"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.

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.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Look who's using a walker!


Look at how much fun the girls are having here. They're playing a game where each of them throws the card in the air and then Maia yells "Uh-oh, spaghettios!" Eva seemed to think it was pretty funny, but I think she wanted more turns throwing the card up than she got.

When you see a video like this, you think, wow, siblings are really great. Isn't it awesome that they have so much fun together? But would you believe that just hours earlier Maia bit Eva's cheek so hard it left a mark, Eva cried for ten minutes, and Maia cried for ten minutes after her punishment of her friends having to leave the house. It's so weird how Maia can really seem to enjoy and appreciate Eva at one moment, and then be really mean the next.

The Shore

(Above, Jeff tries to do work on the beach.)
When we were trying to console Maia about moving to Jersey, we told her that she'd get to go to the beach. So after more than two weeks here, Maia started asking WHEN exactly she'd get to go to the beach. I managed to talk Jeff into going on Friday. Here are some videos of the girls. I think it's easier to run than to crawl on sand.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Daily Mass

For about a decade now, I've been attending daily Mass as best I could. If I were to use Evangelical language to talk about my "conversion" or "my personal relationship with Jesus" I would have to say that it all started with daily Mass at Keough Hall and Welsh Family Hall. (I should note that I generally don't use this language; I fully admit to being a "cradle Catholic" who has slowly grown in my faith through the years.)

There have sometimes been challenges to this and I have lots of funny daily Mass stories, including the time my friend Alison and I decided to attend six daily Masses in one day, while freshmen at Notre Dame (what a freshman thing to do). I must say it wasn't too hard in the morning. We went to an 8:00 a.m. and a 11:30 a.m. Then we went to a 5:00 p.m. But the tough part was when we went to 10:00, 10:30, and 11:00 p.m., all in different dorms. We had to run to make it on time. In retrospect this was both childish and foolish. On one other funny occasion, we all wore windpants to a daily Mass because we knew it annoyed Fr. Poorman to have crinkly noises during Mass. When I lived in Kenya at a Holy Cross seminary, I got to attend Mass with the priests, brothers, and seminarians. I think I was better behaved at those Masses.

So far I probably don't sound so reverent. So let me leave those undergraduate years in the dust and mention briefly my daily Mass career in southern California. The only daily Mass at my parish was in Spanish (and at least 45 minutes long), and by the end of the year I was quite adept with all the Mass parts in Spanish (in some ways much better than English because they're closer to the Latin). The 30-some older Latino crowd that attended Mass there seemed really to appreciate me. They even had me lector at one point (that was probably a mistake). On my birthday they sang me "Mananitas" after Mass. The only tricky part was that some days daily Mass also served as a funeral Mass. So I ended up attending a lot of funerals that year. In general I didn't mind, except when I was afraid I'd be late for work and had to ride my bicycle as fast as possible from the Church.

At Dayton, I generally worshipped at the noon Mass in the chapel. As always, certain faces became familiar (including my students). Enter Maia to the scene, and things became more challenging. When she was three days old, we took her to that Mass, and Fr. Heft slapped Jeff in the face in the communion line when he realized we'd had our babe (it was a friendly, happy slap that was more instinctive than premeditated). For awhile Maia usually slept for Mass, but as she became older and more mobile, it was harder to control her. Sometimes she'd climb up the steps to the choir loft. In retrospect, we maybe should have tried to make her sit still, but everything echoes in the chapel, and this seemed the best way to keep her quiet. When it got the point where Jeff spent the majority of the Mass outside with Maia, he started opting out.

Last year the only time I could make it to Mass (due to Jeff's schedule) was a 6:55. I only went three days a week, but I'm still glad I made the effort. The congregation was primarily older (often retired) Marianist brothers and priests. I sat in the back with three other women who attended that Mass. By the end of the semester, I felt like I was an honorary Marianist, even though none of the men ever said a word to me other than "peace." Then Eva was born and I didn't show up again until the morning of my qualifying exam. Kind of to my surprise, everyone was REALLY excited to see the baby (no one had said anything to me during my pregnancy; it wasn't a warm-fuzzy kind of Mass).

Anyway, just last week I started my new daily Mass schedule (Tues, Thurs, and Fri at 8:00 a.m.). I find it always takes a little adjusting to get back into the rhythm of the worship (in other words, to stop getting distracted by the idiosyncracies). In contrast to last year's Mass of mostly old religiously professed men, this one primarily consists of old ladies of the laity.

And I started writing this post so I could mention something that Jeff said to me the other day, in reference to one of his colleagues. Jeff said, "Oh, I probably shouldn't tell you this because you're going to be jealous, but Eric and his whole family attend daily Mass every morning together."

To which I responded - "Why should that make me jealous? That's like my worst nightmare!"

Because, let's be honest, for a busy theologian mom, there's not a lot of time to pray. I really delight in being able to follow along in my Vulgate while the readings are read in English. I like being able to concentrate, pay attention and actually pray. I like to sit and stand at the appropriate times (rather than nurse, corral, or supervise). Unlike some of our friends, Jeff and I have remained committed to going to Sunday Mass together as a family. But it's just really nice to have some time to myself in the presence of God, worshiping with the Church at a daily Mass. So no plans to bring the family along anytime soon. :)

Another Mary

"Mom, you look like someone else, someone different," Maia said to me this morning when I was still laying in bed.

"What do you mean? Who do I look like?"


"Wow, that's quite a compliment! You think I look like Mary, the Mother of Jesus?"

"NO, MOM! I meant Mary Magdalen!"

(Maybe it's the long hair...)