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

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.

Parenting Perspectives: Dealing with the three faces of Eve

Here’s my Parenting Perspectives column for today.  Funny thing, after I wrote this, Eve started talking about Kayla’s big brother, Becky (Yes, Becky is a boy), as well as her little sister, Emily.  I can’t keep up!

Shortly after the arrival of our now 3-month-old son, some new little ones started to hang around the house. The most frequent visitor is Kayla, my daughter’s imaginary granddaughter.

Apparently I’m a great-grandma at the age of 31.

Three-year-old Eve tells me often how she is Kayla’s grandma. So far I’ve been able to deduce that Kayla is 6½ years old, blonde and, based on the way Eve cradles her, roughly 8 inches tall.

Kayla lives in our house, sleeps in Eve’s room, and keeps her clothes “in a drawer upstairs,” Eve tells me. And Eve takes care of her. It’s unclear where Kayla’s parents are. I’m not sure if social services have been contacted.

It’s fascinating to watch this imaginary play, to see Eve embody the role of caregiver. She feeds Kayla, sometimes with a bottle and sometimes by strapping her in a nonexistent highchair. She changes her diaper. And she puts Kayla in timeout. A lot.

“Honey, Honey, Honey. Don’t hit the dog, Honey,” Eve scolds Kayla, scooping up her invisible charge. “Now you have to go to timeout.” I hear my tone in her voice. I realize how often I call Eve “Honey” when trying to redirect her misbehavior.

These grandmotherly duties have also become a convenient excuse for Eve to avoid doing as she’s asked. One afternoon Eve told me she couldn’t put her blocks away, because Kayla was sleeping. I assured her the noise wouldn’t wake Kayla.

Kayla tends to appear when I’m nursing Owen. Eve talks to Kayla the same way I talk to Owen. I’m pretty sure this pretend play is a sort of coping mechanism as Eve adjusts to the major life changes our family is experiencing.

It’s the same reason that at other times, when Kayla is MIA, Eve becomes the baby. She crawls around the floor, her mouth hanging open, making various “gaa” and “goo” noises. Her impersonation never fails to make my husband laugh.

While I occasionally cater to Baby Eve, cuddling her and telling her what a cute baby she is, I’m often frustrated by the routine.

Baby Eve needs to be carried. She needs to be fed. She can’t do anything for herself, so different than my preschooler who, for better or worse, has to do everything on her own.

I realize it’s natural for older siblings to start behaving like a baby, but it’s just too much for me to handle, especially when Baby Eve starts wailing. “I already have a baby to take care of,” I tell Eve. “I can’t take care of another one. Where’s my big girl? I miss her.”

Big Girl Eve is a devoted sister, attentive and affectionate toward little brother Owen. She helps me set the table and bake brownies and put the clothes in the dryer. And, honestly, she’s a lot of fun.

She’s not the overbearing disciplinarian that shirks her other responsibilities, like Grandma Eve. She’s not a helpless, 38-pound infant. The 3-year-old girly-girl is by far my favorite of my daughter’s multiple personalities.

Talk about “The Three Faces of Eve.”

I wonder if my preschooler’s performance would win an Oscar, too.

Inforum searchword: Parenting Perspectives

Sherri Richards is mother of a 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son, and an employee of The Forum. She also blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

Trying to delay gratification in a DVR world

Our family made a huge leap this week, technologically speaking. We now have DVR.

When we first signed up for satellite television a little over two years ago, we passed on the TV recording service, not wanting to pay the extra $5 a month. We soon started to see potential value in it, though. My accountant husband loves to watch a line-up of Saturday morning investing shows, but never gets to catch them.  I’ve missed the boat on several new series I think I’d enjoy (“Glee,” “Modern Family”) because life with a 3-year-old just doesn’t seem to allow for regular TV watching. We could tune into Twins games late and still catch all the action. We could finish programs faster by fast-forwarding through commercials. I could watch something other than hokey infomercials during upcoming 2 a.m. feedings.

Our contract was up this summer and we got a good deal on new service, including DVR. So we excitedly started setting up our recording schedule. Newish movies on HBO that I had wanted to see but didn’t make the cut for theater viewing. Reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Married with Children” that Craig can watch ad nauseam and still laugh fitfully. Every new episode of “The Next Food Network Star” (our one reality TV obsession).

After that, we started to set up timers for Eve’s favorite PBS Kids shows: “Super Why,” “Cat in the Hat,” “Sesame Street.” And then I paused … 

Growing up, my family didn’t get its first VCR until I was 12. I didn’t have a CD player until high school. My first DVD player? College. I grew up making choices regarding my TV watching and other activities. I needed to rewind my tapes. I couldn’t just press a button to instantly skip the songs I didn’t like. Perhaps I’m over-thinking this, but I honestly feel the lack of technology contributed to teaching me the value I most hope to instill in my daughter: Delayed gratification.

Of course Eve is growing up with DVDs and CDs. She can easily jump to her favorite part of “Up” (Kevin, the bird) when we let her watch it, or hear the same song over and over on repeat. But up until this point, watching television hasn’t been as easy.

Her TV time is pretty limited right now. I really only let her watch PBS shows at home, and usually only one morning a week. There’s been inherent lessons with this set-up. For example, when she would ask for PBS shows at 2 p.m. on a Sunday, she’s learned you can’t always have what you want the moment you want it.

Now, with DVR, she could …

Of course I see the value in having a few educational shows on stand-by for rainy afternoons or days when I absolutely need to get something done. It’s why we have a handful of kid-friendly DVDs (and some of my old-school VHS tapes) on the shelf. But how quickly this could get out of control. How easily this new technology could erase opportunities to teach old-fashioned values …

But, as a friend reminded me, I am still in control of what she watches and when she watches it, even if the remote control now has more buttons.

Why is a parent’s best never quite good enough?

My Parenting Perspectives column for June 14:

It looked like a mosquito bite on my daughter’s left thigh. She wanted me to put a Band-Aid on it, so I did. Five weeks and a trip to the walk-in clinic later, and 3-year-old Eve still has a red, bumpy, nickel-sized rash on her leg.

As I debated between another round of antibiotic cream at home and another trip to the doctor, a battle raged in my head. Am I the overprotective mother seeking medical advice for the equivalent of a scraped knee or the negligent mother whose daughter’s leg will be amputated because of the infection I let fester?

And why is it always one extreme or the other in my head?

The truth is, either way I’m caring for my daughter, doing the best I can. But for so many moms, myself included, our “best” just never seems like enough.

About this time, I started paging through a book that had been loaned to me, “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women.” Printed in 2004, four years before I became a mother, I saw myself (and the saga of Eve’s red rash) reflected in its pages.

The book’s authors, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, discuss the “new momism” – that intensive mothering requiring a level of perfection impossible to obtain has become a cultural norm. That the buck stops with the mama deer. No one else can provide for our child the way Mom does. And, the authors say, the media and corporate America have cashed in on the concept, simultaneously presenting the image of the perpetually happy, utterly fulfilled mom and the next-big-scary-thing-that-will-harm-your-child.

“We are supposed to be as vigilant as Michael Corleone’s bodyguards but appear as relaxed as Jimmy Buffett in Margaritaville. One way to survive these contradictions is to buy as many child protecting/enhancing products as possible. Reasonable precautions have morphed into unrelenting, wallet-emptying paranoia,” Douglas and Michaels write.

I like to think I’ve avoided these trappings. Sure, Eve has car seats and a bike helmet and we installed a gate on our stairs – all reasonable precautions, some legally mandated. But I’ve resisted the home sterilizing systems and video baby monitors and sleep positioners. (I did, however, recently register for a wipe warmer for the baby I’m expecting in August, a wholly unnecessary luxury, for sure.)

When I browse the aisles of safety products or get press releases from companies pitching items every new mom must have (The BabySpa by Baby Diego! The Nap Nanny Chill portable recliner!), I think about generations of babies who grew up without these “essentials.” Heck, these kids slept on their tummies in cribs bathed in lead paint, rode in the front seat of the car and played on toys with exposed metal springs.

And they survived.

It’s a matter of objectively looking at the dangers and taking prudent precautions, of recognizing when we universalize the miniscule chance of a risk coming to fruition. And knowing our best is enough to protect our children.


Sherri Richards is pregnant, has a 3-year-old daughter, and works for The Forum. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

When big sister wants to be the big momma

Eve is very excited about the impending arrival of her little brother. Well, she’s excited about the arrival of a baby.  She’s still under the impression most days that 1) the baby WILL be a girl, because she’s wants it to be, and 2) that the baby is hers.

On Friday, as she hugged her friends at daycare goodbye, she said something along the lines of the hugs “squishing the baby in my tummy.” She also talked about the baby in her tummy this morning as we got dressed. I’ve taken to simply ignoring these comments instead of correcting her. But I do wonder how this all will go once the baby is here (and, is a boy).

Eve, 3, has always been a mother hen to her baby dolls, carrying them around, feeding them, burping them and putting them down for naps. I think she thinks she’ll be able to do that with the real baby, too. I haven’t tried to explain that she can’t feed the baby as I plan to breastfeed again (Eve’s interest in my body parts is a topic for another day, if at all …)

But then later this morning, as we walked along the sidewalk, she explained to me that I will be the baby’s mommy and her mommy, and that Craig will be her and the baby’s daddy. And that our family will have a baby boy and a baby girl (meaning her). I praised her for this correct assessment.

I’m hopeful some gentle reminders and boundary setting, as well as encouraging her to help when appropriate, will clear up any confusion once baby is here … as well as a wardrobe of blue onesies.

No more speeding with back-seat driver

Confession time: I got a speeding ticket this week. What’s worse: I got it for speeding in a school zone. With my daughter in the back seat. Bad Mommy (head hung in shame).

I don’t have a good excuse. I was probably rushing more than usual, trying to get Eve to day care in time to have breakfast there. It was a sleepy Monday morning and we got out of the house later than usual. But honestly, I simply spaced out the 20 mph zone.  I probably do so most mornings, despite the flashing yellow lights on either end.

The $40 fine was enough that I’ve been watching my speedometer like a hawk since I got pulled over. But my 3-year-old has also helped keep my speed in check.

First, I needed to explain what was happening to her: “What’s that guy doing?” she asked after the police officer took my license and went back to his patrol car. “Writing Mommy a ticket because I was driving too fast,” I explained. “Mommy!!! Why were you driving too fast????” she asked in a highly concerned voice. ”I don’t know, honey.”

I texted my husband about the ticket right away (but not while driving). I wasn’t going to try to hide it from him, not just because of the whole honesty thing that is implied with marriage vows, but because I knew Eve would end up tattling on me that night anyway.

This morning, she was talking about the speeding ticket again. She said she was going to get a ticket because she would push the garage door opener button really fast. No, I said, that’s not how it works …

I assured Craig I would not get another speeding ticket (it was my second in two years and third in a decade). Eve heard this. A few minutes later, Eve asked him if he was taking her to daycare. “No,” Craig said. “I’m picking you up, but Mommy will drive you there.”  She was confused. ”But how will Mommy not get another ticket?” Apparently, in her mind, if I’m driving, I’m getting pulled over.

I drove the speed limit all the way to day care this morning. It felt like I was crawling. And the whole time, Eve yelled from her car seat: “Mommy, you’re driving too fast!!!” “No, I’m not!” I’m countered. She didn’t believe me. Talk about a back-seat driver.

There’s a doctor in my house

I was sick yesterday with a stomach bug. Thankfully, I had the best 3-year-old doctor available to examine me.

Paging Dr. Eve … Paging Dr. Eve.

For several months, my daughter has liked to play doctor … not in the elementary playground, boy/girl way that causes parents to panic.  Instead, it’s straight out of one of her favorite books, “Corduroy Goes to the Doctor.” I also credit the board book with making our occasional trips to her pediatrician painless, and actually, kind of fun.

For her birthday in March, she got a “real” doctor’s kit, making the pretend play that much more fun. Dr. Eve listens to my heart. She looks in my eyes and my ears. She takes my temperature and checks my blood pressure. And then she gives me a shot. (Ouch!) If I’m lucky, she’ll kiss the pretend injection site, though lately she’s been telling me “doctors don’t kiss.”

She actually has a really great bedside manner.  She was so concerned about me yesterday, and tried to make me feel better. This morning, she patted me and asked “How are you feeling today, Mommy?” (Much better, thank goodness!) I can’t help but wonder if maybe she’s discovered her career calling early in life. How proud we’d be of her.

Of course, she also told me recently she’s going to grow up to be a dinosaur. And, again, how proud we’d be of our Eve-O-Saur.

Returning to the ballpark and summer fun

A couple years ago, I wrote a column about attending a baseball game with our then 14-month-old daughter. I feared we’d never be able to enjoy America’s favorite pastime again.

It’s a fear that hasn’t come to pass, thankfully, as we attended several baseball games last summer in Fargo and Minneapolis and even one this spring in Baltimore, Md. But I’ve realized the reason we enjoy the games has changed tremendously (which is good, considering the Twins haven’t given us much to cheer about this year).

Last night, my family of three returned to Newman Outdoor Field for the Redhawks home opener, with our now 3-year-old. The Redhawks put on a fine performance, but for us, last night wasn’t about the play on the field. It was about spending time together as a family. That’s why we got to the ballpark an hour before first pitch, to enjoy the free kid-friendly activities. Including the playground and sandbox and …

Face painting ...

and …

Caricatures ...

and, of course,

Hawkeye!

 (There was also an inflatable game, but this particular “bouncy thing” was a bit too big for Eve.)

As we soaked in the evening sun, I thought about not just the baseball games we’ll attend this summer (now remembering to always buy AISLE seats for potty trips and concession runs), but the other family fun the summer months bring. I’ve already added these FREE local events to our family calendar:

Share a Story, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 4, Rheault Farm
Safety Safari, 3 to 7 p.m. June 9, Red River Zoo (Also, there’s free admission to the zoo June 3!)
Midwest Kid Fest, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 17, Island Park (Teddy Bear Parade at 10:30)
Community Block Parties, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays May 18 through June 29, various Fargo city parks/locations
Red River Valley Fair, July 8-16, West Fargo (Free gate admission 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Great free exhibits for the little kids, like the petting zoo)

Welcome, summer. We’ve been waiting for you.

What events are your family looking forward to this year?

“Riding a tricycle, feeling so proud …”

About a year ago, I wrote a column on taking slow, springtime strolls with my daughter, Eve, then 2. It was a new experience, because Eve hadn’t been so sure on her feet the prior spring and summer.

As spring slowly unfolds again, our walks have another new element to them. Eve, now 3, has learned to ride her tricycle.

Pedaling down Fargo's sidewalks

We bought the three-wheeled bike at a garage sale last summer. Eve loved to “ride” it, but couldn’t make the pedals cooperate. She’d be able to push one down, but not the other. I’d almost given up on it, thinking she’d do better on a bicycle with training wheels.

For the past couple weeks, Eve’s dad has been picking her up at daycare and getting home before me. Apparently, he’d been giving her some riding lessons in those minutes before my arrival. On Tuesday, I got home to find his vehicle in the garage, but my family nowhere to be seen. I changed clothes and walked to the neighborhood park, where I found them playing on the slides. Eve’s little tricycle was parked nearby.

I assumed my husband had pushed her most of the way to the park, or carried the trike, as I’ve often done with her little ride-on car (a garage sale find from two years ago). But as we readied to go home, she hopped on and pedaled away like a mini-Lance Armstrong. I was awed. My husband told me he hadn’t planned on her riding the trike all the way to the park, but when they got to the corner of our street, she made the turn masterfully, and away they went. The next day, despite some clouds and impending sprinkles, she pedaled and I walked to the park, too.

It makes me wonder what other changes we’re in for this summer. Maybe she’ll learn to swim. And I can’t help but think ahead to next May, when a new bundle will join us on those springtime strolls.

Three-year-old on a three-wheeler

* Bonus points to any parents who recognized this post’s headline came from a little ditty sung by Elmo. Referred to by my daughter as “Elmo Tricycle,” it’s a YouTube favorite in our house: