Somehow This Was Forgotten In Parenting Class

By Jeremy G. SChneider, MFT

I have been sick (yeah, sick enough not even to write) and knew I was starting to feel better when for the first time in a week, a post began to write itself in my head last night. Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the benefits of being a parent – especially a father – because so many men only hear about the negative effects of becoming a father without hearing the positive ones, the little moments that make being a parents so special. Unfortunately, the last couple of nights we experienced one of those moments of parenting that makes it so difficult. We listened to Lucas cough and cough and cough.

He has been fighting the tail end of a cold for several weeks it seems like. If it wasn’t for the cough, he seems perfectly healthy – no fever, no congestion, no aches and pains. He has been running around and having a great time – except for the cough that won’t go away. Frustratingly, in the past couple of days the cough has gotten worse – even though he still seems to feel fine. But it means he has been having a lot of trouble sleeping. This for a boy who doesn’t, under the best of circumstances, like sleeping in the first place.

We’ve been drugging him up at night the best we can; we’ve been giving him prescribed cough syrup with decongestant. But his cough has been getting worse at night and, of course, if he has trouble sleeping, we have trouble sleeping. The lack of sleep also worries us that he could get more sick and is also causing Dorit to have less sleep, making her more susceptible to catching something herself. The constant cough also means we are nebbying (nebulizing) him 3-4 times a day, which is no fun for any of us.

Last night, his coughing woke him up again and after I had given him more cough syrup and some Benadryl, Gem and I laid in bed listening to him cough.

“Poor little boy.”

The thing is, he has been such a trooper about the whole thing. He hasn’t fought us on taking any of the medicine or all of the nebbys. He isn’t even complaining about the fact that he is coughing so much. I am certain his throat is starting to hurt because his cough is ripping it up, yet he is not complaining. He has been going about his day the best he can and trying to get as much sleep as his cough will let him. One night earlier this week, he was coughing so bad, I went in to check on him, but he was completely asleep. He was coughing but somehow it hadn’t woken him up.

Hack hack.

“Maybe I should lie down with him,” Gem suggested.

But when we’re in the room with him, he gets distracted and doesn’t sleep as well. She knows that. I know that. But we’re desperate to do something, anything, that feels like it would help him.

Lying in bed, listening to your child cough and cough, hack and hack, knowing he needs sleep, knowing his sister across the room needs sleep, knowing we’ve done everything we can for him and we just have to wait for the medicine to kick in enough to knock him out, is one of the most helpless and frustrating feelings known to humankind.

I know it is so difficult for us parents because we love our children so much and that is such a wonderful thing about becoming a parent – realizing that you can have so much love for someone so small while your love only seems to grow as they do.

But there are moments, like last night listening to him struggle with trying to go to sleep while coughing, that the powerful love we feel foments into frustration and helplessness.

I think that is something all non-parents can probably wait to find out on their own.

Not Going To Be Like Me

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Do you remember the scene in Forrest Gump where he finds out he has a son? Jenny tells him that is his son looking at the TV in the other room and his first thought is

“Is…Is he like me?”

“No, he’s just fine,” she tells him. And he starts to cry.

That part KILLS me every time I watch that movie, which I try not to do because…that part KILLS me. The awareness that something is not right about him and he doesn’t want his own son to have to deal with all he has dealt with…well, I know that feeling.

I write about my son much more than I write about my daughter. It is not because I love him more than I love her or even vice versa. I write about him more because I worry about my connection to him, my role with, my ability to be his dad much more than I do with Dorit. The issues with him challenge me more deeply than the issues with her and I tend to write about the things that most affect me.

Ever since my Okapis were born, it has been clear that he is SO much like me, while Dorit is much more like her mother. Both Gem and I could easily see me as a child when we looked at him, wondering if that was what I was like at his age, wondering how hard it must have been for me to be like that, to be so anxious, lacking in confidence, so easily upset and scared AND to go through all I did. With Lucas, we hoped to lead or gently nudge him down a different path, but worried about how there was much of me (in fairness to myself, I mean the negative aspects of myself I struggle with) that was already hard-wired in him.

Today Gem had a meeting with the Okapis’ teachers and it went very well. Our Okapis are doing extraordinarily well, are meeting all of their development expectations and are excelling in many ways. Plus, the teachers love them and are very happy to have them in their class. They went on to add that while both of them are pretty smart, Lucas is actually very intelligent and we were both pleasantly surprised at that.

Dorit has always demonstrated her intelligence more than Lucas has and so it has been easier to see with her. I wrote last week that Lucas has been talking a lot more lately and while Gem and I were discussing it on the phone today, I said to her he hasn’t been talking more because of some newfound verbal skills.

“He’s talking more because he’s more confident.”

And I started to cry, right in the middle of my cube, for the same exact reason Forrest cried when Jenny tells him his son is just fine.

He’s not going to be like me.

My little boy is gaining more and more confidence in himself and what he can do. We really are making a difference, helping him to break through his genetic restraints and he is blossoming.

I’m probably too neurotic to stop worrying about this forever, but for the first time, I believe, I can see, with my own eyes, by sharing my genes with my son, I have not doomed him to a life of struggle like mine has been.

The relief I feel is immense. My boy will be different, will have the chances he deserves, is entitled to. Even better what we’re doing, what I’m doing, is helping to make that difference.

Thank God.

Laughter Like A Magical Healing Potion

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Somehow, I managed to once again survive the day and night. I spent the whole day on the verge of tears, feeling on the edge of another terrible flashback, moments away from a crying binge that I didn’t want to happen in front of my colleagues at work. People noticed I wasn’t my usual self, but what was I going to tell them? “Just read my blog?” I don’t think so. But I listened to music, ate a chocolate croissant and a couple of big chocolate chip cookies (chocolate is almost always the key to surviving days like this) and I made it – despite the terrible nausea and anxiety gnawing at me all day long. When Gem picked me up at the train station, I we hugged and I never wanted to let go. I have never felt safer in my entire life than I do when I am in her arms.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Gem went to Yoga and there was a school meeting she went to so it was Los Tres Amigos time with the Okapis. We ended up going to McDonald’s where they had the Chicken McNuggets Kids’ Meal and I couldn’t eat anything at all. Thankfully, they ate pretty well and I had already decided that last night was a good night to be a bit more lenient than I am normally. No reason to get myself more upset than I already was – especially since when I’m like that I have no patience whatsoever. We had a nice chat and they behaved very well. At one point during dinner, Dorit – who seems like she has been missing her daddy the past couple of days – got down from the table and came over to give me a hug.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Sweetie Girl.”

I held onto her for as long as she would hold me and when I looked up there was an older man sitting in the table behind us. He smiled at me, having seen my moment with my little girl – even though he had no understanding of what it felt like to feel pure love at that moment in my life.

The rest of the night also went smoothly though I just didn’t have the heart to fight with them to brush their teeth so we skipped it.

Because we were early, I picked two pretty long books to read them since we had the time. We read Three Little Pigs for first time, which was pretty interesting (that Goldilocks was just not a nice person – definitely did not use her manners and etiquette). Then we read Cat in the Hat (for those who don’t already know, I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan) and somehow I felt able to act out the different voices for the Cat, the Fish and the little boy, which obviously makes the experience much more enjoyable for my Okapis (for me, too, even though I constantly change the style of voice because I forget what I was doing). Those two books were almost 20 minutes combined and they were captivated. It was quite awesome.

Then I tickled them and tickled them. And then tickled them some more. Their laughter was like a magical healing lotion, covering my body with good feelings, with love, seeping into my soul where it has been so dark for far too long. After I read them Paddington Bear, I tickled them some more and they enjoyed it so much that they would roll away and then come closer and kind of lay there until I tickled them again.

It was truly a wonderful way to end my day.

As I was tucking them in and going through their Happy Thoughts, Lucas started his “And Daddy?” routine again and I couldn’t take it. Despite how positive the evening had been, I was not in position to go through this again.

“Lucas,” I said, trying not to yell at him. “I’m not going to play this game with you. I can’t do it. You want me to be nice to you, but then you only get more upset until I have to be not nice and I don’t want to be not nice to you, Lucas. I really don’t. Can we just be nice to each other and you fall asleep?” I don’t know if he heard the desperation in my voice or saw the tears welling up in my eyes, but he responded by saying,

“And Daddy?”

When I looked at him again, he blew me a kiss and then put his head back down on the pillow.

I blew him a kiss right back and walked out the door. They both slept all night long and were still sleeping when I left to catch my train this morning.

Just Not Enough Time

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Gem has just taken our Okapis up to bed and I can not get the following words out of my head, “Not enough time.”

There is not enough time for my family.

There is not enough time for Gem to do all she needs/wants to do.

There is not enough time for me to hold a full-time job while building a business and still be the kind of father I want to be while trying to take care of my mental health at the same time.

But we can handle that. The problem is the lack of time is now affecting our Okapis.

There is not enough time in the day for our Okapis to go to school and still get enough time with Gem so they still feel safe and secure in their attachment to her. This is why she is taking them up to bed instead of me. To give them more time with her.

Of course, that means I get even less time with them. But, though I’m not sure she would admit this to me, we both believe if they are missing time with her and they are missing time with me, it is more important that they get time with her. So much of their sense of safety, sense of security, sense of connection, sense of self is based on their relationship with the woman who has spent literally almost all of their lives with them.

Now with school, Spanish class, gymnastics, and ballet, they don’t get enough of Mommy. Lucas, as a result we think, is having more nightmares, more anxiety about going to sleep at night, more anxiety about going to school and to gymnastics class by himself. It seems the flimsier his sense of connection to Gem is, the more afraid and anxious he feels.

I’d like to think his reaction is normal, though it is a bit frustrating because we know he can do it even when he stops trying. But it seems too early for our Okapis to begin feeling the pressure of time, the stress of time. What happened to childhood? What happened to their sense of freedom?

Maybe we’re doing too much. I’m not sure. We really want them to learn Spanish and the idea behind having them each take a class by themselves is to help foster a sense of self separate from the other and to give Gem some one-on-one time with the one who is not in class. We even thought that would help “make up” for the lack of time because of school. But maybe all we’re doing is adding stress – at least for Lucas. And this begs the question all parents of multiples worry about.

“What does it mean if he doesn’t have his own class and she does?”

What if we stopped taking him to his class, told him it was over and that we would enroll him in the next one (so he didn’t think he had “quit”)? Even though Dorit kept going to her class?

I don’t know. But I do feel like this is one of those parenting situations where it may be time to adjust our plan because it might be causing more trouble than the benefits we had hoped it would create.

I believe our Okapis – all Okapis – should be protected from the stress and strain of time for as long as possible. When they get older and really are forced to deal with that stress and strain, we’ll help them develop tools to deal with it, but I would like to postpone that for as long as possible. They’ll have a whole lifetime to deal with this challenge, there is no need to rush them into it.

I think this is an example of something we tried to help him is causing more harm than good. It’s time to cut our losses – and his – and adjust.

Maybe It’s Time For Special Mommy Days?

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

“Okay guys, it’s time to get ready for bed,” one of us says.

“Is Mommy going to take us?” one of the Okapis has begun asking.

“Is it night time? Who takes you to bed at night?” one of us responds.

“But we want Mommy!!” They cry out in unison as if they had planned it earlier in the day.

“You know Daddy takes you to bed at night. I already took you to bed today,” Gem will say.

“But we really, really, really, want Mommy to take us!” the boy will respond in his most desperate pleading voice as if me taking them to bed is akin to certain kinds of torture outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

Why do they not want me anymore? I can’t help but wonder.

This is not the first time I have been through this. Heck, it is not even the second or third time, sadly. In fact, you can read about several of those other times if you want (Part-time Daddy, Second Fiddle, Mommy Do It!). But this is different – even if the pain still feels the same.

It is clearer to me than it ever was before that this is not about me. In the past, when my Okapis have been like this it has been more like a test, a challenge to see if I was really up to the task of being their Daddy (thus why I call it the “Mommy Do It Test!”). Could I do the job as well, if differently, from Mommy? With my constant absence they needed to know if I would stick around when things got rough and when I did, the “Mommy Do Its” disappeared. Now they are back, but not because of something I have done or not done. They are back because they miss their Mommy.

Our Okapis started camp a couple of weeks ago and all of a sudden, after having spent 3.5 years with Mommy and only Mommy, three hours a day, three days a week they are without her and they miss her (who wouldn’t really?). They already have to leave her three mornings a week and then to have to “leave” her again at night (when they go upstairs with me) is too much for them. This is, I believe, where their calling out for Mommy stems from.

One of the things to help them deal with camp and the three days a week concept was to explain that they have a four-day weekend. They know I have a (ridiculously measly) two-day weekend where I don’t have to go to work. Now they have a four-day weekend where they don’t go to camp. I’ve started referring to the Mondays and Fridays that they don’t go to camp as Special Mommy Days – days where they get Mommy all to themselves. Actually, when I told them about it last night they immediately started to feel better (I know, I know, marketing is 75% of parenting, that’s what I’m saying). This way their extra long weekend includes two Special Mommy Days (of course, when they start pre-school in the Fall they will lose one of those days, but we’ll worry about that then). Gem and I have also started trying to figure out if maybe she should put them to bed on Mondays and Fridays (to end Special Mommy Days) or Sundays and Thursdays (to start Special Mommy Days – we are Jewish after all and days begin at sundown the night before in Judaism). Thankfully, my wife understands how important taking them to bed is for me and my relationship with them and she doesn’t want to upset that in any way. It certainly makes it easier to balance all of the competing issues – their needs, her needs and my needs – particularly my losing the only special time I have with them.

Right now I put them to bed at least 6 nights a week and several of those nights can be very challenging to say the least. But last week, Gem put them to bed on Sunday night. When I put them to bed the following night, there was a sense of excitement in them, a pleasure at having Daddy take them to bed again, as if the one night respite renewed their appreciation for me guiding them through our nightly ritual.

Before I was a father, I had no idea how complicated it is being a parent. Just when we get into a routine, we realize that we need to make adjustments so it better meets their needs (or ours). Constantly having our feelers, our sensors monitoring how they are doing, how we are doing and then determining what our sensors are picking up (an aberration? a bad day? something more than that?) assessing if/how we need to handle it and then figuring out a solution if necessary. No wonder parenting is so exhausting.

If we make our adjustments and I end up losing a couple of nights with my Okapis, but the nights I do have become more special, more intimate, that’s totally something I can handle.

Especially if it means they feel better connected to both of us.

His Scrape Triggered My Wound

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Lucas has a terrible scrape on his nose and lip. Apparently, when they were going to the beach he tripped on a towel and fell face first because his hands were wrapped in the towel. Every time I looked at him, my insides would squeeze together the way we try to squeeze too many clothes into a suitcase so we won’t have to take another one with us.

It is not the first time he has gotten a scrape; he gets scrapes on his knees almost every day (sometimes I think he even tries to get scrapes so he can get the attention and a band-aid). I also have seen much worse than this scrape; I’ve held my daughter down so she wouldn’t struggle too much while the surgeon cut off a growth on her belly only an inch from my face – I don’t get queasy. This was something else.

After thinking about it, I realized that every time I looked at his beautiful face and saw that scrape, I was reminded how peripheral I am becoming in my Okapis’ lives. Even though they have just started camp and that is a big change for them and my wife, I am not a part of their going to camp experience because I work – nothing has changed for me – I still spend every day without them. This means I can’t help them as much I would like when it comes to adjusting to camp. My wife calls me after she leaves them there in the morning having had to leave while they were screaming, holding onto her, refusing to let go and all I can do is tell her she is doing the best thing for them, that their crying is not a sign of her doing something wrong, but a sign that she has done so many things right for the past 3.5 years. But I have to tell her this over the phone, instead of being able to give her a hug and kiss and holding her.

This is just the beginning. More and more of my Okapis’ lives and what they experience will happen without me and this terrible scrape on my little boy’s face reminds me that less and less of their lives revolves around us, around me. They will spend more time at camp than they do with me each day. They will spend more time with strangers than I will and that kills me. It was one thing when they spent more time with my wife than with me, but with strangers? That really hurts.

My boy’s scrape will heal before we know it, but it has triggered a wound within me that seems like it will only grow worse every year. We are no longer the end all and be all for our Okapis. I know it only means we are entering a very new and different and probably exciting phase. I am sure I will enjoy all of the new experiences that come along with it.

But I really loved the old phase and I already feel myself missing it.

Off On His Own

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

I mentioned that Dorit has been sick, so sick that we didn’t want her to go to school yesterday. This was something we didn’t really have to deal with over the summer when they were at camp. I don’t think they got sick over the summer so they didn’t really miss camp unless they were doing something else. But if Dorit couldn’t go to school and Lucas was healthy enough to go, what should we do?

When it comes to separation issues, Lucas has got it much worse. Whether he is having trouble going to sleep at night or me leaving in the morning when he was younger or when we would go out and leave the Okapis with their grandparents or going to camp for the first time, he would often end up in hysterical tears. We’ve worked very hard with him on this and since camp we’ve really begun to see some wonderful progress.

Even though there was a few week break after camp, Lucas (and Dorit) handled going to school for the first time extraordinarily well. We were both so proud of him and how well he was adjusting to this new life of spending more time away from both of his parents – especially his mother.

Recently, we have enrolled the Okapis in new classes. They are taking the next level Spanish class, which they take together, but without Gem, for an hour. Even more incredible, Dorit is taking ballet classes (she LOVES ballet and it is incredibly adorable) all by herself. We had trouble finding a class Lucas wanted (he wanted soccer, but the timing was really bad. He also wants a music class but we’re afraid he is too young and don’t want him to get too frustrated too early) so we enrolled him in a “For Boys Only” class that focuses on athletics and gymnastics, on building coordination and connection with his body – but only boys are in the class (of course, the class is taught by a woman which made me so angry, but I digress as usual). He was really nervous and anxious, but went into the class and did so well – without mommy or Dorit. As (another) aside, the nice part of these classes is that not only does it help our Okapis develop some activities and relationships separate from each other, but it also allows Gem individual time with each of them while the other is in class, which is even more special now that they see her less because of school.

But taking a class by himself, while a big step, is very different than going to school by himself for four hours while mommy and Dorit are not around. Monday morning, however, that is exactly what he did. Lucas went to school and stayed there without Dorit for the entire time! Gem said he was nervous and at one point didn’t want to go, but he did it and I could not be prouder of him. THAT is a huge step and I am so happy for him.

When Gem went to pick him up from school, the teachers told her he was incredibly good (the entire class – about 12 kids in total – made Dorit a big get well card that they all “signed” – how adorable is that???) and he didn’t get upset at all.

She also told Gem that towards the end of the school day he said, “I miss Dorit.”

Of course he did. I’m sure she missed him, too. But he made it through the day on his own, by himself. Awesome.

Man, that boy tugs at my heart strings so.

Being a Guy and A Daddy

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

I was born and raised in Philly and there is no question a part of my identity – even though I now live in Long Island – is based on being from there. To paraphrase The Roots, “You can take a brother out of Philly, can’t take it out him, really, I’m forever representing.” Most of my love and connection for Philly comes through loud and clear with my love for its sports teams. I LOVE the Philadelphia Eagles. The same Philadelphia Eagles that are in the NFL playoffs, who won yesterday’s game with a last second kick to beat the New York Giants.

Watching the Eagles lets me do two things I rarely get to do. One, it connects me to Philly, to a place that will always be special to me. Two, it frees me to be a GUY – not something I normally am. I thoroughly enjoy watching football on Sunday afternoon and it is one of the only GUY things that I ever do in my life.

This weekend we were all in Philly at my parents’ house and I got to watch the game in my city. Earlier in the day we went to the Philly Zoo and Lucas and I wore our football jerseys (Dorit didn’t want to wear hers because it didn’t go with her pretty blouse and skirt) while walking around and got to see hundreds of other people doing exactly the same. I think it was the first time he realized Daddy is not alone, lots of other people love the Eagles, too. It was pretty cool for him (and me, too, really) to feel that sense of connectdness that sports can bring to a city.

The really hard part was during the game. We needed to leave right after the game to drive back home and I wanted everything to be ready including our stuff packed in the car, the Okapis in their pajamas and literally ready to go. But Gem was sick (probably my fault) and she needed rest. I ended up doing a lot of running around during the game to get ready, which made it harder to stay in the flow of the game. But the hardest part was being with my Okapis.

I really want them to like sports and to love Philly sports teams. I have done very little, I think, to make that happen and, lately, I have been trying to make more of an effort to share another of my loves with them (like I have done so well with animals). I bought them Eagles’ jerseys just like the one I have (okay, like the one I bought for Gem that I love to wear). Then on our way home from the Zoo, we stopped off at the Wawa (like a 7-11) and we bought so much junk. I wanted to make the experience more enjoyable for them and I thought snacks would help, so I bought Doritos, Cheetos, SmartFood popcorn, Pringles, and some TastyCakes (very unique to Philly, unfortunately, but pretty delicious).

And we had a really good time.

After everything we do in our family one of us is always asking someone else, what their favorite part was. Went out to dinner? What was your favorite part? The Zoo? Watching the Eagles game? What was your favorite part?

“The happy ending,” Dorit told us. “I liked everyone jumping up and down and hugging,” which is what happened after the Eagles kicked the game winning field goal with no time left on the clock.

“Yeah, that was pretty great wasn’t it?”

But it was also very hard.

It is hard to balance being a good, attentive father with being a GUY who just wants to watch a football game. They don’t know when an important play is happening. They don’t understand how long the game lasts. They don’t understand anything really except the time with Daddy. I tried to help them get to know which color jerseys the Eagles were wearing and which players had the same numbers they were wearing (Dorit actually put her jersey on when we got home – Lucas has Westbrook – 36 and Dorit has McNabb – 5). Every time I said, “Yeah!” or got upset or excited, they would ask, “Why did you do that, Daddy?” and I would try to explain. The game moved so quickly because I was rarely ever able to truly focus on it and I missed out on a lot of the action.

But there were a few moments that gave me hope this was the beginning of something special between the three of us.

After a couple of really good plays, I high-fived my Okapis and they really seemed to enjoy that – even if they don’t yet understand why we did it.

At one point while Dorit was eating, she asked me if the Eagles just scored a touchdown. Of course, I had my hands raised and I had probably just yelled or something and I told her, “Yes!” And she said, “I scored a touchdown, too, Daddy!”

After the game, before we left, they wanted to do a huddle (which is something we infrequently do at night before they go to bed). All four of us – Gem included – put our hands in and counted, “1…2…3…EAGLES!” It was pretty sweet.

All-in-all it was an exhausting way to watch an Eagles game – packing up our stuff, keeping them entertained, helping them eat, to go to the toilet, putting diapers on, loading up the car in the pouring rain, but…

…but just maybe this is the beginning of many, many years of my family gathering around the TV to watch the Eagles play in the playoffs together. I feel like I am making a little progress on something that has really been something of a challenge for me and am even beginning to reap some of the rewards.

The next Eagles game is on Saturday night after they are in bed, but if they win that one…

Beach Bonding

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

When I was kid some of my most favorite things to do were to go to the beach. My family would go every summer for two weeks – until we bought a house and then we stopped going at all (see, to pay for the house we had to rent it out to strangers so we couldn’t use it during the summer, if that gives you any insight into my family growing up).

I don’t remember an enormous amount from my childhood, but I remember many things from going to the beach. Riding my bike in the early morning to pick up a New York Times for my grandfather so he could read it at breakfast. I remember meeting a kid there, don’t remember his name, but we became fast friends. We would build these complicated houses made out of cards. He was also one of the first people I remember boogie boarding with (before they were called boogie boards, but I’m not old….no, no, no). I would spend hours every day out in the ocean, riding waves. A good day at the beach was one where I spent most of my time on the ocean and the time I wasn’t on the ocean, digging a hole (“Did you reach China, yet?” people would always ask me) in the sand. I don’t mean a little hole, I mean a hole where I could stand in and be completely unseen by the outside world because I was so deep, where the sound of the ocean became muted and soft). I would make myself a little bench out of the sand and hang out there when I wasn’t on the water.

I can remember the thrill of catching a wave and riding it all the way to the shore, then picking up my board, tucking it under my arm (awkwardly because it was bigger than I was) and heading back out beaming with pride, hoping people were noticing how cool I was (though there just was no way I was cool). I can remember surviving some of the nastiest spills, the swirling under water, not being able to breathe, not sure which way was up. Once I even came out of the water after a particularly impactful crash where I smashed straight into the ground from the force of the wave. My head hurt, but I was so proud of myself that I survived, and I was walking out of the water for a little break when my mother asked me if I was okay. Even though I went with my family, I have no real memories of them. None of my dad at the beach (did he really go with us? Did he just sleep?) and the only ones of my mother were her at the beach, reading. Rarely did they notice anything I did there and everything I learned to do at the beach, I learned by myself and did with myself or with my sister. When I told her my head hurt, she said my mouth was bleeding. I checked my mouth and realized the impact into the ground had knocked out one of my teeth. I thought that was awesome.

The beach has always been a special place for me. After several semesters at college, before the summer started and strangers took over our beach house, I would go down and spend about a week by myself. No phone, no TV. Just me, myself and I, some books and the beach. I would watch the sunset every night and play all day – even moved the couch outside once to sleep on the deck. I learned an incredible amount about myself during those periods. Looking back, I can’t imagine it is possible to be that relaxed.

This weekend was the first weekend of the summer where we got to take our Okapis to the beach (they’ve gone a couple of times, but without me). I bought them boogie boards and started teaching them about it (started off very small – just sitting on it where the waves hit the beach and feeling it move underneath them). Dorit seemed to like it, but the waves were very strong and it scared them both a little. But they love the beach, the sand, the water too much and as they get older, I think we’ll have a lot of incredible moments together at the beach. I really enjoyed watching Dorit’s face when she realized the board was moving under her and she was moving with it. She will enjoy the rush from the movement, the speed of riding a wave just like I did. I can’t wait to ride with them (assuming I even remember how to do it *sigh*), the three of us, floating in the vast ocean, Gem just a dot on the shore, studying the waves to see which one is the best to catch and riding it all the way in while Gem watches and claps for our little Okapis (who probably won’t be so little).

Sometimes, there are moments in being a parent that completes the circle of life. Teaching my children about boogie boarding, playing with them in the sand, envisioning how it will only get better, I am reminded of what I never had growing up. But more importantly, I am bursting with the sensation that this is what family is all about. Maybe I never had it, but Gem and I are creating it for our Okapis and their special memories of the beach won’t be tinged with sadness the way mine are. Their memories will be clearer, more robust, full of the fun, the excitement, the thrill and, probably most important, the connection to their Daddy.

Yeah, we had a lovely weekend. The beginning of a lovely summer, I think.

A 3-D Miracle

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

“Dorit, can you see this? What animals do you see?” the eye specialist asked my little girl yesterday morning.

A pause. I was holding my breath. I’d bet money Gem was, too.

“A cat!” and the doctor looked at us both as if he had performed a magic trick.

Maybe not a magic trick.

More like a miracle.

My wife and I have been fighting one of the most important battles in our parenting lives; the fight to save our daughter’s sight. We will take any magic tricks or miracles that help her.

My little girl, my adorable, intelligent, absolutely beautiful little girl, is lucky to be able to see at all. She (and her twin brother) was born almost 2.5 months early. Both of my Okapis had something called Retinopathy of Prematurity, but Lucas’ wasn’t bad at all and corrected itself. Dorit, however, needed surgery. Eye laser surgery at 8 weeks old. In both of her eyes.

The doctor yesterday said he could see the burn marks on her retina, the little holes they “drilled” with the laser to reduce the pressure on her retinas so they wouldn’t detach. Even though we have never, and will never, be able to see them, the idea that she has burn marks from that surgery on her retinas shakes me to my core.

But even laser surgery on both eyes at 2 months was not enough to save her vision. Her right eye was significantly worse than her left and before she could even walk we had to patch her “good” eye to try and strengthen her weaker one. Her brain was ignoring the signals that eye was sending and if that continued, she would lose sight in that eye. The patching forced her brain to pay attention. It also became the worst hour of the day for Gem and I because Dorit didn’t want the patch so she would rip it off her face every chance she got. Fortunately, we found a place called Patch Pals (www.patchpals.com) and they make patches that fit over glasses, that don’t stick to her face, that have adorable little designs on them, giving Dorit a chance to choose which patch she wants to wear (ballet shoes, the sun, a cat, puppy dog, panda bear, etc.). They are essentially for my little girl, a unique accessory, like a bracelet is for other girls, except no one else she knows wears a patch.

She has been wearing patches for over two years. For two years we’ve been visiting our eye specialist every three months to have her eyes checked out. For one long stretch she had to wear a patch for 8 hours a day. Now we’re down to six – short enough so she doesn’t have to wear it during school or other classes. She has made enormous improvement, but most of her gains in vision are not visible to us. Until yesterday.

The last time we visited our eye specialist, Dorit was given the same test she received yesterday. I’m sure you’ve seen those pictures of colored lines and if you look at it carefully enough you can see that there is a 3-d looking image inside of it? It was all the craze a few years ago. That is the test the doctor gave her. Last time, she was unable to see anything. She had no 3-D vision and Gem and I were concerned.

“Don’t worry,” he had said. “Her brain will learn another way to see three dimensionally.” I didn’t NOT believe him. I just couldn’t envision how that happens.

When she saw a cat, I believed. I believed her brain was growing, learning new ways to ensure my little girl can see – despite all she has been through.

“Whatever you guys are doing, keep it up. You’re doing great! Come back in six months,” he told us instead of the usual three months.

I believed that everything we have been doing, forcing her to wear her patches every single day for the past two years has been making a difference, has been the difference between her seeing and not seeing.

When we got to the elevator after leaving his office, I gave my wife a high-five. We don’t talk about our fight much anymore, but neither of us has lost the determination to win this, to give our little girl every chance possible to see how beautiful and wonderful she is, to see all the people that love her.

“I don’t know whether to scream in excitement or to cry,” my wife said, her voice full of pride, of satisfaction, of relief.

I feel the same way.