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.

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.

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: 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

Parenting Perspectives: ‘Bad Mommy’ just trying to do her best

His pointer finger presses into my chest accusingly. A scowl darkens the face I love.

“Bad Mommy,” my 2-year-old shouts, his hand now slapping me. “Bad Mommy! Bad Mommy!”

It’s Owen’s new favorite phrase, hurled at me anytime I do anything he doesn’t like, including change his diaper, dress him, buckle him in his car seat or prevent him from killing himself.

It’s a relentless criticism, spouted morning, noon and night.

“Bad Mommy!”

Early in the day, I defend myself against it. “I’m not a bad mommy,” I tell him. “I’m just doing something you don’t like.” As the hours pass, though, I feel myself get frazzled, my self-esteem dinged as a victim of toddler abuse.

On the other hand is 5-year-old Eve who shrieks that I’m the Best. Mom. Ever! when I give in to a pleaded request to watch another episode of “My Little Pony” or have ice cream for an afternoon snack instead of fruit or carrot sticks.

Somehow, her praising my parental weakness doesn’t help.

I begin to wonder if Owen’s right, noticing the pink marker I couldn’t scrub off his cheeks and that I forgot to slip a loving note into Eve’s lunch box. Again.

Then I remember, with rare exceptions typically involving criminal charges, there are no bad moms. There’s just us, exhausted, self-doubting, head over heels in love with this little person or persons, trying our best every darn day with spotty track records.

It’s a message I’ve been reminded of lately thanks to social media, a place where I can draw some resilience against the 87 “Bad Mommy!” shouts awaiting me after Owen’s nap.

I happily shared a meme that contrasted Pinterest-project mamas with my daily measuring stick of success: “I had a shower today and kept the kids alive – Go Me!”

To be honest, I can’t always claim the shower, but still I say, go me. That’s all we can do: Go on to the next day and try again.

Try is the operative word because not one of us is perfect. But being an imperfect mom is not the same as being a “Bad Mommy!”

A blog post shared recently by several Facebook friends reminded me of this. In it, Michelle of “So Wonderful, So Marvelous” chastises us moms to finally learn that no mom is super mom.

We all have different priorities, gifts and talents, so let’s stop judging other moms who don’t share the same skills and concerns, she writes. Let’s stop feeling guilty for the skills we lack, and for the areas where we excel. And for heaven’s sake, let’s stop feeling judged by a friend who’s probably not judging us at all, but just doing her own thing, mothering the way she sees fit.

And, please, please, don’t judge me based on my toddler’s “Bad Mommy!” screams or his face full of pink marker.

He might not be clean, but I’m showered.

Go me.

Sherri Richards is mom to 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She blogs at topmom.areavoices.com

Money Savin’ Mama: Weighing the costs of school-age kids

I stared at the long and brand-specific kindergarten school supply list and compared it to the back-to school-aisle, which had already been given prime store placement in early July.

Fifty cents was a good price for the 24-count boxes of crayons, but I’d heard rumors of 25-cent boxes at Toys R Us. The folders were supposed to be just a penny at an office supply store, if I spent at least $5 on other items. And did I really need to buy Elmers glue, when the no-name bottles were half the price?

My mind swirled at the classroom requirements, the store options, trying to finagle the best deal on each piece. Until I realized all the planning and driving and shopping would likely save me a grand total of $3.18, not even enough to cover the gallon of gas I’d use.

Instead, I picked a week when it looked like most stores had most items on sale, took my 5-year-old daughter on a shopping date to one of them, and fulfilled the list in one quick trip.

Well, it would have been quick if I hadn’t had a panic attack about the zipper pouch (“No plastic pouches”? They’re all plastic!). And the “Pointed Fiskars For Kids” scissors (These say “Fiskars,” but aren’t pointed. These say “pointed” but aren’t Fiskars). And the two-pocket PLASTIC folder (Bold and underlined must mean it’s of dire importance I get the right one.) And the large container of Clorox wipes (The regular-size one is large, but the jumbo size one is larger). And the 10 yellow pencils (Pencils are not sold in packs of 10!)

Ay Crayola!

All told, I ended up spending about $30 for the supplies and an insulated lunch box for my new kindergartener. We packed them in a backpack she’d gotten as a gift.

But of course the back-to-school expenses didn’t stop there. There were new shoes for growing feet. A couple new shirts (purchased on clearance, of course). Checks were written for school lunches and PTA dues. Soon book order sheets and classroom fundraisers will fill her school bag.

I realized growing kids come with a whole slew of new expenses and not necessarily any more income to offset them.

I’ve been working some level of part-time hours since Eve (and then Owen) was born, and I’ve been fortunate to do so with minimal day care costs, putting in most of my hours remotely.

Until recently, I mused how much more financial sense it will make for me to work more hours once Eve was in school, and I’d only need to pay child care costs for 2-year-old Owen.

Oh, how wrong I’ve been, completely omitting from my math the after-school care needed from 2:42 p.m. each day, the myriad weekdays off and, my greatest miscalculation, summer.

Those three previously fleeting carefree months now loom as a potential financial burden.

There’s far more to every family’s work/home debate than just the dollars and cents. It is, however, the most tangible factor.

A lot of online calculators can help you see whether you can afford to stay home (Check out www.parents.com/app/stayathomecalculator). Few tell you if you can afford to go back to work, though entering in different scenarios is helpful.

I’m thankful to be married to an accountant who can precisely crunch the numbers, adding up increased wages and benefits, figuring out the additional taxes based on the progressive federal tax rate, and subtracting out the expenses like commuting costs, a work wardrobe and child care.

There are creative solutions to offset school-age care costs if you can swing them, like swapping child care with friends, staggering shifts with your partner, or working from home.

While our work/home debate isn’t settled yet, one recent headline made me a lot feel better: Some parents in New York now take out loans to pay for day care.

And I thought washable markers were expensive.

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

First child’s first day

Eve was standing beside my bed, willing me to wake, well before my earlier-than-I’d-like alarm went off. She was up.

Sleepily, I turned on the coffee and stirred up some chocolate chip pancakes. I cut them into heart shapes, at her request. She left just one bite on her plate. She was full.

I sat on her bed as she dressed, keeping my hands to myself as much as possible. I brushed her hair. She brushed her teeth. She’d already made her bed. She was ready.

Oh so ready.

Still in my pajamas, hair and teeth not brushed, I was not ready. Not ready at all.

We drove to the school. She skipped down the sidewalk.

She led the way to her classroom. She put her bag in her locker. She sat down at her desk. She kissed us goodbye.

I left. I cried.

Not as many tears as I would have thought. Not the worst-case blubbering scenario my husband said he imagined. But I cried, mourning the loss of my baby, the passing of time.

I wondered if I’d done everything I intended in those first five years, prepared her for this new journey, given her an adequate foundation.

I sat in the kitchen with my cold coffee, pondering how we’d gotten all the way to the school doors from a hospital room.

And then I found Owen on the family room floor, face down in a giant pile of chocolate chips. He’d snagged the bag I’d left on the counter without me noticing and poured every last one on to the carpet, creating his own chocolate buffet. I picked him up and wiped him off, scooped up about 500 chips, and took comfort in the fact that the house won’t be all that quiet today.

She’s up (for it).

She’s full (of enthusiasm and curiosity).

She’s ready.

Sitting back, holding on as parental roller coaster keeps twisting, turning

My stomach flip-flopped as the Ferris wheel began its jerky ascent into a cloudy sky. It was my first fair ride of the day. I told Eve I was nervous.

Secure in our wobbly car, my 5-year-old turned to me and said, “Mom, just hold on, sit back and enjoy the ride.”

A “from the mouths of babes” comment, so sincere and wise beyond her years, I had to laugh. I immediately thought about this ride called parenting, one I’ve been on for the past half-decade.

The bumps and twists and turns. The screams – hers and mine. My stomach flip-flopping from first-time-mom nerves, or blown-out diapers.

I’ve held on, most days. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the ride.

It’s easy to dwell on the frustrations and difficulties. And to a certain point, it’s important to acknowledge them, to normalize the experience for all parents. But when I rewind the parental ride, it’s exhilarating joy that flashes before my eyes.

My finger grasped by chubby hands. Slobbery baby kisses. First words. First steps. A second baby. A whole new slate of firsts for big sister and little brother.

A roller coaster of giggles and tantrums and cuddles and tears that’s come to pause at the doorsteps of an elementary school.

People ask if Eve’s ready for kindergarten. Undoubtedly. Then, they ask if I’m ready.

Most days, I reply.

I’m excited for her to start this new adventure. I know she’ll thrive in the classroom. I even get a little giddy at the thought of her being out of the house for longer stretches of time. I then feel guilty for feeling giddy. Typical.

There’s also this sentimental, teary-eyed part of me that wants the ride to slow down to a complete stop. To freeze my kids in their babyhood or toddlerhood or preschool-hood, whichever lets me keep them young and sweet and still fresh to the world.

Of course, neither of my kids sit still for more than 30 seconds, so the idea of freezing them in any moment is especially preposterous.

Like Eve on that cloudy day at the fair, running from ride to ride, making the most of her all-day pass. Begging to go on rides she wasn’t tall enough to try. Pleading for “just one more,” me giving in until it was way past dinner time and I’d missed a planned outing with friends.

Of course, even girls’ night out at the HoDo can’t compare to riding the Ferris wheel with my daughter on a summer evening. One of a handful left before we start a new chapter, a new roller coaster of homework and extracurriculars and peer drama. All I can do is hold on, sit back and enjoy the ride.

‘Hold on, sit back and enjoy the ride.’ And no real motorcycles until you’re 27, young lady!

Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com