Parenting Perspectives: Not just ‘Honey’ or ‘Daddy’; he’s still my Craig

My toddler son’s cries dragged me out of bed at 1 a.m. I sleepily trudged down the stairs and into his room, where I confronted a pile of puke on his mattress.

“Craaaaig,” I called up the stairs to my husband. “I need you.”

He joined me downstairs to tag-team the post-vomit cleanup. He washed our son and changed pajamas. I tackled the bedding. We took turns cuddling Owen back to sleep.

An hour later, back in our shared bed, Craig made a late-night confession.
“Whenever you say my name, it’s like nails on a chalkboard,” he said.

My mouth dropped. This is not a good thing for a husband to tell a wife.

“You only use my name when you’re yelling at me,” he explained, or to enlist him in an unpleasant parenting task.

It’s true. The rest of the time, to me, he’s a term of endearment, like “Sweetie.”

Back in college and the prehistoric age of landlines, I’d call the large apartment Craig shared with his fraternity brothers. Whoever answered would teasingly summon him to the phone by saying “Honey, it’s Dear.”

When we became parents nearly six years ago I started calling him a new name: Daddy.And I became Mommy, not just to our children. I pondered this as I lay awake, digesting Craig’s revelation. Many couples with kids call each other Mom and Dad. My parents, married 53 years, have as long as I remember, and still do, even though we kids have been out of the house for many years. Craig, whose parents are divorced, thinks it’s cute.

But names are central to our identity. Dale Carnegie said the sweetest sound to a person is his or her own name.

Not in my husband’s case, at least not from my lips. By using his name in only negative situations, I’d conditioned him to expect the worst whenever I uttered it.
While I regularly express appreciation and affection for the husband (“Dear”) and father (“Daddy”), was I disregarding him as a person, the guy I started dating 15 years ago, by not making his name a sweet sound?

I vowed to change it. The next morning, eating a quick breakfast at the kitchen table, I called down to the landing where he put on his coat.

“Craaaig?”

He responded with a pained groan, a verbal grimace to the screeching chalkboard.

 “I love you,” I said.

He laughed, realizing what I was doing. Since, I’ve started using his name frequently, when I say something sweet or silly or mundane. It still sounds a little awkward.
Our daughter, Eve, tried to admonish me. “Don’t call him ‘Craig,’” she said. “He’s Daddy.”
Yes, he is. But he’s also my Craig. The one who responds for middle-of-the-night cleanup duty, no matter how I yell up the stairs.

2013: What I Read

As 2012 came to a close, I ran through my Kindle history and shared what I’d read that year. I knew I wanted to do so again this year. It’s a good exercise for me to recap and remember the words I’ve consumed, the influence they had in the moment, and how I can carry the positive forward into a new year.

2013 started with some titles I knew I was going to read, and veered from there, based on what looked appealing from Fargo’s online library. Here’s the rundown:

“Gone Girl: A Novel,” by Gillian Flynn
“Have a Little Faith,” by Mitch Albom
“Cemetery Girl,” by David Bell
“Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” by Anna Quindlen
“Torch,” by Cheryl Strayed
“The Pact,” by Jodi Picoult
“Edward Adrift,” by Craig Lancaster
“January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her,” by Michael Schofield
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot
“Kiss Me If You Can,” by Carly Phillips (I’d like to pretend this was not on my list. I didn’t realize it was a Harlequin romance when I started it. That said, I can’t justify finishing it.)
“The Hunger Games,” “Playing with Fire,” and “Mockingjay,” by Suzanne Collins
“Bad Monkey,” by Carl Hiaasen
“Revenge Wears Prada,” by Lauren Weisberger
“Star Island,” by Carl Hiaasen
“Sharp Objects: A Novel,” by Gillian Flynn
“The Time Keeper,” by Mitch Albom
“Sh*t My Dad Says,” by Justin Halpern
“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” by Sheryl Sandberg
“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns),” by Mindy Kaling
“The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green

My reading habits declined sharply in November, between increased hours at work and holiday busyness.  I downloaded “Life of Pi” last month, but never got a chance to crack click it before my loan expired. So I’m seeking recommendations for the New Year to relight my reading lamp.

What did you read this year? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2014?

Money-savin’ Mama: Make sure your financial resolutions are SMART

As I think about the New Year, I picture bright blue water, white sand beaches and the green it will take to get there. This year will mark a decade of marriage to my accountant husband, and we’re planning a tropical getaway for the end of 2014.
Saving for the trip is among our financial goals for the year, along with continuing to max out retirement contributions, pay down the mortgage, and add to the kids’ college funds.
I was glad to read we’re not alone in making money-based resolutions. Fifty-four percent of Americans will consider financial resolutions for 2014, an all-time high, according to the fifth annual Fidelity New Year Financial Resolutions Study.
While long-term savings goals lead the way, more Americans are leaning toward short-term goals, the study found. And these short-term goals have become more practical (like stashing an emergency fund or paying down credit card debt) versus luxurious. (Sorry, boat salesmen.)
For the third year, the top three resolutions are to save more money, pay off debt and spend less money. While those are all worthy resolutions, stated as is they’re not “SMART.”
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.
It’s not enough to resolve to “save more money” or “pay down debt.” You need to get down to the nitty-gritty of how, how much and when. That’s where the SMART acronym comes into play. It can help you make your financial resolutions a reality, regardless if they’re set Jan. 1 or mid-July.
Let’s apply SMART goal-setting to our second honeymoon:
 • Specific: The goal needs to be concrete. “We’re saving up for a vacation” is too vague. We need to say where we’re going, when and for how long.
 • Measurable: We need to have a target, in this case an actual dollar amount, so we know when we’ve reached the goal. Being specific will allow us to research travel packages and get an accurate figure, but let’s say $2,000 for now.
• Achievable: Is this goal within reach? If not, we could plan a less expensive vacation or wait another year.
• Relevant: Is this trip important to us? Should other financial goals take precedence?
• Time-based: In this case, our travel dates provide us with a timeframe. We’re looking to go in mid- November, which gives us 11 months to save up the $2,000. That’s $182 a month, or $42 a week, or $6 a day.
To accomplish this, we could set up regular automatic transfers into a savings account. When we took a trip to Jamaica in 2008, I set up a spreadsheet to track extra cash from bonuses, gifts, coin jars and even recycled cans.
Some take SMART another step, adding evaluate and re-evaluate for SMARTER goal-setting.
Either way, it’s a tool that can firm up your resolve, whether you want to make changes to your work life, waistline or wallet.
Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com 

Parenting Perspectives: Wild child humbles this second-time mom

I used to judge the mom at story time whose little boy wouldn’t sit still. Now I’m the mom who doesn’t even attend library events because it would result in nothing but chaos and wreckage.

I see the glares and hear the snide comments from parents who don’t understand what it’s like to have a “wild child.” The message, whether intended or perceived: Why can’t she control her offspring?

For years, I was among their ranks, mother only to a relatively laid-back kid. On some level, I credited my parenting for her good behavior. By that reasoning, bad behavior would result from poor parenting.

And then there was Owen, my beautiful, cherished little boy who came out of the womb like Bruce Banner after the gamma radiation.

Hulk smash!

He’s focused, determined, driven and independent. All are qualities I will admire tremendously when he’s 26. Not when he’s 2.

As a toddler, those personality traits translate into “unruly,” “naughty” and “wild.” After Owen’s first day of day care last month, our provider commented we “have our hands full.”

Every few weeks my husband and I attempt to bring Owen to church. It has yet to end well. The last time he crawled under pews until he was halfway up the sanctuary in a row of strangers.

In a matter of days in October, he ripped half the keys off my laptop’s keyboard, shattered my coffee pot, and broke a table lamp, the latter resulting in a small cut on his forehead.

The pediatrician who glued his cut (a purple blob he pulled off within the hour) suggested we enroll Owen in gymnastics to use up his “excess energy.”

We’d recently attended a birthday party at a gymnastics studio. I spent the entire party chasing him away from off-limits areas and dangerous apparatus.

And then there was the trail of destruction he left at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving: vacuum cleaner attachments strewn and broken (though big sister may be to blame for that), the plastic grapes plucked from their stems and chewed, the strip of paint he peeled off the basement floor, fragile tchotchkes wrestled away and placed up high.

“Giving in to him will reinforce his bad behavior,” my sister-in-law said after I told her about my failed attempt to teach Sunday school with Owen in tow. Tell that to the third-graders who wanted to hear a Bible story and not blood-curdling screams of a toddler held in a classroom against his will. And tell that to Owen, who has mastered the art of opening doors.

“Just distract him,” my mom has advised. Except he can’t be distracted from whatever forbidden fruit he’s discovered.

“Have you considered a padded cage?” a friend asked in response to the coffee pot fragmentation. That suggestion has potential.

I now empathize with those mothers I once smugly judged. I recognize their exhaustion, frustration and the valiant effort they make in simply going out in public with their wild child.

Maybe one day I’ll be as brave as them.

I wonder if Owen will enjoy story time at age 26.

Sherri Richards is mother of 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

Money Savin’ Mama: Find ways to give that fit your budget

My column in today’s Forum talks about being frugally generous. What tips do you have to give and save?

When all year long you penny pinch, you run the risk of becoming a Grinch.

In the season of giving thanks and holiday giving, I have to remind myself to loosen the Scrooge-like grasp on my purse strings, before three ghosts visit me in the night.

But being generous and being frugal are not mutually exclusive. It’s all about being efficient with your money, and maximizing what you can give within the constraints of your budget.

Call it frugal generosity. It can apply to Christmas gifts and charitable giving.

One of my favorite ways to give frugally is on Giving Hearts Day. During the Feb. 14 event, hosted jointly by the Impact Foundation and Dakota Medical Foundation, online donations of $10 or more to select nonprofits are matched up to $4,000.

It’s an easy way to stretch your giving dollar, making a larger impact than you otherwise might afford. A similar event featuring Minnesota organizations, Give to the Max Day, was held Nov. 14.

For food drives, I often donate cans from my pantry, which I’ve stocked when on sale or by redeeming store deals.

For example, Cash Wise grocery stores offer a free, usually nonperishable item with a $30 purchase. If you scan the free item coupon before other coupons, you can still get the item if your out-of-pocket total is less than $30. Even if it’s an item you wouldn’t use, it can still be put to good use.

That goes for more than food. I’m an advocate of re-gifting, provided it’s done with class. That is, it’s never been used, it would be loved by the recipient, and you’re gifting well outside the social circle where you received.

When I helped pack Operation Christmas Child boxes this month, I collected uneaten Halloween candy and unopened Happy Meal toys from my house. I’ve also given away gift cards I earned for free through MyPoints.com.

When approached with fundraising catalogues, I try to do double-duty, supporting the cause by buying something I can give later as a gift. I do the same when attending home parties or vendor shows.

Gift-giving is part of our household budget. We automatically add $90 every two weeks to an online money market account designated for pet expenses, travel and gifts.

To make the most of those dollars, I try to leverage pre-Christmas sales. I combined a sale price and texted coupon code to get the doll my 5-year-old daughter wanted for half its regular price.

I also hit up post-holiday sales. One year for Christmas, I gave her a Cinderella costume I’d bought at a deep discount the week after Halloween.

The key is to not get hung up on the dollar amount. Just because you found the gift for less doesn’t mean you have to spend more. It’s about the gift – and the thought – not what you spent.

Finally, I like to think about my family’s “needs” when drafting wish lists. Clothes, art supplies and bigger bike helmets are great gifts and already part of the household budget. Both my kids’ stockings will be stuffed with kid shampoo, new toothbrushes and toothpaste.

That way their teeth, like the holidays, will be merry and bright.

May all your Christmases be in the black.

Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

A dollar from my daughter

Yesterday, 5-year-old Eve and I made a quick trip to a local store. I needed a sheet of poster board for a project. We decided to swing through the toy aisle to get gift ideas for her friend’s upcoming birthday party.
I warned Eve this was not a trip for her to get a toy. I’d recently bought her an extra bling-y wall clock for her room. It’s going to be awhile before we splurge again.
She said she understood. Soon, though, she became enamored with a stuffed kitten, on sale for $5. (It’s not too surprising. On Saturday, she became enamored with a real orange striped kitten at a pet store. She’s still trying to finagle getting that one. N-O.)
Again, I told her I wouldn’t buy it for her, but she could save up money and buy it for herself.

I was up early this morning, getting the coffee brewing, when I heard Eve patter up the stairs. She was waving five bills excitedly. She’d raided one of her two piggy banks (one is for saving, the other spending).
“Mom, look, I have five dollars! I can buy the kitty!” she said, proudly.
I pointed out that two of her bills were actually worth $2 each. She actually had $7.
She beamed. “I can spend this on something that’s worth $2!” she said excitedly.
I explained that was true, but she needed to remember that once she spent money, it was gone. Was she sure she wanted to spend this money on the stuffed kitten? She said she was happy with her choice.
Then, she stopped to look at the two dollar bills in her hand.
“Here,” she said. “I want you to have this one. For everything you do for me.”
My heart melted with love and gratitude for my sweet, thoughtful girl. “Are you sure?” I asked as I wrapped her in a hug.
“Yes. Now you don’t have to worry about working for money anymore,” she said.
Inside, I chuckled at a 5-year-old’s perception of a dollar while simultaneous shoving down that mommy guilt we working women feel.
I tried to tell her I didn’t need her dollar, that she could keep it. Offended by my attempted refusal, she told me no. Then she gave me a penny, too.
There are so many values and lessons we try to impart upon our children. It’s hard to know which will stick.  I’m feeling proud today of my generous daughter, and am excited to welcome the newest member to her horde of fluffy family members.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from the knife-wielding reporter who doesn’t know how to cook

I’m not sure how this could have happened, but I became a 33-year-old woman without ever having cut apart a whole chicken.

This astounds me given the regularity with which my mother would divvy up a chicken and oven fry it, including chickens she and my dad used to raise on the farm.

But since establishing my own presence in the kitchen, I’ve been a frozen-boneless-skinless-chicken-breast kind-of girl.

Until last night.

I had a fresh buttercup squash from my in-laws’ garden I wanted to bake, and decided it would be delish served with fried chicken.

I made a special trip to the grocery store to buy a box of Oven Fry (I won’t tell you how long I stood there debating between that and Shake N Bake) and the chicken. As I compared the package of cut-apart chicken pieces and the whole chicken, my frugal side won out.

I got out my butcher knife and a cutting board, unwrapped the chicken, and panicked.

I had no clue what I was doing.

I grabbed my Betty Crocker cookbook, the one my mother gave me when I was first starting out on my own. The poultry section includes a six-step, photo illustrated guide on “How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken.”

Oh so easy, right?

Unfortunately for me, I got lost on step one — to place chicken breast down on a cutting board — as I wasn’t really sure which side was the breast.

Once that was determined, I managed to cut off each wing. I ungracefully hacked off the legs, accidentally de-boning one of them. I became confused again at which side was the neck. I pleaded to no one in particular for help as I sawed the back from the breast (pretty sure I did not do that correctly) and became really confused at what the “keel bone” was. But in the end, I managed to dissect my chicken and bread it.

I totally ran out of the Oven Fry by the time I got to the breasts, so used some leftover Shore Lunch to bread them. It worked, but I wouldn’t really recommend it …

My husband declared it delicious and well-cooked. The kids ate the the small shreds put on their plates (I was too worried about bone fragments to give them whole pieces). Owen also loved the squash (He called it “cheese”).

I’m sure this all sounds ridiculous to any accomplished (or even not so accomplished) home chef, but I’m feeling pretty proud of my poultry escapades.

Here’s hoping practice makes perfect.

Parenting Perspectives: Starting school means a new identity for daughter and mother

When my now kindergartner was 2, she started telling me about things she did when I wasn’t there and people she knew whom I hadn’t met.

From my copious new-mom reading, I knew babies slowly learn they are a separate identity from their parents. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that I would need to learn Eve was separate from me.

Fast-forward several years and one elementary school, and our separate identities are more apparent than ever. Eve, 5, even has her own school ID number.

Now she spends more than 7 hours a day doing interesting things without me, with people I mostly haven’t met.

It’s a much different experience than when we were part of a home-based “daycare family,” or the last two years at a morning-only preschool center.

Preschool drop-off and pick-up meant daily face-time with Eve’s teacher. I saw the art projects hanging on the wall, got to know the other kids by name, and chitchatted with other parents over the sign-in and -out sheet.

Because Eve now rides the bus, I have limited interaction with all those people.

Instead of teacher recaps, I have to rely on Eve’s somewhat scattered recollection of the day. (“There was just so much fun stuff, I can’t remember it,” she tells me.) The kids in her class are largely just names on a snack list, and their parents email addresses on the teacher’s listserv.

The handful of preschool and playgroup friends we knew would be at the same school are all in different classrooms. I’m thankful Eve has become “besties” with the one girl whose mother I knew.

That mom, the room parent, emailed to see if I knew any parents who could help at an upcoming classroom party.

I don’t even know any of the other parents, I replied sheepishly.

Growing up in a small town where everyone knew everybody else, this has been the biggest paradigm shift for me, as I adapt to my new identity as the parent of a school-ager.

While Eve seems to be plenty popular among her classmates – “They must really like me,” my mini-Sally Field exclaimed one day when several had given her marker-adorned paper hearts – I still feel like the new kid, anonymous and a little lost.

I attended my first PTA meeting – a sentence that makes me feel oh-so-middle-aged – in hopes of making more connections. I eagerly put all the school’s events on our family calendar.

Because Eve becoming a kindergartner means I’m also beginning to identify as part of a new community, even if I still don’t know its members.

I think that’s why, when Eve’s teacher sent home a note a few weeks ago that her classmate’s mother had died, I took it kind of hard.

Like I said, I didn’t know this woman. I hadn’t met her daughter. But I cried for her.

I emailed the teacher asking if there was something we parents could do.

After all, we’re all part of the same “school family.”

It’s a new identity – for Eve and me.

Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

Money Savin’ Mama: Getting out of the habit of spending

It’s been an expensive fall for Money-Savin’ Mama.

No big, unplanned expenses put a dent in the family finances. Rather, I’ve let little splurges raid my wallet.

We’ve been on the go a lot, with a wedding in Minneapolis and a banquet in Grand Forks. My best friend came to Fargo for a few days. My husband used a flight voucher to visit his brother on the East Coast.

We dined out and paid for drinks. I bought new (secondhand) clothes, and planned fun excursions for the kids while Dad was out of town.

These are all wonderful things I happily loosened my purse strings to enjoy. After all, that’s the point of saving, and why we have an online money market account set aside for travel and gifts.

The problem is tightening those strings again. Because like saving, spending is a habit. And little expenses here and there add up.

For example, it worked best to get lunch from fast food restaurants on our way to and from the Cities. I quickly got used to the practice.

I could have packed sandwiches to eat on our dinner-hour drive to Grand Forks a couple weeks later but didn’t, thinking how much easier it was to stop at the Burger King along the way.

Easier, yes. More expensive, also yes.

Another day this month, as I picked up Owen from his drop-off daycare center, I had a sudden craving for curly fries from the nearby Arby’s. I swung through the drive-thru and ordered a combo meal.

A few days later, I really wanted those seasoned curls again, and once again, treated myself. I hadn’t eaten lunch yet and had another appointment in half an hour, I justified.

The third time I found myself pulling into the drive-thru, I realized what was happening. I’d turned that one-time craving into a habit.

I ordered only a small sandwich and fries from the value menu, reducing my bill by several dollars, and vowed to cut myself off.

The fact that the server at the drive-thru window recognized me and Owen cemented by desire to get back in control.

In his book “The Power of Habit,” New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg shows how easily spending – like smoking, exercising, eating or any behavior – can become an unconscious habit.

Duhigg illustrates the habit loop. A cue (picking up Owen from daycare) triggers a routine (going to the drive-thru), which results in a reward (mmm … curly fries).

Appropriately rewarded, we start to repeat the loop without thought.

When we spend because of a habit (like a morning coffee or weekly trip to the mall) we aren’t getting the best value from our money. We’re letting it slip through our fingers instead of doling it out wisely.

While there is no silver bullet to changing habits, Duhigg points out that recognizing our own cues, routines and rewards is the first step.

I recognized my potentially expensive curly fry habit quickly. I’m becoming more cognizant of other recent spending urges.

Even though I didn’t fall out of the savings habit (automatic transfers ensure our retirement, medium-term and emergency funds continue to increase), it’s time to stop my autumn of excess.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

Money Savin’ Mama: Entitled attitude can cause financial strife

The radio ad for an ab sculpting company caught my ear, not because of the inches it promised to whittle from my waist in a few easy sessions, but for its tagline, which said I “deserved” the stomach of my dreams.

Ha! I’m pretty sure I deserve the flabby tummy I have. It’s been carefully crafted by childbirth, potato chips and my German heritage.

I shook my head at the concept that just because I want a trim waist and six-pack abs I should have it.

And then I realized this is the attitude that causes so many people financial distress.

“I deserve.”

“I’ve been working so hard, I deserve to splurge on a new outfit.”

“My friends all have fancy phones. I deserve one, too.”

“I deserve the finer things in life.”

Wrong.

There’s very little in life any one of us deserves. Dignity? Yes. Dolce and Gabbana? No.

But we’re living in a culture that tells us that if we want something, we should have it, that we deserve it.

It’s a lie, told to drive consumerism.

You don’t deserve your wants. You deserve what you earn, what you’ve worked to achieve.

It’s a foreign concept to those with a sense of entitlement, who think they’re somehow innately worthy of their wants and have been given free rein to pursue them thanks to easily accessed credit.

It’s a pursuit that ends in debt and unhappiness.

This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t obtain your wants. It means you need to plan, budget and work for them first.

You have to earn them.

My oldest brother introduced me to a concept at an early age, two words he said would make all the difference in my life if I could grasp them: Delayed gratification.

Work hard now. Enjoy the fruits of it later.

It’s something I’m now trying to teach my 5-year-old daughter.

Recently, she saw a stuffed My Little Pony doll she just “had to have.” I put it in my cart and told her she could have it, but she’d have to work for it first.

Over the next few weeks, she did several cleaning tasks around the house, above and beyond her regular chores. I gave her 50 cents for each one.

Once she had $5, we traded the money for Pinkie Pie. It’s now her most treasured fuzzy friend, her bedtime companion.

Of course, she later accused me of stealing her money, but with time, I hope we’re building a foundation for financial success.

I hope when she’s grown, the only thing she’ll say she deserves is to feel financially secure, and that she’ll follow the straight though difficult road to achieve it.

What does financial security feel like? It’s having your toxic debt paid off, an emergency fund stashed, and monthly expenses that are less than your income. It’s having a plan for your future, and taking the steps to get there.

It’s a road that requires patience and perseverance, the core attributes of delayed gratification.

They’re qualities that will take you far and make your dollar go farther.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com