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: 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

He’s got the cutest little baby face

Up and down the stairs of Section D my son walked, touching every knee in an aisle seat along the way. This is how we spent a recent Redhawks game at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, me or my husband patiently walking behind Owen, our exploring toddler.

As he climbed, I noticed how the baseball fans reacted to my little boy. Not with annoyance, as I would have expected, but delight.

Grizzly men, gray-haired women and foreign exchange students all brightened and smiled at my towheaded toddler, trying to engage him for that moment he was by their seat.

Of course every parent thinks their child is cute, but there is something about Owen’s cherubic face that draws people to him in a way we didn’t experience with his beautiful big sister, Eve.

My husband once went to the grocery store with only Owen as a companion. He came home claiming he’d found the secret to picking up women. Never had he gotten so much feminine attention.

I jokingly wondered how much we could charge to rent him out to single men.

I’ve noticed it elsewhere, too, the way people stare at Owen. Maybe it’s his wispy blond hair, bright blue eyes and deep dimples. His godmother calls him a Gerber baby. He would be the perfect model for a baby food label.

Or maybe it’s the innocent babyness he projects to the world, despite being almost 2. People sometimes express surprise that he’s walking, thinking he is younger than he is. They also refuse to believe me when I share what a handful he can be.

Regardless, the reaction we got at that weekend ballgame, the same one we receive at stores or parks, reminds me of the 2006 movie “Children of Men.” It depicts a future world where no children have been born in 18 years. When a young woman miraculously delivers a child, battling soldiers stop to stare at the infant she carries.

Because in a world with no babies, there is no hope.

Maybe that’s what my little man exudes. Hope. That is certainly something to delight in.

“You’ve got the cutest little baby face … “

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

Toys vs. Tools: Getting a toddler to understand the difference

“That’s a tool, not a toy,” I tell 2-year-old Eve as she grabs a large serving fork out of the dishwasher I was unloading. “We don’t play with tools. We play with toys.” It’s an explanation I stole from Supernanny Jo Frost. I saw an episode where she used the distinction to chastise parents who let their son play with a machete (!)

This distinction has helped avoid battles when Eve thinks she needs to play with forks or a screwdriver or the blender. I’ve never understood why kids – surrounded by dozens of brightly colored, noise-producing, educational, imaginative, kid-friendly options – seem to zero in on non-toys at playtime.

Eve's fascination with cell phones started early in life. Here she is at 11 months.

But sometimes this phrasing fails me, especially when it comes to personal electronics. Eve loves to play with my cell phone and digital camera. She pretends to call Dad. Yesterday she “sent a text” to Grandma Lucy. And she’s figured out how to turn on the camera and snap off about 50 frames documenting the wall, carpet and her thumb in about 32 seconds. (I’d have spent a fortune by now if we still lived in the days of film.)  At first I didn’t mind her playing with these, provided the cell’s keypad lock was on, but I’ve been having second thoughts now that my phone buttons are sticking and my camera bit the dust.

My toy vs. tool argument doesn’t seem to work as well here, though. Yes, these are tools that facilitate communication. But really, aren’t they just expensive toys?

I’ve kept the new camera out of her reach, so far. I’m going to have a hands-off policy when I get a new phone, too. But how do I explain it? Toy versions of these electronics, and even old cast-off mobile phones, don’t hold the same appeal. “No, you can’t touch this, it’s Mommy’s” doesn’t model good behavior. I suppose “It’s breakable” is the truest explanation.

Maybe I should ask Supernanny.

Do you let your kids play with non-toys, like phones and cameras?

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.

Jessie’s girl: ‘Toy Story’ doll is my daughter’s ‘Red Ryder BB gun’

Ralphie gets his prized Red Ryder BB gun.

 A favorite tradition among my little family is to watch the movie “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve and day. We often spend that day at my husband’s mother’s house, where the movie plays nonstop, thanks to a cable channel playing it for 24 hours straight. (This year, we celebrated Christmas there a week early, so repeatedly played the DVD.) The 1983 film touches on so many classic coming-of-age themes, but perhaps my favorite is Ralphie’s zeal for one certain present: “An Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.” As a result, I’ve come to refer to much-desired gifts  — Christmas or otherwise — as the recipient’s “Red Ryder BB gun.” 

Several years ago, before we had a kid and there was time for such things, my husband had spotted a “Lord of the Rings”-themed video game he just had to have. I got it for him as his main Christmas present, but didn’t put it under the tree. Instead, I hid it behind a cabinet, letting just one wrapped corner peek out the side. After we’d exchanged gifts, I asked my husband if he got everything he wanted and then pointed him to the hidden gift, much like “The Old Man” did to Ralphie in the movie. Craig caught on to the joke right away. 

Now, my daughter has her own “Red Ryder BB gun” and it’s even western themed: A Jessie doll from “Toy Story.” Eve became a big fan of the movie series last summer, watching my VHS copy of “Toy Story 2″ nearly daily. (Instead of 24 hours of “A Christmas Story,” it was more like a four-month “Toy Story” marathon.) We bought her the third movie on DVD as a belated Christmas present. We tried watching the original one day, but she just kept asking where Jessie was. That yodeling cowgirl is by far her favorite, and I’m glad. She’s an adventurous and brave role model for my nearly 3-year-old. 

Eve's 3rd birthday present

Our daycare provider’s daughter has a Jessie rag doll, and Eve plays with it all day, every day that she goes to her house. When I ask Eve in the morning what she’s going to do that day, the answer is always the same: “Play with the Jessie doll!” The first thing she says when she gets to Trisha’s is to ask where the Jessie doll is. So it’s pretty obvious what I should get her for her third birthday next month. I’ve already searched online for just the right one, ordered and picked it up.  It’s hidden on a closet shelf for now, although her enthusiasm and zeal makes me want to give it to her sooner than later. I’ll wait. It will be a good lesson in patience for both of us. 

But I’m also nervous. It’s not exactly like the doll she plays with at daycare. What if she doesn’t like it? What if she suddenly decides she wants a Buzz or Woody doll instead? What if she develops a new obsession in the next three weeks? 

For the first time, I’m seeing the Red Ryder BB Gun from the parents’ perspective. At least I can take comfort that she won’t shoot her eye out.

All-day pajama party

Lately, Eve has wanted to wear her pajamas to daycare. Like, everyday. It started a couple weeks ago. Honestly, I just didn’t have the energy to fight her one morning, so away she went in her parka, boots and footie pajamas. It’s daycare, not school or church, I reasoned. The next day we were running late, so again I packed up her clothes. By that Friday, well, I figured I’d take up the battle on Monday.

My argument was all set … My daycare provider was going to be gone and her mom, “Grandma J,” would be watching the kids for a few days.  “Grandma J won’t take kids in pajamas,” I told Eve. “You need to get dressed for Grandma J.” My 2-year-old eyed me suspiciously. She didn’t really buy it, but it got her out of the PJs and into real outfits for four whole days.

This morning, our daycare gal was back. Eve knew this. She asked to wear her pajamas again. And I let her.

I should have put my foot down, held onto the get-dressed-or-else line.  But to be honest, when it’s 20 below, I’d really prefer to wear red fuzzy jammies to work than clothes. She looked so cozy, I didn’t even send along an outfit for her to change into.  I figure after I pick her up from daycare, I’ll put on my warm PJs and slippers and we’ll hunker down for the night with a stack of Little Golden Books.

Let the pajama party begin … even if she’s been wearing them all day.

Happy New Day!

When you’re 2, the concept of time is grasped pretty basically. Either things already happened, or they’re going to happen. So whenever Eve refers to something that already happened, she says “last night.” And if it has yet to happen, she says “today” or “tomorrow.”

“I went to Papa’s farm last night!” she tells me. “No, that was last week,” I explain. “But yes, I remember when you went to Papa’s farm and went sledding.”

“It’s my birthday today!” she informs me. “No, your birthday is in March,” I say, realizing that provides her no context. “But yes, it will be your birthday, after Baby Cousin’s (at the end of January).”

So imagine my conundrum in trying to explain New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the changing of 2010 to 2011. As we left her daycare on Thursday, I told Eve the next time she’d be at Trisha’s house, it would be a new year.  Then today, when I told her it was a new year, she said, “I go to Trisha’s now!” Ummm, sort of …

I decided to just focus on the greeting. I told her whenever she saw someone today, to say “Happy New Year!” She practiced in perfectly. But after a couple hours, it had turned into “Happy New Day!” I didn’t correct her.

What a wonderful way to greet one another, and how reflective of the perpetual optimism that exists within toddlers. Every day is new and wonderful, filled with opportunities to learn, play and grow.

I think I found my New Year’s resolution, from the mouth of babes. To live every day of 2011 as a “happy new day.”

Moms mull punishment principles

My Dec. 7 Parenting Perspectives column …

My mom thinks I’m a bad mom. OK, that’s an unfair exaggeration. But it is how I felt after she told me I’m too permissive with my 2-year-old.

Let me explain. We spent two nights at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Eve had plenty of “moments,” especially when the expanded family was there. She tore apart the sea of advertising inserts, tried to smack my face when I took them from her and shrieked at the dinner table because her gravy was too hot.

Each time Eve had a tantrum or misbehaved, my sister-in-law, who has a teenage son and a 20-something son, commented how she would give Eve a swat on the butt. As we were preparing to leave and Eve refused to put on her socks, sis-in-law started clapping her hands loudly, to simulate a hard spanking.

My mom, on the other hand, stayed mum. I’ve appreciated the way she keeps opinions to herself but wondered if she agreed. I called her on Black Friday and asked if she thought we let Eve get away with too much.

“Yeah, I do,” she said.

I’d hoped she’d say no. That she’d understand that Eve’s routine had been broken, her nose was stuffy, and she had to vie for attention with her baby cousin. That Thanksgiving Eve wasn’t Everyday Eve.

“You need to add some teeth to your discipline,” Mom told me. To stop a tantrum, she’d turn a kid over her knee.

I don’t spank Eve, partly because of how I was raised. The way we parent as a society also changed. Time-outs and counting tactics now fill our parenting toolboxes. Parenting experts tell us that diverting the child’s attention or allowing the child to regroup in a time-out chair are more effective as discipline.

Mom believes the spankings she gave her four kids were needed. She used them judiciously, and they brought results, she said.

“I realize things are different now,” Mom said later. When you’ve lived as long as she has, you see trends, she said. “At some point, I think it will swing around.”

She’s sure she did the right thing raising her kids because she’s proud of each of us, she said. A screaming Eve, upset because I wouldn’t let her touch the blender, put an ironic end to the call.

After we hung up, I was determined to be a disciplining mom with a well-behaved child. I got her to play quietly with blocks by herself. A few minutes later, I told her it was time to go potty.

“No,” she told me.

I’ll spare you a description of the next 15 minutes. Let’s just say my husband returned from Black Friday shopping to find a sobbing mess of a wife on the bathroom floor and a pantsless daughter who had yet to go potty. I told him we were raising a terror.

After a couple days, I’d regained my parental confidence. I saw my daughter for what she is: 2 years old. I tolerate tantrums more than the mothers who came before me, but I don’t give in to the crying fits.

“It’s your kid,” Mom told me. “Everybody has to do what they feel is right.”

While we may disagree about spanking, we agree on that point.


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.