"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, May 30, 2012

Maia's Recent Pencil Drawing

















Here's some recent artwork from the desk of six-year old Maia. After a conversation with her, I can summarize what's happening in this picture. The kneeling girl is in her bedroom. She is praying to God and asking St. Anthony of Padua to help her find her missing hat. Above her door is an image of the crucifixion, with Jesus on the cross and a Roman soldier on either side, John and BVM to the left, the other Marys to the right. On her wall hangs a three linked pictures of two saints (can't remember which ones), and St. Michael the Archangel. Above her bed is a picture of the pope and her Rosaries hanging on hooks. The sun is in the window above her bed.

And good news - her mom found her hat and is throwing it into the room! Thank you, Saint Anthony!!!

That girl in the picture must be one pious kid. Imagine if we put prie dieus in our kids' bedrooms! You don't suppose Maia is hinting that she'd like one...

Beach Season Officially Open

 Eva enjoying the sand on Mother's Day, before beach season started. Since then we've been to the shore twice, once at Cape May on the Friday before Memorial Day and at Asbury Park the Tuesday after Memorial Day...which was a lovely 92 degree day, with a mostly empty (and free of charge!) beach.
 Patrick loves the sand, but not the water.

Maia loves both the sand and the water (and her siblings antics behind her).
 Eva is a little shy of the water.
 But everyone loves the sand.
 Maia is ready for a great summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Contraception and Health Insurance

Today I read this NPR story entitled "Health Insurance Cutbacks Squeeze the Insured." Although this article made no mention of the HHS mandate regarding contraception free of charge, I couldn't help but muse over the subject once again. The story features a woman named Amber Cooper who had a liver transplant at age 10 and now relies on medicine to prevent her body from rejecting the liver, as well as monthly blood tests to make sure that she's not rejecting the liver. The story recounts how annual changes to health insurance at her work have made her out-of-pocket expenses increase, such that now her family has had to cut down on many expenses (her son only wears hand-me-downs, for example) just so they can afford her medical expenses.

While I don't know Amber personally, I'm sure many of us could name friends or family that have very serious medical conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, that require regular prescription medications. Even with (only) a $20 co-pay, these medications can really add up. But those who purchase them do so because they absolutely need these medicines in order to maintain their (or their children's or spouse's) health. Like the Cooper family, there are many who are forced to choose between health and family vacations... not that this is much of a choice.

This Monday, 43 Catholic institutions filed suits challenging the HHS mandate that would require them (whether directly as employers or indirectly through raised insurance costs) to pay the entire cost for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations. Ever since this mandate, I've been both surprised and dismayed about how the argument has been framed as simply a debate about contraception, with many, many attacks on what people view as the Church's seemingly outdated and sexist objections to contraception.

But what I've failed to come across are any really great and convincing arguments about this one particular prescription medication (or, I guess, genre of medications) and why it, in contrast with all the truly necessary medications, should be offered to people free of charge. I noticed that even Fr. John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, failed to mention in his letter that the main issue is not whether plans should include this coverage, but whether these medications and procedures should be free of charge (as in, paid by the employer).The closest thing I've heard as an argument as to why birth control should be free is various remarks from the Obama administration about how this will "put more change in the pockets of many, many women," in addition to comments here and there by women saying how they'll be grateful to have a few hundred more a year to spend on their kids or whatever. If that in and of itself is supposed to make us satisfied, I'm not convinced. Why should this, of all things, be free of charge to the subscriber?

In contrast with asthma inhalers, insulin, blood pressure medicine, etc, the pill does not in any way aid the natural health of the body. In fact, I think it is the only prescription medication (when used contraceptively, rather than therapeutically, of course) that has as its purpose to corrupt the health of the person who is taking it. And while it is fairly successful at corrupting fertility, it also often corrupts the health beyond fertility, by causing things such as blood clots and the like (conditions that often lead to more unnecessary health care expenditure).

Although I have heard a few heart-wrenching stories about insured, yet relatively poor women, having to make sacrifices to pay for their contraception, my heart really goes out to Amber and people like her. Why should women who choose to corrupt their reproductive health be enabled to do that free of charge, while women like Amber spend $1,500 a month on blood tests and medication that is necessary for sustaining her health and, yes, even her life? No doubt for Amber, the fact  that she can now get contraception for free is of little consolation, given her extreme health expenses elsewhere. Then again, with all those necessary out-of-pocket expenses, she probably won't feel able to afford another child anytime soon. This is especially true since her employer's having to pay for the contraception of all its women employees will most likely raise Amber's costs yet again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Internet, the Great Proximate Occasion to Sin

One of the great arts of Christian discipline is the practice of saying "no" to oneself. In our indulgent, instantaneous lifestyle, this art has greatly diminished. And perhaps nothing better illustrates the difficulty of saying "no" than use of the Internet.

For those who have a particular weakness, the Internet becomes a time-drain. Playing online bridge, political blogs, reading constantly updated news, shopping for bargains, and of course, Facebook. Any or all of these may end up taking hours of time when only a minute here or there was intended. Likewise, the frequent checking of email ends up taking far more time than most people might think. Even if it's only a few minutes at each check, the interruption can greatly break up the flow of work, distracting one from what should be his primary task.

Even those of us who are concerned about the Internet rewiring our brains may have difficulty disciplining ourselves. One quick check of email, one click on a link someone sent to an interesting article, one click on a link embedded in that article, etc. and suddenly one hour gone, with work still to be begun.

It is possible that the Internet is one of the greatest proximate occasions to sin that we face in our daily lives. A few weeks off-line, and concentration and productivity seem to increase exponentially as far as work is concerned, and attention and devotion to family and others seems to come a little easier. But for many of us, work requires use of the Internet. Whether the mandatory reading of work emails or the use of electronic databases for research, it is difficult to avoid using it altogether.

Yet we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that this is somehow one area of our life that does not demand discipline. Though it be a common folly or difficult challenge, it must be addressed. We have to be able to say "no" to ourselves, to die to ourselves for the good of others, in every context.

Here are a few mortification strategies when it comes to the Internet:

1. If possible, limit the number of times you check email to twice a day, perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening. Do not respond immediately to emails that do not require immediate response - put them on a to-do list.

2. If you are working on the computer and find yourself distracted by other things you can do (besides your work), make a list of these items on a note card. Sometimes these things really are important (scheduling credit card payments, for example), but nonetheless, to stop working in order to do that task is an interruption that throws you off and distracts you for more time than just the amount that it takes to pay the bill. End your work with fifteen minutes of "free" time at the end to accomplish the items on your list.

3. When you sit down to work, delay the email-check or Internet usage until you are at a good breaking time. Do not begin with email/Internet.

4. Set a timer for the amount  you want to spend on the Internet, and stick to it.

5. If you are really struggling, turn off the Internet on your computer. It will help you remember to say no.

6. If you recognize writing a blog or commenting on a blog or interacting with FB friends as an important aspect of your work, be intentional about how often you will engage in this medium. Be careful not to let it take priority over the real priorities.

7. Select an important prayer intention. Every time you feel tempted to use the Internet in a way that is unnecessary, counter-productive, or sinful (even to the extent that it ultimately takes time away from your family by unnecessarily extending your work time), remember this prayer intention, and tell yourself no as a prayer offering for that person or intention.

8. Make your Internet usage part of your general exam before bed (or you can make it your particular exam it is a serious problem). Make specific resolutions about how to improve for the following day when you recognize a problem.

9. Bring it to confession when you realize that your Internet usage has been sinful, even if only venially so. Again, make sure you recognize the way that it can interfere with your primary vocation by unnecessarily extending your work time.

Update:

10. Cultivate practices that counter Internet distractions. Such things as reading a novel, writing an essay, quiet, meditative prayer, or dissecting a long, nuanced argument can all counter the Internet monkey-mind.

Those are just a few tips for now. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Two Kinds of Dissertation

Someone once told me that there are two kinds of dissertations.

The first is done really quickly and is not very good.

The second takes many, many years and is also not very good.

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek. But the point is to finish. A dissertation is not meant to be your magnum opus. You're trying to please your director and a committee, and you have to keep your topic under control, no matter how interesting the rabbit trails. It's good to remember that a Ph.D. is only one step in a lifetime of learning. Finish it, revise it for publication if it's at all feasible, and keep on researching and writing... but hopefully then you will have the option of getting paid for your work.

In the hopes that I have less than two years ahead of me, I keep reminding myself that the most important thing is not impressing the whole world (or even just my department), but rather finishing the dissertation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Broadway!


Maia turned six in April, and now that she's so grown up, it seemed appropriate that she finally be able to attend her first Broadway show. So with help from Uncle John Mark, one of her birthday gifts this year was tickets for her and Mom to Mary Poppins on Broadway! I planned on us taking the bus into the city, since it goes direct and ends on the same street as New Amsterdam Theater. Maia, however, insisted on taking the train, which is just way cooler than the bus, apparently. The above picture is at our local station before leaving.
We had lunch in the city, but then I couldn't interest Maia in trying to do anything else. She just wanted to go into the theater and wait (an hour early!) for our matinee showing. I took the above photo across the street from the theater. Partly why she wanted to go in was that "The city is just SOOO crowded!" And it really was elbow-to-elbow people for our whole trip, beginning at Penn Station and all the way down to Ripley's Odditorium and the wax museum.

So we went into the theater building, bought her souvenir t-shirt with complimentary tote bag (thanks Grandpa Bob and Grandma Kathy!), and then sat outside the theater doors, waiting for them to open. Finally, they did open, and we found our seats and picked up reading the last American Girls Cecile book, which we finished on the train ride home.

We both loved the show. The sets were fantastic, the acting was great, and the "special effects" or whatever you call Mary flying through the sky and Bert tap-dancing on the ceiling, were really amazing. Maia was just beaming for the whole three hours! And we were both singing SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS on the way out...along with most of the audience!

 We had a smooth train ride home, and Jeff met us at the station. We were just in time for dinner. 
On Monday, Maia and her good friend Julia, who saw the show a couple of months ago, wore their matching shirts to school. Maia's ready for her next Broadway show - Lion King, anyone?

Troublemaker


He looks so sweet and innocent in that flowing pink veil, doesn't he? Let me just disillusion you as to my darling son's daily activities, based on yesterday. A typical Monday morning, I was bustling around trying to get everyone ready to take Maia to school (Jeff left at 7:00 a.m.). Not sure when it happened - perhaps during my indulgent three-minute shower - Pax got hold of one of the girl's metal hair clippies. I didn't witness any of this, but anyway, he scratched up the entire front surface of the buffet in the dining room. He also scratched a few marks to add to his blue colored pencil drawing on the side of the buffet. 

I didn't notice any of this until after we had taken Maia to school. I had about 20 minutes before I had to be back to the school to read to her class, so I quickly set about doing what I could. I changed a load of laundry in the basement. While I was there the kids found a half-full box of liquid Flavorice popsicles, and P in particular was trying to figure out how to drink them. So I put those up really high, out of their reach and went upstairs to google how to get scratch marks off of furniture. Of the recommended solutions, the only one I had readily available was walnuts. So I rubbed walnut nutmeat all over the scratches. It worked remarkably well, I must say.

And it gave me courage to deal with the colored pencil next. While I was googling how to get colored pencil off of wood furniture, Eva came up from the basement. Patrick was down there alone, but at least I thought his trouble potential was pretty limited in the basement. As I was considering where we keep the WD-40 (the solution I found online for getting colored pencil off of wood furniture), Patrick walked upstairs, his jacket soaking wet, holding a liquid Flavorice.

Hmm... I was puzzled. Had one popsicle escaped when I put up the box? Now with only ten minutes to go to get back to the elementary school, I headed downstairs to find that Patrick had positioned a chair and a stepstool in order to reach the Flavorices. He'd managed to knock the box down on the floor, and probably about three of them had ripped open, splattering colored sugar juice all over the basement floor. Ick! I forgot the colored pencil, mopped up that mess, and somehow made it to the school on time.


 We went to a store after I read to Maia's class, and there was no mischief with Pax strapped into the carseat or the shopping cart. Then I had the blessed naptime. After that, the kids were playing outside. I was trying to find my turkey-quinoa meatloaf recipe on my iPad, and everyone seemed happy, spread out among  swingset, playset, jungle gym, tree swing, playhouse, etc. I have to say we have a very entertaining back yard. Then I decided I needed to go to the bathroom, and I don't trust P outside by himself, and since the bathroom is on the second floor, I thought I had better take him with me.

I went to retrieve him from the playset, and he tried to evade me (which he couldn't do - there's only one door!). He was laughing mischievously... but why? Then I discovered the reason for his laughter. He seemed to know he was doing something naughty. He was playing with broken glass, photo below.
Now, I think our yard is generally pretty safe, the biggest hazard being tree branches dropping from all the 100-year old trees around us. But after a few good rains, the yard seems to sprout two hazards: 1. mushrooms and 2. broken glass. I blame it on the previous teenage boy who lived in our house; there seems to be a stash of broken beer bottles behind the shed. I've spent a fair amount of time over the past two years  searching for broken glass and digging it out. That's why I was amazed that such a large pile had been revealed after the last rainstorm. But thank goodness I figured out P was playing with broken glass. Because while it is certainly entertaining (remember that old SNL skit, where the guy is selling bags of broken glass for kids to play with?!), I wouldn't pick it as a top toy for my 18-month old.

That disaster was averted, and, an hour later, with the meatloaf made and dinner on the table, things seemed to be winding down. P finished dinner before everyone else and wanted "OUT, OUT, OUT!" so I tried to keep him seated a little longer by giving him a cookie. Finally as the rest of us began dessert, I released him to freedom. Ten minutes later we realized he'd surreptitiously escaped with part of the cookie still in tact. He did a nice job smearing a big chocolate line across the dining room carpet. Even the Green Machine couldn't erase all evidence of it.

So there you have it. That's my boy. He's cute, he's sweet, and he's a lot of trouble.

Even during the writing of this post (in the playroom), he managed to find a black marker (thanks for leaving that out, Maia!), and wrote all over the castle tent.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

'nakes!

I think we may have hit on something Patrick likes even more than worms: snakes! His father, who once dreamed of becoming a herpetologist, saw fit to entertain him one day by showing him the following videos:





He was so excited after seeing these, that he ran around the house shouting "'nake! 'nake! 'nake! 'nake!" just like in the first video.

We reinforced the snake interest by a trip to the zoo the following day, with the first stop (of course...Dad always chooses this as our first stop) being the reptile house. Wow. Pax was in snake heaven, looking at tree snakes, big snakes, little snakes, whatever snakes there were.

He can't actually carry on real conversations yet, but the next day, Patrick's choice of conversation topic was evident when we headed out on a shopping trip. From the back of the van:

P: "'Nake!!!"
TM: "Right, you like snakes, don't you?"
P: "Yeah."
(a few seconds later)
P: "'Nake! 'Nake! 'Nake!"
TM: "Did you enjoy seeing the snakes at the zoo?"
P: "Yeah."
(a few seconds later)
P: "'NAKE!!!"
TM: "So would you like to see the snakes again?"
P: "Yeah."
Later, upon spotting a bird, P says, "Deee," which is Patrick language for "bird." (He can't say the "b" sound yet).
TM: "Patrick, do you like birds or snakes better?"
P: "'Nake!"

While shopping, Patrick again kept bringing up snakes, with Eva and I trying to carry on the conversation to entertain him with thoughts of snakes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day!

When I was growing up, May 1st was always a special day - May Day! My mom would help us to poke pipe cleaners through paper cups to make "May baskets." We'd fill them up with popcorn and maybe some M n' Ms or other little candies. Then the fun would begin. We would take them to our neighbors' houses, ring the doorbells, and take off running. We knew the tradition was that if the person caught us dropping off the May basket, we could end up getting kissed. But I can't remember that ever happening.

In school, May 1st was a great day because so many of the students brought in little May baskets or sometimes, very cleverly made candy treats, like an airplane made of Life Savers, gum and Smarties. It was its own little celebration, seemingly unconnected from any official, nationally celebrated holiday. We did often have a May crowning of Mary at our CCD classes that same week, but as far as our May basket tradition went, I wasn't aware of any religious connection at the time.

I remember how shocked I was my freshman year of college when I discovered that almost none of my friends (I think I had one friend from Nebraska who knew what I was talking about) had ever heard of a May basket, much less ever made one. It even merited a call home to my family, to let them know just how strange the rest of our nation was... imagine, growing up without May baskets! In later years, I occasionally made up a May basket for some of my friends, as if to prove that there really was such a custom.

Having left the Midwest behind years ago, May 1st has ceased to be much of May Day to me anymore, although my kids enjoyed hearing my stories about May baskets tonight during dinner.

Three years ago, May 1st took on a new significance to me, for this was the day that I passed my Ph.D. qualifying exam, officially becoming ABD (a Ph.D. Candidate!) under the patronage of St. Joseph, the Worker - a very appropriate patron by the way. Of course, St. Joseph's assignment to this day is a really recent addition to the liturgical calendar, meant as a Catholic counterpart to the (primarily European and secular) celebration of Labor Day (or Workers' Day) on May 1st.

We see in St. Joseph someone placed in various complex and difficult situations: marrying a young girl who is already pregnant (not by him), taking his wife on a census journey at the end of the pregnancy, fleeing the country for the safety of his family, and so on. Joseph was not independently wealthy, so in the midst of these events of life, he also needed to earn a living to provide for his family. Undoubtedly he must have felt some concern about how it was all going to work out, but he just kept working, toiling with his hands daily as an offering to God, but in a very specific way because he was Jesus' provider. In other words, he was working for Jesus - to keep him fed, clothed, sheltered, etc. But of course, none of this is worth much without also love and attention.

It is a good lesson for us: our work ought to bring us closer to Jesus, and closer to our families. What we do every day - from housework to dissertation writing - is an opportunity to transform our lives. With the intention of loving and doing God's will, our work becomes meaningful, even salvific.

So, given that it has been three years since I passed my qualifying exam, today marks something important: I now have only two years to finish and defend my dissertation.

St. Joseph, the Worker, pray for me!