“I’m NOT crying,” my almost 3 year-old little girl says to me while I’m cleaning her hands from our messy spaghetti and meatballs dinner. I certainly didn’t think she was crying and am left wondering why she would say that? Is this one of those toddler things that just doesn’t make any sense? Or was my little girl telling me something?
“Do you feel like crying, Jordyn?” I try to assume my children are telling me something important, just in case, and decided to explore a little bit further.
“No,” she responds as I continue to focus on cleaning her hands and face.
Okay, then. That settles that.
“But I’m a little bit grumpy,” she adds. I immediately look at her beautiful face.
“Oh sweetie girl, why are you grumpy?” I ask getting concerned. I’m just following her lead now, since it seems like there might really be something here.
“Because I don’t see you,” she tells me.
I knew it.
I lean closer to her because even though I don’t fully understand what she’s trying to tell me, I know it is important. I’ve stopped cleaning her hands.
“Because I don’t see you in the morning.” And just like that I am on my knees both physically and emotionally.
It does hurt them. I knew it.
“You know when I don’t see you in the morning, I really miss you, right? You know I miss you?”
“Yes,” she says.
Then the moment is over and like a baseball player shaking off a brush back pitch, she shakes this off and is lost in playing with her twin brother and Mommy.
But it has been a day already and I haven’t been able to shake it off so easily.
The mornings have been a challenging, yet crucial, time in the relationship with my children. Jordyn’s brother, Elijah, had a lot of trouble with my leaving in the morning during his second year of life. He would cry and scream and each time it would break my heart. He and I finally figured out a way to make it easier for both of us and since then he has been handling my leaving better and better, which of course in the cruel world of fatherhood is not necessarily a good feeling. Does he not need me? Does he not care if I’m gone? I don’t want him upset, but, as with most fathers, I’d like to know I’m missed when I leave, that my presence matters.
Jordyn, ironically, handled my leaving in the morning easier, in part, because we had such a strong connection. Elijah and I have developed a very strong connection over time and that bond has contributed to his ease with my leaving in the morning for work. For some reason, Jordyn and I always had a strong bond and that made my leaving easier for her. With a strong connection, even though I was gone, she still felt connected to me. But in the past six months or so, it has been harder in a different way. When she sees me in the morning and I have to leave for work, she doesn’t scream or cry, but she gets sad, which feels terrible for me. I hate doing that to her. On the mornings when they wake up and I am still home, I go up to their bedroom and get them. Their first question is, “Do you have to go to work, Daddy?”
“Yes, I do,” I say with resignation. I don’t want to go and leave them every morning, but I’m the sole breadwinner and my wife cares for them all day. That’s our deal. So I have to leave.
But, to be honest, it’s more than that. I don’t earn the money in our family only because of our deal. I leave every morning because that’s what my father did. It is the primary responsibility I learned about being a father. But he never got the balance right and we never had much of a connection, much of a relationship, a sense of closeness. I desperately want that closeness with my children and going to work every day scares me because it gets in the way of that.
The mornings when they wake up while I am still home are hard because I am in a rush to get ready and catch my train and when they are awake my time gets squeezed. I get to see them, but it is harder for me to get ready. On the mornings when they don’t wake up, it is easy and, dare I say, almost relaxing in the morning, but I don’t get to see them.
As Summer turned to Fall, it has stayed darker in the morning later making it easier for them to sleep longer. Which then makes it more likely I won’t see them in the morning. This is what Jordyn is feeling. I don’t think it is so much that one morning as the accumulation of many mornings where she has woken up and her Daddy has not been there. I think the strong connection she and I have makes it harder for her when we don’t see each other. Her brain has developed enough where she is now aware she misses me, aware that I am somewhere else, not with her.
There have been times when I have come home, where Jordyn has been whiny or emotional and it turned out that she just needed some time with me, presumably because she missed me in the morning. When I come home I try to have at least a little time with each of my children, but with two it is hard to have special individual time and between dinner, bath and nebulizing them every night, there’s just not a lot of time either.
When I leave in the morning and don’t see them, it is easy to fool myself into thinking it is better this way. Every time I have to say goodbye to them, I feel like I am hurting them, causing them pain. I thought that when I left before they woke up, there’s no harm, no foul. But just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It hurts my children every day I go to work even though when I am around I try to give them everything I have, to do everything I can to make up for my time away. Will they understand this when they are older? Probably. But that isn’t much solace right now.
Right now, I’m feeling a bit grumpy myself.