Asher is 5 today. He is never going to stop for his Dad to take a picture so I have to catch him on the run. Sometimes, when Stephie paints a great backdrop, Asher will agree to run in front of it - but he will never stop. Never! Happy Birthday Asher. We love you. To which he always replies, "I love you more." #shootyourlife #unfrogettableinstagram
When Jackson was growing up in Maplewood, he loved trains. LOVED them. We could hear the train whistle all the time in our house from the trains going to and from Manhattan. He would always yell out, “TRAIN! TRAIN”” when he heard the whistle. TRAIN might have been one of his very first words. There was Scottish book of train stories, Full Steam Ahead that he loved and we read to him many many nights. The illustrations by Benedict Blathwayt were amazing. Every page had a cat somewhere, often a nuclear power plant in the rural landscape, and many towns we felt we were visiting with Duffy Driver and the Little Red Train. Last night, just before Jackson turned 7, we pulled out the well worn book and Jackson read it to me. It was so weird hearing the words I had almost memorized come out of his lips. After the story we turned off the light and talked about that morning exactly 7 years ago. I told him about Stephie waking up at 7AMand telling me how she was going to give me the best anniversary present ever. I told him about calling my mother in Pittsburgh and not being able to get a word out. “Stephie is having the baby.” I nodded. “You are on your way to the hospital.” I nodded. “I will see you soon.” We hung up. I told Jackson about the drive to the hospital in the old Camry when I was driving slower and slower, giving Stephie a navigational play by play. Stephie who was busy keeping Jackson inside until we arrived just said calmly (which is so Stephie), “I don’t need you to describe how long it will take every minute.” I told Jackson how we had so much stuff for the long haul in the hospital. The music. The big exercise ball. I told him about coming out several hours after we arrived in three breaths. Big breath and push. Scalp. Bigger push. His whole head. At 1:45, one last brave push by Stephie and Jackson launched out into the world. I saw him through the tears. Fully assembled. Full personality from his first breath. Stephie embracing that slimy beautiful boy. Me trying to embrace them both. Stephie’s mom, Janet was there - we needed our own personal nurse. My mother arrived at about the same moment, having run to the airport in Pittsburgh, hopped a plane to Newark, and taken a cab, all in less than 4 hours without my having said a word out loud.
Stephie made this amazing frame to shoot Asher and his friends for his 4th birthday party. Asher was sick, the party was cancelled - now it is there just for documentation. Asher is not into posing. Never has been, though I have won the battle often enough (not in this shot). I have been thinking about this generation - the first whose every single move is being documented. It was even funny to see the exasperation on the "professional" guy shooting pictures for the soccer league as every parent shot with their phones over his shoulder. (He lost my sympathy when the team assembled with their arms over each other and he moved them into a stupid, generic pose). My point is, what are our kids thinking as they are having to look into a camera everyday? "Hold that!" "Stand there!" "Can you just do that one more time?" What happens when they are looking at all these shots of themselves? I am as guilty as anyone on the planet of feeling that need to capture everything or else I will forget. My kids sometimes feel an experience is not validated without a picture. They love having the history. I get that. But what is going through their minds with their expressions? Jackson's fake smile that only appears for the camera. Asher pushing me away with his fingers. I have embraced the awkwardness. Have indulged them then moved onto the next shot (digital memory is cheap). Still, I hope we don't find out years from now that in all this documentation we were missing the best moments through wanting to capture them. #shootyourlife
Asher falls asleep mid-sentence. Like pressing the pause button. A lot can happen for him before his eyes open again. While my job is to look over and protect, I am not invited into his dreams. If I wake up before Asher, a rare occurrence, I go into his room and open the blue curtains. Then I stare at those beautiful closed eyes for a moment. I put my hand on his back to feel the heat and know he is alive. I sit still and take it all in, before beginning to whisper him awake. Asher awakes in a blink, pushes play and begins to finish the sentence he left hanging the night before. My father had two older brothers and an older sister. When my younger brother Andrew was born, he started a club in the neighborhood called, “The Younger Brother’s Club.” He felt that younger brothers needed some extra love and support and wanted them to feel special. Asher is an official member of the “Younger Brother’s Club”, but he is lucky. His older brother tells him everyday how much he loves him and he seals it with a hug. Not that they don’t try to crush each other sometimes. His grandmother’s hold him close and from afar. His mother spends everyday loving him more and more. His father has insisted the younger brother gets photographed just as much as his older brother. Asher doesn’t give but a moment to take the pictures we take everyday.
But oh…. the moments he shares.
Happy Birthday younger brother.
We love you more than we could ever say.
When I’m 59
There are moments when I just want to stop and hold it in and savor it all. Ahhh, this love. Ahhh….these boys. Ahhh….this day. Ahhh...these friends. But it never really stops or even slows down. I need to wake up and get out of bed. Need to turn the warm water off and get dressed. Need to hand the boys off to the world of kindergarten and beyond. Need to pick up my camera and use it like a lopper and cut through the bush. Birthdays are a marker that makes it ever more clear that this ship doesn’t slow down until it stops. Life is never laid back. Peace is a dream. You can never really take your foot off the gas. Which is not to say there are not moments - many moments - of perfect bliss.
It always feels that if I take my birthday too seriously I will be marking time when I want so desperately to collect memories like pennies. Want to create moments knowing they will disappear. Want to discover something every single day I never knew existed. Listen to something I never heard before. I want to hold Stephie’s hand, whose hand I hold everyday and be in awe of how good her hand feels. I want to kiss my boys as they lay in suspended animation asleep. I want my kisses to feel like fairy dust on their cheek.
When people ask me why I moved to Boulder I tell that story I am so tired of telling. That I came out to take care of my brother who suddenly got sick - quickly followed by, “he is fine now” - and then about Stephie coming out, looking up at the mountains and asking if we were moving here. My brother getting sick was too sudden and too intense. It was a marker in the sand. It can happen that fast. It took a long time for me to be able to pass that hospital and not get lost in all that happened there.
My name sake, George Rom died so young after a long illness. Really young. When I passed the age he died, I was relieved.
My father died on his 74th birthday. Especially the way things have unfolded - he really missed a lot. Marrying Stephie...the boys….. How is that God’s will?
My mother keeps raising the bar well into her 80’s - I am going to use her ship as a beacon.
I have learned about birthdays by watching my son’s faces illuminated by the candles when we all sing, “Happy Birthday.” Every eye in the room is on them. Everyone is raising their voices, except them. They are processing, really intensely that this moment is all about them. They are not sure what the numbers mean, but they have been looking forward to that day for so long. They look at the decorations and their name on the cake, not as some privilege, but as recognition that this moment is their moment and it is special. That they are appreciated and loved and that means alot. Then the candles get blown out, the cake cut up, and it is onto the next game.
I used to think I never needed that. My ego was not about absorbing or reflecting light. It was about discovering light.
And yet. Through my boys eyes on their birthdays I have learned how to stare into the light from the candles and say, “Ok. For a moment, I will close my eyes and let myself feel all this love.” I will accept that most of my life has been a sprint into the sun with so many many gifts along the way. This light, from these candles is close and warm and fleeting. I will embrace this moment before the wind kicks up.
Last week a friend told me never to edit what I share with a friend. So I write away. To put away the fears of time cut short. To look forward and backwards at the same time. Then to blow really hard and live in the moment - where everything right now is sweet and warm and full of everything I love.
And happy birthday right now sounds like this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWSz_PAfgNc