"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, August 29, 2009

The Moral Ambiguity of Home-Making

(The curtains pictured above were completely and utterly unnecessary.)

When hearing that we were purchasing a house, one of my classmates said, "Welcome to the moral ambiguity of home-ownership." I admit, for someone who does moral theology, I hadn't really given much thought to the moral ambiguity of being of the "landed class," as another classmate called me. All I knew is that it was cheaper to buy than to rent, and I'd rather liquidate the savings by buying a house than by using it on rent. Let's be honest, there was quite a bit of moral ambiguity in our assets anyway.

But anyway, I've been thinking about home-making lately because, now that we do own a house, I've basically devoted the last week to trying to make that house a home. Thank God I had the help of my parents. Dad winterized the basement (yes, I realize it's still summer, but he won't be around when that draft is coming in through the basement door, he reasoned), helped me put together the Ikea furniture, and did all the dishes every day. Mom organized my pantry, hung pictures, lengthened pull cords so I can reach them, filled in a dangerous guardrail on the third floor, bought me a Costco memmbership, and, oh yes, she convinced our Verizon Internet installer to install a medicine cabinet in the bathroom while he was there with a power drill. Not to mention they accompanied me on numerous trips to Home Depot and often helped out with their credit card. By the time they left, the house was much more liveable. My parents are professional home-makers, I guess.

Awhile back, I mentioned in my 25 random things about me that when I moved from California to Ohio everything I owned fit in the trunk and half the backseat of my 03 Corolla. That is certainly NOT the case now. I think it all started with the wedding gifts... and was compounded by having children. But the fact is that, well, we own a lot of STUFF now. My dad even commented on it. Now, of course, we haven't purchased any of our furniture (with the exception of a couch to be delivered later this week- oh, and $200 of it was a gift). Everything of that nature has pretty much been a gift or an inheritance.

But here I am, making excuses, just as I did to my dad when he kept observing (several times a day) that we had so much stuff. I could, in fact, write a few paragraphs more of excuses and explanations, particularly for the new purchases I've been making, like the curtains pictured above. One of the nice things about this house is that it came with all window treatments included. It had recently been painted too, so there wasn't a lot of cosmetic work to do. The kitchen curtains were a red checked pattern, perfectly usable and perhaps even quaint. Our kitchen chairs, however, are kind of a teal or turquoise or blue-green, and when we started putting things on the decorative shelves and walls, those things were primarily shades of blue. The red check just didn't GO all that well. With the darker paining scheme, the kitchen needed something brighter, more cheerful...

So, with the help of several 20% coupons, I bought three sets of the ones pictured above. Of all the home-making purchases, these were certainly the least necessary. This was not like buying window caulking for the exposures in the basement. But, as I told myself at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I'll just feel so much better and happier in the kitchen if I have bright, cheerful curtains that match the kitchen chairs!

And I do. But what I wanted to get to is that I was recently reflecting on one of my friend's blog posts where she suggested that the problem with Protestant missionaries is that they are married and have a responsibility to feed and provide for a family. The liminal lifestyle of missionaries can lead to a "culpable neglect," of family as she calls it. I would add that there are different kinds and styles of mission work, and a lot of programs provide some sort of guaranteed stability. Granted, there may be no first-world immediate medical care, but other than that, the family is fed and educated etc.

So what I started thinking about was how we, or maybe I should just say, "I," can use family as an excuse to come up with "needs" for things like bright, cheerful, color-coordinating kitchen curtains. After I read my friend's post, I thought about how our lives would be different if Jeff hadn't gotten a job... (dream sequence here)... a few years ago, we entertained the idea of doing mission work if neither of us could get a job in academia. Of course we had concerns about raising our children in a foreign country, but, on the other hand, it seemed there were some benefits, too, like learning a foreign language, getting to know another culture, valuing family time, and having a slower, non-stressed pace of life more amenable to seeking out the higher things of life and meditating upon the final end. Chief among the benefits would also be NOT being in a place that was so indulgently materialistic. Of course, I know that it is possible to live counter-culturally in regard to worldly possessions. Many of the great saints did just that. But (and I say this having lived in Kenya for a couple of months and witnessing my brother's Peace Corps stint in Benin) it's just easier to live simply in a country where people live simply.

Despite what the past week would indicate, I am NOT a shopaholic. But my daughter is being formed in the habits of shopping. She knows the ropes, like how to sit in a cart, potential treats in each store, etc. Although we've gone apple-picking and she likes to eat off my basil plant, for Maia most food simply exists in stores in a sort of abstracted way. She recently started asking questions like where do grapes come from - a tree or a bush or something else? Mostly, however, food simply comes from a store. The same is true for things like curtains or a storage ottoman (our new toy box). It's just there, in the store, and, one swipe of plastic later, it's in the car. Who made it, what they made it from, and how they made it is not something Maia or I know.

It makes me uneasy. I think what matters about owning a house is how we use it - for hospitality, for providing a loving environment for our kids, and so on. But it also seems we could do these things with red checked curtains and Goodwill furniture. My utilitarian inner child informs me that I could have fed a family of five in Bangladesh for a month for the price of the curtains. Somewhere else I hear a reminder that those curtains, the storage ottoman, the couch etc. won't go with me when I die. But although I sort of regret the curtains, it's not enough regret for me to want to take them back. I guess that's the moral ambiguity of home-making.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dancing Amidst the Boxes

This is from our new place in Jersey. Eva started dancing recently - the little baby bounce. As a moving gift for Maia, I got her Sandra Boynton's Blue Moo album. Here the girls are dancing to "Speed Turtle," which is Maia's favorite song on the album. Most of the boxes have been cleared away, but we are still awaiting some more furniture - garage sales this weekend!


This is from a couple of weeks ago (back in Dayton). I'd been trying to capture Eva's wave on camera for some time. As you can tell, per the cereal beard, this wave happened at breakfast.

Through the Tunnel

Monday, August 24, 2009

Small Miracles

Small miracles - like overlapping naps! That hasn't happened (excepting 5-hour car rides) in a long time! With Granny and Grandpa in town, I was able to sneak out to the public library. Yes, there is life without Internet in-house. But ours will be set up on Thursday and then I can upload some pictures and maybe videos. Anyway, as it turns out, God is in New Jersey too.

1. Anna and Anthony, 10-year old neighbors, showed up the day after move-in and played with Maia the whole day. They love kids, and were great with Eva too. Maia told me this morning, "Anna is my new best friend, but Samuel is my old best friend." Now every morning is a waiting period for Anna to come over and play. Sometimes Maia has to go knock on her door.

2. Ok, I really thought that Sunday Mass at Assumption parish was at 8:30. Turns out it was 8:00. Too bad I made everyone, including two grandmas, one grandpa, two kids and a husband rush out of the house by 8:15. But the good news is that St. Theresa's, just five minutes away from Assumption, has a 9:00. So we made it just fine. It's great living in a place with such a high Catholic population.

3. Ikea - people love it, but I didn't have the greatest experience. As a small-town girl, I was just overwhelmed. But two nightstands and one kitchen cart later, I'm not complaining. The real gift was a power screwdriver (thanks, Ramon!). Turns out putting furniture together is not SO bad if you have the right tools.

4. Using the move as a reason to get things I've been living without but could have used. Example number one is baby monitors. It's nice to put Eva to bed upstairs and be able to do something on a different floor.

5. No traffic accidents yet. That's nothing short of miraculous here, take my word for it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Starter House, The Sacramental Marriage, and Buchalatti

Tomorrow the husband and I close on a house. What?!?! We close on a house? I can't say I saw this in my future a year ago. But, praise God, Jeff got a job. I think I'm done complaining about that job being in New Jersey. Let's be honest, in this academic job market, people (especially white males) can't really be choosy about the job they take. For us, the decision was pretty easy. It was the only position he was offered. Buying a house came a lot easier than I would have ever guessed, simply because in this part of the country, it was much cheaper month-to-month for us to buy than to rent. And buying seemed a better way of liquidating our savings than did renting.

Anyway, one theme of our marriage has been always having more things to do than we have time to do them. That's what we get for refusing to choose between school/career and children, I guess. :) Times of stress (in other words, all the time, for us) can bring out the worst. In other words, those little idiosyncracies of one's spouse can be endearing during the best of times, but are just downright annoying during difficult times. It reminds me of what my friend Jana tells her Christian marriage classes, namely, that a good image for marriage is spending the rest of your life with a college roommate. All of those annoying little habits now get no summer break respite. They are permanent fixtures in your life, and, even though you really like each other and agree on major issues, there are still annoyances.

In case anyone is wondering, there's nothing easy about making a 10-hour trip with a toddler and an infant. Even if you take three days. And even if you and your spouse drive separate cars (although this does basically eliminate the opportunity for extended arguing). Coordinating movers, the closing, walk-throughs, utilities, changing bank accounts, etc. is not really all that fun either.

Did I mention that Jeff got sick in the weeks, and especially the days, right before our move? And have I ever mentioned that one area where I really need to grow is compassion and sympathy for my sick spouse? Perhaps this is why Jeff always seems to get sick at really inconvenient times; God wants to give me lots of opportunities to grow in this area. Sadly, the extent of my compassion was to say, "Right, I get it, you're sick, but we're still moving in two days, so what do you want me to do? Take care of you and the girls while packing and cleaning the whole house?" (Yes, I realize it's not that sympathetic.)

Over the last summer, there have been times when I've comforted myself regarding the move by reflecting on the fact that I'm moving WITH my family. This is not one of those challenging all-on-my-own moves. It's like the Boynton book, "Wherever you go, I'll go there too, here and there and everywhere and always with you." Yes, I want to be Jeff's "personal penguin" (you can also check it out on the "Blue Moo" album).

But while family SHOULD be a comfort, it's not always. Especially with young kids. Today I found myself very short-tempered with Maia. Intellectually I know that after being in the car for five hours, it's normal for a kid to want to run around and be loud and not cooperate. But after driving for five hours, with the last bit in some nasty NJ traffic (which, by the way, is just a usual, everyday occurrence, not some special rush hour thing), I just wanted to lay down on a bed and unwind.

The real bit of tension came when Maia started repeatedly yelling "Buchalatti." No, I have no idea who Buchalatti is. I'm guessing it's some scholar that Jeff's read. See, he does this thing where he likes the sound of someone's name and he'll say it over and over. Like I said, endearing at the best moments, but downright annoying at the worst. Maia has picked up on this little pet peeve of mine, and, when she's not shouting "poopy! poopy! poopy!" or "potty! potty! potty!" or "tushy! tushy! tushy!" it's "Buchalatti! Buchalatti! Buchalatti!" But, unlike Jeff, she doesn't really care that it bothers me. Or, I should say, unlike Jeff, she cares about it bothering me in that she delights in annoying me whereas Jeff only inadvertently annoys me, not purposely.

Of course, there's no real way to get away from a toddler when you're in a hotel room.

Oh, and did I mention that both girls picked up conjunctivitis?

Unsaid Goodbyes

Our little family made it safely to New Jersey after quite the whirlwind of packing and cleaning. It was a full day's work out, from 9:30 to 9:30, and we drove to Cleveland after a quick meal at the Guizzo Cafe. The time spent with Grandpa and Nana somewhat delayed the realization of our transition. Although Maia knows we're moving, she still asked why we weren't going back to Dayton. We've tried to stay really positive, focusing on how much she's going to love New Jersey - a beach, a zoo membership, swimming lessons, (hopefully) preschool, etc. But I admit it's hard to stay positive when I, for one, really do feel kind of lonely and sad!

One of the things I was thinking about in the two days of driving out here (with the husband and I in separate cars) was about all the unsaid goodbyes. To most of our closest friends, we managed to say goodbye, even if only provisional "see you later" kind of goodbyes. But then there are other people who became a part of my day-to-day life without becoming close friends. I usually think of people that I pass by while I'm running or walking, or people I run into at the gym. For example, the older lady whose name I never learned, but whose dogs are named Oliver (he's blind) and Mocha. She really became a familiar face in the past four months during my morning runs. Perhaps I have particularly warm feelings toward her because she always complimented me on my running speed and how much weight I'm losing (neither of which are impressive, let me tell you!). But nonetheless, she's probably wondering where I've been and when I'll start running again. Maybe she thinks I gave up. Maybe she saw the moving truck. Regardless, she'll probably forget me pretty quickly now that I'm no longer a part of her daily life.

Then there are all the parents that go to Orchardly Park. I've had a lot of company from my classmates (and/or their spouses) lately, but there are also other parents who I see (and sometimes chat with), two or three times a week. Maybe someone will think a "whatever happened to..." Or maybe they won't. It's hard to say.

Don't get me wrong: it's not that I mourn that people might NOT be missing me. It's just weird to think of the transitoriness of life, that I can see that retired couple smoking on their front porch every morning for five months and then never see them again.

It was hard to say goodbye to my friends, and it was hard to watch Maia say goodbye to hers. It's also hard not saying goodbye to all those people I'm so used to seeing on a daily basis. At least the friends know what has happened, and are hoping for the best for our future. Many of them we will see again. But I feel like all those unsaid goodbyes deserve some kind of explanation. Ah, well, such is life in the modern world!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Daddy, I'm going to name you Isaac."

"What? Why would you name me Isaac?"

"Because you're so hairy."

"Maia, that's not Isaac! It's Esau that was hairy!"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Theologian Couple Competition

Because Jeff and I are not really in the same areas of theology, we rarely find ourselves competing. We did take one class together, and technically we share the U.S. Catholic concentration. But while I'm more of a 20th century, moral theology type, he's more the 17th century, history of biblical interpretation type.

Recently, I submitted a panel for an international conference in ethics. Jeff applied too, just for the heck of it, thinking that if we were to go, he'd only get funding from his institution if he was also presenting.

In a bit of a surprise, his proposal was accepted, whereas my panel was rejected! To be honest, we were both a little disconcerted. He doesn't even do moral theology! But I guess if he presents, we'll both still go. After all, I'm not letting my husband go off for a vacation in Europe while I stay home.

He wins this one, and good for him. :) One less paper for me to write!

Maia updates

I wish I could say that Maia had passed far beyond the "terrible 2's" now that she's three, but she continues to be a mix of the best and the worst. She sleeps far too little and yells far too much, but she still says some of the cutest things in the world.

Last week at library story hour, Maia's buddy Lou was reading her a book when Maia interrupted her, "I see a Pharaoh on the wall." And, indeed, she had spotted some kind of Egypt poster. So Lou asked, "What do you know about Pharaohs, Maia?" Maia proceeded to tell her the entire story of the midwives and the Hebrew children and baby Moses being put in the water to be retrieved by the Pharaoh's daughter and given to his own mother so she could nurse him.

This past Sunday when my prayer group was over at the house, one of them commented on a studio portrait of Maia - a close-up face shot where Maia looks very serious and thoughtful. "That's a very nice photo, Maia," she said. "Yes," said Maia, "Because I was looking at the camera, and I started thinking about all the people that had died and I was just thinking about how people died and then they took the picture." No wonder she looks so serious in that shot.

During a meal in a large dining hall, Maia turned to me and asked, "Where are the stone pillars?" When I expressed confusion, she said, "You know, like when Samson was in the hall and they chained his hands to pillars. But what are pillars, anyway?"

When Maia was getting frustrated with me a couple nights ago, she yelled, "If the mighty soldiers come and get you and kill you and Daddy and leave only Eva and me, I WILL BE GLAD!!!" We can only surmise that she's referring to the mighty soldiers in the story of David and Goliath. So I guess Jeff and I are pretty safe.

Tonight after dinner, Maia was eating a red Flavorice popsicle, when she said, "I'm pretending that this juice is Jesus' blood. And I'm going to drink his blood, right out of the popsicle."

Books are for reading, not for eating...

Since Maia first discovered how to put books in her mouth, this has been one of my husband's favorite sayings. It recently came back into play now that Eva has begun chewing on books as well. Wouldn't this picture be a great ad for the book?

Theologian Mom at a Conference

This past weekend, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a conference. This is a rare occasion for me these days. With a breastfeeding babe, I can't exactly take off for a few days and leave the kids with Daddy (not that I've EVER done that anyway). While Jeff has attended several conferences over the past academic year, this is my only one for the year. And of course, I didn't attend it alone. Per the usual (this is my third time attending it), I brought my entire family.

Now this particular conference is fairly family friendly. Granted, we had to stay off-campus to make it financially feasible for us, but otherwise, the organizers do a great job covering all the meal costs of our whole family. Given that most of us there are lay theologians with families, no one seems upset that I bring my kids to the conference. And of course, they are all impressed that Jeff would tag along to do the childcare. I should also note that there were two other participants who brought their spouses and kids along too. Like I said, it's a family-friendly conference.

In one particularly beautiful moment, featured senior scholar Stanley Hauerwas was expostulating on how we young theologians should never sacrifice family for our career. Just then Maia ran down the hallway, past the room, yelling something about finding Mary (she'd grabbed a Guadalupe prayer card from a coffee table). We all laughed at how appropriate her timing was... and I proudly claimed her as my daughter! No, I'm not sacrificing my family for my career!

But while I attended every session and thoroughly enjoyed the conference, I have to admit that it always brings up mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, I am happy that I get to be theologian and mom at the conference. But on the other hand, I sometimes wish that I could be like the majority of attendees who are away from their families and free to enjoy things without having to think about three other people the whole time.

Then, of course, there are the post-conference symptoms. Perhaps the academics reading this will identify. When faced with the collective knowledge of 40 other people, I start having feelings of self-doubt. I don't know Thomas Aquinas well enough. And of course, if I want to spend more time on the Summa I need to brush up on my Latin. I need to read more Scripture. I am not calm enough when I speak to make a comment. I didn't understand one of the papers. I need to know more of the Church's social teachings. I am not really trained in moral theology. I need to spend more time in prayer. And of course there's the realization that, if I ever finish my dissertation, I will be competing against all of these friends of mine. But do I even want a job?

On the car ride back, I was making a mental list of things I need to do, articles I want to publish, books I want to read, work on my dissertation, etc. Realistically, with Jeff now having a real job, I'll only have a few hours of work time each day. I find myself jealous of my friends who have the time to do their reading and writing and do it well.

Didn't I want to be a full-time mom?

But didn't I want to be a full-time theologian?

I suppose it was arrogant of me to refuse to choose between the two and think I wouldn't have to deal with these feelings of inadequacy.