It’s Possible My Kids Are Addictive

Relationships are tricky. I have spent more than half of my life with my wife and yet we still have things to learn from each other. It comes down to the fact that even though we experience very similar things in our shared lives, we come at them from a different perspective, making each shared experience also a unique one. I recently realized the best example of that while she was away in London.

Gem went on a trip with her best friend to London for a wedding. Not surprisingly, she had a great time (frankly, she could have a great time at anytime and anywhere). But what was wonderful, was the kids and I also had a great time. In fact, the night before she came home, three of us were feeling sad–not because she was coming home, of course, but because we were going to miss this time together. Gem is usually the one who takes them to school and picks them up. I almost never get to do that and I really enjoyed it…and already miss it.

One of the amazing things about Gem is her ability to feel and express her emotions so genuinely. When the kids sleep over somewhere, she misses them. Sometimes if she doesn’t see them after school, she misses them. In fact, she has this way of saying “I miss them” that I can’t do justice in the written form, but trust me, is quite adorable. She places enormous emphasis on “MISS” and it really sounds like she is longing for them.

“I MISS them!”

But to be honest I never understood how she could miss them. She spends more time with them than I do. I have to leave them every day and I didn’t MISS them like that. Yes, I love my children and I miss them when I go to work, but I don’t “MISS them” I don’t think. Maybe I do and I have to put that away or I would never get through the day…that is certainly possible. But I don’t really remember feeling the way she seems to when she is MISSing them.

She had left on a Thursday night and we had an event that night and then I took them to school on Friday morning and picked them up in the afternoon. We spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday just the three of us. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights we cuddled on the couch and watched movies together. I took them to school on Monday and picked them up again as well.

On Tuesday, my work had our Annual Meeting and I had to be there. I took them to school, but then went to work and their grandfather picked them up and then took them out to Friendly’s as he does every week. Since I had been out of the office for a couple of days, had come in late and needed to get to the meeting site early in the afternoon, my day was packed and it moved very quickly. By the time the meeting ended, I couldn’t believe how fast the day went.

Then it hit me.

I really missed my kids.

Excuse me, I mean, I MISSed my kids!

I rushed to catch the earliest train I could. Now, normally I am very respectful of my father-in-law’s special time with his grandchildren and almost never intrude on his special trip to Friendly’s. But on that afternoon, MISSing my kids the way I did, I texted and asked him if I could meet them for dinner.

It was on the train when I realized this is how Gem feels when she says “I MISS them.” I had just spent four days with my kids as the only parent and instead of thankful for the chance to get away, I MISSed them.

When Gem came back home this was one of the first things I told her and I think she really appreciated being understood. We have been parents for an equal amount of time, parenting in the same house with the same kids, but this experience had been different for us and now after ten years, we truly understood each other on this issue. I think it helped us be just a little bit closer.

It also made me wonder if our kids have some substance inherent to them that makes them addictive, because the more we spend time with them, the more we want to spend time with them.

What’s that line from the Supremes song? “If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.”

I’m happy just the way we are.

Saving A Sparrow is Great For Several Reasons

Lucas and I were alone recently and we were standing by the door when all of a sudden he said, “Remember when we saved that bird?”

“I do.”

“That was pretty cool.”

“It really was, wasn’t it?”

Let me start by saying it always feels good when one of my kids remembers something we did together fondly. It is also interesting to see how they interpret events we shared together.

A couple of years ago, Gem and Dorit had gone out and again Lucas and I were spending quality time together (Daddy/Son time as we call it) one weekend morning. It was a cold, wintry day and when I looked out after my wife and daughter had left, I saw something on the ground on our porch. I went out to inspect it more closely and realized it was a sparrow.

It looked almost frozen, like it hadn’t found a warm place to sleep through the night and had become so completely chilled, it no longer was able to move.

For several minutes, Lucas and I watched it through the door, but after a while I knew something was really wrong and I went outside, lifted the bird gently into a basket full of blankets.

Lucas and I watched some more, but even after more time, our little sparrow was not moving or making any progress. That was when I brought it inside.

I placed it on the stairs, inside the basket, cuddled up in the blankets. Somehow Lucas and I got distracted by something else and by the time we returned our little sparrow was feeling much better. Well, maybe it was feeling too good.

It was perched on the basket and as I approached it, instead of thanking us for our efforts to save it, our little sparrow flew upstairs and I started to see how terribly wrong this all could go. Yeah, let’s bring this sickly little bird into our home where it can fly all over the place, wreaking havoc. It’s possible, in hindsight, that I could’ve thought it all through a tad more before I brought the bird inside.

Lucas and I ran after it upstairs and it went into the kids’ room and perched itself atop the curtains. Honestly, the thing I was most worried about was it pooping all over their room and how the heck I was going to explain that to Gem when she got home. Hi Sweetie, we saved a sickly little bird today (and got poop all over the kids’ room, by the way).

Thankfully, that didn’t happen, our recovering bird probably hadn’t eaten in a long time and spared us that…ummm…experience.

But even so, it was quite frustrating trying to shoo the bird back downstairs without hurting it or scaring it too badly since we knew it must be still pretty fragile.

Finally, we were able to get it back into the basket and take the basket outside and let our little patient fly away. When it did, Lucas and I shared a look, impressed with ourselves that we had actually saved a bird that day. What a great feeling!

Because of the way I am, I remember wondering a day or two later, when I didn’t see any dead sparrows on our property, if our little sparrow had made it. Looking back now, that is often what I feel like about parenting. We do so much for our kids, but we just don’t know how this is all going to play out. Sometimes that is quite challenging for me. I would hate to wake up in ten years and find out I’ve actually been doing something that really screwed up my kids when I didn’t mean to in any way, shape or form.

But it is moments like these, when one of my children remind me of a special experience we shared together and I can see a little of the impact I have had on their lives. It is a pretty nice feeling, the memory of our time together and the realization of what it means.

The Standardized Tests Challenged Us As Parents

Today is the day! A day we’ve worked so hard to get to, a day that appeared in the distance for real around January. We’ve been working with our kids on this for a few months, talking to them, helping them, talking with others about better ways to support them. It has been an exhausting and trying process, but it is finally here.

The New York State standardized tests.

The most stupid, obnoxious and utterly useless tests I could possibly imagine. The kind of tests that makes me question what kind of people actually oversee the education departments in this state and country. Do they even care about kids?

Oh for a second there you thought I was talking about tutoring my kids for this test? Heck, no! I’ve been talking about helping my children deal with the stress of these tests on them (and their classmates and teachers). Starting around January our children started getting stressed and worried and anxious about these damn tests. In January! The test is here and it is the middle of April.

Why would our kids worry so much? Because they are extremely attuned to the feelings of the people around them and they can feel how important this test is to the principal and the teachers. They can feel and absorb the stress of their friends and classmates, some of whose parents believe these tests are difference makers and their kids must do well, must achieve.

Whatever happened to being a child? Whatever happened to teaching so our kids will learn, not teaching so they can take a test that doesn’t affect their grade?

Therein lies the really interesting part for us. My wife and I argued about this, but not the kind where the gloves came off. The kind of argument where you believe what you believe is right, but you can totally see where the other one is coming from.

We both felt that this was one of those moments in parenting where we were certain this is one of the big decisions we make. What would happen if we screw this up? How would it affect them down the road? We both could see if we didn’t do something, it could turn out badly for them, but we could also see if we did do something, it could also turn out badly. Both options left us worrying about dire and/or unintended consequences. We can’t look forward into the future to see how it plays out one way or the other, but we have to make the decision now.

Do we opt our kids out of these stupid tests or do we let them take them?

One side argued; What if we let them opt out and they believe they are quitters, not believing they can handle these types of situations in the future?

The other side responded; What if we let them take the test and the stress makes them sick, hurting them?

In response; What if taking the test gives them a sense of accomplishment, that even though this was challenging they still did it?

In return; What about the fact that they are 10 years old and shouldn’t have to deal with this level of stress yet?

Is there really a right argument here? Was one of us really wrong? I don’t think either of us believed the other was wrong, just that we were right. Fortunately, our discussions never got too heated and in the end we compromised: we told them they could decide whether to take the test or not.

Maybe we punted, on reflection. Maybe we didn’t make the tough decision, but left them to deal with the weight of all of this. I don’t know. But what I do know is that after some serious deliberation, they both decided to take the test. Maybe they took the test in part because despite telling them for the past couple of years we don’t care about this test, by giving them the option to opt out we finally proved to them we really don’t. Maybe that lifted enough weight off. I’m not sure we will ever know.

I leave for work today feeling so proud of my children, that they were doing something that was hard and challenging. I hope they walk out of this having faced their fears and realized that their fears are much scarier than school, life.

In the end, the only thing of value my kids can learn from these stupid tests is who they are and what they can do will never be evaluated by a standardized test.

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.

Building A Better Balance

Can I tell you a little secret? I’ve always wanted to be a stay at home Dad (I know, that’s not the secret). But I didn’t really believe I could do it. Yes, I believe men can be stay at home dads and I’m jealous of all of them. I just didn’t think I could hack it, getting our kids up in the morning, getting them ready, making lunch, dropping them off and then picking them up, helping with homework, taking them to activities, getting dinner ready, getting them ready for bed…I always worried that I wouldn’t have the patience for it, like my wife does. I was afraid I would get frustrated when they were too slow or weren’t doing something right, get frustrated and not be able to recover, spending my time with them frustrated and angry.

My wife was recently away on business for a couple of days and it was another chance to really find out what I could actually do, whether or not I could really do it or not, face my own fear.

Fortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

Unfortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

I was putting my son to bed last night and he asked if I liked my time being home with them.

“I loved it, Sweetie Boy.”

“Why don’t you quit your job and stay home with us?” he asked with his beautiful face looking up at me.

There’s the dream, right there. My kids are getting older so fast and I know the time they would want to be with me is quickly evaporating and I’ve worked away from home the entire time, missing the opportunity to drop them off and pick them up from school, help with homework, hear what the music teacher has to say, etc.

The fact is I’m not one of those guys whose identity is wrapped up in his job. My identity is actually wrapped up in my family, the best part of my life is my wife and children, and the best me is often when I am with them. I know what I do at work doesn’t really matter in the long run (and maybe even in the short run), but my relationship and involvement with my children hopefully is making a big difference in their present and future, building self esteem and a strong foundation that I didn’t have growing up, that will last them a lifetime.

I think what this really raises for me is creating an even better balance between work and family. I already take every day off from work that they have from school and usually take off when they are sick and have snow days. And I certainly need this job in order to be able to pay our bills, etc. But maybe I need to take more unscheduled time off. Maybe I need to call in sick more so I can take my kids to school once a month and pick them up and help with homework.

The challenge is I feel such pressure to keep my job and be a “good employee.” But the reality is I have never regretted taking time off to be with my family and I need to try and do that more often, before they are too old to be happy I am around.

A Community Without Homes

When Hurricane Sandy arrived, my family, like yours maybe, hunkered down and prayed for the best. We huddled in our basement because we were afraid trees would fall on our house and felt that was the safest place (we were fortunate not to be worried about flooding). When the worst had passed and we were without power, like millions of other people, we did the best we could with candles and flashlights and layers of clothing. After two days we got power back and we started to feel normal again.

I had spent much of the week immediately after the Hurricane when I wasn’t taking care of my family, trying to help my organization communicate as effectively as possible to our constituents about the state of Lower Manhattan.

But on that Friday it became clear my synagogue, Oceanside Jewish Center, had taken a huge hit. Not only was the actual building without power and heat, but so were our Rabbis and our president. In fact, according to some reports we have seen, about 80% of our community had been affected by the storm, many with extensive damage to their homes. We are literally a community without homes.

I’ve heard about this in other places, in other cities, in other countries, but this was right on my doorstep. I recognized many of the places in the photos and videos I saw in the news, places I’ve ridden my bike or taken my kids or walked dozens of times.

The Rabbi and I sent out an email to our members letting them know we were thinking of them and asking if there was anything we can do. The responses were heartbreaking. People had lost their cars, their homes, were living with family/friends or had relocated to other places, were staying in a cold house without power or heat because they had nowhere else to go. It was overwhelming, reading these emails in the warm comfort of my home.

How did we get so lucky?

Finally, the synagogue and our Rabbi got power and we were able to open the building up as a warming center for a few hours every evening for people to get a bite to eat, some coffee, charge up their devices and use our computers.

We sent out an email every day, letting people know we were thinking of them, reminding them of what we were able to offer and asking them to let us know if they needed anything. As things got even colder, people started asking for a place to stay because their home was too cold.

Two nights ago, a family from our synagogue moved in with us. We had never met them before, but knew it was something we needed to do when we found out the two kids were 4-year old boy/girl twins, since we have almost ten-year old boy/girl twins. When they walked into our home on Wednesday, it was clear they had been devastated and I again felt overwhelmed by what they must be experiencing. We helped make the kids feel at home and before long all four of the kids were playing together and laughing. I’m not sure I had ever been prouder of my own children than how they made these strangers feel welcome in their own home.

Can you imagine not having had a warm place to sleep for over a week?

Our main job as parents is to protect our kids, but we can’t protect them from Mother Nature. We spend so much of our lives trying to help our kids succeed in life, to build a career or to become emotionally healthy. We almost never think about where the next meal will come from. We don’t worry about whether they will have a warm place to sleep tonight. These poor kids have lost almost everything; clothes, toys, and maybe, most importantly, a sense of stability. The stress their parents must be feeling, trying to make sure their children have a warm place to sleep, have food to eat, it must be all-consuming, not too mention dealing with the disaster they experienced and trying to figure out how they can move forward. The poor father stayed in their house, without heat or power, afraid that what little possessions they had left would be taken by looters. This is Long Island, folks, not some developing country far, far away.

I know many of you have already donated to an organization like the Red Cross, but if you haven’t and still want to help, would you consider helping my synagogue and, this family specifically, with clothes, toys or money? Please send me an email and we can figure out how you can help.

There are thousands of families still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these families will never forget what they experienced this past week or so. I just hope they will be able to recover from it.

Working Mother Quotes Jeremy On Making Dinner Special

Working Mother Magazine quoted Jeremy in their June/July 2012 issue. The article, entitled Low-Tech Table Tactics, is a brief article on how to take advantage of bonding time during dinner and includes tips from Jeremy.

In our topsy-techie world, it’s easy to succumb to digital distractions—smartphones, TV, gaming devices—at the table. You may permit them to help the kids (and you) make it through dinner, but “they mean lost opportunities to build strong family bonds,” says parenting expert Jeremy G. Schneider.

His tips include

  1. Playing music
  2. Promoting discussions
  3. Creating a topic list in case it is hard fro family members to talk

The article is a good reminder that even in the crazy days of school or summer, make dinner special time for you and your family to come together and connect.

ParentGuide News Publishes Jeremy’s article for Father’s Day

ParentGuide News published one of Jeremy’s articles for their Father’s Day special. The article, called The Father-Child Connection, focuses on how Dads can connect with their children even if they are working away from home every day.

Jeremy started with noting one of the most informative research studies he has ever read.

What I found most interesting were findings relating to which parent a child chooses to soothe him or her when hurt or awakened in the middle of the night. The study found that even when the mother worked full-time, 80 percent of the time the child would choose the mom to meet a physical or emotional need. But with a stay-at-home-dad, the children in the study were just as likely to go to the mother as they were to the father. This tells me that despite working full-time, mothers are able to develop bonds strong enough to soothe their children when they are upset— even when mom is away during the day. This made me wonder, “How can we working dads develop similar bonds with our kids?”

If Moms can do it, so can Dads.

Jeremy wrote about how he became the Night Watchman for his kids and how that changed his relationship with them tremendously, and his confidence as a father.

He ends the article with 5 tips for bonding with babies as well as other tips for building a strong connection with your children.

Additional Tips to Foster Father-Child Bonds

  • Change into “at-home” clothes after work. This sends a message that you’re in dad mode, not work mode.
  • Take over bath duty. Play with your kids while they’re bathing. Then dry them off and get the kids ready for bed.
  • Handle all diaper changes when you’re home.
  • Feed your children. If they no longer need your help eating, fix their plates, then sit, eat and talk with your kids.
  • Take over “tuck-in time” at bedtime as many nights as you can. Develop special nighttime routines that involve reading, singing or cuddling.
  • Be the one to soothe kids back to sleep when they wake up in the night.

School Family Asks Jeremy for Advice on Cheating Children

SchoolFamily.com has published an article on children who have a good track record in school and good behavior, but then get caught cheating called, When Your Child Cheats, Take A Parental Time Out. In the article, they quote Jeremy extensively about the things a parent needs to consider when their child cheats and what it may mean for them and their family.

“Parents need to take a time out for themselves to view their reaction,” says Jeremy Schneider, a New York-based therapist, blogger, and syndicated columnist who specializes in parenting and relationships. “Otherwise, we go off on [the child] because we’re embarrassed, angry, whatever, and end up adding fuel to a fire that might not be there.”

It is important to understand how your child got to the point where they felt cheating was the best option for them to solve their problem.

“There could be time-management issues that she needs help thinking through. There’s so much pressure [for teens] to succeed at such an early age now, vs. getting the skills they need—mentally and emotionally—to succeed in life.”

Parents may also need to think about any pressure we’ve been adding to our children’s lives.

Another factor is that kids want their parents to be proud of them. “They feel an added pressure to prove us right,” Schneider says. “And when they aren’t able to, they want to save us from that experience [of them not doing well], but sometimes without thinking through the consequences.

“It’s hard to remember how our kids view us,” he adds. “Not as people, but as all-powerful beings. A sense of desperation to avoid [letting parents down] can lead to cheating.”

When good kids cheat, it is more a symptom of a larger problem, than the actual problem itself. By addressing the larger issues, there is a very good chance we can prevent the cheating from ever happening again.

Momarama Quotes Jeremy on Managing Screen Time

Momarama has published a piece on limiting screen use in your families called, Too much media? Managing kids’ screen time, and quoted Jeremy in it.

The focus of the piece was to help parents set limits with their children in terms of time spent in front of a screen. Parents don’t need to feel out of control when it comes to how much time their kids spend in front of technology.

“Establish the idea that using technology is a privilege,” Schneider said. “If you set up fairly firm boundaries about how and when technology can be used, this can make things smoother in your house day-to-day because your kids will know what to expect.”

Require kids to do homework and household chores before screen time. Consequences for failing to do so might be to lose screen time for a while. “Extra time can be [given] to recognize good behavior, too,” Schneider said.

Obviously, the more consistent parents are with their children about time spent in front of screens (TV, iGadgets, computers, etc.), the easier it will be for parents to set limits.