"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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dining Entertainment

The girls and I are never bored at a meal so long as Patrick is eating with us. Here's some proof.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Patrick Blowing his Nose

Seriously, it's one of his favorite things to do. Maybe because it seems so grown up.

The World Through Patrick's Eyes

I remember hearing once that babies are like little research scientists. They are born into this world without really knowing how it works, so, as soon as they are able, they embark on an experimental quest to figure out their world. I have been thinking recently that in Patrick's Aristotelian categorization of inanimate objects, there would be two main categories.

Undoubtedly, one of Patrick's favorite things to do is throw. I guarantee he has thrown each of the objects in the above photo at least once. The only joy that surpasses a simple throw of an object is the joy that comes with throwing an object down the stairs. In particular Patrick likes to throw down videos, DVDs, and their cases (they make such a loud crash on the tile at the bottom!). But he's also game for socks, towels, clothing, bath toys, or whatever might be laying in the hallway parallel with the staircase. You might notice in the above photo that my tea kettle has a chip in the enamel; that's thanks to Patrick giving it a good toss in the kitchen pantry. In case you are wondering, Patrick does have a nice supply of balls of various shapes and sizes, including a new O-ball and some flashing balls from Christmas. He loves playing catch with anyone who will play, and I daresay he has exceptionally good aim for a 14 month old. If you observe him playing, however, you will notice that he does not see throwing as something to be limited to balls. He (repeatedly) threw Eva's new mini-keyboard (which miraculously did NOT break). After chasing his new runaway train, he captured it, turned around and went for the Hail Mary pass to his mom. I would venture to say that everyone in the family has suffered minor bruises from Patrick's pastime, but as of now we have no major injuries (and only a few broken objects). The other category, then, is
Not Throwable:
Try as he might, Patrick would not be able to throw the above chair. And there are certain items of this size and smaller that he obviously does not even attempt to throw.

Having mulled over Patrick's two categories for a few days, I finally chose breakfast as a time to announce to my husband my observation of Patrick's dichotomous categorization. Needless to say, my claim was immediately destabilized by the sound of scraping on the tile entryway. I was forced to add another category.

 Because, of course, there are some things that Patrick is unable to throw but they still provide him with entertainment because they are moveable. He can't actually throw an empty laundry hamper, but he can push it down the stairs and watch it fall. A full laundry hamper he can take for a walk down the hallway. I think light switches would also go in this category. Thanks to Grandpa Bob's bonding time with Patrick, my son thinks switches of all sorts are there solely for his personal enjoyment. Generally he can't reach light switches, but unfortunately the heater service switch is right at his level. I never leave the laundry area without checking to make sure Patrick hasn't turned off our heat.

Undoubtedly Patrick has other categories operating in his encounter with the world, but despite this, I think his most important designation for an inanimate object has to do with whether or not he can chuck it at a sister.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Eva's "Private Speech"

"Private speech" is what it's called when kids make up little stories to themselves, often using figurines or dolls or whatever. Although sometimes these moments seem silly, research shows that good private speech is an important indicator of success in school. Anyway, here's a window into a moment of Eva's private speech that I caught.

The setting is the kitchen, and the figurine she was playing with was a plastic statue of St. Anthony of Padua where he is holding the Christ child.

JC: I would like to go for a walk.
St.A: OK, but you should ask your mom. (St. Anthony slides over to a candle of La Virgen de Guadalupe so that Jesus can ask his mom if he can go for a walk with St. Anthony.)
JC: She said I can go.
(St. Anthony looks down at his feet)
St.A: Oh, but I'm not wearing any shoes!
JC: That's OK. You don't need shoes. Let's go!

And I think St. Anthony did take the Christ child on a little stroll.

A few days later, Eva was playing with the Fisher Price Nativity Set. I noticed that all three camels, the cow, the donkey, and goats were all lined up, so I asked Eva why that was so. Her response: "Well, they were going to get their picture taken for the wedding, but the bride and the groom are not there yet."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Convenience Detracting from Conversion

My work is on penance, specifically the virtue of penance, and in particular looking at the time period of 1955-1975 in the United States. Since beginning this work, I've come to see ways in which my own experience of Catholicism has been missing some important pieces (ha ha, like penance!). There are many acts of the virtue of penance, including (but not limited to) examination of conscience, partaking of the sacrament, almsgiving, fasting, prayer, spiritual and corporal works of mercy. One other important act of penance is the offering up of involuntary mortifications. 

In the first half of the 20th century, these involuntary sufferings were often profound, resulting from things like the Great Depression or World War II. The waves of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were usually poor and it took a lot of hard work for them to survive. Living near NYC, I recently went to Ellis Island and saw a video that really brought that tough journey by boat alive for me as I imagined G-Grandma Anna's trip. 

In my current life of convenience, it was hard to imagine ever undergoing such challenges. But on the other hand, convenience can detract from continual conversion. As I said, my experience of Catholicism was basically devoid of the concept "offer it up," that is, offering up suffering, sickness, and inconvenience as prayer for others in need or as penance for one's sins. Since I've discovered this concept, my life has become much happier. 

Now, of course, I don't undergo the kind of suffering that comes with a month of boat-travel or having a husband away in the Navy during a world war or being penniless and somehow trying to feed a family. But I do have occasional suffering in the form of mild sickness, and I have lots of little inconveniences associated with being a full-time mom and trying to write a dissertation. In our era, I think the usual conclusion when there is such an inconvenience is to try to fix that convenience, rather than offering it up. Take the ancient refrigerator we inherited with this house. After a couple of years of being annoyed with its randomly freezing items in the fridge, not having enough space for produce, not having an icemaker, and having broken shelves and drawers, I decided to rid myself of this inconvenience and rallied up support for getting a new refrigerator. 

Said refrigerator is a stainless steel French-door bottom freezer with room in the doors for milk and huge produce drawers. Great. Perfect. Inconvenience solved and (whew!) no chance of having to offer that up again! Likewise, I recently became convinced that an iPad would solve all of my problems. For example, I'd like to read in bed in a dark room (baby's in the room with me, asleep). I'd also like to read online sources for my research on a separate screen from the one on which I'm taking notes or writing. And I'd like to have a way on the first floor (my computer is in my office on the third floor) to look up recipes or zip codes or even check my email during the day. I've got a nice life, with all the necessities covered and a much more comfortable lifestyle than any of my ancestors, mind you. And yet for some reason, I became obsessed with this idea of an iPad to make my life just a little bit easier. Despite the fact that I recently learned from a friend of mine that iPads actually do NOT do your laundry for you, I think I may have one under the tree five days from now.

IPad aside, when I reflect on that earlier time period of Catholicism compared with Catholicism today, it strikes me that they simply had more involuntary mortification in the form of inconveniences and that offering it up was a major coping mechanism for surviving these discomforts. They had more practice with such suffering and hence became better at it. I'm not trying to romanticize it, of course, because I'm sure if they'd had a choice most if not all would have chosen to live more comfortably, as their descendants have chosen (nor am I asking God for such difficulties to come my way). Nonetheless, my point is that it seems convenience can detract from conversion. Even the word convenience has agreement and harmony as its etymology, where as the word conversion comes from a sense of turning upside down in dramatic change.

In no way to I mean to minimize the suffering that we now undergo. People still lose spouses to sickness, suffer from chronic illnesses, undergo natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes, become unemployed and so on. We who are parents of young children also endure the normal more minor challenges of lack of sleep, kids damaging or destroying possessions, etc. But these entirely sanctifiable situations more often become lost on us today because offering up suffering is not second-nature to us the way it was to our ancestors. We are more likely to complain and to seek ways of eliminating such inconveniences when instead we can use them in a penitential sense, for our good and the good of others. Moreover, we seem to have an attitude wherein we expect life to be free of such inconveniences, which, of course, it's not.

So, when we have a new refrigerator or a new iPad and they make life a little easier, this is a good reason to give thanks to God! But when we suffer inconveniences (did I mention the new leak under the kitchen sink due to installing a water line to the new refrigerator's ice maker?), this also is a good opportunity to grow closer to God by acknowledging them and offering them as prayer. This may not make life more comfortable or easier, but it does make life a little happier, in the beatitude-final end sort of way.

 (Kit Kittredge is from the American Girl series and grew up during the Great Depression. The books describe her experience of going from having a beautiful bedroom to being forced into an unfinished attic so her family could take on borders to keep their house when her dad lost his job. Kit is constantly described wearing too-small clothes and even a dress made of a chicken-feed sack! At age eight, she is already resourceful and hardworking. And, ironically, a Kit doll costs much, much more than her family would have ever been able to spend on her for a gift. Maia and I love the Kit stories, and now the irony of an expensive Kit doll resides in our house, thanks to an early Christmas gift from Grandma. Doesn't Maia look happy? And in the above photo, doesn't she kind of look like Kit?)

Eva at 3!

Ah, the middle child gets so neglected and forgotten... So here, one week later, are some photos from Eva's birthday party and the day of her birthday. Eva wanted a "flower party," I think inspired by the cakes she sees at Costco with their pretty flowers. But of course, I never buy cakes, I always make them. For this party I had my first attempt at cake pops. "Gluing" on those "petals" (pink Jelly Bellys) was TOUGH. I could definitely do them better if I did them again (in fact, I have made cake pops again since, and they were better).

 What do you do at a "flower" party? Well, I had picked up some vases at a rummage sale (about 10 cents each). Then I bought several different bouquets at Trader Joe's on the day of the party. The girls chose ribbons to put around the vases, chose flowers from the various bouquets, trimmed the stems, made their own new flower arrangements, filled their vases with water and flower food, and voila! The girls all had a great time making bouquets.
 We sang to Eva, who had two layer cake, one layer strawberry, one layer lemon with strawberry jam icing inside and lemon buttercream outside - and don't forget the flowers to decorate it!
 She'd been practicing blowing out our Advent candles each night (usually without permission!), so she was ready to go for the big moment. What a fun age 3 is! She enjoyed every moment of the party.
 Then, a few days later, on her actual birthday, she came down to this pile of gifts. Her big gifts this year were a scooter and a mini-trampoline (both from grandparents), both of which have already gotten lots of use. She also got a nice set of princess boots that light up as well as some rain boots with a matching umbrella. Daddy picked her up some helium birthday balloons that completed the set of gifts. What joy! We had an Oreo/pudding dessert on her birthday.
So far, Eva is a pretty good 3 year old. She's still under 30 pounds but LOTS of fun!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I think it's fair to say that one of our approaches to raising the kids Catholic is to give them a sense of how fun it is to be Catholic. Advent, though primarily a penitential season of joyful anticipation, is full of fun because it brings the lighting the Advent wreath and singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," each night before dinner, chocolate-filled Advent calendars (say "Maranatha" if you want your chocolate!), and, of course, there are some great feasts in Advent, like the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Another great feast is St. Nicholas, a Catholic bishop who lived in what is now Turkey. So the kids put out their shoes before bed tonight. And we moved our St. Nicholas icon to watch over the shoes tonight.
And, here's what the kids will find in the morning. Candy canes to represent St. Nicholas' crozier. Some Hershey's kisses to represent charity. Maia gets some gum just because she always wants it and I don't usually let her have any. And the kids each get a small gift too. Maia gets goggles, Eva gets a floatation belt, Patrick gets an O-ball and a plush crib sheet. So there, being Catholic is fun - not just all "offer it up" when you're sick (although Maia is getting good at that too!).