"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.)