Stroll a little slower

My Parenting Perspectives column for May 25 …

My daughter, Eve, and I went for a walk last week on one of those cloudless, warm mornings that finally felt like spring.

It was a lot different than the walks we took at this time last year, mainly because Eve wasn’t walking then. I would strap her in a stroller and we’d cruise our way down Fargo’s Old Milwaukee bike trail and back up 25th Street South. The three-mile loop took about an hour.

Now 2, Eve walks beside me on the bike path, pushing her baby doll in a pink play stroller.

On this particular trip, she’d placed five foam balls in the stroller’s bottom basket. I don’t know why. I tried putting her container of sidewalk chalk in the basket, too. She informed me I would have to carry that.

We started on our walk.

About 45 minutes later, we’d traveled two blocks.

Eve stopped every few steps to take her doll out, rock it and re-wrap its blanket – one of her old burp cloths. She would move the balls to the seat of the stroller and lay her baby in the basket, then rearrange it again. She stopped to stare at the neighbor’s basset hound bellowing behind a chain-link fence. She picked dandelions. I showed her how to blow the white fuzz off those that had gone to seed.

A pony-tailed runner in blue shorts – logging her final marathon training miles, I imagined – passed us. When she looped back and met us about 20 minutes later, I think we’d gone another 30 feet.

Unlike the runner, I wasn’t getting a workout that morning. But I’ve realized walks with Eve aren’t about that now.

They’re an opportunity for her to be independent, to take the lead.

Eve’s at the stage where she wants to do everything herself. And this is the part of my parenthood where, when possible, I need to let her.

So before our leisurely stroll, I let her put her shoes on herself. It’s almost painful to wait as she struggles with the little pink Crocs. I just want to slip my finger behind the strap and pull it over her heel myself.

When our snail’s pace finally got us to the playground, I watched her climb up the steps to the slide, standing close by but again keeping my hands to myself. (It’s easier when you wring them frantically.)

Our walk back home was considerably faster. Eve had had enough of the play stroller. I stooped over to push it with one hand and held her tiny fingers in the other.

“I had fun on walk,” she told me when we got to our driveway, just in time for lunch.

I smiled. I’d had fun, too.

Raising an independent toddler: Sometimes it can be a walk in the park.

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Sherri Richards is mother of a 2-year-old daughter and is an employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com.

Looking for terrific part of the twos

My Parenting Perspectives column from March 16 …

This week, we enter the “terrible twos.” Eve’s second birthday is Friday.

I’ve been turning that alliterative phrase around in my head a lot lately, wondering why this particular year of life has been deemed so dreadful, and why it’s inspired someone to create an online calculator that counts down the number of days, hours and minutes until your child isn’t 2 anymore.

Obviously, there are the temper tantrums. We’ve been dealing with some of that “terrible” behavior for months.

Eve had her first full-blown public meltdown at 18 months, pulling my hair so hard tears sprung to my eyes. We left the children’s clothing store straight away, leaving the size 2T jeans I’d picked out in the middle of the aisle.

To think the willful behavior begins at 2 is naïve. And to declare an entire era of a child’s life “terrible” is awfully defeatist. I feel like it sets parents up for a year of torment.

There is a lot of wonderfulness that happens during the second year, too. And it all stems from the same place: a toddler exerting her independence.

The twos are a time of exploration and learning, of testing boundaries and limits. Toddlers test you. They say “no,” repeatedly. They scream. And hit. And bite. It’s frustrating, at best.
Other times, this exploration is awe-inspiring. I’m amazed every day by what my daughter absorbs.

The way she mimics me talking on the phone or putting on lipstick. How she can point out landmarks while we drive around town. She now remembers things that happened days, even weeks ago.

As each week passes, she’s able to do something she couldn’t do the week before, like take off her coat by herself or sing another nursery rhyme.

Sure, there will be battles of will this year. Tempers will flare. Tears will flow. I need to establish routines, set limits, discipline inappropriate behavior. We’ll tackle potty training, a messy hurdle for every new parent.

But I’m choosing to look at this optimistically. My toddler is developing, learning about the world and herself.

Is that so terrible?

Sherri Richards is mother of an almost 2-year-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com

Who knew toddler’s day planner could fill up so quickly?

My Parenting Perspectives column from Feb. 9.

My daughter’s not quite 2, but already she knows the days of the week.

Granted, it sounds a lot like that line from “The Godfather” – “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday …” – but she’s beginning to understand that each day is different. And I’m beginning to realize I need to provide structure to each day.

So we started an Early Childhood Family Education class, “music-gym-cracker” as Eve calls it, on Mondays. She goes to day care on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And I just signed us up for toddler story time Wednesdays at the library.

Add in a couple hours a week at my gym’s day care, trips to the grocery store with me and time to play on the dinosaurs at West Acres, and suddenly she needs her own Fisher-Price day planner.

Who knew I’d worry about over-scheduling a toddler?

Even before my husband and I had a baby, we knew we wanted to avoid that trap. He used to work with a woman whose preteen children were in so many activities, we wondered when they slept. One sport and one other extracurricular, like Girl Scouts or piano, seemed like plenty for a grade-school student.

But here I am talking about a preschooler.

If we had the financial means, Eve could concurrently be in swimming lessons, gymnastics, ice skating classes and Kindermusik, all by the age of 2. In another year, she could add dance and karate. There’s even soccer for preschoolers.

All good things, but not all together. We rush enough.

Kids need free time to play, read, color and cuddle. To learn about numbers, letters and those days of the week we’re so eager to fill.

I think parents can get caught up in all the activities offered, feeling like they have to provide their child with opportunities early on, to nurture their talents, and to keep up with the Little Johnnys.

And stay-at-home moms rightfully want to add some adult interaction to their days. Cabin fever sets in pretty quickly at my house.

But balance is the key, to provide structure and stimulation without over-scheduling.

A class here and there can offer that. But more important is offering consistency and calm.

That’s why the most important appointment in Eve’s virtual day planner is probably her nap time.

I don’t just pencil that in. It’s in marker.

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Sherri Richards is mother of a 22-month-old daughter and an employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com

Parent resolves to not become ‘that mom’

My Parenting Perspectives column from Jan. 5, 2010

I swore I wouldn’t be “that” mother.

You know, “that mom.” The one who licks her thumb and uses it to clean her child’s face.

But there I was, wet-thumbed, trying to erase the chocolate ring around my daughter’s lips.

It wasn’t the first time I caught myself in a “that mom” moment. The week before at the photo studio, I tried to tame her staticky hair with saliva. I shook my head and wondered when I’d become her. “That mom,” that is.

Actually, there are lotsof different “that mom” clichés of motherhood I hope to avoid as my toddler grows.

That frazzled mom who shows up at school – late – in pajama pants and unwashed hair.

That annoyingly perfect mom with her polished nails and stylish clothes who brings homemade fondant-covered petit fours to the bake sale.

That helicopter mom who constantly hovers over her flesh and blood, lest junior scrape a knee or be teased.

Even that regular mom who gets so wrapped up in daily chores that playing and reading with her daughter gets moved to the bottom of the to-do list.

I’ve found myself behaving more and more like that last mom lately. Especially as little Eve becomes more independent, able to entertain herself with her Christmas booty.

And when I need to fold a load of laundry, or want to check my e-mail, it’s so easy to put in a “Sesame Street” DVD and let her zone out for 20 minutes.

That mom isn’t all bad. Sometimes she’s a necessity. But she certainly isn’t the best mom I could be for my daughter.

With a new year comes the desire to improve ourselves, to make that annual resolution. It would be far too equivocal for me to simply resolve to be a “better” mom, though.

Instead, in 2010, I’m going to strive to be a more engaged mother.

To play silly games.

To dance when my daughter asks. (Like I could resist those up-stretched arms anyway.)

To watch fewer videos.

To be patient.

Oh, and to keep my spit to myself.

Take that, “that mom.”

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Sherri Richards is mother of a 21-month-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com

With motherhood come some tough decisions

My April 28 Parenting Perspectives column …

Anyone who meets my daughter inevitably comments on her big brown eyes. They are her most striking feature, rimmed with lashes so long she could star in a mascara commercial.

Not that babies need mascara, unless they’re in the pageant circuit, I suppose.

But as beautiful as they are, her eyes are also her greatest weakness. Since birth, they’ve been crossed.

It’s not immediately noticeable, but one eye is always tucked in the inner corner. And she has an adorable way of tilting her head to focus.

We’ve been visiting an ophthalmologist since Eve was 6 months, preparing for the surgery she would have after she turned 1.

It was the only option we were given at the time. The thought of my baby going under general anesthesia scared me, but friends reassured me it’d be fine.

Then, a week before her scheduled surgery, our ophthalmologist called me.

We could try a newer procedure, he said, where he would inject Botox into the muscle of her eye.

Yes, Botox. Again, something I didn’t think babies would need – even if they had an über pageant mom.

It was a less invasive procedure than surgery, but our doctor had never performed it before. Articles on the Web are mixed about its use.

He left it up to me and my husband.

I mulled it for days, often lying awake at night but not reaching any conclusions.

Well, except one: Making decisions is the essence of parenthood.

Every day parents make decisions for their children. Some are simple (Which color socks should she wear?). Others have wider-ranging effects (What should he eat?).

At some point, all parents will be faced with matters of great importance – education, health, safety.

It’s a heavy burden we bear. If something goes wrong, it’s our fault. We made the decision.

But all we can do is make the best decision with the information we have, keeping our child’s best interests at the forefront.

In the end, we decided to try the Botox. If it didn’t work, we could always opt for surgery later.

Eve handled the anesthesia – still the scariest part for Mom – and procedure fine. But two days later, her eyelid began to droop. It’s a side effect of the Botox that affects 10 percent of patients.

With one beautiful brown eye closed, scant hair and scattered teeth, my baby suddenly resembles Sloth from “The Goonies.” Cuter, of course, but she won’t be entering a beauty pageant anytime soon.

The effects should wear off in a few weeks. But in the meantime, I’m left wondering if I made the right decision.

With the millions of decisions I’ll need to make, I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

Sherri Richards is mother of a 1-year-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com