No Milestones to Mark These Important Moments As Parents

One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of parenting is how quickly it can feel our children are growing up, how rapidly we move from one parenting stage to another. Some of those moments are very clear, marked for all the world to see…things like graduating elementary school, high school, college, etc. At those moments it is easy for parents to take a moment and reflect on how far they and their kids have come in this amazing and crazy thing we call life.

But there are hundreds, dare I say thousands, of moments in our parenting lives where an important milestone is reached, but we don’t know it at the time. We don’t realize we just experienced the end of one phase and the beginning of another.

Yesterday, my wife and I spent the day pretending we were parents of only one child. While we have 13 year-old twins, our daughter was with some friends and we took our son, Lucas, out to try and make his room nicer. We spent the afternoon at IKEA, bought him a bed frame and new sheets as well as some other stuff (you can’t walk out of IKEA without “other stuff”). We also spent quality time at Hot Topic (AKA Emo Heaven). All three of us had a great time, my wife and I being able to only focus on one child, which is a rarity for us, and Lucas not having to share anything–including us–all afternoon. It will definitely be remembered as a special day.

At one point, however, I turned to Gem and said, “He really is a teenager, isn’t he?” It’s not something I can pinpoint, but watching him walk around, interact with the world, it was so clear to me he’s not our little boy anymore. Now, sure you can say, didn’t he just have his Bar Mitzvah? And he certainly didn’t look like a little boy there. Maybe it was the mall environment, but he seemed different. There was something about the way he moved, the way he handled himself that made it clear he is growing up, more a young man than a little boy.

When did that happen?

While there are several moments, more formal rites of passage, marking transitions from one phase of life to another, so many moments are never marked and by the time you realize it, the moment has long passed, leaving a little sense of loss, of what we miss, mixed with the joy and pride of seeing our children in this new phase.

I don’t remember the last diaper I changed. All of a sudden, we were no longer changing them. I don’t remember the last time we used the double stroller, but I remember it being in the basement and feeling a sense of loss. What was the last bedtime story I read to our children? When was the last time I carried one of them up the stairs to bed after getting home late at night?

These special moments, moments that I both enjoyed and probably complained about (except carrying them to bed–I never once complained about that), happen and then disappear like those little babies and toddlers we so easily held in our arms. Where are those children? When did those moments end?

Watching my litt–I’m sorry. Watching my teenager, my young man yesterday made me not only realize that there are so many moments of parenting that are gone, that I’ll never experience again. And there is a genuine sense of loss over that, the passage of time, a feeling we may never feel again.

But it was also an excellent reminder that all that work is paying off. He is growing up into a healthy, creative, intelligent and pretty damn awesome young man.

When I kissed and hugged him goodnight last night, he thanked me for hanging out with him in Hot Topic.

And I realized that it’s not that these special moments are gone as they grow older–they’re just different. If Hot Topic was a special moment for him then I am already looking forward to the next time we go there.

Whether it is Hot Topic or something else, I just want to be ready to enjoy whatever new special moments we can create together.

New School, New Schedule, New Feelings

The chaos of the first full week of school is behind us and the chaos of the second week has begun, though maybe slightly less chaotic. Our kids are in a new school, and for the first time in their lives, are taking a school bus. This, of course, also means that they are getting up much earlier in the morning and we are all adjusting to a new morning routine.

After a couple of days, Gem was driving me to the train station and was sad that it feels so anticlimactic to let the bus take them to school, after five years of taking them to school herself.

“There isn’t a sense of closure, of dropping them off at school and being sure they got there safely,” she explained.

I could understand that.

Sadly, in five years I probably took my kids to school at most ten times a year, because it usually meant getting to work about an hour late. My wife bore the weight of the responsibility of taking them, but also the privilege of seeing them off everyday, making sure they got to school safely and on time. She thoroughly enjoyed it.

She also gets to pick them up from school, which I’ve done even less than I’ve taken them to school. I’ve tried to work out schedules with my office to take them to school more regularly, but it never works out.

I know I’m a good father and I love my children and spend as much time with them as a I can, but there is something so fundamental about taking them to school and picking them up that I’ve missed out on for so many years and it is an ache in my heart that no amount Motrin can relieve.

For years I took them to bed every night, or most nights. For years I was the Night Watchman, looking over my children when they woke up in the middle of night needing Daddy. But they no longer need me like that anymore. Very rarely do we hear the pitter-patter of feet into our bedroom in the dark.

What my kids need from me now is very different. Their needs are more emotional and intellectual. Can I help them with homework? Can I help them ease their worries? They can meet most of their core needs, like eating and sleeping, on their own.

One of the few core physical things they still need from us parents is getting them to school, where they learn new things, make friends, and begin to deal with the world as their own people. Besides us, nothing impacts them more than what happens at school. Going to school is a big event and a very important and dramatic time in their life.

And for years I was missing out on taking them.

Now, even though my morning is all discombobulated, I get to help with lunch and make sure their waters are ready and that they have everything in their backpacks. The best part, however, is walking out with them, saying hello to Lisa, their bus driver, and giving them one more hug and kiss before they get on the bus to school. Instead of leaving for work feeling as if I’ve left one of my most important roles undone, I feel like I’ve completed my job as Daddy for the morning.

It’s a nice feeling.

The next day, when Gem took me to the train station, I tried to explain to her that even though it was sad for her, I loved being able to see them off to school since I’ve never been able to do that consistently before.

“I hadn’t thought of that. Somehow, that makes me feel better,” she replied sweetly.

After five years of missing out on this experience, helping my kids off get onto the school bus every day has eased the little ache in my heart.

Am I Still the Night Watchman?

I am the Night Watchman. I’ve been the Night Watchman since my kids were about 18 months old. Because I worked in the City all day, I didn’t have much time with them when they were awake and both Gem and I were concerned I wasn’t building as strong a connection to them as I wanted. Our solution was for me to become the Night Watchman.

Anything that happened after we put them to bed was my responsibility. If they had trouble falling asleep or if they woke up because they had a nightmare or didn’t feel well or whatever the reason, I was the one who went to them, helped them feel better and soothed them back to sleep.

It was a job I loved.

The chance to be there for my children, to show them I could also take care of them and meet their needs and make them feel safe changed my relationship with them. It also gave me confidence that I can help them when they need help. It gave me the sense that no matter what was bothering them, I could help them feel better.

But I just learned I can’t be the Night Watchman in another language.

Dorit, our daughter, recently had an emergency appendectomy in Quito, Ecuador. Thankfully, both Gem and I were there with her, but it was so hard and frustrating for me because my Spanish is okay enough to have a conversation; it is nowhere near good enough to deal with medical and administrative issues in that language.

Nurses and doctors would come in and ask her questions and I couldn’t help her answer them. I didn’t know what they were doing to her and I couldn’t let them know exactly what was bothering her. I could hold her hand while they inserted the needle for the IV and I bought her flowers and balloons to brighten up her room during her stay.

But it has been almost a decade since I felt so incompetent and useless as a dad. A feeling I didn’t enjoy the first time around and certainly didn’t enjoy now.

I know that Dorit doesn’t look at me with less respect or love because I don’t know Spanish well enough. She’s healing and getting better and you almost couldn’t tell she had surgery to remove one of her organs a few days ago. But I know, for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t meet the challenge of being her Daddy, and that insight will take me some time to recover from.

I suspect this is just the beginning of events in my children’s lives where I won’t be able to protect them the way I could (or at least felt I could) at night when they were young. They almost never wake up in the middle of the night anymore. But they do have to deal with bullies and mean teachers and things that feel too hard or too overwhelming. They will have their hearts broken.

I can’t protect them from the chaos of our world. But maybe loving them, reminding them of how wonderful I think they are, helping them think through their problems to figure out some possible solutions, maybe this is more of my role now.

Right now that doesn’t feel like enough, but maybe it actually is and is probably what they need me to be. I’m not giving up the role of Night Watchman, but it seems as if my responsibilities are changing.

They Need Me Differently Now

We came home from the City a little late one night last week and our kids were exhausted. For some reason, my son doesn’t want to sleep in the car, can’t seem to let himself slip into slumber. But my daughter, Dorit, when she is ready to fall asleep can do so anywhere, at anytime. That night she fell asleep and snored most of the way home.

Gem and I talked about our day and evening, enjoying the time we had in the City with our family, knowing this felt like one of those days we’ll remember for a long time. Days like that are so special, knowing something so joyful had happened that we will talk about it for some time to come. “Remember when…?”

When we arrived home, I went to help Dorit out of the car, but she woke up and ended up walking to the house.

And my heart sank a little bit.

It’s funny how you can not think of something, but then something happens and you realize it has been percolating in your brain for a long time. I love my children and I love being a Daddy. I love my family and the life Gem and I have created and built together. It is far and away the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine who I would be if I wasn’t part of this experience.

But my children are ten years old and they are growing up, becoming bigger, more independent. I clearly remember coming home from car trips and even though Dorit might have been sleeping in the car on Gem’s side, I would run over because I wanted to be the one to carry her into the house, to carry her into her bedroom. I wanted to be that Daddy and it felt good, being there for her in that way.

I remember when we were trying to help her sleep through the night without a diaper. I would wake her up before I went to sleep, walk her to the bathroom, and then carry her back to her room and gently place her back in her bed, almost as if she had never left it. I remember the way her body would mold to mine, holding me with her whole body, melting into me and feeling that was one of the most spectacular feelings in the history of the universe. If someone had told me being a Daddy felt like that, I would never have been so scared about becoming one.

A couple of days ago, we were once again out a little late and Dorit was exhausted, so exhausted she didn’t even want to leave. I said if we got into the car to go home I would carry her into the house if she wanted (do you see what a selfless Daddy I am?). She nodded her sleepy head and we got into the car.

When we got home, I helped her out of the seatbelt, vowing to savor every moment and I lifted her up and remembered that my little girl is ten years old and I might need to work out more than I do. I can remember when both of my kids could be in my arms on my chest at the same time. Now it is a lot harder to carry my Sweetie Girl out of the car. There was no way I was going to be able to carry her upstairs (unless I threw her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes). I felt heavy, like I had lost something I could never get back.

But when I put her down she didn’t look disappointed. She didn’t look like I had let her down because I can no longer so easily lift her up. She looked at me, like I’m her Daddy and I always will be. That night we sat at her bed and talked about some of the things that have been worrying her. I listened and I gave her some things to think about and even made her smile. We hugged, that delicious feeling of arms wrapping around me and some comment about the level of scruffiness on my face.

And always I love you.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Sweetie Girl.”

As I closed her door that night I realized the rest of what has been percolating in my brain lately. She may no longer need me to carry her from the car and into bed, but she still needs me. My children still need me. Even though they are getting older and more independent, they still need me to care for them, to love them, to support them, to guide them through this crazy experience we call life.

Yes, they don’t need me like they used to, but they still need me, still need their Daddy.

The way they need me is very different now, but still pretty darn wonderful.

More Time for Dads to Get Involved

According to a recent poll, Moms report that they are still doing more parenting than Dads. In fact, Moms report they spend 3 more hours a day parenting than Dads do.

That’s a lot of time.

And a great opportunity for Dads to be more involved.

No matter the reason, this is a chance for Dads to get more involved in the lives of their children and a chance for Moms to get much needed down time so they can take care of themselves.

Two quick tips to help Dads be more involved:

  1. Can you take your kids to school one day a week? Yes, schedules are challenging, but if you can get them ready in the morning and take them to school once a week, you will find yourself sharing some very special moments with your kids. Special moments are golden.
  2. Can you put them to bed several times a week? Particularly if you have to be at work earlier in the morning, putting your kids to bed is a great way to spend time with your kids. You can help them get ready, read to them and then tuck them in. Not only is this another opportunity for special time together, it will give your partner time for herself to relax and unwind.

There are certainly other ways to be more involved, but starting with taking them to school and putting them to bed will make a huge difference for your entire family.