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.

Movie’s mom confessions hit home

My Parenting Perspectives column from June 29 …

It’s a good thing movie theaters are dark, because I’m not sure the trio of single girls next to me would have understood the tears flowing down my face while watching “Sex and the City 2.”

An afternoon movie with the girls is an odd treat for me, the mother of a toddler, and I hadn’t expected such a swell of emotion during the mediocre escapist flick.

It wasn’t some sappy scene between Carrie and Big that got me crying, either, but an honest conversation between the movie’s two mothers.

Gulping cosmopolitans to get up their courage, Charlotte and Miranda admit to each other those things that all of us mothers think but don’t dare say: That for some women, being a mom isn’t enough; you need a career, too. That no matter how much you love your kids, motherhood is exhausting and frustrating and endlessly guiltproducing.

That sometimes, your kids drive you crazy.

The conversation was so real and refreshing that I was able to quiet the cynic who doubts Charlotte – a stay-at-home mom with a full-time nanny – has it so rough she locks herself in the pantry for tearful reprieves.

The two New Yorkers even toast the women who parent without live-in paid help. It’s a tribute that could be seen as snobbish and condescending, considering it describes all the moms I know. But I choose to look at it as an acknowledgement of every mother’s reality, and perhaps a license for us to admit our own truths.

We all have those thoughts. They don’t mean we don’t love our children with every ounce of our being. They reflect the fact that we’re human, taking on a duty that requires the patience and fortitude of a saint.

Alone in my car the other day, for just a second, I forgot that I was a mother. Then I saw the stash of diapers in my oversized purse.

My breath caught as I wondered, a bit bewildered: How did I get here? How is it that I am someone’s guardian and protector? What happened to the girl I used to be – the one who could go to movies and drink cosmos whenever she wanted?

Apparently, she became the kind of mother who cries into her popcorn during a fictional round of mommy confessions.

And that’s my motherly secret, admitted without a single sip from a martini glass.

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.

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.

When babies aren’t babies anymore …

Ever since my daughter turned 2, I’ve been getting signals that the world doesn’t view her as a baby anymore.

It started at her 2-year check-up at the pediatrician’s office. Instead of stripping her down to a diaper and laying her on the table for her weight and height measurements, the nurse asked Eve to step up on the scale and stand against the wall. They put the blood pressure cuff around her upper arm. And when we got in the exam room, they laid out a little gown for her. It was totally different from every other wellness exam we’d had up to that point. She was like a little grown-up patient.

The weekly parenting e-mails I receive stopped talking about my toddler. Instead, the subject line reads “preschooler.” Her name moved to a different column of our gym’s daycare appointment calendar.  I get coupons in the mail for training pants now, not diapers.

I’m a little slow to adopt this new view of my baby. Because that’s what she still is: “My baby.”

Taller. More verbal. Much more independent. But still my baby.

I wonder if I’ll still feel this way when the e-mails read “teenager” and the coupons are for acne creams.

She’ll always be my baby. I just have to get used to her not being a baby anymore.

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

Purse Revelations

If a mother ever wants to know how much her toddler understands, just hand her your purse.

Eve was digging through mine while I mixed up a batch of bisquits for supper. She brought each item she found into the kitchen, along with a new understanding of just how much she knows.

First, she set my handheld digital recorder (I use it for work) on the counter. “I want to hear Eve count,” she said. Several weeks ago, I’d used it to record her counting to 10 (you can hear it at http://moms.inforum.com) Apparently she remembered that, and truly understood what the slim white device does.

Next, she brought me a … how do the commercials describe it? … a feminine hygeine product. “This for Mommy in bathroom?” “Yes,” I nodded, dumbfounded. “Mommy does use that in the bathroom.” Someone’s paying way more attention than I realized.

Then came my lip gloss. Eve pulled the top off it, slathered some on her lips and began smacking. Monkey see, monkey do.

The bisquits were ready to go in the oven. The rest of my purse’s contents were strewn on the floor. And my mind was blown.

(As I type this, I can hear Eve behind me saying, “This is church, this is people. This is door.” I didn’t know she knew that finger play rhyme. Sigh.)

Museum Madness

Last week, Eve and I were in the Twin Cities for an appointment with her ophthalmologist. I had the brilliant idea that after her doctor’s visit, we would visit the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, as it’s a short drive from the clinic.

Not. So. Brilliant.

Don’t get me wrong. The museum is amazing, regularly touted as one of the top children’s museums in the country.  Eve, who’s not quite 2, had a great time playing with the water exhibits and “digging” for dinosaur fossils. Her favorite thing was, oddly, the city bus display. The bus doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, but she LOVED sitting in the bus seat. I finally had to convince her we would go for a ride in “Mommy’s bus” to get her to leave.

But the museum is so amazing, that there were at least eight different fieldtrip groups there that Friday morning. And hundreds of other screaming kids.  Eve got knocked down a few times. The lifelike dinosaurs scared her. And it was quite difficult to maneuver her stroller around the exhibits.  I was exhausted by the time we left, after only an hour and a half. Eve quickly fell asleep in her car seat (in my Chevy Malibu “bus”).

I realized Fargo, and its children’s museum, are far more our speed.

On Sunday, we met a friend at the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm.  We could have spent hours there, playing with farm animal puppets and plastic food, drawing with colored pencils, dressing up and banging on musical instruments. There may not be roaring dinosaurs or a paper factory or even a city bus, but there was plenty to engage her imagination and senses … with far fewer screaming kids. 

We’ll go back to the Minnesota Children’s Museum … in another year or so, sans stroller, and hopefully on a less busy day. In the meantime, we’re getting a family membership to Yunker Farm.

Let playing kids play

My daughter loves to play with babies and letters. And babies. And letters. And sometimes nothing else.

When we went to our weekly Early Childhood Family Education class on Monday, I repeatedly tried to steer Eve to the sand table the teachers had set up. It’s a great sensory activity for her to scoop up the sand and feel it in her hands, but also so messy, I’d much rather she do it in the classroom than our living room. But she didn’t want to leave behind the plastic baby she was feeding, burping and pushing in a stroller.

On Tuesday, we had dinner with my husband’s cousin, his wife and their little girl, Faith. Faith, who’s 2 1/2, wanted to play dress-up. Eve, almost 2, wanted to play with Faith’s magnetic letters. No amount of raving over pretty purple princess dresses, or balancing tiaras on my head, or Faith’s tears, could convince her to play with her cousin.

Despite my desire to encourage cooperation and expand her horizons, I’ve quickly come to realize that toddlers do what they want to do. And you might as well let playing kids play. 

She’s still at the age of parallel play — not so interested in playing with other children, but alongside them. And it’s wonderful to see her attention span increasing, especially for things she enjoys.  We have a bucket of foam letters, designed for the tub. Eve will dump out the letters, pick them up – identifying the ones she knows — and dump them out over and over.

There will be plenty of time for sand and sparkly clothes. Play is play. Bring on the babies and the ABCs.

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

The whole enchilada

My daughter loves to dip. I’m not talking about skinny dipping, though she certainly loves to run around in the buff (“I’m naked baby!!!!” she squeals as she streaks through the living room.) No, like most toddlers, she loves to dip her food, whether in ranch dressing or ketchup or maple syrup.  I wouldn’t think green beans would taste good dipped in ketchup, but I can’t say I’ve tried it lately.

This afternoon, I made chicken enchiladas (recipe below!). As I spooned a dollop of sour cream on mine, Eve asked for some “butter,” too.  I put a tiny bit on her cut-up tortillas, chicken, black beans and corn, and turned back to my plate. Moments later she asked for more “dip.” I put another dot on, watching her this time. She carefully took her finger and scooped up the sour cream, managing to avoid any other form of nutrition on her plate. Again, she asked for more. This time, I stirred it into her food. She picked up a bite of tortilla, licked the white stuff off and put it back down.

Yep, she asked for more.

I told her she had to eat some actual food before she could have any more dip. I know toddlers’ finicky palates can limit their food horizons, but I don’t think I’m expecting too much by asking her to eat more than condiments.

Besides, the enchiladas were really good! It’s a recipe a former co-worker shared (I think it may be from the back of an enchilada sauce can). Eve did eventually eat some of it, and some of the lettuce I served with the main dish:

Chicken and Bean Enchiladas
2 cups cooked chicken (shredded or sliced)
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (29 ounce) can of enchilada sauce
3 teaspoons cumin, divided
6 to 8 8-inch tortillas
1 (8 ounce) package of shredded cheese
Chopped jalapeño peppers, to taste (optional)
Sour cream, for garnish

Combine 2 teaspoons cumin, chicken, beans, corn, tomato and jalapeños (if using) with about three-fourths of sauce. Place equal amount in tortillas, sprinkle each with cheese, roll up and place in 9- by 13-inch baking dish (spray dish with non-stick cooking spray first). Mix remaining sauce with 1 teaspoon cumin and pour over rolled tortillas. Sprinkle with cheese and bake 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Top with sour cream.