The Rockwood Files: From tummy time to life skills

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When you bring a baby home from the hospital, all the baby books say you should do something called “tummy time.” It means you should let the baby spend a little time on his tummy when he’s awake. Tummy time helps the baby strengthen the muscles in his neck, shoulders and upper body – muscles he’ll use to sit up on his own one day. There’s only one problem with tummy time: Babies hate it.

Because the baby hates it, parents tend to hate it, too. I remember watching my babies the first few times I put them down on their tummies. They’d squirm and struggle to lift their giant heads. They’d turn their face to one side, furrow their brow, grunt, whimper and then eventually cry after only a few minutes of being in this “beached whale” position on the living room floor. It was hard to watch.

adorable-20374_640My maternal instincts would yell “Pick her up! Hold her! Comfort her! Make it easier.” But that’s not the point of tummy time. The point is to get stronger so the baby can one day help herself.

After an initial “I hate this” period, babies get used to tummy time and even come to love it when they figure out how to roll.

My three kids are now 14, 11, and 9 – many years past tummy time – but, in a strange way, I feel like we’re going through a second phase of it as we teach them how to take care of themselves. In only four short years, our oldest will leave the nest and, if we haven’t taught him properly, he’ll nosedive right out of it or make a U-turn and fly straight back.

So my new maternal mantra is “life skills,” and right now I’m focusing on three main areas: food, clothing, and shelter.

Food: I stopped packing lunches. These days, if the kid doesn’t want to eat what the school cafeteria is serving, the kid packs his or her own lunch. But a bag full of jellybeans and Pringles doesn’t count. (They tried it.) They’ve also learned how to make a simple dinner, and they’re getting pretty good at hosting Taco Tuesdays.

Clothing: Slowly, they’re learning to use the washer and dryer. I posted detailed instructions for how to wash whites, darks and towels, and we make them do a load on their own at least once a week. (Note: If you try this at your house, be sure to write the words “EMPTY ALL POCKETS” in bold, capital letters, lest you find shredded tissues and gum wrappers in every load.)

Shelter: I’m beginning to wonder if they’ll ever master the art of cleaning up after themselves. I still find stray socks all over the house, which I believe is part of their secret plan to drive me insane. (Almost there, kids!)

Last weekend, we had them help us rip old carpet out of a room, prep the walls, paint and then move furniture back into place. They didn’t really know what they were doing. They got frustrated easily. We heard quite a few grunts and whimpers, and they definitely didn’t like it.

As I watched them furrow their brow and grudgingly work at it, I flashed back to those “tummy time” days when they strained to hold their heads up. Then I flashed forward to a vision of the future, when they might need to rip old carpet out of their own fixer-upper house.

So despite the moaning and groaning, we forged ahead and they learned a few things. The experience made me realize that the real struggle for me will be allowing our kids to struggle. Part of me desperately wants to step in and manage the world for them – to make things easier.

But those of us who are a few decades past “tummy time” know that life doesn’t always serve up a big plate of easy. And during those times, it’s important to know how to carry on, work hard and hold your head up.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: A long winter’s nap

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I did something the other day I’m not proud of. I’d just come home from taking the kids to school on one of the coldest mornings of the year. Raindrops from the night before had frozen in mid-drip off the patio table. The sun had called in sick, leaving behind a bleak, gray sky, and the piercing cold seeped directly into my bones. I couldn’t shake it.

I crossed my arms and hugged them to my chest to conserve body heat. The heater couldn’t work fast enough on the drafty house. With goosebumps all over, I shook off a shiver and trudged toward my desk to start the day’s work. Halfway there, I had an idea: “I could just get under the covers and put my feet on the heating pad until I warm up.” Yes, that could work.

So I scurried back to the bed I’d left an hour earlier. I turned the heating pad on high, burrowed under the covers and waited for warmth. For the first few minutes, I checked email on my phone. Then I read the news while the heating pad’s warmth started to thaw my frigid feet.

At some point, I must have blinked too slowly or closed my eyes and then – nothing.  Blackness. Pure unconscious bliss.

nap in progress pillowSometime later, my eyes snapped open as my phone pinged somewhere under the covers. “Oh my gosh! How long have I been out?” I asked an empty room.

I scrambled for the phone when it pinged again and looked at the time. An hour and a half had gone by in what felt like only 10 minutes. I checked the new text messages, one of which was from someone who wanted to know if I’d received her email.

There were a few possible answers to that question: 1) “The email is probably in my inbox but I wouldn’t know because apparently I’ve turned into a toddler who needs her warm blankie and a mid-morning nap. I’ll answer your email right after I have some Goldfish crackers and a juice box.” 2) “Sorry! Didn’t hear the phone ping!”

I decided to go with Option 2, which was technically true. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to hear your phone ping when it’s buried under blankets and you’re in a coma-like sleep.

I threw back the covers and went straight to my desk, feeling equal parts guilty and lazy about my secret slumber. We Americans are supposed to be busy making our super-productive dent in the universe and documenting it on Facebook, right? There’s no time for napping.

But the truth is… I liked that nap. Loved it. It felt amazing – like a little vacation from real life. No wonder people look forward to retirement. When you’re retired, you can take a nap without an ounce of judgement or self-recrimination.

Perhaps retirees know something we should all learn. I Googled the benefits of napping and found a WebMD article that says “Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems.” And it’s true! After my nap, I connected my backside to my office chair and solved a “creative problem,” like coming up with my next column idea.

So no more feeling guilty for an occasional daytime snooze. If your brain needs a boost, perhaps you’ll find what you’re looking for on the backside of your eyelids. Maybe we should all dare to dream – literally. It worked for me. (This week’s column brought to you by “a long winter’s nap.”)

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Down with brown

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

All I wanted was a new paint color. That’s it. But that one little wish pushed over the first domino in a long line of chore-related dominoes that landed me neck-deep in paperwork.

I blame the color brown for all this trouble. My home office, where I’m supposed to be creative and whimsical (on a deadline) was painted a horrible shade of brown. Inside the brown room was a brown desk. The built-in shelving unit on the wall? Brown. And guess what color the carpet is. If you said “brown,” you clearly see why something had to be done, right? I was bombarded by brown, and it was bringing me down.

“Honey, we have to paint this room,” I announced with conviction. “It’s sucking all the sunlight out of the room along with the energy out of my soul. It’s a depressing cave in here. I can’t take it anymore.”

Tom, who is used to these kind of far-flung excuses for why I’m having trouble writing, admitted that the room was dark. He even agreed to do the painting for me.

“That’s great!” I said. “I’ll get it ready to paint.”

I began moving things off the desk and into cabinets so they wouldn’t be exposed to paint splatters. But there was hardly any room in there because the cabinets were already full. I sat down on the floor and pulled out an overflowing basket of papers.

folder-1016290_640“What is this stuff? Do we even need any of this?” I asked, but Tom had conveniently vanished. As I leafed through the dusty papers, I realized most of them were paid bills, receipts, bank statements and tax assessment papers from more than a decade ago. We had at least three cabinets full of “just in case we need it” paperwork.

I asked Google how long I needed to keep these kinds of documents, and the IRS website answer was somewhere around three to five years. So that prompted what has become “The Great Sort of 2016,” which soaked up most of my weekend. By the time I finished, there was a huge pile of papers that will soon meet their fate in the fireplace. Perhaps we’ll roast marshmallows as the electric bills from 2007 go up in smoke.

One of the cabinets I purged was filled with photos from back in the time when we had to actually print photos if we wanted to look at them. I even found a bag of photo negatives from our wedding 17 years ago. Photo negatives seem downright prehistoric in this Instagram age, but a woman doesn’t toss wedding negatives. Back into the cabinet they went.

The last cabinet I tackled is home to a large box of mystery wires and adapters which seem to fit absolutely nothing that we still own but that Tom insists on keeping because “you never know” when he might need one. (Please note that, even if the mystery box does indeed have a cord or wire he needs one day, it would take more time to untangle that cord than it would to fly across the ocean to a Chinese factory and make the cord himself. Still, he was not swayed by my argument and insisted on keeping his beloved box of wires since I was stashing a 17-year-old bag of photo negatives.)

Despite an unglamorous weekend of sorting, purging and painting, I’m happy with the results. The walls lightened up to a crisp, icy blue, and the cabinets shed several pounds of paperwork. I’ve banished the brown and feel brand new in blue. How about you?

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Puppy love

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Don’t tell my Beagle, but I’ve fallen in puppy love. My friend Shannon and her family just adopted an 8-week-old puppy from a local shelter, and she is puppy perfection – a fluffy white Lab mix with a touch of butter-Harley pup, 600colored hair on the tips of her floppy ears.

Shannon has been texting me puppy pictures – snapshots that could easily be featured in a “Cutest Puppies of 2016” wall calendar. With her white fur and coal black eyes, she looks like a snow-white baby seal. After some heavy hinting on my part, Shannon’s daughter appointed me as the puppy’s official Godmother. So I went to their house to play with my God-dog, who licked my face, snuggled under my chin and then pounced on the dog toy I threw for her. Oh, it was fun.

When I went home later that day, our middle-aged dog, Charlie, was waiting for me by the door. I felt guilty that I wasn’t nearly as enthralled with him as the fluffy new puppy. I’d cheated on my dog with a younger model. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He spun excitedly around in circles when I asked if he wanted to go outside.

Lately Charlie has been embroiled in an ongoing battle with one very elusive squirrel. Once outside, he sprints toward the tallest tree, wailing away with the high-pitched, frustrated bark of a dog who knows that the bark is 1charlieforpmall he’s got. By the time he gets there, the squirrel has scampered up a tree that Charlie knows he’ll never be able to climb. But that doesn’t stop him from pointlessly barking up at the tree – a habit that hasn’t endeared him to the neighbors.

In Charlie’s defense, the squirrel is not a gracious winner. I’ve seen this squirrel run across the top of the wooden fence while Charlie runs alongside it barking like a maniac. Then the squirrel stops and stares down at the poor dog, taunting him from his lofty perch. If I’d been watching through binoculars, I bet I would have seen the squirrel stick his tongue out at the Beagle, the same way the Road Runner mocks Wile E. Coyote.

Inside the house, Charlie works on his napping skills. He steps onto a blanket on the sofa, turns around on it three to four times and then settles down, curling in on himself with paws tucked under his body. Within seconds, he falls asleep and slowly stretches out until he’s on his back with all four paws in the air, snoring softly and passing a silent-but-toxic series of dog toots that make me wonder if he’s eating rotten cabbage.

Despite his quirks, we love Charlie. He may be crazy and stubborn but he’s ours. I’m reminding myself that new is always alluring and exciting. And it’s easy to love anything – a puppy or a person – from afar.

Shannon tells me that, although they love her like crazy, the new puppy can also drive them a little crazy. The teething phase is so intense right now that they’ve nicknamed her “the land shark” because she’s constantly cruising around looking for something to gnaw on. She also likes to whine when she’s left alone, unroll the toilet paper and shred paper towels until the room looks like the aftermath of a ticker tape parade. In short, a new puppy is much like a determined toddler minus the diapers.

So perhaps I should just enjoy my puppy love in photos and short visits and then come home to my hard-headed, squirrel-chasing, gassy Beagle who has learned to love me despite all my quirks, too.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Old-school dishwashing

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

As appliances are known to do, my dishwasher quit working on a holiday. Maybe it decided that humans aren’t the only ones who need a few days off work. It ran its last load of dirty dishes on the last day of the year and rang in the New Year by leaking water all over the kitchen floor.

Our appliance repairman took New Year’s Day off, too. So for the past three days, I’ve been washing dishes by hand. I’m not complaining, mind you. As problems go, this one is minor, and I’ve got to admit there’s something almost therapeutic about washing dishes, once you surrender to the inevitability of it.

While your hands swish through the hot, soapy water, you have time to be still and think. And scrubbing spots and splatters off the pots and pans gives you a certain feeling of accomplishment. We might not be able to kitchen sink 285clean up life’s messiest situations, but we can conquer a sink full of dirty dishes and that’s a start.

Dishwashing is better, though, when it’s done as a team sport. After last Sunday’s lunch, my mom and I stood side by side at the sink – she washed while I rinsed – and she told me about how she washed dishes almost every Sunday when she was growing up in a little house in the country. Her parents would invite the extended family over for a meal, and the oldest kids were expected to do the dishes after everyone was done eating.

“My cousin Paul would always remind the rest of us not to stack the dirty plates when we cleared the table,” she said as she passed a soapy plate from her side of the sink to mine.

I ran the plate through a cascade of hot rinse water and asked, “Why didn’t he want the plates to be stacked?”

“Because he didn’t want to have to wash the bottom of the plates,” she said, laughing at the memory. “And I still think about his ‘no plate-stacking rule’ every time I wash the dishes.” (Having washed quite a few plates during these last few days, I can tell you that Paul was not wrong.)

After the dishes were rinsed, I stood there drying each piece, imagining my grandparents’ little country house full of aunts, uncles and cousins. They didn’t have a television back then so I wondered if that’s why big families got together more often – to have real-life drama and comedy right there in the living room, no cable required.

Mom said that when the oldest kids were done washing dishes, they were allowed to join in on a game of “silver dollars” that her dad and uncles liked to play outside after lunch. As she describes it, the game sounds like a silver dollar200combination of horse shoes and golf. The men would dig two small holes in the ground opposite each other and several feet apart. Each hole was made to be just a little larger than the size of a silver dollar.

Then each person would take a turn trying to pitch a silver dollar into the hole. The person who got their coin closest to the hole scored a point, and getting the coin to drop into the hole was cause for real celebration and bragging rights.

I asked my kids if they wanted to try playing a game of silver dollars, and they asked me two questions: “What’s a silver dollar?” and “Can we play that on the Wii?” I shook my head and decided we’re probably better off sticking to Monopoly. Or… maybe they’ll see the appeal of simple games if I make them hand-wash the dishes.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.