"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Mom, skip to the bloody part!"




One day on our walk home from the park last week, Maia asked me how God created fish. "Gosh," I said, "I guess I don't know the details... I think he just said the words and they came to be." So then she asked how God created human beings. Ah, well, this was a little easier of a question, although I stumbled through parts of the creation story, thinking of what Jeff has said about the original Hebrew words and not knowing if I should say "the human being," "the man," or just "Adam." So also for "Eve," seeing as how she didn't pick up that name until a little later in the story.

Anyway, then Maia wanted to know what happened next. So I told her the garden story, making a special point to note how the man was put in charge of guarding the garden and how he obviously did a pretty bad job if he allowed an intruder and left the woman to deal with the intruder on her own. Maia might as well learn about sins of omission as comission, although I didn't use those words. I just know from my own and Jeff's experience teaching this text that most people come to it with some preconceived notions of who is most at fault in the story. I also emphasized how God gave the man a chance to admit fault and instead he blamed it on the woman, and she blamed it on the snake/serpent/monster (depending on how you think the Hebrew should be translated).

So, after the fall story, Maia wanted to know what happened next, and so I told her about the consequences the man and woman faced following their sin. "What happened then?" We were more than halfway home at this point. I told Maia about Cain and Abel. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to share this part of Genesis. Maia's still verbalizing some feelings of jealousy of her little sis, most recently by shouting at the dinner table: "I DON'T LIKE MY LITTLE SISTER!!!" So I didn't really want to let her know about fratricide, lest she get any ideas. But, alas, we weren't home yet. However, I made sure that I did a very thorough job of explaining how bad this was, including Cain not admitting fault and Abel's blood crying out from the earth.

"And then what happened?"

"Well, let's see... um, Cain was marked so that he couldn't be killed, and he roamed the earth, and then Eve gave birth to Seth, and... maybe I'll just let Daddy tell you the rest over lunch." I don't know if it was the walking or the sun or what, but I couldn't remember the next major event in Genesis.

"Ok, fine, Mom, but then will you tell the story over again, starting with the man being formed by God?" she asked as we turned onto our street.

"No, Maia, you know, I'm just a little too tired to tell the whole thing again, and, anyway we're close to home, and Daddy's probably much better at this anyway..."

"Ok, then, Mom, skip to the bloody part!"

"Oh, look, we're home!" Upon opening the house door, I failed to greet Jeff and instead instructed him to pick up with Seth, which he did.

And then I had a glass of water.

Ethical Parenting


This past week, when we were walking home from the park, we passed someone on the sidewalk, and I greeted him with a "hello." Maia asked me, "Why do you always try to be nice to people?"

Hmm... well, that's an easy question, right? And, sure enough, I had an answer on the tip of my tongue: "Because I want other people to be nice to me, too." But I stopped myself before I said it because it struck me not just as a version of the "golden rule," but as a sort of Kantian universalization justification. And I don't really want Maia to be stuck in categorical imperatives. This also could have a utilitarian edge to it; we are nice to people because it's useful to us when they are nice back to us.

So then the next answer I thought of was that God wants us to be nice to other people. But this struck me as some kind of "divine command" theory answer. That we just do whatever God tells us to do, and it's not always rational. So I skipped that answer too.

I knew Maia was going to get impatient if I delayed too much on this answer, so finally I said, "God first loved us, so we share our love with others. One of the ways we do this is by being nice to the stranger we pass on the sidewalk. It's one thing we can do to become good and holy people."

After I had answered, I mentally critiqued my response. I had wanted to include something about God's love, but I also wanted to throw in something that seemed virtue- and sanctification-oriented. In the end, I was generally satisfied. I probably overthink this, Theologian Mom that I am, but I do want my girls to know there is a rationale for why we live our lives the way we do, and I want that rationale to be obviously and thoroughly Catholic.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

25 Random Things About My Family


Now that we're all grown up (and all live in different places), it's hard to have some good quality family time. But with the *little* (read, "youngest" not shortest) bro home from Benin in Africa, my family recently took the opportunity to see each other. And that inspired me to compile this list. Families are pretty important; they really shape who we are.

1. There was one kid born in each season of the year: fall, spring, winter, summer.
2. Education was always an important value in the family. Now each member of the family currently has exactly two degrees. One member has a B.M.; all others have B.A.s. Other degrees include M.A.s, M.S.N., and J.D.
3. The children’s three spouses have eight degrees among them.
4. The differing courses of studies indicate the different careers pursued, including the legal field, the medical/health field, and music. Of course, the music guy has now become an education guy. And even before, his interests came dangerously close to my own in theology. Younger bro and I are the most likely to debate liturgical points.
5. Four of six members have blue eyes, just like my girls’ beautiful eyes! The other two are some kind of hazel, two-tone, greenish color (and I’m one of these odd-eyed folk).
6. Dinnertime conversation was a hallmark of our family life when we were growing up. Political debates and comedic routines sometimes made the meal stretch pass the hour mark.
7. Our mom sacrificed years of work at a school in order to raise us.
8. Our family pet was a dog who was privileged with a very long name: Cubby Ozark Junkyard Dog. He got his name because he looked like a bear cub (and Cubby was a name off the popular Saturday morning show the Gummi Bears).
9. Although each of the kids was “required” to take ten years of piano lessons, only two of the four actually made the full ten years. Two complained so much they were granted an early reprieve. One took the ten years and can barely play “The Little Drummer Boy.” And then one became an excellent pianist and organist, only to move to a place where there are no keyboards.
10. Although each of the kids was required to do the swimming team for a summer, only the two girls came to love competing in swimming. One excelled in butterfly, the other in breaststroke.
11. The common family skill/talent seems to be a gift for writing.
12. Mom is unquestionably the most gullible member of the family. Dad is debatably the most sarcastic.
13. Flavorice popsicles were a favorite summertime treat. Iowa sweetcorn was another summertime must.
14. We once took a family vacation (all six of us) in a tiny 1985 Dodge Aries. And we all wore seatbelts. In fact, seatbelt-wearing was never an optional thing in our family.
15. Family vacations were often the highlight of the summer. We journeyed out East (historical sites), out West (national parks), down South (for the Olympics in Atlanta!), and frequently to Chicago and the surrounding area.
16. We always thought it was cool that Dad is an identical twin, and sometimes we mistook our uncle for him.
17. We only knew two grandparents, Grandpa Ed and Grandma Sally, who lived within walking distance to our house (not that we ever wanted to walk).
18. We loved following Saturday vigil Mass with Breadeaux Pisa pizza.
19. Christmas Eve was one of the best days of the whole year since Santa came during Mass instead of waiting for the morning.
20. The kids all knew that Dad’s office was the best place to do homework. And Dad was a great person to ask if there was a history question. He also made sure that final papers were printed on bonded paper.
21. There was always plenty of fruit to munch on in our house.
22. The parents went on a trip (minus the kids) with each pregnancy: Europe, Vegas, Hawaii, Caribbean.
23. The front swing was always a good spot for conversation.
24. The kids’ marriages have happened in age order, starting with the oldest.
25. Mom always said she wanted to give us wings. She did, and then we all flew away.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

1. I spent the first 18 years of my life in a rural Midwestern setting – a town of 1700 people.
2. I have almost every Sandra Boynton book memorized. And most Dr. Seuss. And many other children’s books as well.
3. I have slept overnight in the Negev Desert, near a camel. The ground was rocky, so it wasn’t all that comfortable.
4. I once inscribed the word “HI” in bathtub soap scum rather than ask my roommate to clean the tub (which was his assigned chore in our small Christian community).
5. I had an amateur boxing license and trained for two years at a real boxing gym (prior to that I was in a college boxing club). After I won my first amateur fight, I lost interest.
6. I was on a swim team for 10 years (butterfly was my stroke!). At age 19 I coached the team. Since then my only competitive swimming has been in a few triathlons (including two in Alaska, one of which was a half-ironman), which I enjoy, but they're just too expensive.
7. My husband’s pick-up line on the night of our first conversation was, “Who is your favorite theologian?” Although it attracted me to him, it turns out this is his first question to anyone who’s into theology.
8. My answer was Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. And I searched for his email address online so I could contact him and add Newman to my list (and, um, remind him of my existence; can’t you see I’m such a flirt!).
9. I spent a year of service putting on dances at schools as part of an alcohol and drug prevention program. It was then that I picked up my C-walking skills.
10. I am horrible at all games that involve striking implements, e.g. golf, tennis, badminton, croquet, etc.
11. I’m becoming obsessed with penance, unfortunately more on an intellectual level. But here's hoping it trickles down into the practical level as well!
12. I’ve had two natural labor and deliveries, and my (midwife) sister caught both of my girls (babies 1 and 151 respectively).
13. During times of great stress, I turn to Jane Austen (or Charlotte Bronte) and sometimes J.K. Rowling.
14. I’m still facing the fact that I am now an adult and responsible for the health and well-being of two children. I sometimes wish I still had my mom to organize my life (schedule AND pay for dentist appointments, for example).
15. I spent two months living in a Holy Cross seminary in Nairobi, Kenya. I’m still in touch with some of my “African brothers,” including the one who gave me my mpako "Ateenyi."
16. I was proficient at clarinet and tenor saxophone, but I was always terrible at piano because I refused to practice (maybe just to spite my parents?).
17. The thing I miss most as a busy mom is not being able to go to daily Mass on a regular basis.
18. The food that I miss the most from the Coachella Valley in California is Kio’s Raspados, especially their raspado enchilada, which is a snowcone with chili and tamarindo candy.
19. I was the winner of the Southwest Iowa Math Contest. And I was a MASTER of my TI-85 calculator in high school.
20. During my first two years of Ph.D. work I consistently had dreams where I was reading with my eyes closed but I could understand the material perfectly (unlike in real life, where I had my eyes open and couldn’t understand the material at all!).
21. If I don’t exercise every day I get very, very grumpy and take it out on anyone around me.
22. I’m not a vegetarian, but, in general, cooking meat makes me nauseated. Because of that and because I’m scared of meat quality, I probably only eat it about once a week.
23. When I moved from California to Ohio, everything I owned fit into the trunk (and half of the back seat) of my 2003 Toyota Corolla.
24. I really prefer my surroundings to be neat, clean, and organized, but the last three years have not provided much opportunity for that.
25. My daughters are the greatest joys of my life.