Shortly after 9/11, members of a stay-at-home moms’ playgroup, along with their husbands, shared their stories with the AJT about first-time parenting and sleepless nights, the wonders and challenges of baby makes three. The article “New Awakenings” ran in the AJT’s March 2002 special edition titled “Ooh Baby: How Could Someone So Small Change Everyday Life so Much?”
Now, in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic, the AJT revisits two of the couples, whose sons attended Schiff Preschool of Temple Emanu-El, recently graduated high school, and will soon attend Georgia Tech. We hear how life evolved for them from first-time parents to experienced ones, what they learned along the way, and what tips they have for new parents.
Both moms went back to work when their children were young, part-time at first so they could be home with their sons when they weren’t in preschool. Their sons participated in sports and both excelled academically.
One was raised as an only child with parents who divorced in 2008. Both were in their early 40s when they had Dylan. At that time, Steve Fader was already looking toward to the future. “I’ll be pushing 60 when Dylan graduates from high school,” he told the AJT in 2002. “But we hope he’ll keep us young.”
The couple could not have imagined back then how “mature and above his years” Dylan would turn out despite the couple’s divorce, graduating at the top of his class at The Weber School, Fader said. “He far exceeded our expectations. We would not have thought he’d be accepted to Georgia Tech so easily.”
He attributes Dylan’s success partly to the couple’s “united front” and unselfishness while raising him. “We made a lot of good decisions,” which included taking their responsibilities seriously as parents, ensuring their son had a high self-esteem and a strong sense of security.
At that time, wife Nikki Canter, 41, who had been director of marketing for a life insurance company, gave it up to stay home with Dylan. “All my life, all I’ve ever wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said in the 2002 article. “I was a career woman for 16 years, but this is the hardest job I’ve ever had – and I had a pretty tough job.”
After the story ran and 18 months into parenthood, she changed her mind.
“I was going bananas. I couldn’t wait to find a job,” she told the AJT recently. She found part-time work teaching The Music Class for youngsters from 2004 until March 2013, when she found a full-time job as an office manager and assistant. Dylan was in middle school then.
“Being a stay-at-home mom is very different than it looks,” Canter said. “I have a lot of respect” for stay-at-home moms after serving in that role, she added. “Some people are great at being stay-at-home moms. It was my intention but is not how I was built. I couldn’t change my personality. I needed external validation, the fulfillment I was not getting” from being a full-time mom, she said.
If hindsight is 20/20, a phrase appropriate for the times, Canter said, “I wish I could have been more forgiving of myself.” Also, “I would not have quit my career.”
Speaking with the AJT following a Georgia Tech orientation, Canter said Dylan has always been very independent, perhaps based on his parents’ divorce and mother’s working status.
“When I asked G-d to bring me a perfect man, I didn’t know it was gonna be my son.”
She described him as an easy child, who took three years to arrive after several failed invitro treatments. “He was a miracle baby.”
Dylan attended public school through the ninth grade but then went to Weber, from which he recently graduated. “I was able to give him a phenomenal education with the help of the Jewish community.” Dylan benefited from the ALEF Fund and a school scholarship.
He played Little League, participated in baseball at Weber and became a first-degree black belt in taekwondo, Canter said. Dylan also built computers and learned about commercial real estate and sales, and is already developing an investment portfolio, mom boasts.
“Dylan and I have amazing respect for each other. I gave him a lot more responsibility than I saw a lot of others giving their kids. He knows I trust him to make good decisions.”
Canter believes children born after 9/11 and graduating during a pandemic like Dylan “should be prepared for anything. These kids are very resilient based on the time in which they were raised.”
Dylan recognized the contributions both his parents made to his “development as a person” and appreciated the time he spent with both of them growing up. “Through the good and the bad, both my parents have been there for me.”
Justin Siegel, 18, the first of two children of Randi and Elliot Siegel, graduated Dunwoody High School and will attend Georgia Tech.
Between the 2002 article and now, he attended the Schiff Preschool, where his mom later worked part-time. And Justin participated in sports, mostly baseball and basketball, including at the Marcus JCC. “It was a huge part of our lives,” said Elliot, who also coached his son’s basketball teams and helped the baseball coaches.
When their second child, daughter Jessica, was born two years after Justin, Randi Siegel decided to work, but only while the children were in school.
“I felt I had the best of both worlds when I went back to work,” she said. But she didn’t regret her time as a stay-at-home mom. “Being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice I ever made. I wouldn’t change that. I was very grateful to be a stay-at-home mom.”
As first-time parents, the Siegels admit they may have initially been overly concerned about their child’s progress, but watching him develop within his playgroup was reassuring.
“He may not have been the first to walk or talk or roll over,” but in the long run, he excelled, Randi said.
You can tell from speaking with the couple, who finish each other’s sentences, they share responsibilities raising their children. “Elliot and I had such a great schedule of who was doing what. He worked full-time so he took the late-night feeding and I got up for the early feeding.”
If she knew then what she knows now, “I would tell everyone to enjoy every moment. It does go by very fast. It’s OK if your kid falls, they will get back up.”
Elliot chimed in, “As parents, you never stop learning. There’s no book. There’s no final test. The test is every day.”
As circumstances change, parents need to adjust and respond to the challenges that arise, he said. “That never goes away. Kids are always going through new experiences and are dealing with their own set of challenges as well. There is no day off. It’s important to keep engaged in their lives.”
He said the key is to stay relevant and relatable. Parents today tend to want to be more involved in their children’s lives. “You can’t take over their lives. You certainly don’t want them to fail at big things, but let your child make some mistakes.” They will learn to assess their judgment, ask questions and stick up for themselves. “If you do everything for them, they’re not acquiring many important life skills.”
Even though they will be around the corner, the Siegels and Canters are gearing up for the next phase of life. “I’m going to miss the daily relationship building,” Elliot Siegel said.
He expects the family will still get together often for Georgia Tech games and Justin will still want to see his parents somewhat regularly.
Justin said he appreciates that his mom stayed home with him and that his father took off from work to coach his games. “I know they would do anything for me. While I will not live at home, I know they will always be there for me.”
What will he miss most? His mom preparing his meals and doing his laundry, he said.
Of her empty nest, Canter said, “It’s going to be very lonely around the house.” Still, “I know he is incredibly mature and so independent. I am very thankful he grew up that way. I have no doubt he will be able to take care of himself. I am going to be lonely, but that’s my problem, not his.”
While she focused on him throughout his life, she said she may be able to turn her attention to herself now. “It’s time I put me first and once he’s gone, … I can decide whether to put myself out there for dating purposes. I have to figure out the rest of my life.”