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

Parenting Perspectives: Being constant play partner can be tough

My 4-year-old daughter has come down with a serious case of the “how abouts.”

As in, “How about we pretend I’m a lost baby princess and you find me in the forest?” “How about I’m a doctor and you’re in the hospital and I make you feel better?” “How about there’s a talent show and I’m on stage and you watch me and say ‘Oh, look at Eve dance?’ ”

It’s amazing as a parent to watch your child evolve in the world of play, to see her imagination and creativity grow.

It’s also driving me crazy.

Because the “how abouts” are incessant. It doesn’t matter if I’m stirring three bubbling pots on the stove or nursing baby Owen or using the bathroom, Eve has another “how about” for us to act out.

Nor does it matter if I’ve asked her six times to get dressed or pick up her toys or sit down for dinner. She wants to “how about.”

One day, flustered by all I needed to do, I asked Eve to please not say the words “how about” for five minutes. She lasted 13 seconds.

And when we play “how about,” Eve is a demanding director. There’s no improvisation allowed on my end.

Eve has never been one to entertain herself, and while I love being her preferred playmate, it’s just not feasible to spend 12 hours a day playing imaginary games when I work from home – as a wife, mom and writer. Sometimes I think it’d be less work if I baby-sat another preschooler, someone else who could occupy her endless energy.

One day, Owen will be a great playmate. But for now, when he’s cast as Prince Phillip in her “how about I’m Sleeping Beauty” game, I hold him as he slays Maleficent, gives my pint-sized Aurora a kiss, and leads her around the dance floor.

The “how abouts” are in full force at an interesting time. Eve’s morning preschool is done for the summer. For the first time since she was a newborn, she’ll be at home with me 24/7. And I’ll have two kids with me all day, every day, for the first time since I became a mother.

Well, except for Eve’s two-week winter break last December, when we butted stocking capcovered heads each day. I hadn’t realized how important that three-hour weekday break from each other was.

I know with time we’ll adapt to our new summertime normal. We’ll schedule play dates and outdoor adventures. I’ll need to do more of my work after Dad gets home and can entertain the kids.

And with time, Eve will become interested in other kinds of play. I won’t be her go-to playmate. And I’ll miss with longing the days of the endless “how abouts.”

How about that?

Sherri Richards is an employee of The Forum and mother of 4-year-old Eve and 10-month-old Owen. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com and blogs at www.topmom.areavoices.com

Parenting Perspectives: Sometimes, the right thing just feels wrong

Here’s my column that ran in today’s SheSays section of The Forum.

Every afternoon the same CD spun in our living room. Cinderella sang about the wishes her heart makes. And my 3-year-old daughter, wearing a tiara and too-small Disney Halloween costume over her jeans and sweatshirt, danced around on her tiptoes, pirouetting and curtseying to the soundtrack.

She doesn’t dance like that anymore after a recent whirlwind of medical appointments that still has me bewildered.

See, Eve’s tiptoeing wasn’t just limited to her living room ballet performances. It’s how she would walk most of the time, especially when barefoot.

I noticed it, but didn’t realize it could be problematic until a therapy screening at her preschool. The therapist who observed Eve walk on her toes talked about tight heel cords and the lifelong issues they can cause.

A call to Eve’s pediatrician in January led to an appointment with a physical medicine doctor, who referred us to a certified orthotist, and before I fully grasped what was happening, my daughter’s legs were being wrapped in a sticky cast to create custom leg braces.

Eve with the mold of her foot.

The plastic braces, called AFOs, wrap around her feet and extend up her calves over special, seamless knee-high socks. They force her to walk on her heels. She can’t get up on her toes while wearing them, even if she tries.

She has to wear the AFOs, and her sneakers, whenever she’s awake and active, probably for a year.

Eve's AFO. She got to pick out the pattern.

She’s been a trouper, wearing them without complaint. But the first afternoon Eve started to dance to her favorite CD while wearing the braces, she got frustrated. She couldn’t twirl.

That’s when the pretend dance recitals stopped, I realize now.

It saddens me, as do so many other scattered thoughts that have barraged me since I was told she had to wear the orthotics.

I picture her this summer in sundresses and shorts with the clunky braces and shoes. I imagine her wondering aloud why she can’t wear sandals, and my heart aches.

I’m weary of extra appointments and corrective measures after years of dealing with Eve’s crossed eyes. I realize this sounds petty when so many children face much more severe health challenges, but I yearn for “normal” development. Why couldn’t we have had to worry about just one body part?

I fear kids will tease her, though the medical professional guiding us on this treatment path assure me kids her age don’t focus on things like that.

The obtrusiveness of the braces and the length of time she’ll likely have to wear them feels so drastic to me. I wonder if she wouldn’t just outgrow the toe walking, or if we couldn’t try some less cumbersome treatment first.

Again, those medical professionals dismiss my uneasiness. They tell me lots of kids wear braces, though I don’t know any. And they all tell me I’m doing the “right thing.”

That’s when a very cynical seed in my soul points out that every one of those medical professionals has a financial stake in her wearing those expensive braces.

I know that voice is being unfair, and I have enough optimism to believe the system is putting Eve’s best interests first. But I think all my disquiet stems from powerlessness.

I don’t understand why Eve walks on her toes, as toe walking usually accompanies some other medical issue like cerebral palsy. I don’t know what other options for treatment are out there, because none were offered. I don’t know what all this is going to cost us in the end.

I don’t know with 100 percent surety what the “right thing” really is.

So every morning I help Eve strap on the pink-and-purple braces. I shove her feet into her new light-up Cinderella sneakers, a full size larger to accommodate the orthotics.

And I just hope I’m doing what’s best for my daughter. That in the end, she’ll be healthy and happy and dancing.

That’s the wish my aching heart makes.

Sherri Richards is an employee of The Forum and mother of a 3-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son.

The days are long, but the years are short

A fellow mom friend posted this article on Facebook yesterday. The writer talks about how older women often tell her to “enjoy every moment” of motherhood, but in the midst of parenting young children, that’s nearly impossible to do. Does anyone truly enjoy trying to calm an inconsolable baby at 2 a.m., or dealing with a massive temper tantrum in aisle 3?

This passage especially hit home:

I used to worry that not only was I failing to do a good enough job at parenting, but that I wasn’t enjoying it enough. Double failure.  I felt guilty because I wasn’t in parental ecstasy every hour of every day and I wasn’t MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY MOMENT like the mamas in the parenting magazines seemed to be doing. I felt guilty because honestly, I was tired and cranky and ready for the day to be over quite often. And because I knew that one day, I’d wake up and the kids would be gone, and I’d be the old lady in the grocery store with my hand over my heart. Would I be able to say I enjoyed every moment? No.

As I read it, I felt like I was reading my own inner dialogue in someone else’s words. I commented on my friend Casey’s link: “OMG. This writer and I are totally the same person. We’re even both married to Craigs.”

I’ve written before about the pressures mothers feel to be perpetually happy and fufilled. And how if we aren’t, then the societal message is we must be doing something wrong. Like when the nurse practitioner tried to prescribe me antidepressants at my postpartum doctor visit after Eve was born. How I’ve allowed myself to feel tugged between work and home. I’ve dared to question why we even want to have kids.

I like how the author of this blog, Glennon, compares parenting to climbing Mount Everest. “Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb,” she writes. But that doesn’t mean the climb up isn’t killer. That there aren’t moments along the way that you won’t enjoy.

I’ve heard other moms who stay home with their kids say the longest hour of the day is the hour before their parenting partner gets home. That is so true for me, especially on days when Eve won’t take her afternoon nap or when Owen’s teething pain makes him a Fussy Gus. But there are also wonderful, magical hours.

In this article, Glennon (because we’re totally the same person, I can talk about her on a first-name basis) writes about time in two ways: Chronos (the chronological passing of minutes, hours and days) and Kairos (God’s time, when moments stand still). She resolves to enjoy every Kairos moment, even if she can’t enjoy every Chronos second.

It’s a good message. I follow a similar adage, though I word it differently. I can’t remember where I heard this phrase, but I repeat it often: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

I tell it to other moms in the midst of temper tantrums and teething. But most often I tell it to myself.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy every moment. You will enjoy every year.

Let’s hear it for the boy(friend)s

My Eve has a boyfriend.

OK, he’s actually a boy friend. Gus is her best friend at preschool. Her teacher tells me they play together every day. His dad told me that Gus told his grandparents about Eve (“She wears pretty shirts!”) He taught her about Yogi Bear. “Hey Boo Boo, how about a pic-a-nic basket?” they say to each other, giggling.

The romantic in me imagines how they could be friends all through elementary school, go to prom together and even marry one day. Of course, I’ve had the same thoughts about her daycare friend Beck, and my good friend Jenny’s son James, and our friend Joren who lives in the Cities. Any time I take a picture of her with one of these little friends, I secretly think how that photo could be part of their wedding reception slideshow 20-some years from now.

I know it’s silly, but cut me a little slack. I’m in new territory.

Not just new parenting territory.  New territory: a city.

I grew up on a farm outside a small town, population 300 on a good day. I graduated with a class of 18 — 10 girls and 8 boys. Add in a handful more guys from the grades above and below and the neighboring town, subtract any relatives, and the dating pool was pretty limited. Guys and girls didn’t really hang out unless they were dating, and since there was no where to go, dating pretty much consisted of hanging out.

In her 3 1/2 years, Eve has met more potential suitors than I did in my first 18 years.

She’ll obviously meet many more once she enters school and starts activities. I wonder if I’ll continue to view each one as her future one true love, or if I’ll begin to adjust to city life, where classmates come and go, and boys are just friends.

Six weeks later

Wednesday will mark six weeks since Baby Owen was born, six weeks since I became a mother of two, and six weeks since I wrote a proper blog entry. I remember after 3-year-old Eve was born still feeling like I’d been run over by a truck at this point. I was still tired, sore and overwhelmed. Thankfully, my recovery has been a lot quicker this time. While I had planned to take a full 12 weeks of maternity leave, I quickly found myself ready to get back to work part-time, to figure out what daily life will be like for our family going forward.

It’s hard to pinpoint why things are so much better this time around. Was it the shorter labor and delivery? A calmer, easier-going baby? Or just the fact I’d been through it once before? Regardless, three days after giving birth to Owen, I was in my kitchen baking a banana cake from scratch, something I would have never fathomed. But hey, the bananas were ripe. I had to do something with them …

When I think back on the columns I wrote after Eve was born, I remember they contained a lot of complaining. And crying (some her, mostly me). That was my reality, and I think the reality for a lot of new moms. I remember being miffed at people who would say “Oh, you can’t complain about that” when I would share details of Eve’s sleep schedule, nursing habits or general demeanor. I’d always think, “Yes, I can complain. This is so hard!”  Now I’m the one saying, “I can’t complain.” Because really, I don’t have anything to complain about, even though I’m typing this while bouncing a fussy, inconsolable newborn on my lap.

It’s a matter of experience, and perspective I suppose. Suddenly the name of The Forum’s weekly column “Parenting Perspectives” takes on a whole new meaning. Every parent has a different take on this journey of parenthood, depending where they are along it. I just never imagined how different my perspective would be six weeks after my second child’s birth. I look forward to sharing this newfound viewpoint with you as my journey continues.

Crafting in the kitchen: Melting crayons

As a girl, one of my most prized possessions was a rainbow crayon I got out of a cereal box. One swipe of the inch-long rectangular crayon produced perfect rainbow-hued lines. It was an early hint at my fascination with stained glass and mosaic tiles.

Yesterday, Eve and I did a little project that reminded me of that childhood memory as we melted down broken color crayons into circular riots of colored wax. I’d been inspired by a friend on Facebook who’d tried this recently and posted really cute results. I searched online for instructions, and found some basic guidelines:

Get out your muffin tin. Fill foil cupcake liners halfway with broken crayon pieces (to be found aplenty in any kid-occupied home).

Crayola muffins, anyone?

Melt in a 200-degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes. Let cool for an hour or two.

Fresh from the oven

Ours took closer to 18 minutes to melt (I upped the heat to 225 after 10 minutes), but turned out pretty neat. Once cooled, they actually look a lot like multicolored Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The project made use of lots of otherwise unusable crayon bits, and was a good educational opportunity for Eve. We were able to count, identify colors, and follow step-by-step instructions.

Eve was really excited about our crayon project

A few things I’d do differently:

1) I waited until we were at the kitchen table, ready to do the project, before I started peeling the wrappers off the crayon pieces. Eve, not quite 3, had no patience for this and wasn’t really able to help. I’ll do that in advance next time.

2) In spite of the foil liners, wax dripped/seeped/overflowed beneath the cups (I’m still not sure how it got there), hardening on the muffin tin. I stuck the pan in the freezer for a few minutes and was able to chip the wax off. Next time, I’ll spray the pan with nonstick spray, like one website advised. OR, I’ll do like my Facebook friend and invest in a cheap silicone muffin pan. Hers was heart-shaped.

3) I might consider doing all one color in each cup, just to do something different. But I do have a weak spot for these rainbow-y results.

Colored cups make pretty pictures.

Parenting Perspectives: Can we ‘have it all’?

Here’s my Jan. 25 Parenting Perspectives column … You can chat about it on the Topics blog.

For most of my motherhood, I’ve worked part time. In many ways, the limited workweek has provided me the best of both worlds: Adult interaction, career fulfillment, contributions to the household income, and plenty of full days spent with my daughter.

But in some ways it’s the worst of both worlds as I allow myself to feel a constant tug between the two. I remember one warm Tuesday morning when I was jealously eyeing a mom pushing a stroller as I drove to the office. I wondered, “Why can’t that be me?” And then I remembered it was, the day before. But the day before, I was probably thinking about my to-do list at work.

I have a feeling this is something a lot of women struggle with, regardless of how many hours they punch in to a time clock. As a whole, my generation was raised with the belief that we can do it all. The women of previous generations paved the way to this mantra, breaking glass ceilings and taking their seats in the boardroom. While our gender no longer makes us question whether we can achieve our career goals, we’re now left with a new nagging doubt: At what cost?

“We’ve hit the new glass ceiling, one that keeps women who want a life outside of work from getting ahead and doesn’t allow women who are getting ahead to have a life outside the office,” wrote Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin in “Midlife Crisis at 30,” a book I read this summer as my big 3-0 rolled around. Women across the country are collectively but silently experiencing this individual identity crisis, Macko and Rubin say. Statistics show 75 percent of women ages 25 to 37 say their jobs interfere with their personal lives. Those who choose to focus on their families often deal with the guilt that they “should” be able to do it all. The authors say we need to redefine what “having it all” means.

I agree. I’ve come to believe we can’t do it all

Miss Independent, Age 2

The Kelly Clarkson song  ”Miss Independent” was on the radio the other day. As I belted it out in my car, I realized the song no longer makes me think solely of America’s first “Idol.”

My daughter is Miss Independent, much like any other 2-year-old girl. 

Sing it with me …

Miss independent/Miss self-sufficient/Miss keep your distance
Miss unafraid/Miss out of my way/Miss don’t let a MOM interfere
Miss on her own/Miss almost grown/Miss never let a MOM help her off her (bathroom) throne

If my Eve were to finish the song, the rest of the lyrics would be “I do it myself/I do it myself/I do it myself.”

So I let her do it herself, whether “it” is getting dressed or climbing onto the potty or getting in her carseat. This is why her pants were on backwards yesterday. And why she fell down the front steps at my parents’ house (thankfully she wasn’t hurt). And why it takes us 20 minutes to get out the door every morning.

As a mom, I struggle to let her express her independence and master new skills while also trying to keep a trip to the grocery store from lasting an hour (because she has to get out of the car herself, walk the aisles by herself, carry the fruit snacks herself, get back into the car herself) …

I’ve taken to counting as a way to find middle ground. If she can do it within the slow 10 seconds I count out, then she can do it herself. She doesn’t always abide by my verbal stopwatch, however. Eve has said to me multiple times “Don’t boss me around, mama.”  Too bad, I tell her. That’s my job, and just another one of the frustating parts of motherhood, I guess. 

Of course, another one of Ms. Clarkson’s song titles come to mind when I think about my little girl: “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

Toddlers and toilets

Although Eve’s potty training has been a large part of our lives for awhile now, I haven’t posted much on this blog about it.  I realize she will likely be quite mortified by most of these posts when she’s about 12, and we all deserve to keep our potty habits private.

This week, however, has been eye-opening to me as we continue what seems to be a months-long process of ditching the diapers. I was certain Eve would potty train early. She showed all the signs of readiness before her second birthday. Here we are though, approaching the 2 1/2 mark, still not trained. It’s frustrating for me. She doesn’t seem to care.

I now recognize my idea of how training would go was completely flawed. I somehow thought that one day a lightbulb would simply go on in her head and she’s be trained. “Oh, pee goes in the potty,” she’d say, enlightened after hearing me say it for the 38th time. Or maybe the 380th. Or the 3,800th.

She does know this. She just doesn’t do it.

I’d read in a book that parents need to realize potty training is not their accomplishment; it is their child’s. This is true, but I’d skewed that in my head to mean I shouldn’t actively push her toward it. That isn’t going to work. It may be her touchdown, but I’ve got to move the ball down the field.

Before we started training, I swore I was not going to bribe her with food. I’d heard of moms giving their kids M&Ms as a reward for going potty; I didn’t want to create that association in Eve. I’ve struggled with the concept that food is for nourishment, not for comfort or compensation. I didn’t want the same for her. But there I was this weekend, promising her stickers and suckers and cookies and crackers if she would just Sit. On. The. Potty.  How far I’d strayed from the parental ideal. Other mothers offered me comfort: Sometimes you just have to do what works. And a few of her Gerber puff snacks did get her to sit down on the potty chair.

I’ve realized that if Eve is going to be trained, there are going to be accidents. It’s going to be messy. We just have to keep at it, and I may need to incentivize her. The approach I’m taking now is to put her in underwear every day, asking her often if she has to go, offering plenty of praise and an occasional piece of candy. Hopefully this will create a habit.

Consistency is the key, I keep telling myself.

Pee goes in the potty, I keep telling Eve. For the 3,801st time.

Parents who’ve been there, what can you tell me?