"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.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Patrick Laughing

Maranatha Chocolate and Christmas Trees

For the past few years, I've had a chocolate-filled Advent calendar. The girls have become sharers in the tradition, and now, first thing upon entering the kitchen in the morning I hear two voices saying: "Maranatha, can I have some chocolate?" But wait - they know that "Maranatha," means "Come, Lord Jesus," not "Can I have some chocolate?" Right? Yes, they do.

I have to say that I love Advent. Every night since it started we've been lighting our wreath and singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" as a family. But waiting is hard, isn't it? To intensify my longing for Christmas (and as an act of penance, since Advent is penitential), I gave up sweets for Advent again this year. Wow, am I ready for Christmas. Making cookies for Maia's preschool class and helping her and a friend decorate a gingerbread house have thrust me into the throes of temptation. I've survived, but bring on the sweets, I say!!!

Because we like to keep our Advent and Christmas distinct, we only recently started pulling out the Christmas decorations. For little Maia, who is SOOOO EXCITED about Christmas, the decoration procrastination has been VERY difficult. We finally went to get a tree last weekend. We had fond memories of our last tree that we got in Dayton (usually we're traveling, so this is only our second time having a tree) at Young's. We loved hiking through various trees, picking ours out, cutting it down, putting it on a sled, having it shook out and tied to the roof, and so on. Maia remembers the wonderful hot cocoa and popcorn in the barn by the Christmas tree farm.

So I looked up a place where we could cut down our own tree, and we finally (in Maia's mind "FINALLY") headed out to get a tree last weekend. When we arrived however, we found some bad news. The place only took cash or check, which we didn't have. And the trees all started at $65. Yes, $65. If you're from Jersey reading this, you're probably saying, well, yeah, of course, and that's a good deal. But if you're from Iowa or Ohio, you're probably thinking - $65!!!!, to cut down your own tree? And of course, there was no hot cocoa, nor popcorn, included in that price. Above is a picture of the girls with the trees.

After a brief walk around, we got back into the van, with two somewhat confused girls. "But what about the tree? Aren't we going to cut down a tree? What about the tree?" To which we responded, "Let's go get some hot chocolate first."

We went to the mainstreet of this town, hoping to find a quaint little local coffee shop. But we didn't know the area, and we didn't find it, so we ended up at Panera in your typcial strip-mall shopping center. Maia and Eva split a hot cocoa, but Maia really wanted to try the peppermint hot chocolate, even though I didn't think she'd like it. She didn't, and she didn't drink it either. Eva did, however, and she managed to get the lid off when we were back on the road, picture below.

As we headed back toward home, Jeff and I were making plans in a quiet tone, suggesting places where we'd seen trees on the side of the road. We stopped at the one across from the Y, got the kids out, took a glance and then found out that they only took cash, too, and that the trees started at $45. We got back in, and it looked like Maia had tears in her eyes. She probably couldn't figure out why we were driving all over the place getting in and out without getting a tree.

Then we stopped at the place across from the train station, and ended up getting our tree there, with a blank check Jeff found in his wallet. The tree had obviously been sitting out there for a long time; most likely it had been cut before Thanksgiving. It was kind of small, and the men who sold it to us seemed a little strange. $40. To me, that still seems like a lot of money for a tree.
But anyway, we had succeeded. Jeff had it in his head that we would decorate the tree on Christmas Eve - yeah, right! This was clearly the thought of an adult. Maia was so excited that she wanted to start immediately! Oops- no stand. I had to go buy one. When we finally did start putting on the lights, the tree skirt, the angel on top, and the ornaments, Maia was out of her mind happy. Eva was having a lot of fun too. They both liked looking at all of my childhood ornaments. (My mom did a great job labeling our ornaments and putting dates on them, and Maia loved the glitter-tree ornament with my second grade photograph on it.)

When it was all finished, I was sitting in the chair, looking at it with my cynical, critical adult self. It's small, I thought - too small for the space. And too crowded with ornaments since it's so small. I wanted to put the star on top, I thought, but the top was so crooked we had to use the angel. It's so dry, I thought, I can already see needles all over the floor. It's a little lop-sided near the bottom, I thought. And there's a patch on the tree where there aren't enough lights. We paid $40 for this tree?

As I was sitting there, thinking this, I heard a running commentary from Maia: "Mom, our tree is so beautiful!!! I love all these ornaments -- ooh, look at the sparkly ones! Isn't it neat how the angel has little lit-up candles in her hands? This tree is so tall, I can barely see the top! Mmm...it smells so good, doesn't it? I'm so happy we have a tree! I can't wait to see what it looks like with all the presents under it!"
Honestly, it made all the stress worth it. Advent and Christmas are so meaningful when you throw in a little excitement from children. It's the magic of Christmas; it's how we should be thinking about the great gift given to us in the baby Jesus!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


It's that time of the year again... that time when everyone wants to know what my kids want for Christmas. Wow. Do we really need any more toys? Well, I don't want to be a scrooge, and, let's be honest, kids love opening gifts and having new toys. So, in preparation for Christmas, we cleared out the toybox (for the SECOND time this fall) of all the toys that the kids were willing to give away. It's nice that we have a playroom (pictured above), not that there's any containing our fun here.

(Above: Eva on one of the top gifts for one-year olds - the bounce and spin zebra; Maia setting up her dollhouse, which is a favorite.)
This deluge of gifts is just what happens, I guess, when your kids are the only kids on one side of the family and the majority of grandkids on the other side. Because it always seems to me that we already have a lot of toys, last year for Eva's first birthday, I did some research on top gifts for one-year olds and suggested to the grandparents toys off of that list. This year for Christmas and for Eva's birthday, I did the same thing, hoping to come across something we didn't already own that I thought the kids would like.

The top gift for two-year olds is this Billibo thing. I call it a "thing" because it's not really anything specific. Just a piece of plastic that can be used in various ways. Eva's first reaction was that it was some kind of hat (see above). But it wasn't long before the kids figured out some other ways to use the Billibo.
For example, as a seat, to sit in or to balance in.

It also makes a nice turtle shell, although I think Maia above looks more like a snail than a turtle.

Even Patrick got in on the Billibo action.
A doctor's kit is also on the top ten list of gifts for two-year olds. We didn't have that, and it seemed appropriate that the doctor Grandpa and Nana would give Eva a doctor's kit. In the above picture, Maia and Eva are playing doctor in the new tent (tents are always a good gift for kids... and our other one was pretty much broken for good, so they wanted a replacement).

The doctor's kit also allowed us to practice for Eva's two-year visit to the doctor. She knew exactly what Dr. Straw was doing when she pulled out the stethoscope. But let's be honest, those real shots hurt a whole lot more than the one that came with the kit.
Now the funny thing about my doing all this research and wracking my brain to come up with possible gifts for the girls is that I had just heard/read these stories from NPR, which confirmed what I already knew, namely, that kids don't need a lot of fancy toys (especially all those electronic/battery-powered toys...a few is enough; my kids are more drawn toward the dollhouse, nativity set, baby dolls, kitchen, and so on). They need to use their imagination without the scripts that might be supplied by a toy (or movies or television!!!). Listening to these stories made me feel good about my kids because Maia (and Eva too, actually) really excels in what they call "private speech," which is an important indicator of success in school.

Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

The Billibo is kind of cut out for imaginative play, but I admit, when you first see it, you wonder why bother? All I can say is that my kids have had fun with them so far, and they've used them in a hundred different ways. But at this time of the year, my favorite playing to watch is Maia using the Nativity set (the Fisher Price one this time). Of course, there is a script that goes along with it, and today I acted out the whole play for them. But really it's more exciting when Maia does it. Like today she was insisting that Mary should sit in the cart attached to the donkey rather than sit on the donkey directly. "Mom, that way she can lay down, and that would be so much more comfortable!"
And when we play "Mary and Elizabeth" (not the queens, but the Blessed Virgin and her saintly cousin), there are always some strange twists, like Zechariah's car breaking down or Mary having twins, followed by a set of triplets (one of which is Piglet and another that is a bear), not to mention John the Baptist sleeping in a carseat in the kitchen. Since Patrick was born, Eva is no longer allowed to play the part of John the Baptist. So she's taken to being called "Hava" (her Hebrew name) and being the neighbor lady, who also is pregnant (sometimes with a puppy, but once in awhile with a baby doll). I admit that I like playing Mary and Elizabeth because I can clean the kitchen during the game and feel like I'm just playing my part of Elizabeth, rather than ignoring Maia. I can also serve lunch to Mary and Hava, and sometimes the Blessed Virgin also likes her older cousin to read her a story. So it all works out. No batteries necessary.

Little Miss Helpful is 2!

Yes, Miss Eva is now two years old! She's still small (weighing in at a mere 21 lbs.), but she's definitely changed since those old chubby cheeks days. Recently, Eva has been into being helpful. When we're getting ready to go somewhere, she brings me my shoes so I can put them on (even though I prefer to put them on right by the front door). Since it's been cold she's been bringing me my gloves, too. A few weeks ago, Maia spilled some milk on the table, and Eva got down from her chair, pulled a towel from the front of the kitchen stove, went back to the table, and wiped up the milk: "There you go, Maia," she said. Eva is also great at throwing away wrappers, orange peels, you name it. She doesn't mind cleaning up after herself.
(Above: Eva trying on her new sparkly shoes, courtesy of Granny Kathy and Grandpa Bob.)
And Eva really has figured out how things work around our house. She's got the routine down. A week or so ago, she even started putting her clothes in the hamper. One morning I spotted her nightgown, and I pulled it out because it didn't need to be washed and I knew she was going to want to wear it again that night.
(Above: Eva wanted a chocolate dog cake for her birthday - here it is.)
But when I went to pull the laundry out of the washer the next day, I had an unpleasant surprise. Eva had also put her night-time pull-up into the washer. While it was most likely dry and clean to start off with, nonetheless, it was of the disposable diaper sort and hence exploded all over the laundry with a nasty sort of gel stuff that was stuck to everything - including Jeff's work clothes. The pull-up itself was still kind of in tact and seemed to weigh about five pounds!
(Above: Uncle Eben lights the candles as Maia and neighbor Anna look on. Notice the chunk missing out of the dog's ear. Eva decided to sample the cake early, when I was on the treadmill out of reach.)
Anyway, happy birthday to Eva! Being the second child with a newborn baby brother, having a birthday so close to Christmas, and having a nasty cold on her birthday kind of put a damper on the celebration. But I think she's glad to be two anyway because she likes being helpful!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Smiles, Yawns, and Other Baby Looks

"Wow, these hands are both interesting and delicious!"
"What's going on over there?" asks Patrick.

"Like the sweater? I do."

"But laying on the ground really makes me (yawn!) tired."

"Being a baby is fun! I highly recommend it!"
Patrick poised to "fall over."

Babies like to move, but newborns have such limited options. When Eva was a baby, Maia and I discovered that if we propped her up on a chair, she would do her best to fall over. Of course, I have to supervise this game, and we only do it on big, soft chairs. In the above video, Maia explains how this works, and then Patrick demonstrates his ability to fall over, with just a bit of help.