Ready for a break from life in the hamster wheel

My Parenting Perspectives column for Nov. 13 …

The realization hit me on a Monday as I hung my kids’ laundered-acouple-days-ago clothes in their closets.

I’m trapped in a hamster wheel.

I was finally finishing that round of laundry, and both their laundry baskets were already full of dirty clothes.

I’d stayed up late the night before to pick up the house. It was trashed by noon.

While I emptied the dishwasher, a pile of dirty dishes stared back at me from the sink.

Just as I breathed a sigh of relief for having finished one work assignment, three more were added to my plate.

Like those cute furry rodents, it feels like I run and run and run on my wheel and somehow find myself right back where I started.

“Can I hop off, please?” I begged my Facebook friends that Monday.

Obviously my complaint reflects an abundance of blessings. My kids have clothes. We have a home that gets messy and food that dirties our dishes. I have a job that pays me to write.

And surely the never-ending loop of life’s more mundane tasks grates on us all at some point. But I do believe it’s more acute for moms whose work centers in and around the home.

This concept first occurred to me this spring when I read “The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual” by Moorhead native Shannon Hyland-Tassava.

In the book Hyland-Tassava talks about how frustrating that work-is-never-done aspect of motherhood can be. It’s not like at the office, when you can shut the door and say that’s all for the day, she says. There’s not the same separation.

Instead, she writes, moms need to manufacture their own breaks and end points, something I haven’t been successful at doing. Mostly, because I have trouble pinpointing any sort of end when I consider my litany of chores. Every fresh diaper gets soiled sooner or later (usually sooner).

As I think back at different points in my life, it seems like my time was devoted to forward progress. In college, each paper written or class passed brought me that much closer to a degree. In my 20s, I planned for a wedding, redecorated a house and prepared for my daughter’s arrival.

Now, though, I spend most of my time on tasks that constantly get undone.

I’ve thought a lot about setting new life goals to provide myself with an end-game, some forward progress to shoot for, but I’m not sure the answer is more work.

If anything, there’s a lack of play in my life.

When I made my hamster wheel analogy on Facebook, my friend Angie suggested a vacation to her Montana home would do wonders. I don’t disagree. A break – to hop off for a long weekend – may be just what the veterinarian ordered.

Perhaps I’ll try a different wheel. Roulette, for example. Vegas, here I come.

Sherri Richards is mom to 4-year-old Eve and 1-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She blogs at topmom.areavoices.com

Old mom, new tricks: My new favorite newborn things

One nice thing about having a second kid is you’ve figured out what baby gear you need, what you like, and what you can do without. And, you already have a lot of it. Baby Owen is using Eve’s former crib, car seat, and vibrating bouncy chair. I knew which baby wipes (Huggies Natural Care) and diaper rash cream (Boudreaux’s Butt Paste) I preferred.

But in the three-plus years since Eve was an infant, some new, cool stuff has hit the market, or at least made its way into my mommy circle of friends.

The first are baby wearing devices.  For Eve, a friend loaned me an infant sling, but it has since been recalled because of the risk of suffocation. At least three babies died. Yikes. This time around, other mommy friends introduced me to the Moby Wrap, basically a massively long piece of fabric that you tie around yourself. It’s surprisingly easy and comfortable to wear, and Owen has loved to be carried in it.

Snug as a bug in a rug

But the best new introduction has to be the Kiddopotamus, a fleece swaddling blanket with Velcro tabs. When Mary Jo (of Minivan Moments) gave me the blue fuzzy blanket in a bag of clothes her boys had outgrown, she enthused about it. It was the sole reason her twins slept, she said. I shrugged. I was really good at swaddling with regular blankets, I explained, bragging how tightly I could wrap up those baby burritos. But then Owen arrived, and wriggled his way out of my best swaddling efforts. I tried the Kiddopotamus, and immediately became a convert. Owen has worn it every night since, staying snug as a bug in a rug all night long.  It may become my new go-to baby gift.

While I do have my favorites figured out from the first go-around, it’s also nice to know this old mom can learn some new tricks.

In toddler’s eyes, Mom’s still cool enough to ride the bus

Eve got into bed with me this morning, after climbing the stairs from her room to mine. I wasn’t ready to get out from under the covers yet. “Is it a Mommy and Evie day today?” she asked me, her head resting on my husband’s pillow. How I wished I could say “yes” to my nearly 3-year-old. 

“No, honey. Today, you play with your friends at daycare. Tomorrow will be a Mommy and Evie day.” Ok, she said, satisfied by my answer.

I eventually dragged myself through our morning routine. As we walked through the garage to the other side of my car, a bus drove by and stopped to pick up kids at the corner. “Look, Mom, a school bus!” Eve said, excitedly. ”Mom, someday I’m going to ride the school bus and you can ride with me! And you can sit in the seat with me!” “Really?” I asked. “Thanks, Eve. That’s sweet.”

I wondered what she’d think if I took her up on that offer when she was 6, or 9, or 13. I wondered when I, as Mom, go from being the coolest thing in the world — somebody she wants to spend a whole day with – to the most embarrassing. I’m sure it will happen sooner than I want or will recognize. I’d better make the most of those Mommy/Evie days, while she’ll still sit next to me.

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.

——————————————————————————-

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

Mom’s on a mission for baby bargains

My July 14 Parenting Perpsectives column …

Mom’s on a mission for baby bargains

My mom taught me to be frugal by clipping coupons and shopping at the Nearly Nu thrift store. I once watched her successfully bargain with a department store clerk to get the previous week’s sale price on a pair of shoes.

But living in a rural community, she didn’t have access to a parent’s best budget saver: garage sale season.

I’d barely announced my pregnancy when my mommy friends insisted we go rummage sale-ing. It was autumn, and my baby was due in March. They didn’t want me to miss my chance.

My tummy wasn’t bulging yet, but after a couple of outings, the bags of baby clothes were.

Since then, I’ve primarily outfitted my daughter in barely worn, secondhand clothes. And I’ve turned into an MGS – a Mommy Garage Saler.

Like any other MGS, I’m on a mission. I only hit sales that advertise baby items. I’ve got no time for your used vinyl records or building a doily collection.

I clearly remember the first baby item I bought at a rummage sale. It was an olive green and red romper from Baby Gap, size 0-3 months, perfect for the baby boy I thought I would have. My first mistake, I learned months later when my daughter Eve arrived.

My second mistake? It cost $3. Too much, I now realize.

Sure, it sounds like a steal. Brand-new it was probably $25 or more.

But rummaging has taught me there’s no need to pay retail, half-price or even the price written on a piece of masking tape.

With experience, I’ve established price limits for baby clothes: $1 for a sleeper, 50 cents for a shirt, $2 for an outfit or a dress.

I’ll often haggle to pay what I want. It’s easier to do when you buy several items.

My stringent pricing has spoiled me for department stores. I regularly get sticker shock as I peruse the clearance racks.

A halter dress marked down 40 percent at Gymboree still costs about $19. I wouldn’t pay much more than that for a dress for myself, and this one contains about a tenth of the fabric.

As a result, I’ve passed up a lot of adorable outfits – in stores and garages – but it has saved our family budget. And I have bags of clothes, all the way up to size 5T, waiting to be worn.

I know my bargain fashions won’t please Eve forever. I loathed going to the Nearly Nu with my mom when I hit my early teens. I’m sure at some point Eve will refuse to wear clothes that have somebody else’s initials written on the tags.

Hopefully, though, I can pass along the frugal ways I learned from my mom, even if I don’t see myself haggling at West Acres any time soon.

——————————————————————————–
Sherri Richards is mother of a 16-month-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com