short in my school days, and, since becoming a mom I've spent basically no time whatsoever trying to make my hair look presentable. As a conscious choice, I wear no make-up and don't paint my nails.

I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I want Maia to realize that true beauty is not about clothes or hair or shoes or jewelry. On the other hand, I want her to care about her appearance and, more importantly, to be confident about herself (as I was not in my school days). This is a Christian issue, too, which is why I'm always telling her that Mary is the most beautiful woman, and what makes her the most beautiful woman is her closeness to Christ. Moreover, as Jeff and I always remind our princess-crazy daughter, Mary is a queen. And it's not because she has sparkly shoes or pretty dresses. In short, it's the inside that matters, and the virtuous and holy life that one lives that makes a person beautiful. We can see similar things reflected in the lives of other saints as well; both Therese and Teresa lived beautiful lives, but they didn't wear fancy dresses, make-up, etc.

So why should it matter if Maia wears a dress or a plain blue shirt for picture day? Why does it matter whether her hair was nicely done or messy? I would like to be detached from such issues, but I find I'm not. Instead of deciding and being done, I find myself struggling with a sort of scrupulosity about the issues.

In the end, Maia did wear a dress, albeit one that she's worn already for two winters in a row. It's not the prettiest thing ever anymore, but SHE felt pretty, especially once she had her hair done and her princess shoes on. But of course, when we got to school we found that many of the girls were wearing their normal clothes. Not to mention that Maia does seem to have confidence that's not entirely tied to her clothing. Praise God for that!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Singing in the Shower

Ever since I gave the Sandra Boynton Blue Moo album to Maia, we've been listening to it every single day. Of course, Maia skips half the songs on the album. We've already both chosen favorites. She likes "Blue Moo" and "Speed Turtle". I like "Personal Penguin," "With You," and "Your Nose." And we both love B.B. King's "One Shoe Blues." We also both like the song "Singing in the Shower."

This last song, the first on the album, is an upbeat tune wherein a guy sings his woes of only being able to sing in the shower. "When I wake up in the morning, well my voice is all wrong, you can hardly even hear me sing my song. But when I step into the shower it's a whole new sound, as soon as the water's coming down."

The song is pretty hilarious, but one line always stands out to me. He sings "I put so much emotion to every single refrain... it's a shame to see this talent going right down the drain..."

I identify with it, not because I sing in the shower (or have any great singing talent, which I obviously don't), but because I have my moments where I think I see my talent going right down the drain. I was washing dishes yesterday and singing along because, yes, I was dishes in the middle of the morning, not to mention the afternoon, and many other times as well. And, along with my talent, I was trying to get some mushy Cheerios right down the drain.

In general I've been feeling very happy, and I've actually been enjoying housework, crazy as that sounds. It turns out hosuework is not all that stressful when I'm not studying for a qualifying exam or writing a prospectus. I made myself a schedule with one chore per day (e.g. vaccuuming, laundry, cleaning glass, kitchen floor), and, since I'm home all day, it's never hard to accomplish just that one task. And I am always happy that I got it done. It's fulfilling in the way that linear tasks often are: they begin and end, and the difference is clear (for at least a couple of hours).

But it doesn't stop me from occaionally thinking to myself, is vaccuuming the carpet really the best use of my intelligence? Did I spend all that time and effort getting an advanced degree so that I could be mopping the floor on a Monday morning? Let's be honest, my high GRE scores and stellar GPA just don't matter in the world of housework and full-time mom stuff. And so, washing the dishes, and singing along to my kids' music, I think, is all of my talent going right down the drain?

This leads to other reflections as well-- thinking about the many women before me who had genius IQs and would have been excellent students save that they dedicated their lives to breastfeeding, changing diapers, wiping noses, cooking dinners, cleaning houses, and so on.

Back to the song: "Oh, someday I might be singing in Carnegie Hall, and you know that I'll be singing in my old shower stall. Wearing waterproof tuxedos (maybe purple satin speedos) or I'm not singing there at all."

By the end of the song, the singer seems to appreciate that he does really have talent, but it just takes the right setting to bring it out. If he's going to make it big, he's going to do it just as he's done it all along - singing in the shower. He's not just a singer, he's a shower singer.

That's kind of how I feel too. If I'm going to make it as a theologian, it's going to be as a theologian mom. My "singing" will always be "singing in the shower," as in, I'm not going to compartmentalize the part of my life that's motherhood. I take it along with me, just as he would take along his shower stall if he had to sing at Carnegie Hall.

This is great silliness of course, but it is the silliness of a highly intelligent and educated Theologian Mom.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Severus Snape and Penance

When I was still taking doctoral classes, I had this nasty habit of diving into fiction precisely at the moment I was working on my final papers of the semester. It would start quite innocently, as a little break, to take my mind off my work. But in most cases I read multiple entire novels while writing my final papers and while being a full-time mom.

One semester I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, i.e. book one of the series. I had read book one before, and I thought it would be easy to put down. What happened instead was a three-week whirlwind in which I wrote two 25-page papers, graded 35 exams and calculated final grades, and read ALL SEVEN Harry Potter books, in addition to my mom duties. Whew! I was ready for Christmas break after that.

Since then, I've become fairly familiar with the series, and for some reason when we moved to Jersey, I started over with book one again. While I don't necessarily recommend just reading the seven books over and over and over, I admit that I catch something new every time. Knowing the later books makes the earlier books even more interesting, rather than less.

Anyway, one of the things that I mull over the most is how Chapter 33 in book seven changes the way I think about the character of Severus Snape throughout the series. I might even say that in this one chapter, Snape went from being one of my least favorite characters to one of my most favorite characters. Since my initial reaction, I've had more time to consider his role, and I admit that rereading the series makes my feelings much more ambiguous.

Perhaps I just can't get away from my dissertation topic of penance, even when reading Harry Potter, but it just seems that Chapter 33 defines all of Snape's time at Hogwarts with Harry as a sort of penance. He is living out the consequences of his actions, and seeking redemption. He is loving the woman he failed to protect by now protecting her son. By the end of the series, it is clear that Snape is making some pretty big sacrifices (like playing a double agent) to make Harry's mission possible.

Yes, Chapter 33 makes Snape look downright heroic. And yet there is still something so unsatisfying about Snape's penance. In rereading the earlier books in the series, he is just so nasty to Harry (and Harry's friends). For someone giving his life over to the mission of protecting Harry, Snape seems to detest Harry with great passion. Instead of remembering that he is protecting Lily's son, Snape seems intent on making James Potter's son suffer for the sins of his father (and the most inexcusable act of his having married Lily).

By the time of his demise at the fangs of Nagini, there is no doubt that Snape has done his penance. But has he done it well? Surely there is some merit in his suffering and sacrifices, even if he has mostly done his penance with an attitude of vehement dislike for Harry? But would we want to uphold Snape as a model of penance?

On the one hand, he has taken on a difficult task and embraced a mission that requries him to recall painful memories of his former archenemy, as well as bittersweet memories of the love of his life. He accepted the penance from Dumbledore in the midst of great emotion of failure and loss. And, if a Christian penance analog, one would hope that his penance would help Snape to work through his issues, to reform his life.

In some ways, it does. When Dumbledore asks him in book six how many people he has seen die, Snape replies, "Lately only those I could not save." At best, however, Snape's penance is only imperfect. While his actions are what one would expect, his attitude is not quite right. He has accepted the penance in a spirit of resentment. And while his love for Lily continues to be strong and his commitment to protecting Harry never wavers, Snape seemingly fails to accept the grace of the situation. He extracts Dumbledore's promise never to reveal, as Dumbledore calls it, "the best of you." Snape prefers to be the tortured martyr to the reformed and forgieven sinner.

Rowling's authorial intent in Chapter 33 appears to be one of exonerating Snape for all of his past rudeness to Harry. We're supposed to recognize the difficulty of his situation, and to know how Snape has suffered, not only at the hands of James Potter, but from his own memory of insulting Lily and ending their friendship. It's clear that Harry, anyway, does forgive Snape. When dueling Voldemort in the end of the book, Harry brings up Snape and tells Voldemort that he doesn't understand the power of love. After all, here is Snape who hated James Potter (and Harry), and yet he spent years of his life protecting Harry out of his love for Lily. As the epilogue tells us, Harry even gives the middle name "Severus" to one of his sons.

But I'm just not satisfied by this. If I could make one addition to book seven, it would be for Severus Snape's portrait to appear in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts, along with all the other portraits of former headmasters. When Harry goes into the office at the end, he and Snape could reconcile. Harry could thank Snape, and Snape could apologize. Such an apology would of course be very un-Snapelike. And maybe that's why Rowling prefers for Snape's "confession" to come in the form of his memories as he's dying. It's clear that Snape does want Harry to know his story, and I'm glad that Harry apparently forgives him and finds a new respect for Snape.

But again, there just needs to be a bit more if Snape is going to serve as a model of penance. Penance done out of duty will never be as beautiful as the penance that is undertaken in a spirit of gratitude for the promise of redemption that is inextricably linked to it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Videos of the girls

Maia likes walking Eva around the house.

Dancing/wrestling to "Singing in the Shower" off the Boynton album.

Eva's favorite activity at the park is pushing the jogging stroller.

"Eva, if you love Mommy..."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cherishing Childhood

"I miss my childhood," Maia told Jeff today.

It was a strange thing for her to say, but perhaps less surprising than it might have been. For some reason I've been overly sentimental about my kids in the last few weeks, and I've been sharing it with Maia.

Walking home from the Farmer's Market, with her little hand in mine (while pushing Eva in a stroller with my other hand), I said to her "Maia, right now I'm trying to etch in my heart the feeling of your little hand in mine because I know that your hand is not going to stay little. And some day, you're going to be all grown up and leave me. So I like holding your hand, Maia, and I don't ever want to let go."

Like I said, it's been a common theme over the last few weeks, partially because I feel like I'm finally really enjoying being a mom for the first time in my life. Without an enormous amount of work staring me in the face, I am much more appreciative of the kids, and more realistic that I will always have work to do, but I won't always have them as little kids. They are growing up, way too fast.

Another part of this is that Eva's one-year birthday is rapidly approaching, and her babyhood passing away. She is an absolute delight of a baby, and I'm not ready not to have her as a baby (ahem, but nor am I ready for another baby at this moment). She's weeks away from walking, and talking isn't far away either. Having this time with Eva as a baby has made me feel like I didn't adequately appreciate Maia's babyhood, since I was so busy trying to do my GA work and work for my doctoral classes. I love every day of having Eva as a baby.

Whenever I am snuggling Maia I can't help thinking that she seems so BIG in my arms. She's still a good snuggler, but she's not a cuddly little teddy bear. And I know she's just going to keep getting bigger. So this is when I say, "Maia I want you always to be my little girl, but I know you're going to grow up and leave me."

Today she told me, "Mom, it's ok if I grow up because I'll still be your little girl. And then you and Daddy can come visit me, and I'll make you tea and cake and we'll eat it together and enjoy each other's company. And it will be fun when you visit."

It was a sweet moment, only slightly ruined when Jeff asked if Maia's convent would always have a steady supply of tea and cake.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Next Sunday

The apple-picking Sunday set a pretty high standard. The next Sunday, however, was a rainy, gloomy day, but we decided to go to the zoo anyway. We were four of probably only six visitors there that day, and Maia didn't seem to be enjoying it. She said she didn't feel well.

So we left, and a couple of hours later Maia vomited all over the bathroom floor. Notice I said the bathroom floor. This was a special Sunday blessing, a gift from God to Theologian Mom. And Jeff and Maia happily took Maia's having vomited as an excuse to watch movies for the better part of the rest of the afternoon.

There you have it. Even vomit Sundays can be enjoyable and relaxing.

(Maia never had a fever or any other symptoms of illness... we think maybe she got sick from ingesting some of her lip gloss.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Perfect Sunday?

Part of trying to live a life with a liturgical rhythm is that I always want Sundays to be special for the family. I want Maia and Eva (and Jeff and me) to look forward to Sundays. I found myself trying to explain to Maia on the way to Mass last Sunday that this is the most important thing that we do all week, and that all of our lives ought to be ordered to worshiping God on Sunday. I think she responded something to the effect of not liking Mass. I was the same, by the way, at her age... I distinctly remember my father offering me two choices: "You can either go to Mass, or go to Mass." It never really seemed fair.

Anyway, I can't say I've ever been a proponent of short Sunday Masses. Given that it's what the whole week is geared toward, it seems odd for the Holy Mass to last under an hour. Since we moved to Jersey and started attending our new parish, I have to say I have an appreciation for the "short" Mass. We decided to plan on the 8:00 a.m. Mass, which has several advantages. There's no time at home just waiting around to go to Mass. We can keep a fast from the night before. It gives us the rest of our morning to do something fun with the kids. But most of all, no matter how challenging our children's behavior, IT'S ALL OVER BY 8:45.

In Dayton, we tried to make Sundays special for the family, and sometimes succeeded with the help of some fabulous brunches with friends and my evening prayer group. But somehow inevitably on Sunday, Jeff and I would get into a fight (often started by frustration with Maia's behavior during Church - a one and a half hour Mass). Maia would be a wild maniac, and Sundays would, in short, be quite miserable.

This past Sunday has to represent one of the best Sundays we'd had in a long time. After the 8:00 a.m. Mass, we had breakfast at home and changed for an apple-picking adventure. One thing I will say for Jersey is that you can live in a (sub)urban area and be out at a farm or on a beach within 45 minutes. That's pretty great. So we headed out to Melick's, had a free hayride up to the orchard, and spent some time picking a whole lot of apples. Maia had a blast picking and playing on the orchard playground. We also picked up some cider and a pumpkin. Both girls fell asleep on the way home; we missed our exit but didn't fight about it (or the extra $2 in tolls). Maia stayed asleep at home, we got to see the other half of our duplex (which is for sale), I started applesauce in the crockpot, and then I went on an hour-long bicycle ride in beautiful weather. Jeff was a little tired by the time I got back (my bike rides wear him out more than me), so he had a little alone time. We had a nice dinner, and the girls fell asleep right on cue.

There was a little tension in the day, and I can't say that the kids' Mass behavior was great. But this was the best Sunday we'd had in a long time. Maybe it will happen again some Sunday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Room of One's Own

Over the past few months, I've heard myself say countless times that the choice of our house was not too hard. Only one house in our price range had room for me to have an office. Now, if we had absolutely had to live in a place where I didn't have a room of my own, I'm sure I could have made it work somehow (most likely as a combo with the guest bedroom). But I admit that I had a fair amount of trepidation when considering buying a house where I would not have a room of my own. Having an office is a way of my saying, I actually do intend to write my dissertation.

Perhaps because I've heard myself say this over and over again, I have had this phrase "room of one's own" in my head. I think I was assigned Virginia Woolf's extended essay with this title when I was an undergraduate. Recently, I took the time to re-read it (online). Now that I've gone through graduate school and am a professional reader, it didn't take too long, and I understood it much better than when I was 19 years old. Woolf's argument in this essay is that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (Ch 1). Woolf points out that most women have not had money and have not had a room of their own, and this is one important reason why women have not been able to write as much, nor as many masterpieces as men. Woolf suggests that a sister of Shakespeare, with comparable talent, would never have been able to become a Shakespeare because of the limitations placed on her as a woman.

Rereading this essay was actually quite enjoyable for me. I found it insightful, and in some ways affirming of many of my own arguments for why I am a theologian mom. I agree that the written word has taken a particular direction because it has been primarily carried on by men. To her example of history, I add theology as writing that has often been missing the contributions of women. It has not been missing these women because they were not capable, but because they did not have the opportunity - the money and a room of their own.

Regarding why a female ancestor, mother of 13, could not endow a college, Woolf writes, "For, to endow a college would necessitate the suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children—no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby" (Ch 2). I sighed as I read over these lines, thinking of how my children have diverted my time and attention. Yet I do not regret our acceptance of children early in our marriage, even if there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby.

But while I enjoyed rereading A Room Of One's Own, there's one thing I'd like to mention here, related to Woolf's discussion of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. First, Woolf notes that the four women novelists were all childless. In her mind, this partially explains why they were able to complete novels. Woolf seems to indicate that being childless is a novelty, and of course, she is correct that most women around the world and throughout history have become mothers. But what she leaves out, of course, is the tradition of childless women, many of whom did write, and many more of whom probably should have. I'm referring to those spiritual mothers who lived in convents. Thanks be to God, we do have some of their writings, Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, for example.

This struck me as particularly interesting because of Woolf's emphasis on tradition. Toward the end of her essay, she considers a modern female author and the way this author has taken up where Austen and other women writers left off: "For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately. And I must also consider her—this unknown woman—as the descendant of all those other women whose circumstances I have been glancing at and see what she inherits of their characteristics and restrictions" (Ch 5).

If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you'll see a list of "Theologian Moms," all of whom are saints. One of the qualifications for being on this list is that the saint has actually to have been a mother, in the physical, not spiritual sense. But as I read Woolf, I wondered if I am a descendant of these women or of other female theologians. Do I owe my opportunity to be a Theologian Mom to female religious, saintly mothers, or... Virginia Woolf? I know one female professor who always emphasizes that we women wouldn't be in the classroom if it weren't for the earlier generations, who blazed the trail. But I'd like to think that my writing of theology is also related to those generations of holy women who worked and prayed and wrote if they got the time. These women were not simply "oppressed" by the Church in their convents. They were given financial security and a room of their own (or at least, a common study room?).

Thinking about this has led me to appreciate my situation here. I have a room of my own and a computer of my own. My office has a nice view, and I've got more books than I've had time to read. God has been good to this theologian mom, but I also thank all those other women writers that have gone before me.

Thoughts from an Economic Dependent

For the first time in my marriage, I am not bringing in any income (save a small scholarship). My husband and I had so far taken turns being the primary breadwinner, but now, I am officially an economic "dependent."

Of course, we all probably know women (and men) for whom this has been a challenging state of life. I know my mom and my aunt, both of whom took years off of working to stay home with children, often had feelings of guilt when "spending their husband's money." Given that my dad and his identical twin brother inherited the frugal gene from their parents, they both probably contributed to their wives' feelings of not wanting to spend money (or at least fears of spending money, or fears of their husband's reactions to spending money). Ironically, neither household really ever suffered from economic insecurity or fears thereof (unlike my current household!).

When my sister and her husband were visiting, they mentioned that there's a new move for husbands to pay their wives for taking care of the kids. They calculate the hours, calculate how much they would pay for day care, and then give their wives monetary compensation for the time they spend with the kids. This way the women get to be stay-at-home-moms, but they also have their "own" money that they have "earned." And presumably these women can feel free to spend their "own" money however they want.

My husband said that was the most ridiculous thing he ever heard. He emphasized that he doesn't see his income as HIS income but as OUR income, and he trusts me to spend the money wisely. And I am happy for his reassurances.

And yet I'm not reassured.

This is not from any fault of my husband, but more from my own decision to devote my time and attention to my three children: Maia, Eva, and my dissertation (the youngest, which has been conceived but not yet born). Such a decision was also a decision to live upon one professor's salary in an expensive part of the country. Everything here seems to cost so much money! I think that Maia's pre-school is worth the money. But what about dance lessons or swim lessons? I know she would enjoy it, and she's been asking to do gymnastics again. But can we afford it? What about a YMCA membership? Whenever I mention something like this, the husband groans and says, we don't have the money! We did buy a zoo membership - $70 for the year. Today at the park I was talking to a mom about what she does with her kids in the winter when it's hard to go outside, and she told me about an indoor kids' play area that has nine rooms with different set-ups and sells 3 month winter memberships for $100. I don't think that's too much, but the idea was met with another husband groan.

I understand his concern, and, after more consideration, I think we probably need to get our budget up and running and maybe we'll find out we can afford these things after all. But at the initial groan, I told him, fine, I'll pay for it with my pin money. "Pin money" is a term I encountered in Jane Austen novels, and it refers to the money that the women got from their husbands (or fathers) to spend on their own needs (like clothes). Should MY pin money go to something for the girls?

Oh, wait. I don't have any pin money. My husband is not paying me to be a stay-at-home mom. We have no separate accounts. We have only OUR money.

I think, as I was saying earlier, that this is a common conundrum of the stay-at-home-mom. She ends up making sacrifices for her husband and children: clothes shopping cheaply so her husband can wear sport coats and ties; cooking dinner after an exhausting day to save the $30 that would otherwise be spent eating dinner out; waiting for a gift card before making a purchase she's been thinking about for weeks. Maybe it helps on the path to holiness (and this would explain why there are so many more women in heaven than men, ahem, ahem). Or maybe this will lead to a serious back problem, in the case of my not having purchased a desk chair for myself (this folding chair is really starting to hurt me!).

Sometimes it helps to have a mom to step in, as my mom did when she told me she'd pay for contact lenses for me. She just can't bear the thought of my only wearing glasses because I don't think we can afford to spend money on contacts now.

I think Mom remembers what it was like to be the economic "dependent."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eva's Really Pushing the Recycling.

These days, everything is a walker for my babe.

The New Park

Eva likes the rolling slide.

Maia here demonstrates the improper way to go down a high metal slide.

Eva knows that the metal benches are primarily percussionary.


My mom helped me hang up my diplomas in my office. What do you think? Is it motivating? The only frame in my line of vision when I'm sitting at my desk is the intentionally blank one.

Pre-School Update

After her first real day of pre-school, I asked Maia to tell me what she had learned.

Instead, she told me what she didn't learn:

"Mom, we didn't learn ANYTHING about Jesus today!" She seemed more confused than disappointed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Maia Wants to Learn in Pre-School

Tomorrow is Maia's first day of pre-school. Actually, it's just an hour-long orientation, with parents and kids. Maia will be doing a two-mornings a week program, from 9-11:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She is really excited. She still misses all her pals from Dayton, and I think this will be a great way for her to make friends. It might help me too.

The preschool is right down the street from us - about a five minute walk from our house. It's housed at and hosted by a Methodist church. I'm feeling very ecumenical, letting my daughter go to preschool in a Methodist church. That never would have been acceptable in the 50s. When we went to look at the school, I asked a question regarding the Christian content of the preschool. The director told me it basically consists of a prayer before snacktime and some generic Christian songs here and there. I got the impression that she thought I was secular and worried my child might actually end up believing in Jesus.

But of course, what I was really worried about was that someone might tell Maia that the saints aren't real and that Catholics are idolatrous for praying to Mary. I almost told the director, "As long as no one's anti-Catholic, there shouldn't be a problem." I think it will be ok, even though Jeff reminded me that "generic Christian" basically means "Protestant." (In case Catholics didn't learn that from the public school battles in this country...)

This morning Maia and I filled out an information sheet for her teacher. Maia colored in the dog and then answered the questions. I duly recorded her responses, which I now provide here for the reader's edification.

Favorite color: white and pink.
Favorite food: macaroni and cheese and peas.
Favorite toy: Baby Lucy (her doll).
Favorite movie: The Last Unicorn.
Siblings: Eva.
What I want to learn at preschool: How exactly Jesus came alive again.

Forget reading, writing, coloring, and so on.

Maia just wants to know the mechanics of the resurrection.

Looks like she's in for a lifetime of learning, just like her folks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Nine Months!

Nine months is a big one! It marks the time when a child has been outside the womb as much as inside. Well, Eva was a couple days late, but nonetheless, you get the picture. Anyway, at nine months, Eva:

(bear)crawls quickly, walks with a walker, pulls up to standing, waves, says "hi," laughs really hard especially at Maia, nurses acrobatically, self-feeds Cheerios etc., drinks water out of a sippy cup, throws things up in the air, makes strangers smile, pulls books and other things off of shelves, tables, etc.

And she really prefers Mom to anyone else.

Oh, and did I mention she flawlessly plays complete sonatas on the piano while solving quantum mechanics problems in her head, which she then explains using classical Greek? That Eva, she's really something.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Parent Prayer Life

This summer, the family and I were at a Sunday Mass that was part of a theological conference. The presider gave an excellent homily on the need for theologians to have a prayer life - to spend time in the presence of God, in silent contemplation. It was the kind of homily that made me feel a little guilty, and made me want to commit myself to all that he was describing.

This particular Mass was in a not very family-friendly setting; it was a very small building with no place to take children who were being loud or active. That I even heard the homily was quite astounding, but even more astounding, Jeff heard it too. And afterwards when we discussed it, Jeff admitted that he was a little frustrated. Priests can just be so idealistic, and sometimes they seem to have only one vision of what a prayer life can look like. And let's be honest, if a good prayer life involves hours of quiet time in a chapel, my prayer life won't be "good" for at least a couple of decades.

So, maybe the homily wasn't so good after all. I have mixed feelings on this because I do really value quiet prayer time, and I do think my life would be better if it involved MORE quiet prayer time. But at the same time, I don't see any way that I can fit into my schedule the kind of contemplative prayer time that this priest was describing. It's the same kind of mixed feelings that I had when I read Sarah Coakley's piece on kenosis and self-emptying prayer that is about being and listening. Great, right? Yes. But in a book that's about feminism? Maybe certain (most likely childless) female academics can devote time to this, but most of the women around the globe probably can't. Most of the women around the globe spend their daily time with concerns similar to my own - feeding kids, changing kids, cleaning kids, taking care of a house, and so on. If they're going to pray, it's going to be prayer they can do while taking care of a family.

This was all percolating in my mind today because I met for the first time with my new spiritual director. He's great - a holy man and very kind. But he's also used to working primarily with seminarians. He asked me about my spiritual practices, and, when I was done telling him, he noted that most of my prayer is liturgical/devotional. Or you could say that most of my prayer is of the sort that can be fit into the space of 5-10 minutes or is combined with my exercise time. Monday-Thursday the only time I have "to myself" if you will is from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then 8 to 10:00 p.m. In the morning that's exercise and Mass, and in the evening, it's work time. (I know, I know... you're all wondering when I find the time to blog... but really this takes very little time... and it comes out of my work time or I stay up later than I should.)

I was trying to explain this to him, and I started to get really sad.

But I also started to feel very defensive, which was uncalled for because he was in no way criticizing me. Later I started thinking that seminarians should have two kinds of pastoral assignments: one where they live at the rectory and work in the parish and one where they live with a local family. I'm a supporter of the Latin tradition of celibate priesthood, but sometimes I worry that these men can get out of touch with what family life is like.

I know there's a tendency to idealize the other vocation, and I'm probably guilty of that. Most priests get a full night's sleep every night. They can choose when to wake up in the morning, instead of getting out of bed at 6:15 a.m. to change a poopy diaper (Eva's very regular, you see). I had a long day yesterday, and by dinner time I had a headache. I thought to myself, if I were a priest who had been working hard all day, I could just lay down on the couch for an hour or so and rest. But no, I had to cook, with two girls in the kitchen who both thought that what I should really be doing was holding them. Enter a neighbor who wanted advice on a difficult situation. Then I realized that I was missing two key ingredients for the dish I'd decided to make for dinner. Husband arrived home, but the kids didn't seem interested in any attention from him. They just wanted mom because apparently 10 hours in a row just isn't enough. Then aforementioned husband asked what was wrong - a headache. Ten minutes later, he asked what was wrong - I still have a headache. Then he asked if there was enough food for seconds. Nope, sorry. (He's not eating leftovers now that he has free lunch at the seminary, so I've been trying not to cook too much at dinner.) Are you upset? he asked. No. I have a headache.

And I was thinking, wow, it must be great to be a priest.

I'd say more on this, but Eva's calling for me on the monitor.