Parenting Perspectives: ‘Sweet spot’ in sight, just not there yet

My baby sits on his haunches and lines up his toy cars in a neat row.

No longer a baby, I think, noticing Owen’s big boy haircut and longer frame that finally fills out size 2T clothes.

It’s a moment of peace in our normally chaotic house. Big sister Eve is off entertaining herself. Owen and I talk about fire trucks and racecars and choo choo trains. I try to convince him the green car is actually green and not red.

I’m in the sweet spot, I think.

And then one of the little ones starts crying or screaming or needs a diaper changed or throws a glass of milk on the floor because it’s in the wrong cup.

OK, I’m not there yet.

But it’s close, that sweet spot where we’re past the toddler tantrums and whining and neediness, but not yet to the pre-teen drama.

I see glimpses, when Owen asks politely for juice. When he picks up those toy cars. When I take him into a gas station bathroom and he doesn’t escape under the stall door, forcing me to chase him before I’ve pulled up my pants.

And they are so sweet, those moments. It feels more like living than surviving.

We went to my niece’s birthday party in late January at an indoor play center. The kids scampered up ladders and through tubes and down slides, and rolled around in a ball pit. I was able to watch and talk to people and even sit down.

I later told my sister-in-law it was the first time I’d taken both kids to an event by myself that hadn’t been a completely stress-filled experience.

But then we regress. Like the infamous bowling outing of February 2014.

My husband’s office organized a Saturday night of pizza and bowling for the employees and their families. All day Owen was excited to “go bo-ing.”

We’ve taken to driving separately to these kinds of events, the extra car providing an escape plan in case of emergency (atomic meltdowns, diaper shortages, etc.) For a moment, I contemplated us taking one car that night.

Thank goodness we didn’t.

Owen and I clocked about 53 minutes at the bowling alley. He screamed for 48 of them.

He didn’t want to eat the pizza. He wanted to “go bo-ing.”

He didn’t want to put on the bowling shoes. He wanted to “go bo-ing.”

And when it was finally time to bowl, he didn’t want to wait his turn. He didn’t want us to help him. He didn’t want to stay in one lane. He didn’t really even comprehend the concept of lanes, wanting instead to catapult the ball across them instead of down one.

He also didn’t want to leave when we finally said “enough” and I bundled him up against his will, leaving Craig and Eve to bowl in peace.

Not so sweet.

But we persevere, relishing in those brief sweet spot moments, knowing it’s getting closer while still driving two cars.

And I try not to think about Eve’s propensity for girl drama, how those tween years will arrive sooner than later.

It will have been sweet while it lasted.

Sherri Richards is mom to 5-year-old Eve and 2-year-old Owen, and business editor of The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com

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

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

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

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 

Parenting Persectives: Encouraging compassion in tragedy

My heart broke when I heard the news. The baby. The hot van. The horrific, tragic accident that caused a little one to lose her life.

That’s what I tried to focus on as the judgment and criticism poured down on Facebook: It was an accident. The kind that could happen to anyone, no matter how vehemently we deny we would ever forget our child in a vehicle.

But it does happen, about 40 times a year on average, to “otherwise loving, caring, responsible, attentive, educated parents,” Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org, said in a Forum article after the June 11 Moorhead incident. A change in routine is often to blame.

I knew this from reading too many stories about similar deaths. Stories that made me realize I wasn’t above such a tragedy. Stories that prompted me to keep my purse in the backseat after my first baby was born, ensuring I’d look back there before walking away from the parked car.

So I called for compassion. For love. For prayer. For all the things I hope people would offer me if I ever made a mistake with lifelong consequences.

As it turns out, in this case, there were previous complaints of neglect, signs that something perhaps could or should have been done sooner. More fuel for the fire.

Manslaughter charges have been filed. Judgment will be handed down by the court.

Still, I try not to judge, knowing the pressures of parenting and the imperfections that exist within every parent.

I think back to when my daughter Eve was just 6 weeks old. Flustered in my postpartum state, I forgot to buckle the straps of her car seat after a doctor’s appointment, and didn’t realize my mistake until after the car ride home.

I’d carried her across a parking lot and driven several blocks with her simply reclining unsecured in the seat. By the grace of God, Eve was safe.

I remember last summer, at a lake resort, little Owen strapped in his stroller, its canopy protecting him from the sun as Eve, my husband and I set about fishing from the dock. Except I forgot to press down on the stroller’s brakes. The wind picked up and the canopy acted like a sail. Down the dock he rolled at an alarming speed.

I froze, envisioning the stroller veering into the lake, my baby drowned, all my fault.

My husband caught the stroller before it fell, incensed at my forgetfulness. By the grace of God, Owen was safe.

There are precautions we can take, safety measures to avoid the preventable, education and resources to encourage best practices.

Even still, accidents happen.

And so there’s something else we can do: Empathize.

We are in this together.

We are imperfect.

We are parents.


Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 22-month-old Owen. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

Parenting Perspectives: Keeping an open heart in the midst of rejection

My Parenting Perspectives column from May 14, as printed in The Forum …

My husband, Craig, is ready to leave for work, but can’t quite shake the 24-pound weight clinging to his ankles. Once again, I peel little Owen off his “Da Da,” to screams and shrieks and slaps.

“What’d I ever do to you?” I ask my toddler rhetorically, after unsuccessfully trying to soothe his cries.

It’s a near daily scene in our entryway, and the rejection of my precious son stings fresh each time.

Sure, we have wonderful moments throughout each day, when my little boy reaches for my hand, crawls in my lap or lets me cuddle him. But they’re hard to remember when Owen pushes me away, pulls my hair, or swats at me like he does inanimate objects he believes tripped or bumped into him.

Our daughter, Eve, favored her daddy early on, too, but never outright rejected “Ma Ma” the way my son does.

I’m sure just a phase. “This too shall pass,” I repeat to myself as I’m sure have other moms stuck in frustrating stages.

Still, it stings. And it’s gotten me thinking about rejection. How at some point or other, all kids reject their parents somehow, knowingly or unknowingly.

I remember once when I was a teenager, my mom listening to polka music on the radio. She grabbed my arm and tried to teach me the polka, step-hopping around the kitchen. I rolled my eyes and shook her off.

How I wish my memory of that were different, that instead I’d welcomed her embrace and danced across the linoleum with her.

Mom doesn’t remember that particular incident, but recalls walking down the street with me until I quickly got 10 paces ahead of her, like I didn’t want to be seen with her. “OK,” she thought, and let me stay ahead of her.

It’s necessary, I guess, for children – toddlers and teens alike – to push away their parents as they grow into independent people.

But how do we deal with that rejection as parents?

I have a favorite quote about parenting, something I saw on a sheet of scrapbooking vellum as I put together Eve’s first album. “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

I loved it, because I thought it referred to the sheer amount of love a parent feels for a child.

Now, as a second-time parent who hasn’t even started her son’s scrapbook, I find different meaning in it.

It’s saying a parent’s heart is no longer his or her own. No longer can I shield mine from heartbreak. I’ve already given it away.

Those pudgy little hands can – and will – rip it in two. Those tiny feet can – and will – stomp on it.

I’ll need to endure it while not hardening my heart. To keep it tender and loving, for when my child’s hand once again reaches for mine.

Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 21-month-old Owen

Marking a half-decade

Somebody is now 5 in my house. How the heck did that happen?

Birthday Girl

In the weeks after Eve was born, my husband and I took out a 5-year certificate of deposit at a local bank. I remember so clearly looking at Eve snoozing in her car seat while we filled out the paperwork, and remarking that when this CD came due, Eve would be about ready to start kindergarten. It seemed a lifetime away.

I got a letter in the mail last week reminding me the CD was maturing.

And, watching her now, so has my daughter, I realized.

The night before Eve’s birthday, I lay in bed and flashed back through the last five years. I pictured her as a brand-new baby in my arms, a dancing toddler in a purple sundress, a big sister about to start preschool. I wished I could remember more of the last 1,800-some days, wondering what mundane wonderfulness I’ve already let escape my memory.

It’s an odd combination of emotions we parents feel simultaneously, nostalgia for our children’s past, excitement for their future. I so often need to remind myself to stay in the present.

To stop and take a breath, and help my daughter blow out five candles on her birthday cake.