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/.

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.)

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 L word

One of the sweetest moments of parenthood has to be the first time your child spontaneously says she loves you. This happened for me a couple weeks ago. I was in the shower. Eve, under her Dad’s care, wandered into the bathroom. As my husband shooed her out, she said it.

I love you, Mom. Or, actually, “Ya you, Mommy!”

Eve has told me she loves me before, but only after my husband said “Say ‘Love you, Mommy.’” Her unprompted bathroom declaration made my heart melt more than any other moment of my motherhood.

She’s given her dad equal love, so to speak. For Christmas, she got a toy phone that lets us record messages for her. She figured out how it works, and one day, all on her own, recorded this message: “Ya you, Daddy. YA YOU, Daddy! YA YOU, DADDY!!!”

Of course, she did also say “Ya you, Doctor” to her ophthalmologist a couple months ago. But, hey, we take what we can get, right?

I think this quote, which I found in a booklet of vellum scrapbooking quotations, really sums it up:  “It is no small thing when they, so fresh from God, love us.” – Charles Dickens

An update on Eve’s glasses

Eve’s wire-rimmed glasses lasted six weeks before being damaged. In the toddler glasses world, I think that’s the equivalent of 27 years.

I am glad they lasted this long. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. But Eve has been amazingly good to wear them consistently, and treat them well. But one cranky afternoon, she wrenched them off her face and twisted the bow so it was at a 90-degree angle. I was able to rotate the ear piece so she could still wear them, and the optical shop employee adjusted them a bit more, but they still didn’t fit right.

Thank goodness for warranties. New frames are on their way.

I hope they make it 6 more weeks, until our next visit to the ophthalmologist.

Now if I can just keep her morning oatmeal off the lenses …

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