Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One year old games

I've decided that one-year-olds are cute. At least when they're Thomas.

He's gotten "mamamamama" down. He says it and then he waves at me and grins. Except sometimes he gets it "amma" instead. I'm ok with that -- that's what Indian babies call their moms, I've heard.

His second word was "out." Pronounced "owwwwww... teh." So Matt tells me. He and Thomas were in the back bedroom and Thomas closed the door too hard so he couldn't get it open again (he likes to open and close the doors). Matt says he looked at him very seriously and said "owwwww... teh." So Matt said, "You want to go out?" and Thomas said again, "owwwwww... teh." What a fun "first" word.

Yesterday he invented a new game. I have a pair of drawstring jeans. I hold the string out and wiggle it, saying, "Fishing for baaabies! I'm fishing for baaaabies!" He grabs it between his teeth and I say, "Oooh! I caught one!" He laughs like crazy, letting go, and I say, "Oops, it got away. Fishing for babies!" He liked this so much I had to tuck the strings in eventually to get him to stop grabbing at my legs.

On the other side of my life, I got a proposal accepted for a conference in Germany. Heidelberg, here I come! This is my first accepted proposal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Happy birthday Thomas

Thomas turned one yesterday. We had his party at Lincoln Park Zoo.

I'm so very grateful that he is.

We sang "How Can I Keep from Singing" at his baptismal mass, and I often sang it to him as a lullaby. The last verse has, over the months, become more and more poignant:

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

A fountain ever springing;

All things are mine since I am his&mdash

How can I keep from singing?

Tomorrow, if not tonight, I will be finishing uploading the pictures I have from the party and a backlog of other Thomas pictures in the gallery.

Unfortunately, even in the midst of great joy, there is still great sorrow. Reese will be deeply missed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The best defense is a good offense

Before Thomas was Paci, one of the most pathetic creatures in God's good creation.


She's here pictured in her favorite sleeping spot, a couch Matt and I bought second-hand and have been toting all over the US since 1998. She's loved Thomas from the beginning, despite having her qualms

interspecies relations

about sharing her couch.

Now that Thomas can crawl, stand, cruise, and grab, and has teeth

dentition, at long last

the sofa is no longer a safe space for the dog. Thomas crawls right over there, thumping the ground in his eagerness, pulls up, and grabs her feet, crowing ecstatically. Paci jumps over him off the couch, walks to the other side of the room, and lies down again with an exaggerated sigh. If she's lucky, Thomas gets distracted by something else. Usually (because let's be honest, she's the coolest thing going), he crawls over and starts grabbing at her again.

They have this odd exchange. Thomas will grab at the skin around Paci's face. Paci pulls away, quickly, and then lunges in to try to lick his face. Thomas, laughing, will back up and twist away and, as soon as he's free of her tongue, will turn right back and try to grab her skin. Paci is clearly the only possible loser in this fight, since his attacks actually hurt, but she has a good offensive-defensive strategy right now. I wonder how long she can hold on, while I continue the chorus of, "No, Thomas, don't grab the dog. Don't grab the dog, Thomas. Pet the dog nicely, like this. No, don't grab the dog."

Nope, no deep theological reflection this time. Nothing to see here. Move on.

(Gratuitous photos courtesy of Dave.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Further ruminations on Clare's theology of childhood

The title of this post is perhaps premature, because, while about two-thirds of the way through Clare's dissertation, I haven't yet reached the chapters in which she contributes her own theology systematically. Nonetheless, some of her positions are evident in the way she presents the other material, of course.

One of the distinctions I really admire: she consistently draws attention to the difference between having certain dispositions, feelings, or relationships and being able to express those in a way that satisfies adults. Reading her work has made me reflect on my experiences with Thomas (who is, of course, just one infant and has a unique personality -- which is, actually, precisely the point, to move away from the sense that "infants" are just empty human natures with no real personhood or agency of their own, as Clare points out in her introduction). The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are those virtues which theologians argue are denied to baptized infants until they develop cognitively. Yet it seems to me that, on the natural level, the emotions associated with those virtues (which is not quite the same thing, as I'm aware) are precisely what is characteristic of my experiences relating to my infant.

Maybe I should expand on that a bit further. When I think of faith, I think of the infant's unconditional trust in resigning himself or herself into the care of the people around him or her. The ability to fall peacefully asleep in any other human being's arms. Hope: the infant's capacity for fear is balanced by a disposition to be sensorily comforted. If a baby reacts to pain or discomfort by crying, once soothed, he or she is no longer disturbed by past pain. Love: the first human skills developed, after sucking, are social skills: imitation, eye contact, smiling. Infants don't develop relationships as they gain cognitive skills -- or at least, such development doesn't come from nowhere; they are social beings from the outset.

All these things are natural, not theological -- but that is my point: speaking in terms of human nature, babies, as far as I can see, are most evidently persons. It's hard for me to picture how they have been seen as not-personal sacramental recipients for so long, except by remembering that most theologians, until recently, likely had little contact with pre-verbal infants.

Another thing I'm thinking about, and expecting the dissertation to make any page now because I'm quite clearly deriving it from the reading, is the tragic theological danger involved in turning baptism into a dual theological norm. "Adult baptism is and operates thus; but infant baptism can best be seen as so," seems tremendously fraught with theological peril. It's most clearly seen by examining the in-between period. A seven-year-old who is baptized undergoes a modified version of the RCIA (!), but a six-year-old may be baptized according to the "infant" rite (!). Surely, however, a six-year-old child should profess the creed himself or herself, even if his or her parent's faith is still operative in bringing him or her to the sacrament? And surely no church would accept a seven-year-old without his or her parent's consent?

I'd like to further study this in-between stage of rites. And I have more to say on assumptions about infant baptism, but this was all about questions and reflections. I don't need to get into rants in this post.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Children's presence in the liturgy of the word

Friday afternoons seem appropriate for slightly snarky reactions to serious subjects, and I always find it deeply satisfying to find others incensed by the same things that have been irritating me. Being a professional theologian, a laywoman, and a mother, being incensed is common; feeling vindicated is less common. Today, however... well, I'll quote at length, from the dissertation of a woman who finished her Ph.D. at Notre Dame in 2004. She is speaking of the liturgy of the word during the rite for baptizing an infant.

The introduction to the rite says (paragraph 14)

While the liturgy of the word is being celebrated, it is advisable to remove the children to another place, leaving the mothers and godmothers free to take part in the liturgy of the word, the children being left in the care of other women.

On this Clare Johnson comments:

This is a troubling instruction not only because of its inherently sexist tone, but because it gives the impression that children are welcome to attend only certain portions of the rite of baptism, and those only if they are silent (i.e., are able to conform to notions of "appropriate" or "adult" behavior in the liturgy.) The removal of the baptizand (if the child is disrupting the liturgy with noise or pre-verbal exclamations) from the church during the Liturgy of the Word is a particularly disturbing notion. This instruction reinforces the understanding that the child can receive no benefit from being present to hear the Liturgy of the Word in the ritual of his/her baptism. The needs of the adult members of the congregation in terms of their ability to hear the Liturgy of the Word clearly, take precedence over the possible benefit to the child of being present in the midst of the community into which he/she is being baptized, to hear the Word proclaimed in the context of his/her own baptismal celebration. Even though the child has no cognitive understanding of the words being proclaimed, it is still important that he/she is present when those words are spoken. One learns a language only by being exposed to it. That the child may be deprived of (what may well be) his/her first experience of the Word of God (even though cognitive appropriation of it is unlikely), and deprived of it at the very celebration in which he/she is being incorporated into God's family is a highly inappropriate suggestion, particularly as the only reason for this instruction seems to be to facilitate the comfort of the adult members of the congregation. [Clare Veronica Johnson, "Ex Ore Infantium: The Pre-Rational Child as Subject of Sacramental Action -- Theological, Liturgical, and Canonical Implications", Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2004, p. 149. Emphases mine.]

As very scholarly fury goes, this can hardly be improved upon. Angry scholars take note! I only have a couple of points to underline: one is that I'd eliminate the "possible" in "possible benefit to the child" -- in a sense the only gift a few-weeks old infant seems to be capable of receiving and fully appreciating, in my experience, is this gift of being present in his or her community, and I agree that it should not be denied them in the context of their own initiation into this community! Also Clare's observation that the language of faith is a linguistic ability that is learned through exposure is very telling. I only wish she had elaborated on that point further.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Clare had no children of her own when she wrote her dissertation (and in that light her observations are even more amazing!) and that taking an infant to a liturgical celebration can be stressful. Yet I'm convinced (as, apparently, is Clare) that this is, first of all, not the point (after all, as the instructional material associated with infant baptism seems to forget, this is the child's baptism, not his or her parents'). Moreover, most of the stress, in my case, comes from the majorly adult-centered orientation of even friendly liturgies. I always feel the sense that the only "full, conscious, and active participation" recognized by my fellow worshippers consists in seeing and hearing everything perfectly and doing and saying what everyone else is doing and saying. A little freedom from liturgical conformity, a little hospitality towards infants' behavior (not misbehavior) would go a long way towards encouraging children to become first-language speakers of Christianity.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On two bottles of children's aspirin

The latest thing I've decided to toss for my making space project is two unopened bottles of cherry chewable children's aspirin. These bottles are nearly sacramentals, being the visible sign of a eucatastrophe.

When Thomas was released from Children's Memorial Hospital last year, November 3, he was receiving 22 doses of various oral medications a day. We had a full-page chart just to keep track of which ones he should get when, and plastic bags with the time of day (he had to take them at five different times) with the appropriate syringes inside so we didn't get mixed up, forget one, or give him one twice. One of the medications he was on was aspirin, regimentally, as a blood thinner. He had to take one-half of a chewable children's aspirin tablet once a day, crushed, dissolved in breast milk, and administered with an eyedropper or oral syringe. It was definitely the most time-intensive medicine to administer, although he actually liked the taste, which was something.

At less than $2 a bottle generic, it was definitely his cheapest medication. There are 36 tablets in each bottle, so each one gives 72 doses. 72 days after Thomas got out of the hospital was Sunday, January 14. I went to Walgreens that day to get more aspirin, and bought the three-pack. "He'll be taking these for a long time," I reasoned.

That Friday, January 19, Thomas had a followup with his cardiology team, including a chest x-ray, which they do every January for all their patients, and an echocardiogram. The echo showed heart function just on the low end of normal -- improvement beyond the hopes even of his very optimistic cardiologist. The x-ray tech was a very nice woman; I asked her if I could see the image when she was done (and Thomas was rescued from her chair, which he liked not at all).

When Matt and I saw Thomas's chest x-ray in the emergency room on October 12, we stared at it, silent, stunned and disbelieving. His heart was expanded all the way out to his ribs, and the whole chest cavity was a dull gray cloud.

January 19, though, Thomas's heart was the shapely core of his being, surrounded by a fabulous tree of glowing white blood vessels carrying life out to his whole body. I could hardly be surprised when his cardiologist called me at quarter to ten that night. "I'm sorry to call so late, but I just saw his x-ray," she gushed. "It's so beautiful! Can I put it in my presentation?"

Based on this amazing recovery, Thomas's cardiology team started weaning his drugs, and aspirin was the first to go. Thus, I only used two and a half of the 108 aspirin I bought January 14. Now he's down to two medications and one dietary supplement, some of which they're talking about eliminating at his next visit. And Amy's slide show, to teach the med students at Children's Memorial about cardiology, had a very happy ending.

These two unopened bottles of aspirin are toast. But I'm keeping the open one. I crushed the fourth aspirin in it last week and dissolved it in water to display the first flower Thomas ever brought me. I still have enough in there for 32 more flowers!