“Daddy, I Don’t Love You!”

Well, I finally got mine this week.

I’ve heard that it happens to every parent. It’s really just a matter of time and there really isn’t anything you can do to stop it. You can set up the circumstances and plan as best you can, but even the most skilled veteran parents are going to get it at some point or another. I’ll admit, I don’t know that I expected it this early – is four years of parenthood even considered early? – but I figured it was coming sooner or later.

Last week, Eitan told me he didn’t love me.

Well, he didn’t exactly say it as much as he screamed it at my face. I was sitting at the foot of his bed and he was near the head. He was in the middle of a gigantic tantrum that involved him not getting what he wanted (more about that later). His face had gotten red and he had been yelling so loudly that he started coughing and dry heaving at one point. I tried to talk to him calmly to help him come down a bit but he ramped right back up and threw out the line like a 100 mile an hour fastball.

“Daddy, I don’t love you anymore! I love Mommy and Shayna but not you!”

I barely acknowledged it in the moment. I think I said, “That’s fine” and kept trying to calm him down. I didn’t show any anger or sadness; I really just tried to keep from rolling my eyes. As angry as Eitan was and as much as he was obviously trying to hurt my feelings, I would have hated to think that he would have felt even more invalidated by an outright dismissal of what he thought was a silver bullet. At least “That’s fine” shows that I heard him make the comment, even if I didn’t respond or throw back a return volley.

There were a few reasons I didn’t want to make a big deal about the comment. For one thing, I knew he didn’t mean it (at least, as much as one can “know” what another person is feeling). My interpretation was that Eitan was just really angry and that he was looking for a way to express his extreme displeasure with me and with the situation. I also knew that Eitan hadn’t quite matured to the point where he could differentiate between the feelings “like” and “love.” He said he didn’t love me but what I heard was, “I don’t like you right now because I’m angry with you.” Granted, hearing something different than what is said can be quite dangerous, especially in relationships, but I think it’s usually fairly safe in certain situations with young children. Plus, even if Eitan really did mean what he was saying in the moment, I was fairly confident that he and I would be able to move past the argument in time and that he would “love me again” later on.

Second, as I said earlier, I figured it was just a matter of time until Eitan told me he didn’t love me as part of an argument. Kids use these kinds of comments – I don’t love you, you don’t love me, you’re ruining my life, you’re a horrible parent, etc. – as tactics to deflect from the issue at hand and to elicit a reaction that will make their parent question their actions and, hopefully (from the child’s point of view), change their mind to give the child what they want. As a social worker with experience watching families throw all kinds of emotional barbs at each other, this was probably one of the lighter remarks I’d ever heard. Of course, it was different because it was a younger child and it was my son saying it to me, but it was still hardly the most awful thing I had ever heard a child say to a parent.

The last – and probably the most important – reason why I didn’t want to make too big a deal about Eitan’s comment is that the tantrum started largely because of my own mistakes as a parent. Eitan had wanted to look at pictures of toys on my phone and I said yes initially. Then he went to get his tablet to look at some YouTube videos of those toys on there instead and I said no. The videos he wanted to watch weren’t harmful or inappropriate for his age, but there was also no real value to them.1 So I said that he could not watch the videos and suggested that we play with his actual toys instead.

That moment where I said no, after having originally said yes, was the critical mistake. Part of the point of childhood is looking for an understanding of the world and structure is what helps kids do that. When the structure is inconsistent or unpredictable children react accordingly because they cannot figure out what is expected of them. If something is allowed at first but then immediately revoked, it is understandable that a child would get upset. Had I said no from the very start, Eitan might have still thrown a tantrum but I could have explained my reasoning more clearly at that point. It’s also possible that he might have allowed me to redirect him towards a different activity instead.

When I got home later that evening, Eitan was fine. He didn’t seem angry at all and didn’t bring up the argument from that morning. I brought it up to him before bed, though. I apologized for my part2 and also reminded him that he would not be watching those videos anymore, whether he was using a phone or a tablet or the computer. Eitan said that he understood, gave me a hug and a kiss and said that he loved me before falling asleep. And so we both moved on, at least until the next time Eitan decides that I’m ruining his life.

 


1. I know, on the one hand, it shouldn’t really matter. Eitan had just woken up a little while ago, he likes the videos and he was keeping himself occupied, so what’s the big deal? On the other hand, considering all of the things he could be watching, like actual television shows that provide educational content, for instance, I would rather not have him sit and use exactly zero brain power to watch other people play with children’s toys. It would be even better if he would actually play with his own toys in the first place, but that’s a different issue. The bottom line is that, if he’s going to be watching something to begin with, I want it to have some sort of value beyond just occupying my child’s time.

2. Eitan likely heard me say that the whole argument was my fault; that’s obviously not what I said, but remember what I said before about hearing something different than what people are saying? It happens all the time. It’s also important for Eitan to hear me apologize when I’ve made a mistake and to see me change the behavior in the future. That’s part of parenting too.

Politics Shmolitics

I don’t want to write about politics.

This blog is supposed to be about parenting (yes, among other things) and I have a small enough amount of readers as it is without publishing my political views on the internet. If the idea is to try to expand my reach, taking a political stand runs the risk of alienating some people. Of course, I also realize that, although I might not spell out my views explicitly, it’s probably not that hard to figure them out, especially if you consider my full-time occupation or follow me on social media.1 But I’ll let you do that homework on your own, if you’re so inclined.

In the meantime, I’m not going to write about politics.

I don’t want to write about politics because it feels futile to do so. I am happy to engage in a debate about an issue that includes different points of view and involved a healthy exchange of ideas. We can go back and forth trading arguments, reasons for our opinions and pointing out the flaws in each other’s logic. I am perfectly fine not agreeing with you; if anything, a disagreement actually makes for a better discussion. In the best case scenario, one of us will make a point that the other hadn’t considered and we’ll each have to rethink our stances.

The problem is that these healthy exchanges seem to occur so rarely. The American political “debates” have become nothing more than candidates throwing insults back and forth at each other while the political issues get pushed to the side. No one makes any actual statements about their plans to fix the health care system or to reform education or about foreign policy. The debates are all platitudes and sound bites with no substance.2  Plus, have you seen what’s been going on in the House of Representatives this past week? I have to believe that the rest of the world takes the United States somewhat seriously only because of our military capabilities; there’s no way it has anything to do with diplomacy or our elected leaders demonstrating an ability to, you know, lead.

The other issue is that there do not seem to be any real forums for real political discussion. I have very little patience for politics on social media because of how splintered the landscape has become. People on the left hate-follow the right and share articles just to make fun of them and the right wing members do the same right back. And that assumes that people even bother to follow those who hold a different point of view; too often people will just follow those who espouse the same ideals and ignore any of the rhetoric coming from the other side of the aisle. I find that there is so little to gain by surrounding myself with people who agree with me because that means no one is challenging me to defend myself. The problem is that none of the people on either side seem interested in even listening to the other’s arguments in the first place.

Maybe I’m missing something. There may be some little-known, secluded, magical place of which I’m just not aware where people use logic and reason to defend their arguments rather than resorting to insults and mud-slinging. It’s also possible that I just don’t have the energy or the passion to do the research I think would be necessary to really engage in one of these conversations.3 I’d like to think that I would be able to muster up some more patience for this kind of a conversation if I could be assured that the other participant(s) were after the same objective: an exchange of ideas that does not necessarily need to end with a winner or a loser. Until then, I’ll keep doing my best to tolerate the actions of politicians and the “arguments” posed on the internet and keep most of my opinions to myself.

 


1. If you haven’t already done so, please like the blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

2. And, lest you assume that this is all just directed at Donald Trump and the Republicans, I have felt very similarly about the State of the Union address over the past few years.

3. Honestly, I’d rather watch baseball. Or, at least, read about it because, let’s be honest, when am I ever watching a baseball game these days?

My Father’s Hands

My first distinct memory of my father’s hands is from when I was six or seven years old. There wasn’t anything remarkable about them; five fingers each, no marks on the skin or anything like that.1 They were just his hands.

I had been playing with Legos and had gotten two small pieces stuck together so tightly that my little fingers could not get them separated again. I remember thinking at the time that my mother would be the better person to ask for help. I should say, it was not because moms solve everything and a dad’s only purpose is to be able to tell his child where mom is, as some internet memes might have you believe.2 No, it was much more practical than that. At that age, I understood that I needed something small to get between my two Lego pieces and my mom had something my dad did not: nails.

In any event, my mother wasn’t around at that moment so I went to my father instead. I remember watching him try to separate the Lego pieces with his short, recently cut nails and thinking, “Well, this is never going to work.” But, lo and behold, my father’s fingers were able to pull the pieces apart just enough that he was able to get even his shortened thumbnail in between to pry the pieces apart so I could keep playing.

* * * * *

I was sitting next to my father in synagogue on a Shabbat morning when I was in early high school. We used to play games with our hands when we were bored, like the typical Slaps3 or Thumb-Wars, but on this morning, he and I were just sitting. His hand was resting on one of the books and I put my hand next to his to see how much closer my hands had become to matching the size of his. He shifted position to make room for me and he and I looked at our hands side-by-side.

“That’s amazing,” he said. I remember the genuine surprise in his voice. “They’re the exact same hands.”

He was right. My hands were smaller, obviously; palm to palm, my fingertips barely reached the crease of the last knuckle on his fingers. My father’s hand was also… fleshier, I suppose, which is to be expected from a man thirty years older than me. But the skin complexions were a perfect match and so were the shapes of our palms. Even the small hairs that had begun growing on the backs of my hands followed the same pattern.

My hands were his hands, just on a smaller scale.

* * * * *

It was one night last week when I noticed it again. Shayna had just finished nursing and Trudy and I were ready to put her down for the night, except she woke up while I was swaddling her and took a little while to get back to sleep. I had her cradled in the crook of my left arm, rocking her softly as I paced back and forth through the living room. Once she fell asleep, I rocked her for a few more minutes, just to be sure, and then prepared to put her down into her bassinet.

I made my way into the bedroom as quietly as I could, so as not to disturb the sleeping baby in my arm or my sleeping wife on the bed. I turned on the flashlight app on my phone and angled it toward the wall so that there was enough light for me to see but not so much that it would wake anyone up. I did my best Indiana Jones impression as I lowered Shayna into her bassinet and placed my hand flat on her torso. She flinched ever so slightly when I put her down but relaxed right away once she felt my hand.4

That was when I saw it. The hand on Shayna’s stomach, visible through the pale glow of my cell phone flashlight, was my father’s. The outline, the shapes of the nails, the complexion of the skin, everything about it was the same as my father’s hands.

I smiled.

I’ve been noticing more and more indicators that I’m slowly, but surely, turning into my father. There are words and phrases that I hear myself using; the ratio of salt-to-pepper in my hair that seems to be growing daily; and now, my hands. Each of them are reminders of my upbringing, both in terms of nature and nurture. And, while it’s certainly an eerie feeling when I hear my father’s words coming out of my mouth, it’s also comforting to know that someone I admire is so much a part of me.


1. No, my father is not Antonio Alfonseca.

2. This one is pretty basic, but still… ugh.

3. Everyone knows Slaps. It’s the game where one person holds their hands out, palms facing up and the other puts their hands out over the first pair. The person on the bottom tries to slap the other person’s hands before the other person can get their hands out of the way.

4. Trudy taught me this technique when Eitan was born. I remember being shocked that something as simple as putting my hand on a baby’s torso would help the baby relax.

Dear Shayna

Dear Shayna,

I wrote a letter to you a few weeks ago, but that was before I knew you were you. It was before I knew you were a girl, for one thing, although your brother was adamant that he knew you were. It was also before I remembered what it was like to have an infant around. I had forgotten about doing my best to find things in the dark so I wouldn’t wake your mother up while I was changing your diaper in the middle of the night. I’d forgotten about the Zombie Parent Shuffle, the dance steps that exhausted parents do as they pace back and forth while trying to rock their newborns back to sleep. I’d forgotten how quickly dirty laundry adds up and how frequently newborns need their diapers to be changed (seriously, turn off the faucet, would you?).

In any event, now that you’re here, I wanted to write you your first official letter. As I’m writing this, you’re five days shy of your one-month birthday. You haven’t been around for very long but you’ve already changed so much. You’re a pound and a half heavier than you were when you were born and you take up significantly more space in the bassinet than you did when we first brought you home. Your mom and I are actually a little bit nervous because we were hoping that the bassinet would buy us more time before you would start sharing a room with your brother, but we may have to make that switch a little sooner than expected. You’re alert1 and focused and learning new things every day. And, most importantly for your mom and me, you’re only waking up once at night to eat, which we really appreciate.

I mentioned in the last letter that I was a little nervous about the fact that I didn’t feel the same sort of connection with you that I did with Eitan before he was born. I can say that, in the short time I’ve had to get to know you, I’m already feeling better about those nerves. I’m sure it has something to do with me putting in the effort to be there to change your diapers and rock you to sleep at night, but I think the fact that you’re such an easygoing baby helps a lot too. It’s a weird thing about being a parent: you haven’t been around for very long, but I already have trouble picturing a time when you weren’t around. I smile whenever I see you and the warmth I get from feeling you sleeping on my shoulder or in my arm helps melt away any sort of muscle soreness that might try to creep in.

I should warn you: it’s a weird world you’re coming into. Everyone has gone a little crazy, especially over the last few months, since it’s an election year. Civil disagreement and debate seem to have been killed off and replaced by yelling and outrage and name calling. Also, women have been making progress in improving their station in society, but things are far from perfect. You’re going to be fine, I’m sure, but you’re going to have to deal with some struggles that your brother won’t even have to think about. I know it’s not fair, but that’s another warning: life rarely is.

That being said, you also have a lot to look forward to. You have a brother who is so eager to play with you that he lies down with you on your play mat and shows you all of his toys. You have parents who will do whatever it takes to make sure that you feel loved and that your needs are met. And you have an extended family that adores you and will always be there to support you. You’re never going to be short on allies, which is not always the case nowadays.

I’m not going to go on and on about my hopes and dreams for you. You’re going to have enough things to worry about growing up in this day and age, like navigating the increasingly tricky world of social media and handling various other societal pressures, so I don’t want to tack on additional expectations. I just hope that you’ll be able to find your place in the world and maybe disrupt a few things along the way. If you turn out anything like your mom, you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, wherever you go. That’s a good thing; it means you’ll be strong, assertive and that you’ll never be afraid to advocate for yourself. That’s about as much as I could ask for from a daughter.

Welcome to the world, Shayna. We’re so happy to have you.

Love,

Daddy


1. Be alert; the world needs more lerts. Hashtag dad jokes. (Ugh, I’m sorry, kid; you’re doomed.)