"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, March 27, 2010

Playing Mommy and Daddy

(While sitting on the couch one morning)
M: "Mom, let's play mommy and daddy. You be daddy, and I'll be you."

TM: "Ok, sure, Maia."

M: (looking annoyed) "Jeffrey, will you please GET OFF the computer!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Trip to NYC

We've lived twenty miles from the Big Apple for eight months now, and we finally decided to make a trip into the city. I recently purchased a book with 50 fun things to do with kids in NYC, and inspired by that, I suggested we head to Central Park, where there were three fun things for kids to do that I thought looked really exciting. As you can see from the above photo, Eva wasn't so excited. She slept almost the entire time at Central Park.

Because it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Central Park was absolutely jam-packed. One of the three things we'd gone to check out was closed, and we never made it to the other two. Honestly, the whole train-subway thing was a little exhausting; it took us over an hour of total travel time.

Fortunately, there was a whole lot of entertainment to be had at Central Park. There were dancing rollerbladers, a gymnast balancing her entire upside down body on one hand on a pedestal, a few remaining piles of snow (it was 75 degrees, mind you) where people were playing, huge rock formations that Maia and I climbed up, people spray-painted metallic colors pretending to be statues, showy ultimate frisbee players, and so on. So even though the carousel was closed and there was a line for the swings, we still had fun. While we were looking for Belvedere Castle, Maia spotted a stage and couldn't resist going over to try it out. Nearby was an African drum performance. The result is the above and below videos, where Maia is dancing to the drum rhythms.

It was during this that Eva woke up, pictures below.

And shortly after this, Jeff said we needed to get going so we could get the 6:11 train back to New Jersey. So we headed back out of the park, onto the Subway, back to Penn Station, and onto our train home-video below of Eva looking out the window.

It was a lot of work for a short trip, and even though Maia enjoyed it, I think that in the future, we'll just go down the shore. We like that better. This small-town girl prefers the beach to a big city.

Three Kids

Here are the first couple pictures of our third kid, due in October (on St. Francis's feast, I might add). Now that we're onto our third, I've started getting a question (or more of a statement) that I haven't had with my other two pregnancies. It goes like this: "Oh, your third! That's great... and I bet it's your last!" Or this: "Third...and final?" There are other variations, like this: "Well, with two girls I guess you probably wanted to try for a boy. Will you be very disappointed if you end up with three girls?"

I think I've run into these questions more here in New Jersey than I would have in my last home, where my closest friends had views more like my own in regard to the contraception issue. My quick answer to my acquaintances here (Maia's preschool classmates' mothers, the neighbors, and so on) with comments like the above is something like this: "Well, I'm from a family of four, and I know I really love and value my younger brother. Plus, I feel like I'd be doing a disservice to my parents if I didn't make it to at least four." Hmm... well that buys me the opportunity to explain a possible fourth child to the astonished, but what will happen after that, if we're blessed with more?

And I had to smile when I was doing some research and came upon the interesting detail that 1950s moral theologians John Ford and Gerald Kelly suggested that five children would normally fulfill a Catholic couple's procreative obligation. Now, of course, you can't make some kind of absolute as to HOW MANY children a couple should have... but imagine if all Catholics had five children as a kind of goal?

For most of the people in my approximate economic bracket and ethnic background, the perfect number of children is two, or maybe three if you're daring. One acquaintance told me that she wouldn't mind having a third, but that her husband didn't think they should because the two they have are healthy, and why risk having to take on another child that might have some kind of health issue? Another common concern is the delivery. A couple of people have mentioned that with three C-sections already, they don't feel it's prudent to risk having another.

This past Friday I was at a children's consignment sale, in line with three pregnant women, due in September, July, and May. I wasn't involved in the conversation, but it went like this:

Mom1: "I'm due in September, with my second."
Mom2: "Oh, and do you think you'll eventually go for three?"
Mom1: "I'm not sure. What about you, which one is this for you?"
Mom2: "This is my third and final. I've got the tubal ligation coordinated with my C-section."
Mom3: "I know what you mean, I'm planning on doing the same thing. It's just easier to get it all taken care of all at once."

But then I had a sort of different conversation at the park the other day, that went like this:

ParkMom: "Are those two both yours?"
TM: "Yes. The one with the plaid skirt, and this one right here."
ParkMom: "Do you think you'll have more?"
TM: "Yep. I'm actually due in October."
ParkMom: "How far apart will they be?"
TM: "About 22 months."
ParkMom: "Oh, that's nice. My first two were fifteen months apart, and it was so tough that I waited seven years to have my third."
TM: "But I bet it kind of took some pressure off the oldest child, having them so close."
ParkMom: "Yes, and now they are best buddies. Although they still fight a lot. But with the third, I got to 39 years old, and I was like, if I'm going to do this, I need to do it now! Now I look back and I wish I would have had one more, but it's too late. I wish I hadn't waited so long for the third. Let me tell you, being a mom at 39 isn't the same as being a mom at, how old are you?"
TM: "I'm 30."
ParkMom: "Wow, that's great! You have it right, having your kids young."
TM: "Yes, I have a friend who always says that having kids is a young man's game."
ParkMom: "Well, not getting much sleep is much easier at 30 than at 40, let me tell you. You get to be an energetic mom. So do you think you'll have a fourth? I really wish I had..."
TM: "Well, I'm from a family of four, so I would like at least four."
ParkMom: "Do you get very sick when you're pregnant?"
TM: "No, not really. I had about a week of slight nausea, but it went away. I do get really moody though."
ParkMom: "Well, that's ok- lucky you! I think if I hadn't been vomiting for six months straight I might have been more willing to have more kids."

This mom wasn't the first time I've heard someone mention that she wished she would have had more kids. But it also wasn't the first time I've heard a mom mention terrible morning sickness. A very Catholic, NFP-using friend of mine once told me that when she got married she wanted lots of kids, but after her first pregnancy she doubted that she'd ever make it past two, seeing as how she was basically miserably sick for eight months straight (she's now onto her third, for the record). I think it's important not to minimize the discomfort associated with pregnancy, nor to minimize the difficulty and expense of raising children.

Our society has a long way to go in making motherhood more amenable to women. Right now, we don't really seem to value the sacrifices of motherhood or even the importance of children. Sometimes I think that our society sees children as more of a means than as ends in themselves. But I'll have to reflect more on that.

For now, we have three kids, and most people think that's ok, even if they'd stick to two.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Eva's Words

Recently Eva took some time out of her playing to say a few words for me. We can now add some more words, for example "ice" and "elbow."

And here's a more contextual use of the word "apple."


Recently, for a paper I was presenting, I was reading moral theology from the 50s-60s-70s. One of the books I read was the Jesuit priests John Ford and Gerald Kelly's book Contemporary Moral Theology. One of their concerns was the critique of what had been labeled "obligationism."

They argued that those who were impatient with obligationism sometimes cast out objective morality and thought that “sanctity begins where obligation leaves off.” Ford and Kelly protested, “One would think that obedience to the obligations of the law of God is somehow incompatible with generosity, liberty, joy, and the flowering of one’s spiritual personality.” The authors were furthermore concerned with the maligning of obedience, objecting to those who saw it as an “irrational abdication of the self, as if authority were somehow the enemy of one’s personal liberty and perfection.”

Ford and Kelly's opinion here had a striking similarity with an instruction from the Baltimore Catechism on penance, which said that the fasting with the greatest merit was not voluntary but rather that "imposed by the Church on certain days of the year, and particularly during Lent" (Q. 806).

The German Bernard Haring, meanwhile, was concerned that Catholic morality was both legalistic and minimalistic. In regard the the first, he worried that Catholics expended too much of their energy trying to follow the laws of the Church to the detriment of really seeking the spirit behind the law. This was also related to his concerns for minimalism; he worried that Catholics did the bare minimum when it came to morality - just so they wouldn't have much to confess. He wanted more voluntarism, for Catholics freely to choose to do penance (not just because it was required) or freely to choose to attend Sunday Mass (not just out of fear of committing a sin by breaking Church law).

Surely to Ford and Kelly's dismay, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops took a more Haring-like position in their “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence” in 1966. The bishops contributed to the (already occuring) decline in Catholic identity by removing several common required penitential practices and replacing them with more individualized, “voluntary” penances. The language of this emphasized in particular the “free choice” of the faithful in choosing their forms of self-denial on Fridays and during the season of Lent. The document suggested the greater merit of abstinence from meat on Fridays since it was no longer a law binding under pain of sin, and it offered that Catholics might freely choose to give up caffeine or alcohol on Fridays, or to spend their Fridays volunteering in hospitals. What happened, however, was that the Friday sacrifice waned until it was no longer noticeable as a Catholic identity marker, and Lenten sacrifices became a hodgepodge of freely chosen mortifications such as giving up Diet Coke or chocolate.

As the daughter of a lawyer, I feel like I've always had a lot of respect for following U.S. law. There are times when I'm stopped at a no-turn-on-red red light when there is absolutely no traffic and no cops observing me, but I still wait for the light to turn green simply because I know it's the law.

Anyway, I think Ford and Kelly were right to be concerned about the maligning of "obligationism" and obedience. If we take the example of penance, it seems that the emphasis on choosing has detracted from the "team spirit" of it and the most obvious consequences are evident in the general lack of year-round Friday sacrifices by Catholics.

Maia's First Basketball Game

I recently took Maia to her first basketball game. It was exciting to me that my daughter is finally able to share in experiences like this. Her first exposure was the Seton Hall-Notre Dame women's basketball game. Unfortunately (due to a neighbor crisis) we only made it for the second half. But, honestly, that was probably enough for Maia. Somewhat disappointingly, her favorite parts of the game were the cheerleaders, the big blue fuzzy pirate (SHU's mascot), and the nachos. Alas! We'll try again next time the ND women are in town!

Olive Lovers

I've never been a huge fan of olives, but it turns out that my kids (like their daddy) love olives. These are some photos (and a video) from a recent olive-eating extravaganza.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Secrets to the Semi-Success of a Full-Time Mom and Full-Time Doctoral Student

(During my first year as a doctoral student, I spent a lot of time helping my husband edit his dissertation. It was an additional burden that made life really tough at the time. But it also helped him graduate and get the job he has now!)

Recently, I had a female doctoral student write to me to ask for advice about doing doctoral work (+grad assistantship) while having children. I found this kind of funny because, to be honest, I don't consider myself to have been a great model of full-time mom and full-time doctoral student. It was even more humorous to me that, according to her, my classmates seemed in awe of what I had done. She claimed that one had used a phrase like "maternal goddess" or something to that effect. (More like stressball-nutcase-with nothing valuable to say in class, I thought.)

But, on the other hand, when I look back over the first three years (especially the first two years) of my doctoral program, I am tempted to wonder how the heck I managed to take ten classes, pass three general exams, fulfill the language requirement, teach two classes, work other assistantship hours (including publishing the department newsletter - which was really a tough task), and all of this while exclusively breastfeeding and taking care of a baby most of the time. So in this post, I thought I'd just list some of the secrets to my semi-success. I can't call it a success because looking back, I know there are some things I would do differently, and I want to include those here too. So here's a little advice for those tackling motherhood and doctoral work:

1. Never, ever, ever, ever take an incomplete in a course. Start your papers early in the semester, and finish them before the semester's over. It's better to get a B than to get a P. And don't shy away from expository papers. They can be really helpful academically/intellectually, and they aren't as burdensome as more creative papers.

2. STOP comparing yourself to childless students. Don't even compare yourself to men who are fathers (especially if they do not take care of their children full-time). In fact, if you can avoid comparison altogether, it would be good. I wasn't able to do this, and it cost me hours of worry and extra work time.

3. Don't neglect your spiritual life. I never would have made it through without daily Mass, the sacrament of confession, my spiritual director Fr. Jim, and my Sunday night prayer group.

4. Don't neglect your physical well-being. I never would have made it through the program without daily exercise. It helps with stress and with health and provides some alone time. It also reminds you of the world beyond academia and motherhood.

(Jeff was great at supporting me in finishing my master's thesis - my second year as a doctoral student. Here we're celebrating at my graduation)
5. Do rely on your husband. Mine was a great support in that he had been through the program and could advise me on some points, help me revise footnotes, and so on. Jeff was also willing to take care of Maia, but, to be honest, she always preferred me early on and that made it really hard on all three of us. I should have been more direct with Jeff when I needed help and more confident that I was leaving Maia in good hands when I needed more work time. It's important that you work as a team and share the same goals.

(Above, not a great example of what I say about having work space. But it is good to take advantage of nap time to get your work done. I studied for my qualifying exam and wrote my prospectus mostly during naptime and after bedtime.)
6. Space. Work space is really important; if you can get a room of your own, do it. If you need to go to Starbucks down the street, that's ok too. Our small two-bedroom didn't allow for me to have much space away from Maia and that made it very tough (she would cry and bang on the door when I was working and Jeff was watching her). I notice a big difference now that I have my own office up in the trees away from the busy-ness of below.

7. Have really low standards for your homemaking. Now is NOT the time to keep an immaculate house or cook excellent dinners. I was always so reluctant to dine out (or take-in), but when I look back I know it was worth it when we had to eat out. I wouldn't have gotten my work done otherwise (and Jeff's no great cook). Focus on your child (when you're with your child) and on your work (when you're with your work). Instruct husband on chores that need to be done.

8. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE ON EXAMS! Finishing the general exams is key to getting out of the program in a timely fashion. Of my three general exams, I had two that were, well, not so great. And I would have preferred that my exam committee was blown away by my performance and my knowledge of the texts and my ability to expound extemporaneously (also known as BS-ing; I think men are better at this). My exams were not like this. But I passed them, and that allowed me to take my qualifying exam in my third year instead of trying to finish off those generals.

9. Don't take on anything extra you can't do, UNLESS it's really important to you. For me, writing two Scripture reflections for my parish website was one thing that was worthwhile enough for me to add it to the enormous pile of tasks I had at hand. But, again, now is not the best time to present at conferences (ok, I did one during my first year), submit articles for publication, volunteer as a youth minister, etc. Learn to say no... and not feel guilty about it. You may not even be able to attend "required" colloquiums and lectures, but that's just life as a theologian mom, so don't waste time worrying about it, and don't be defensive about it if people ask why you weren't there. If they can't understand what's so important about a baby, that's their problem, not yours.

10. Just admit to yourself that you will be sleep deprived for the next couple of years. I remember when I asked my advisor how she had two children while in grad school she informed me that she was the type of person who doesn't need much sleep. I didn't find it comforting. But I did find it true that I was pretty much sleep-deprived for my first two years, especially toward the ends of the semsesters with approaching deadlines. It's not fun living on five hours of sleep, but it's temporary. Try to catch up over the summer and during Christmas break, and otherwise offer it up and pray for "supernatural rest."

11. Humility: my time doing coursework and G.A. work, espeically teaching, would have been much better if I had not been so prideful. This is related to the advice on not comparing yourself to others, but it also has to do with not comparing yourself to yourself. Sure, I could have been a much "better" student if I hadn't been a full-time mom. I would have been a much "better" teacher if I hadn't been a full-time mom. But then I wouldn't have been a Theologian Mom. And I wouldn't have had Maia! Imagine that! You may have been a straight-A student when you were childless, but as the saying goes, the last ranking person to graduate from medical school is still called "Doctor." The same goes for Ph.D. programs. Finishing gets you the title and the possibility of getting hired.

12. Related to humility, let the criticism of faculty bounce off of you. I had one (childless, female) professor tell me that I needed to postpone having any more children until I'd had some more time to reflect on my academic work and slow down the program (Ha, ha, I got pregnant with Eva the next month...). I had another professor say that he got the impression I didn't care about the work and was just jumping hoops to get done with the program. I cried in his office... if I didn't care, would I have been working so hard to get my stuff done? But, honestly, if I'd been able to do the program more slowly, I would have time to be more interested in what I was reading and writing... but would that really have been a good trade-off? Anyway, it's going to hurt when people make these kind of comments. It's going to make you feel not supported. But remember that even if you're managing not to compare yourself to your classmates, professors ARE comparing you to your classmates. And they are noticing how those (often childless) students spend hours debating theology in the hallway, are meticulous with their teaching preparation, have brilliant comments in class, and seem to have undivided attention for theology. Well, if they're not full-time parents, they do have undivided attention during those hours at school. But so what? It's your profs who can't see the whole picture, not you. And motherhood is theologically enriching in many other ways.

13. Don't be afraid to bring the baby to school. Maia's whole first year of life was spent with daily trips to school. She and Jeff sat outside my classes so I could breastfeed her during breaks. I wore her in the sling when I was making copies for my assistantship work. She played in Dr. Yocum's office when I had my weekly G.A. meetings with her. Classmates helped watch her here and there so I could get something done (like a swim!). And also, if you do take your baby to school, don't be afraid to beg the parking Nazis for a close spot on a rainy or snowy day. They usually take pity on little ones. I think it's also good for people (classmates and profs) to see you with your baby. It reminds them that you're not JUST a student, but that you're working hard on something else too. It also reminds them that there are people in the world who are children.

(Above, Maia on her first day of life outside the womb)
14. Always remember that your child(ren) are more important than your work. Kids are people, human beings. Work is important and fullfilling, and of course theology is a vocation, too. But your child will only be an infant for one year of his or her life - that's only 1% (or maybe slightly more) of his or her entire lifetime. You don't want to miss it. Nor do you want all of his or her early memories to consist of you being a total stressball who didn't seem to want to be with him or her because you had other more important things to do. I used to say that if I had to choose between my classmates saying I was a bad student or a bad mom, I'd prefer they say I was a bad student.

(Above, Eva on her first day of life outside the womb)

15. Trust in God's grace. Every semester I would start off with so much to do that it seemed utterly impossible. And at the end of every semester I had done it all. It was not all my own effort; it wouldn't have been possible without the prayers of others and the immense gift of God's grace. You may not be able to "Let go and let God..." but just constantly keep in mind that trusting in God will order your tasks to an end greater than your own success.

Alright, I think that's all I can think of for now... I'm sure I could come up with more, but I'd also appreciate the input of all those other theologian moms out there. How did/do you do it? What's making it work or making it worthwhile for you?

Secrets to Success of a Happy Homemaker

I've been surprised at how happy I've been since I made the change to being a really, truly full-time mom (who is "only" writing a dissertation instead of being a G.A. and a full-time student). So I thought I'd write a quick post on what's made it work for me (in no particular order):

1. One assigned chore for each day: Monday-laundry, Tuesday-vaccuuming, Wednesday-glass, Thursday-laundry, Friday-bathroom, Saturday-kitchen floor. This way I'm not likely to feel overwhelmed by all that has to be done. It's also important not to feel like you shouldn't do chores because your kids need your undivided attention. They can help out (or not); vaccuuming takes me forever because both girls want to use it the whole time. I try to maintain some organization and cleanliness but not let it control my life. Another tip: it's never too early in the day to start making dinner.

2. Assigned chore for husband: dishes and any remaining pick-up of living/dining room + taking out the trash.

3. Being a homemaker doesn't mean staying at home; both the kids and I need a chance to get out. It's harder in the winter, but we've still managed lots of time at the swimming pool, going for brief walks, and the occasional shopping trip.

4. I get some time alone, and I'm very protective of those morning hours when I'm exercising and then going to Mass.

5. Spending individual time with the kids is crucial. I love reading to both and find the opportunity with Maia when Eva's napping and with Eva when Maia is doing her artwork.

6. Having an open home has allowed me to feel like my homemaking has a purpose greater than my nuclear family. We have neighbors and neigbor kids stop by practically every day, and we frequently host people for meals, etc.

7. Making "To do" lists has forced me to make all those telephone calls that I really detest (the pediatrician for making an appointment, the handyman for minor home repairs, etc.). Procrastinating on these "chores" only seems to make the tasks worse. "To do" lists also help me to feel like I'm accomplishing the details of running a home.

8. Having fun, listening to music, getting out in the sunshine - the real benefits of being at home all day.

9. Jeff has been awesome at thanking me for all I do around the house, and eagerly accepting his thanks and praise has helped me feel like it's all worthwhile.

10. The last thing that's been important to me is not accepting the stereotypes of society - being an economic "dependent" does not mean I'm not contributing, nor does it mean I'm dependent. Changing diapers, nursing a baby, preparing meals, hosting guests, paying bills... all these are worthwhile activities in God's eyes.