"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, January 25, 2012

Theologian Mom at a Conference

Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to attend a professional academic conference. I knew about it a year in advance, and had planned that far ahead, as it just so happened the conference was in traveling distance of my mother-in-law's house, so I knew we could all go as a family.

Logistically, however, it wasn't as easy as it seemed when it was still a year away. Suddenly, about a week or two before the conference I realized that Maia is in school. This means that we can't just up and go on a trip whenever we want. Hence the four-day conference diminished to one day for me. Then there was the issue of what to do with the kids, and finally we settled on Grandma taking the girls and Jeff and Patrick coming with me to the conference, then Jeff taking Patrick to Great-Grandma's house for lunch, and returning to the conference to get me so we could head back to Grandma's in time for Patrick's 6:00 bedtime. It started to seem like more work than it was worth.

And to be honest, given that I spend most of my time doing childcare and menial housework, I was a bit nervous. Could I pull it off and make everyone think that I'm a real academic? Only the thought of seeing a few friends kept me going...

So on Saturday, I dressed to play the part - navy blazer, white blouse, brown dress pants, along with my classy briefcase-like bag. Seeing as how my normal uniform is jeans and a sweatshirt, I definitely felt like a pretender. But on the other hand, it helped me feel at home and fit in at the conference.

At least for the first two hours. Because after an organizational meeting for a board I'm a part of, I rejoined Jeff and Patrick with a banana that I'd snagged from the breakfast buffet where we had our meeting. I knew Patrick would be hungry, so I dutifully peeled the banana and began giving him small chunks. He voraciously devoured it, or so it seemed until the moment when I tried to capture him during an attempted escape and found my freshly dry-cleaned navy blazer now dotted with smooshed banana.

In case you are wondering, smooshed banana does NOT come off of navy blue blazers; it turned into bananaglue within seconds and no amount of water or rubbing made any difference. And in case you are wondering, Patrick managed to get it everywhere - shoulder, sleeve, lapel, you name it.

So, not as professional-looking. But definitely more theologianmomish. No one could have mistaken me for a real academic.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Colbert on Suffering

Recently I was reading an article on Stephen Colbert in the NY Times. I've only seen little clips of Colbert (all of which I found to be exceedingly funny), but I found this piece to be interesting. The part that really struck me, however, was this, from page 5 of 7:

In 1974, when Colbert was 10, his father, a doctor, and his brothers Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, died in a plane crash while flying to a prep school in New England. “There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case,” he told me. “I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so.” He added, in a tone so humble and sincere that his character would never have used it: “She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

I was impressed both at Colbert's words and at the fact that these sentiments could make it into the New York Times. Part of my work these days deals with trying to explain how unchosen suffering can be beneficial as mortification on behalf of others or as penance for one's own sin. Colbert's mom was right on when she taught him to be grateful for his life regardless. It is so common these days to deal with challenges, whether minor ones like being kept awake by a little one at night or big ones like losing someone we love, by becoming bitter and failing to use these as opportunities to grow closer to God. Colbert is right that God offers deliverance from pain, but "the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain." "The pain is actually a gift... God doesn't really give you another choice." Indeed, we can see suffering as an occasion for anger and resentment or we can see it as a gift, a moment to recognize our dependence on God and a lack of control that allows for a vulnerability and receptivity to the grace of God.

I'm not aiming for one of my children to be a famous comedian, but I hope that I can be like Colbert's mom and give my kids an understanding of pain and suffering that takes them out of the realm of the pointless and into the realm of transformative. 

Naming the Wise Men

 On the occasion of Epiphany, I asked over dinner whether anyone could name the three wise men.
 There was a moment of silence, and then Maia, said "Gaspar!"
 Eva, meanwhile, picked up one wise man and said, "I think we could name this one 'Judy'."
I don't think she grasped that I was looking for the traditional names of the kings!

What to do with $5?

Between Christmas and New Years', we took the kids to daily Mass with us every day, since Maia was on break from school and this made our day a little more efficient in terms of our own work. I won't say it was much fun for them or for us, but there was one benefit for the kids: people giving them money or gifts after Mass. We're not sure if they were pity gifts or "you're-so-cute" gifts, but anyway, the kids appreciated the three occasions when this happened.

The first gifter was an older lady named Elsie, and she gave each of the kids a $5 bill. What to do with $5? The girls were ecstatic, but to be honest they don't have much understanding of what exactly you can buy with $5. Yet by the time we had returned home, Eva knew what she wanted to do with her $5: "I want to buy a hot dog and give it to a poor person who's hungry."

Maia, meanwhile, guiltily admitted that she wanted to spend it on something for herself. Jeff assured her that was fine, "After all," he said, "that's what Mommy and I do when someone gives us money. We spend it on ourselves." Maia finally fixed on buying some batteries she needed for a new toy, which I thought was a good idea. Daddy, however, told her we would buy her batteries and she could use it for something else.

Over the next few days, Eva looked in vain for a poor person to feed. Every time I went shopping, she begged to come, and clutched her little pink purse on the whole trip, hoping to run into someone who was hungry. Although I have been approached by people in the past looking for food or money, Eva was unsuccessful in finding anyone to feed. Elsie, however, was tickled by the news (communicated to her by Maia) of Eva's intention of using her money to feed the poor.

One morning as we slipped in to church a few minutes late, I caught Maia surreptitiously putting her $5 into the poor box, which goes to our Vincent de Paul Society's food pantry. I guess she decided, after all, to help the poor, since we bought her the batteries and there was nothing she really needed. So that's how Maia spent her $5.

Eva continued to come with me on shopping trips and to look for hungry people. Finally she decided to buy an Eric Carle book at Kohl's. And, though it was only her second choice, she seemed happy with the decision. I assured her that, should we find someone in need, we could buy a hot dog using Patrick's $5, since I didn't think he would mind.