"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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reality Check

(Leisurely Mondays spent at the shore are now a thing of the past...)

The last few weeks of the summer have been lovely. The husband and I have been splitting the work day; sometimes he takes the morning and I work in the afternoon, sometimes I work in the morning and he takes the afternoon. We both have time with the kids, we both get work done, and in the evening we have time for each other. In fact, five years into our marriage, we finally opened up all those board games we got for our wedding. We're pretty evenly matched in Scattergories and Scrabble, but I usually win Trivial Pursuit. ;) We've also had many opportunities for hospitality, including guests for dinner once or twice a week, and an all-day Sunday brunch with a couple of Jeff's colleagues.

(Above, Jeff "watching" the girls... no really, this has become more rare, but I had to take a picture anyway.)

In the midst of all this productivity, I had the startling realization that Jeff has to start teaching on Monday. Reality check: ONE of us at least has to bring in some money. So there you go. Jeff's off to teach (including an overload), and I'll go back to having the kids pretty much all day Monday-Thursday, with only 8-10 p.m. to work on my dissertation. The good news is that I completed two of my four goals for the summer. The bad news is that the two goals I did NOT complete were chapters one and two of my dissertation. I was really making progress, however, until the reality of Jeff's going back to work came crashing down on me. And then I also remembered that I'm only six weeks away from having another kid to take care of - one much more dependent than my other two are currently.

(Eva is learning how to use a sling in preparation for Mom's carrying Patrick around.)

I've been reading The Way of Perfection, and Teresa of Avila (combined with an Augustine reading from the Office) has made me feel like I shouldn't complain about the changes to come. It's just so great to have to endure trials! Especially if they are undeserved.

(Before the haircut)
This came to mind last night as I was brushing out Maia's hair before bedtime and realized that she had lice. At first I thought maybe she just had a few bugs in her hair from playing outside, but fifteen of them later, plus the tell-tale sign of eggs, and a phone call to her physician grandfather convinced us that they were indeed lice. It took less than a second after that conclusion for me to realize that I also had lice. In fact, ever since my annual haircut (this time at an expensive salon), I've had an itchy head... and I even had Jeff look at my scalp last week to make sure I was just being paranoid. I guess I should have had him use a magnifying glass. (And could I have possibly gotten lice from a $62 haircut? Or is this a gift of the neighbor kids?)

(12 inches later...)

It was Maia's bedtime - not much we could do other than put her in bed with a headful of lice at that point. I went off to the drugstore, and of course, knowing that I probably had lice, my head started itching ten times as much as it had before. Despite the fact that I'm posting all this on my blog, I wasn't excited about the world knowing I had lice. My sister was laughing at me on the phone, and suggesting that I ask the pharmacist for advice. I did kind of feel like I was on a sticom, as I stood in front of all the lice shampoo, scratching my head like crazy and trying to figure out if the $25 lice removal kit was significantly better than the $12 shampoo.

Our relaxing night was supposed to include Cheesecake Factory cheesecake (from Costco, yo!) with strawberries and a Harry Potter movie. While we still did part of the movie and the cheesecake, the majority of our time together was spent de-lousing my head. In the midst of this, Jeff kept looking at me curiously and asking why I seemed so down. By the fifth time of his asking, and my repeating that I was still upset that my head was covered in insects, I think he may have gotten the point, although he still seemed fairly unconcerned about the whole thing.

(Maia and Eva are adjusting to cosleeping together... but pretty much everyone is having some sleepless nights these days...)

And of course, the fun didn't end when I went to bed for the night. I spent much of the night waking up and thinking about those little lice, crawling around on my daughter's head, her bed, my bed, our hairbrush... wherever they might be. So when Maia hopped in my bed at 6:05 a.m., it was only a matter of moments before I was shampooing her and sitting her down in front of Thumbelina (the movie) so that I could go through her hair with that fine tooth comb. Yes, I even missed my morning work out for the de-lousing.

The rest of the day - which had been intended for last minute cleaning before Grandpa and Nana's weekend arrival - was spent doing that cleaning (mopping the floor, vaccuuming the living room, cleaning off the bureau and table) in addition to washing four sets of sheets (including crib), washing pillows, putting hairbrushes in the freezer, hanging out sheets, drying comforters, spraying beds with lice-killing spray and remaking beds. I hope I got them all... but can you ever know??? If Jeff hadn't had to go into school to copy his syllabi and whatnot, I might have gone out shopping and just bought all new pillows, so paranoid was I feeling.

Out of curiosity, I checked out my hair from the haircut, which was still in a ziploc bag since I hadn't mailed it in yet to Locks of Love (I'm lazy about haircuts, so I grow it out, get it cut every 15 months or so, and donate it). I didn't see any dead lice in that bag, so I guess my infestation certainly came after (or during) the haircut. Maia (who was as worried as Jeff about the lice - that is, not at all), said that her head felt much less itchy. I called my mom and told her that I'd had a "Mom Moment" - you know, one of those moments where you realize that WOW! you're the mom! Because I still remember my own kindergarten lice incident, and I associate de-lousing with my mom, not myself!
(Another piece of Maia's religious artwork. This is Mary, wearing a crown (and I think it looks like the angel is crowning her, but Maia said no, it's just floating above her), Jesus on the cross, and an angel above the gates of heaven with a wreath of hearts and flowers)

I'm not sure if this was an "undeserved" suffering; the good Lord knows I have my share of sins. And perhaps I should have borne the inconvenience and day's worth of hard work a little more cheerfully. But, as we approach the penitential day of Friday, I do feel like I put in my share of penance on this Thursday.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Role Playing

It's been very fun to watch Eva play lately. Well, I mean, it's always been fun... but recently her imagination and role playing has gone to new levels. In the picture above, you can see what I mean. Eva has baby Anna in a bib in her her own booster and is giving her some milk. This was pretty cute, and much better than when she fed Piglet the remainder of her tomato soup. That resulted in a spin in the washer for poor little Piglet.

About a week ago, we were coming home from Mass when Eva decided it was time for Piglet to take a nap. She cradled Piglet close to her chest and shushed him while gently rocking her back and forth (as much as one can do when strapped into a carseat). This made Maia really upset. "Piglet is not a baby!!!! Anyone who has read Pooh knows that Piglet is a grown up!!! You can't put Piglet to sleep!" And Maia started kicking Eva's carseat as if to prevent Piglet from dozing off. We told Maia just to let Eva pretend... Maia was not happy about it though, and continued to insist that Piglet was not a baby.

A couple of days later, Eva wanted the crucifix down from the wall, presumably so she could kiss it (a favorite activity of the girls, especially if they can fight over it, but yowzers does it hurt to get hit by that crucifix!). So Maia gave Jesus a kiss, Eva gave Jesus a kiss, and then, wouldn't you know it, Eva started cradling the crucifix and shushing Jesus to sleep, just like she had done with Piglet. That was just a little too much for me, and I put it back up on the wall shortly thereafter.

Smart Little Eva

I opened the closet to put away some clothes and found Eva's morning soymilk sippy cup in the bottom of the closet. So I took it out, thinking that I'd discovered it before it could get too gross and curdled (yes, it's true, spoiled soymilk is just as bad as spoiled cow's milk). To be precise, I should say that this was actually a sippy cup intended for Patrick. It had been in an unopened package in a drawer in the pantry until we ran into a desperate situation where none of the sippy cups were clean and we had to break into Patrick's sippies.

Anyway, I said, "Eva, can you take that downstairs?" But I was distracted by the laundry and not sure if she had taken it downstairs when we went. Later, I sort of had a vague memory of taking it downstairs myself. But, the point is, I couldn't find it anywhere, and I had the whole house (neighbor kids included) looking for it. Later that night, right before bed, Jeff was getting something out of the pantry when he noticed a drawer slightly opened, with the sippy cup in it.

Not only had Eva taken the sippy cup downstairs when I had asked her, she had also put it back in the appropriate drawer. Unfortunately by this time the soymilk was disgustingly curdled. Fortunately, Jeff cleaned it.

Summer Wagon Rides

Life really is more fun with a sibling. It was a hot summer day, but Maia was still willing to run around pulling a wagon for Eva's entertainment. I didn't get out the camera until the wagon rides were waning, and Maia slowing down a bit. But I think you can still get the idea. (By the way, the wagon was a find on "bulk pick-up day," when people here can put out large items for garbage disposal. In addition to the wagon, we got a tricycle and a picnic table. Ahh, dumpster diving.)

Maia's Artwork

These aren't the best specimens of Maia's artwork, but I liked them because they're religious. I think because of my enthusiasm, she gave both pictures to me, and St. Patrick I hung up in my office. I thought the crosier was great. Her people usually have a bit more detail, but these were cute anyway. I think they're part of her Picasso phase. Don't tell Jeff I said that; he'll know it's a criticism of Picasso.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Meet the Author: Maia

One of Maia's new favorite things to do is to write books. It sounds great, doesn't it? Oh, wait, except that she doesn't know how to write. That is, she can write her name, her sister's name, Mom, Dad, and that kind of stuff, but she doesn't know how to write complete sentences. So she's always grabbing Jeff or me and trying to dictate her stories to us - unfortunately, it's always at the most inconvenient moments, like when I'm chopping onions, or when Jeff is about to shower.

But tonight before dinner, she got a few moments with Dad and had him write down the story to go with her illustrations. I haven't taken a photo of the illustrations, but here's the story:

"First of all, Jesus was born. Mother Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus helped the poor. Jesus also helped a blind man. When we go to Church, we eat Jesus." That's page one.

Now, onto page two, illustrated by some hills, a castle perhaps and a sunflower? With a dark bluish purple sky. "This was the night Jesus was born. He grew up to help everyone. He died and rose again from the dead. He went to heaven, and we eat Him at Church. In the Eucharist. Here's a song (note, they've been reading the Hobbit, so there has to be a song every chapter or so): Jesus Christ died. And He is Holy. He made the creatures on the Earth, and we love them: the animals, like the squirrels"

That's where the story ends because then it was time for dinner. I'll try to post more updates as the story develops.

p.s. Most of Maia's stories are about princesses that live in castles.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Formation and Experience

Recently I found myself at a paper presentation where the presenter was attending to the category of "experience," specifically, the experience of children receiving the sacrament of confession. As someone who is interested both in children and in this sacrament in particular, I found the presentation very interesting, especially the original research that had been done interviewing children about their experiences.

At the same time, however, I found myself concerned with the use of "experience" as a category in theology. On the one hand, I do think that experience is important to consider when it comes to religion, especially inasmuch as it shapes the practical dimension of how we pass on the faith to our children. On the other hand, it seems to me that the category of experience only becomes meaningful when we consider the category of formation as well.

My mom never liked scrubbing the kitchen floor. She complained about it whenever she had to do it, and when we had to help with this chore it always felt like a punishment. So I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone that I also disliked this chore. My mom always enjoyed reading, and she snuck away to her rocking chair with a book whenver she could. So it may not be surprising that I have always taken an interest in reading and enjoyed it.

Now, I'm not trying here to make a hard and fast connection between formation and experience. It's always possible that children will not share the perception of their parent's activities, especially if the parents make the child feel bad about not living up to expectations or if the parents try to force something on the child in a negative way.

A friend of mine was telling me about her experience of praying the Rosary as a child. It involved her Dad interrupting the Sunday night movie right at the climax to make all the kids pray. Yes, this could give a kid a negative experience of the Roasry. Likewise, her experience of confession was her dad loading everyone up in the car on the first Saturday of every month, and making everyone go to confession. Again, this could make even a faithful Catholic adult have negative associations with the sacrament.

We often live our lives in American society without much attention to how we are being formed by that society. If we are not attentive to our formation, and conscious and intentional about what we allow to influence us, then it will be a mistake to use our experience as a category to make judgments about moral and religious practices. If, however, we are attentive to our formation - trying our best to have a "well-formed" conscience, for example - we can be more confident in occasionally critiquing religious and moral practices.

Going back to the paper presentation, it was fascinating to me that so many children (80%) had positive or very positive experiences of the sacrament of confession in a country where so few Catholics partake of this sacrament. It seems unlikely that a great majority of children would be formed to believe in the importance of this sacrament. As for the 20% of children who had lukewarm to negative experiences, I think it would be important to find out their parents' attitudes toward the sacrament. Do their parents ever go? Are they positive about it? Or was the students' first introduction to it through a class where they were told they would have to go to the sacrament whether they liked it or not?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Spy

On the way to the beach yesterday, Eva napped while the rest of us played "I Spy."

Dad: "I spy with my little eye two flashing red lights."

Mom and Maia: "Over there, the car on the side of the road!"

Mom: "I spy with my little eye a very, very long line that's yellow."

Maia: "Right there on the edge of the road!"

Maia: "I spy with my little eye all the angels and saints in heaven praising God!"

Plans for a Saintly Family

This morning, Maia bounded into the room and saw Patrick's "coming home from the hospital" outfit.

"Oh, that's cute!" she said, "I just can't wait to have a little brother!"

A few seconds later: "And won't it be great when Patrick dies? Then there will be two Saint Patricks!"

She then added: "And one Saint Maia, and one Saint Eva, and Saint Jeffrey, and Saint Maria... and Saint Anna" (in reference to our not-yet-conceived fourth child, whom she believes will be a girl named Anna).

"When I grow up..."

Over dinner last night, Maia said to Jeff,

"When I grow up, I'm going to be more like you and Mommy."

"In what way?" I asked.

"I mean I'm going to be more nicer. Like I'm not going to slam doors or spit on people or yell or say mean things to people."

"Well, if that's the case, I guess it's ok if you grow up," I said.

"And when I'm 31, on top of being nicer, I think I'll also go to confession like you two."

Jeff informed her, "You don't have to wait until you're 31 to go to confession, Maia! I think you'll be able to go at about seven."

"Right," I said, "that's only three years away. I'll take you with me on Saturdays."

"Ok," she said.

And Jeff added, "And if you want to stop slamming doors, spitting on people, yelling, and saying mean things, you can start doing that whenever you want."