Holding On Until She Lets Go

I gave myself a treat this week. The other night I drove up to Connecticut to watch my Sweetie Girl perform in a musical. But instead of going home afterwards, I stayed in a B&B and then spent a few hours with her.

Now I know some parents of 13 year olds complain how their kids don’t really talk or answer questions, but I barely got to say anything at all over the four hours we spent together. My lovely daughter told me every single detail about the musical and her friends and the scenery and audio and sound effects and each individual actor and their issues and concerns and strengths and weaknesses and which songs were her favorite and which performances were the best and all of the melodrama and so much more.

Periodically, I would marvel that this was her first time at sleep-away camp and while she genuinely claimed to miss us, you couldn’t tell. She made new friends and gave her entire being to this musical with rehearsals frequently taking up 5-6 hours of her day every day.

And not once did she complain. Not once did she say it wasn’t worth it. She LOVED it. I mean, this girl of mine L O V E D every moment. What was in the Spring an interest is now a burning passion; being on stage and performing. It is incredible how much she is like her daddy in that way.

But what was amazing to me is that when I showed up to get her, she ran to me to give me a hug. When we walked outside, she held my hand. She gave me a big hug and kiss when I left. She is 13 years old and not embarrassed by affection with her Daddy.

And every time it happens, I wonder if this could be the last time. Could this be the last time she holds my hand in public? Or the last time she runs up to me to give me a hug?

But considering my past and trauma, this surprisingly isn’t me being pessimistic or negative. No, this is me trying to savor every moment. My little girl is not so little anymore. She’s a full-fledged teenager. Of course she held my hand when she was 4 or 6 years old. The fact that she still holds my hand at 13 (and a half) years old could easily be construed as a miracle.

And it feels that way every time. I don’t (really) care that she is now taller than me, that she texts her friends and barely responds to mine. When my daughter wants to hold my hand when we’re walking together I thank my lucky stars and I hold on until she wants to let go. When she runs up to me, I brace myself to catch her the best I can and swing her around, not quite like I did when she was 5, but good enough for government work, and for her to know I love her.

And honestly, that is one of the best feelings in the world. It is a moment when I can feel her love, where I am 100% in the present, where my past is just a faraway spot in my rearview mirror. It is a moment where her love for me, her Daddy, and my love for my Sweetie Girl swirl together in powerful vortex where we both feel better, feel special.

It is amazing to watch our children grow up and see how independent they become and how they learn how to handle new situations. That’s what makes it even more important to celebrate, embrace and bask in those moments when they still show us affection and love just as freely as they did when they were younger.

As I was leaving, I thanked her for such a special day and she smiled at me, that beautiful smile that reminds me so much of her mother, and she thanked me for such a special day. A day of driving and eating and talking. And of hugs and holding hands and reminding each other we love each other. And of musicals, of course.

I’m going to hold on to this day as long as I can–especially the feeling we had together. Those are the days that make being parent the most amazing job in the world.

The Assumptions We Make As Parents Can Cause Their Own Issues


Recently I read an article about the messages we send our kids. In it Jim Taylor, Ph.D, author of Your Children Are Listening, talked about the conflicting messages we give our children and also where they come from. Coincidentally, I recently had an experience that made me aware (once again) of the assumptions we make and these two issues collided in my brain.

Sometimes we send our children explicit messages on purpose, things like manners, behavior, etc. Sometimes we send messages by example. I had a great professor in grad school, Stephen Treat, who said they never hassled their kids about their homework. He and his wife both had graduate degrees and they both taught at schools.

“Education was in the air we breathed in our home.”

But there are all those times as parents when we send messages to our kids without realizing it and may not even mean to.

For the last several summers, my wife and I have sent our kids to crappy camps. We didn’t know they were going to be crappy camps, but that’s how they turned out, unfortunately. But this summer was going to be different, dammit! This summer we were going to splurge on a special camp for two weeks and give our kids a great camp experience.

Except that at least one of them every day has been utterly and completely miserable, crying as if we were dropping them off at Guantanamo Bay instead of a cool camp. Yet they still had a good time. How do I know? I asked them.

“What was the best camp you’ve been to?”

“This one,” they both told me.

“Is that because the others were so bad?”

“Yeah,” they replied in chorus.

Okay, not a ringing endorsement, but an improvement over the years past certainly.

Except for the misery and torture they seemed to experience.

And it made me wonder why we were trying to give them such a great camp experience? They weren’t begging us for a better camp experience. In fact, I’m not sure they cared about camp all that much. It is just the time between when school ends and when it begins again for them.

Then it hit me.

My kids love school–excuse me. My kids LOVE school. They love learning. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love the whole experience. Camp is an interruption for them.

I was the opposite. I hated school growing up. I looked forward to camp during the whole school year. Camp was the only place I felt special, felt confident, felt I was close to the real me. Nine months of feeling pretty terrible and two great months. I never wanted camp to end.

I wanted them to have the same kind of camp experience I did and I think they felt pressure to be happy there when in reality, they didn’t want to be at camp; they wanted school. I inadvertently imposed my own issues on them and maybe made things a bit harder for them. I think there were a lot of things about this camp that was tough for them to deal with (would’ve been tough for me to deal with, frankly), but maybe my assumption about how important camp is made things more difficult for them.

We’re always sending messages to our kids. Some are very obvious. Some are good. Some are not on both counts. I didn’t want to send a message that having fun at camp was important. It was supposed to be fun! (Ironically, I intentionally decided not to send them to a sports camp because that’s what I went to and knew that wasn’t for them.)

The truth is, I would much rather them LOVE school and be happy for 9 months out of the year than what I went through. It would be nice if we could help them enjoy summer a little better, but in the meantime, I’ll be a bit more aware of what message I send them about camp.

What inadvertent messages have you sent your kids?

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.

In Just 16 Minutes

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

4:00am

That’s what the clock read. Is it raining? I should go look out the window to see if it is raining because if it’s not I can turn off the alarm and sleep a little later.

But I can’t get up to go check…tooooooooooo sleeeeeeeppppppppyyyyyy…

“LUCAS!” I heard myself scream. All of a sudden I am out of my bed so quickly that I forgot to get my glasses, running towards the stairs. I don’t know what I heard, but somehow I knew he was in trouble and he responded with a sound. I can tell from his voice he is on the stairs. Is the monitor working?

He started crying loudly.

I picked him up, halfway to the top of the stairs, and held him close to me, whispering soothing words, trying to calm and quiet him down. After a short period of time he was whimpering into my shoulder.

“Let’s go upstairs and check on Dorit,” I whispered to him. I thought I heard her stirring up there and can only imagine how our outbursts have frightened her.

I carried him upstairs, while he wrapped his arms around my neck. When I opened the door, I checked that the green light on the monitor is on (which it is) and I wonder why he didn’t say anything before he started the dangerous trek downstairs in the dark.

I put him down and checked on Dorit, who clearly seemed like she had been jolted awake. But my little girl is extremely good at falling asleep – I could not possibly count how many times she has been woken up by Lucas in the middle of the night and though we’re both a bit out of practice, I am sure she will fall asleep without my help.

Lucas and I sat and talked a little. I asked what happened and he said he heard a noise. That is often the case and my only guess is that he had a dream that woke him up and he was unable to go back to sleep. Instead of crying out loud, he started the journey from his room, through their playroom, to the stairs and down the stairs. If I hadn’t heard him on the stairs he would’ve had to go through the dining room, then through a small hallway leading to our bedroom. We use to keep a childproof device on the doorknob so he couldn’t get out, but have since decided that is no longer safe. It’s just that it doesn’t feel safe without it when he starts that adventure on his own in the dark.

I reminded him he is going to camp tomorrow and he needed a good night’s rest and he smiled. I reminded him he’ll see his teachers and new friends and he smiled some more. He finally seemed ready for sleep and I asked him to get into bed and he did without struggle.

“Tell me about your Happy Thoughts.”

“All the people that love me,” he says.

“That’s a good one…You know I’m one of those people, right? You know I love you, Lucas, don’t you?”

“Yeah”

Then I say my usual goodnight greeting. “SSsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssoooooooooooooooooooooooooo much I love you, Lucas.” In the winter, he had gotten scared by the hissing of the radiator in the middle of the night so I thought maybe I could associate that hissing sound with something positive and it has stuck.

“So much I love you, too, Daddy.”

“Oh good,” I said smiling at him.

I kissed Dorit goodnight, made sure she was okay. I think she was still a bit shaken but seemed ready to fall asleep – if only we would stop talking.

I kissed Lucas one more time and opened the door.

“Daddy?”

Uh oh.

“Yes, Lucas?” I said cautiously.

“Maybe…”

Oh no.

“Maybe tomorrow after scho—Maybe tomorrow after camp…”

Please don’t ask me to pick you up Lucas. I can’t. I have to go to work.

“Maybe…”

Please, please don’t ask.

“Maybe we could call you?” he said finally.

“Absolutely! I would LOVE that. Let’s remember to tell Mommy in the morning okay?” I said with relief dripping from every word.

“Good night! I love you” and I closed the door and walked downstairs.

When I returned to my bed, finally, my heart still racing, thumping in my chest from the adrenaline rush of his first, almost unheard, cry. I looked at the clock and couldn’t believe what I saw.

4:16am