Changes in The Forum, changes for Forum Mom

Today’s issue of The Forum revealed some exciting changes for Fargo-Moorhead’s daily newspaper. Be sure to check out the new SheSays section – six full-color pages created by women, for women, seven days a week — as well as the five-day-a-week Variety section.

The first SheSays front cover

I’m excited to be part of the SheSays staff as a part-time reporter and columnist. My Parenting Perspectives column will continue to appear there about once a month, as well as a new column.

I’m now also the “Money-Savin’ Mama.”

This column, appearing the first Friday of each month, will share my family’s efforts to save money, shop smart, pay off our house early and build a retirement nest egg as we raise two kids and live on less than two incomes.

This new role means exciting changes to this blog, as well. I’ll re-post the column on this blog, just as I do with my Parenting Perspective pieces. And along with regular blog entries about my motherhood, I’ll share more Money-Savin’ Mama stories and ideas here.

Look for the first column soon, followed by a blog sharing my kids’ thrifty Halloween costumes.

Tot’s Choice: Neither

My Parenting Perspectives column for Oct. 12 …

The day I started offering my daughter choices was the day I thought I’d mastered this parenting thing.  

Eve wasn’t quite 2. She was very fond of the word “no.” Daily routines had turned into daily struggles.  As a journalist, I’d learned long ago to not ask “yes” or “no” questions. I started applying this concept to my parenting, with either/or options. Instead of battling her to put on the outfit I’d picked out for the day, I’d give Eve two wardrobe alternatives. I’d ask if she wanted waffles or oatmeal for breakfast. “Which shoe do you want to put on first, the left or right?” I’d inquire in the entryway.

It worked like a charm. We didn’t battle anymore. Eve got to express her independence and make decisions. I got her dressed, fed and out the door in the morning without a temper tantrum. As long as I was equally OK with either option I presented, it was a win-win prospect. Even in non-negotiable situations, I found a way to give her a choice. As I buckled Eve in the car seat, she could choose which shoulder strap went on first. 

I sagely offered this advice to other new moms. After all, I was a pro now. I had choices in my parenting toolbox. 

But after a few months, Eve discovered a third option.

Neither. It’s just as bad as “no.” 

Now that she’s a very independent 2½-year-old who has to “do it myself,” Eve silently ignores options A and B and creates option C, to remain naked, unfed and shoeless. 

I ask if she wants to wear jeans or sweatpants; she picks a summery dress inappropriate for the weather. Waffles or oatmeal? “Ice cream and cookies,” she tells me. Because I don’t cave into unreasonable option C, we’re back to the daily struggles.

It feels like somebody swiped the Leatherman Super Tool 300 out of my parental toolbox and left me with just a plastic bendy straw. I still offer Eve choices. She just chooses when to abide by the options. Talk about throwing a monkey wrench into motherhood.

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

Parenting Perspectives: Car provides refuge for stressed mom

My column from Aug. 3 …

This past week, my parenting took a back seat, literally. Twice I found myself, in the midst of a toddler tantrum, fleeing to the back seat of my car for refuge.

The most recent was a very public grocery store display I hoped my vehicle would make more private.

There were only three things on my shopping list - milk, lettuce and training pants for 2-year-old Eve (who thought cookies should also be on the list) - so I asked if she wanted to ride in a cart or walk.

Walk, she said.

But as soon as we were on the other end of the store, Eve decided she wanted a cart.

No, I said, rationally. It would take longer to get the cart than it would to finish our shopping.

But toddlers aren’t rational. I should have just gotten the darn cart.

Instead, I lugged my gallon of skim and bag of greens and mega-jumbo pack of Pull-Ups along with a flailing, screaming, 30-pound child.

Oh, the looks we got as I clumsily checked out my items. Eve’s screaming grew worse once she realized I hadn’t bought any cookies.

Trying to get her in the car was a physical effort akin to battling a kraken. Limbs flew everywhere as she struggled against me. I finally just shut the door without buckling her. We sat in the parked, running car until she calmed down.

A few days earlier, I’d used a similar back-seat maneuver, but to calm myself instead.

We had a 9 a.m. appointment at the gym’s day care that I was determined to keep. But that morning, Eve simply refused to get dressed or wear a diaper.

I felt myself get more and more frustrated as she tore off her clothes as fast as I wrestled them on her. I heard my voice grow louder and louder until I was yelling.

“Enough!” I screamed.

Quickly, I realized it was as much a reprimand of myself as it was of Eve.

I grabbed my naked baby, a diaper, pink dress and shoes and drove to the gym. She didn’t fight being buckled in the car seat, a bit bewildered, I think, at her nude state.

I knew the coming and going of other exercisers would force me to put on my calmest mommy front as I dressed her in the back seat. Within a few minutes Eve was still upset, but clothed.

In this case, my back seat provided a public venue for how to properly dismantle a parental time bomb.

Let’s call it parenting by the dashboard lights.

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

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.

Cocky mother humbled by 2-year-old’s behavior

My Parenting Perspectives column from April 20:

Compared with some other 2-year-olds, my daughter tends to be pretty well-behaved.

Eve sits in my lap during circle time, even as other children wander around. We usually make it through half a church service before she gets really antsy. While in the grocery cart seat, she keeps her hands mostly to herself.

Good behavior for a toddler is quite relative. And when Eve is the one setting the curve by sitting still or being quiet, I tend to get a little cocky.

Like when a particular boy starts acting up at story time. Or a mom in the diaper aisle of Target can’t get her toddler to stay in the red shopping cart. I sympathize with the parent dealing with the outburst, but inside I sometimes get this smug sense, like, “Ha, ha, my kid wouldn’t do that.”

And. Then. She. Does.

As Eve and I left her day care the other afternoon, I saw her little friend’s dad trying to persuade his son out of a pint-sized race car in the front yard.

Eve had put on her shoes and her coat without incident, and I expected a drama-free stroll to my car.

Cue smugness.

Then Eve ran over to another riding toy in the yard. Like the boy, she wouldn’t get out.

I asked her to get out. I told her to get out. I tried luring her with promises of graham crackers and milk.

A slow-speed chase ensued around the yard as she pedaled away from me, shouting, “No! I drive!” I was utterly flustered, my parenting toolbox emptied.

The day care dad smiled at me knowingly as he finished buckling his son into their full-size car in the driveway.

“It’s so great that we’re all in this together,” he said, noting how similar the kids’ expressions and antics were. No smugness. No sense of parental superiority. Only empathy and understanding.

I hauled Eve to my car, having finally wrenched her away from the plastic steering wheel. She was kicking and screaming. I was regretting my flash of arrogance. Cocky mom had been taken down a couple notches.

We are all in this together. We can acknowledge and cheer our children’s good conduct. But another 2-year-old’s temper tantrum doesn’t make me the better mother.

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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

I NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED it!

My husband and I have frequent, frank discussions about wants versus needs. It’s how we keep our priorities straight and our checkbook in the black. Our 1-year-old, however, has not made this distinction yet.  Lately, all I hear about is her “needs.”

“I need apple juice,” she says. “I need Elmo TV.” “I need my music.”

Actually, it’s more like “I NEEEEEEEEEEED it.”

I’m not sure where she picked up the verbiage. Until a few weeks ago, she said ”want” or simply “Juice please,” when prompted.  A friend told me it’s classic toddler language. Because in their minds, they do need it.

I’ve tried explaining how her demands aren’t actually needs, but wants. Though I’m not sure the message is getting through the inherent self-centered mindset that all toddlers possess. And I’m trying to get her to use more polite language. “Peeeease,” she’ll say sweetly, when I prompt her by saying, “How do you ask for something?”

But there’s at least one phrase where I don’t try to correct her “neeeeeeediness.”  It’s when she stands at my feet, arms up-stretched, and so earnestly says:

“I need Mommy.”

I’ll gladly be needed. I know it doesn’t last long.

Teething Toddler

I realized this week that I’ve been blogging about my daughter, occasionally, for more than a year now.  This was a middle of the night realization as I tried to comfort Eve, who had awakened screaming, perhaps by a bad dream. Or, more likely, by the eye tooth that’s slowly working its way through her gums.

Rocking her, I remembered that almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog titled “Jekyll and Hyde,” about the late-night transformation of my sweet, cuddly 9-month-old girl into a screaming, inconsolable, teething terror.

A year later, here I was again trying to comfort her in the wee hours of the morning. Again, she’d start crying as soon as she felt the mattress under her back.  But that’s where the comparisons ended. She’s a toddler now. With her head on my shoulder, her toes nearly reach my knees.  As I held her on my lap in the rocking chair, my stomach gurgled. “Mommy’s tummy,” she said sleepily.

A year has passed. She’s such a different person, able to walk and talk and so much more, but she’s still my Eve.

And, still teething.