Jackson

Missing Tooth and Relish

_W4Q6335  

At Jackson’s elementary school they send 3-4 kids home everyday with a tooth necklace. A rite of passage the tooth fairy felt special enough to leave the $2 bill without taking the tooth that has lived in the top of his smile for over 8 years.

Last night at dinner my son Asher, (age 5) asked if I liked relish. “Well Asher, I don’t LOOOVE relish.” Then he asked, if my father, Jack (who has been gone since 1998) liked relish. I didn’t know the answer to that. I know he liked yellow mustard. I called my mother and she wasn’t sure either - but she said, “he loved garlic pickles.”

Like most families across America we spent breakfast talking about what we would do with a billion dollars. Jackson, imagined buying the sports palaces he visits in Denver. The whole ritual of going to a game now involves a horrible maze of cost vs. privilege. “Dad I KNOW $180 for these seats to the Winter Classic is too much and I am fine without going BUT do you want to see where the seats are?” “DAD, for only $120 total we can sit way up here for the Nuggets.” If Jackson won the lottery he would be sitting in the first row for every Nuggets game, every Rockies game - AND - would see if there was enough money leftover to buy Heinz Field. Then...at the end of breakfast, he said, “If I won the lottery I would buy a plane so I could visit my grandmother’s for the next 20 years.”

Unfortunately I have never bought a lottery ticket. Don't believe in them, but love the dreams.

Jackson is 8

201510.29 There was almost no discussion about having a child before or after we got married. Being a lot older than most people to the parenting party, not discussing it was probably insane - yet…..what else could I say when the person I loved so much wanted to have a child with me? Should I have brought up all kinds of logistical things? Do I discuss money and our future then start on all the things that could go wrong? Do I try to micro manage the dream of something so beyond my wildest dreams? Still - I had no idea how much I wanted to be a father. I could never have imagined what I was holding in. Then one night Stephie handed me three envelopes. When I opened the third one, there was a drawing of a heart plus another heart equalling a baby. I cried harder at that moment than I had ever cried. My insides just opened up and I couldn’t pull myself together for a long time. It was the deepest ache and joy simultaneously.. How can you know how much you want something until it is really there? How can you know the love of your life until you are really living each day together?

There is no way a man can appreciate all a woman goes through having a child. Even though we are hopefully a big of source of support, we cannot be inside that beautiful body going through such an intense metamorphous. The time spent pregnant is both compressed and goes on forever. On the morning of our second anniversary, Stephie said, “I am going to give you the best anniversary present ever.” 7 hours of intense labor after that, Jackson appeared in three breaths. CRIES. SWEAT. First the top of his head poked out. BREATHE. PUSH. Then his whole head. Jackson’s whole head was right there emerging from Stephie. She was doing all the work and I stood holding her and looking through streams of tears. AWWWWWEEEEEE! Finally on the next breath Jackson launched into the world.

Everything in your life prepares you for this moment and yet it is nothing you can imagine. Jackson was alive in our arms and I cried even harder while trying to count his fingers and toes. As tightly as we held him, I also knew the process of having a child is the process of letting go. Even from those very first moments.

Jackson is 8 years old on our tenth wedding anniversary - which is today. My mother said last night, "The amazing thing about Jackson is he never says good, he always says great. He never likes things, he always loves them.” He comes by that honestly.

Jackson never misses a beat in appreciating what makes each moment sing. He has albums full of mental pictures he saves on his internal hard drive. There is so much we love about our kids, but I think before everything, I so appreciate Jackson’s kindness. His good mornings and goodbyes. His kisses and hugs and being so sensitive and appreciative. When I am going away for a work trip, he fights back his tears so bravely and says, “I am going to miss you Dad.” Just before I completely fall apart, he throws me a bone giving me a count of the days until I will be home for us both to look forward to.

Jackson is a child of the world now, but oh how we love him, and oh…..how he loves us back.

The View From The School Bus

2015.05.26_069

It was Jackson’s last day of first grade. He has already imagined crying after the last school bell rings. He was all too aware of another big milestone.

My mother was telling Jackson yesterday how proud she was of him graduating and he said, “I reached all my goals. My main goal was being able to tell time on a digital clock, and on the other kind of clock.”

Towards the end of the school year I start to get panicked that I cannot possibly remember everything. The feel of my son’s hand in mine walking to the bus. Our long shadows on the sidewalk. Rushing to his friends gathering at the bus, talking about the sports scores from the night before. That hug and kiss everyday before he boards the bus. That feeling of letting go and each of us beginning a whole other part of our days apart.

2015.05.26_015

2015.05.26_019

We have taken Jackson to the bus almost everyday for school this past year (except when we bike). When the bus pulls in and lets out its long brake hiss, the parents gather for last hugs (if they’re lucky, a kiss) and to say goodbye. The kids, each one with a full backpack all line up and disappear up the steps into the bus as the bus driver with the big gray mustache leans on the wheel saying hello. The bus windows are tinted so unless your child is right up against the window on a sunny day, the parents all wave wildly blowing kisses up at the bus windows hoping their kids can see them. I always wondered what it is like on the bus. What do the parents all look like from the inside out? What is it like sitting in the tall erect seats? What happens after the bus pulls away? Last week, I brought my camera to the bus and asked the driver if I could ride along to school with the kids. His big concern was how I would get home. I told him I could walk, and he waved me in.

2015.05.29_079

I watched how the kids all went to the seats they had figured out from the daily ritual. How they squeezed in next to their friends. I saw the parents all trying to figure out exactly where their kids were — some successfully — then drawing on the windows with their fingers, touching their children’s hands through the glass, then pulling away and blowing kisses. There was a sea of love on both sides of the windows. All about to let go and begin separate daily adventures.

2015.05.26_113

It is really hard taking pictures on a school bus. In our case the ride is under ten minutes so there is not much time. The bus bounces around and turns corners too hard. The light changes every second with the sun filtering through the trees. Richard, the bus driver is checking me out the whole time in the big mirror above his head. All the kids are making faces at the Dad with the camera violating their inner sanctum — their moment alone together in-between when they have to listen to adults again.

2015.05.26_180

Throughout the last week of school, I rode the bus several more times. The parents started asking me what it was like. They started saying, “one day I am going to ride the bus and find out myself.” Then the last day of school came and no other parent came on board. I was the only one who climbed up those steps to see the other side of the view we witnessed everyday. There are so many views with which to see our lives that we never take. Sometimes it is only three steps away and a quick permission.

2015.05.29_177

Spring Training

2015.03.31 For us, spring training ended in a parking lot by the Phoenix airport this morning. I am back to Texas to shoot, everyone else headed back home. The scale of watching baseball at spring training is magical. Fields of dreams. Now if only the Rockies can get a pitching game together.

The Interview

2015.01.03 Yesterday, it was Jackson's idea for us all to go to downtown Pittsburgh where they were having a rally for the Steelers at the old courthouse. The NBC Sports Sunday Night Football bus was parked outside and they were going to let people come in to see it. Jackson was first in line, and when he went in, he was so enthusiastic the guys running it all laughed. Then they gave him a hat, a microphone and asked him to interview the people coming in. "Who do you think is going to win the game?" "What do you think the score will be?" "How do you spell Roethlisberger?" If they failed at that, he would ask, "How do you spell Brown?" Asher got in the show with his touchdown dance. The men on the bus were so incredibly nice. They posted this shot on Instagram. Video should be posted later today -possibly on the the pre-game show.

Making People Feel Good

Going through old images last night, and found a couple of slides of my father holding a little baby. Not sure who’s baby. It was not ours. When Jesse Paul mentioned casually yesterday that he knew my Dad, Jackson stopped instantly and asked all about him. “You KNEW Jack Lange?” Jesse told him about feeding the birds and eating pancakes with my Dad. “Jackson….you would have loved your grandfather.” It is one of the most heartbreaking parts of being a Dad - not being able to share this joy with my own father.

On Saturday, Jackson was upset knowing this was his last basketball game of the season. Just before the game, Jackson said, “I need a minute alone”. He then walked off, and started whispering to himself in the front room. When he came back I asked what he had said. “I said a prayer so my team would have a great game, and that I would score at least one basket.” I asked if he said, “Amen” at the end. He said he did.

Jackson asked me to shoot video of the whole game - when he was playing and when he was not. I am not really into being that Dad with the video camera, but Jackson is into documentation, so I captured it all.

Jackson had a big game. Most baskets ever, and his team won. But the best part was seeing him passing, see him congratulating other kids both when they hit their shots, and especially giving them encouragement when they missed.

In the middle of the night Jackson came up to our room holding his 7 year old blanket and said he couldn’t sleep. I went back down in his bed and we talked for awhile. I told him how proud I was of how he helped his teammates. How he encouraged them to all play great. Mostly I explained that making other people feel good is what teamwork is all about. I told him that is really what my job is - to make other people feel good, feel the best they can feel - then to photograph that feeling. I looked over and he had fallen back to sleep. I was up for awhile longer.

Tonight I am writing this from my mother’s house in Pittsburgh. The house I grew up in. The house my mother has lived in since she was 4. My pictures are all over the walls. Kind of like a museum of my work. The first shots I developed in high school. All kinds of shots from my career. Lots of family pictures. Then, the walls start getting taken over with pictures of the boys. Just after they were born. So small and precious. Then bigger and even more precious. Asher enters the scene like he was always there. All so beautiful. I still feel like I am not at that stage of my life to start looking back too much. Each day is so full - just trying to to appreciate it all in the moment and capture some evidence for later.

In the basement are boxes full of tape recordings and more pictures. On the north side of town, there is a storage facility with over 100 drawers of folders. Each folder contains a shooting from my film days. More evidence. Sometimes I feel the pictures don’t nearly capture how joyous the experience was. Sometimes, like today, I am astonished at how many pictures I have taken and what an incredible journey it has been. Every couple of years I like to open the drawers, peek in, and touch the film. I don’t take my time. Just a glimpse.

My mother and I ate alone in the dining room tonight for the first night of Chanukah. She made brisket and potato latkes and green beans. She said it was the first brisket she had made in 30 years, and it was delicious. My mother told me about her yoga class, and how much she loved the Duane Michals show at the museum. We planned for the family visit after Christmas. In the middle my brother called from Hawaii. Near the end, the boys and Stephie checked in from Boulder.

There is no gift shop in the museum of my work in Pittsburgh, just a lot of evidence of people making people feel good.

2014.12.16

Jackson Turns Seven

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.

Ninth Anniversary

It is our 9th wedding anniversary today. That gets lost in shuffle of Jackson's birthday being the same day, but never in the joy that my life is built on. Stephie is a gift I get to unwrap everyday. There has not been a single day I have not appreciated how lucky I am to be with her. All this energy goes into our children, that is the way it is. We tend to their needs, their safety, their health and happiness long before our own. But the source and inspiration of it all are the Stephie's and the women we get to raise our families with. I mean it.2014.09.28_01_402

Mr. Snip Snip Snip

As a parent, if you let yourself, there are several times each day you want to cry. Most of the time you tamp it down. Drop them off. Hug. Wave. Move onto work. But sometimes, you allow yourself the quiet. You leave NPR off in the car. You go from tucking them in, to a quiet moment on the porch. You leave your phone alone and maybe go another moment or two before checking that text.It is the mental pictures you can really savor. These are the moments so packed with feelings a camera can only do shorthand. The feelings you cannot really talk about or share. The moments everyone warns you go so fast, and then when they are a little bit older disappear altogether. (that cannot be true!) I took my boys to the barber shop with Stephie yesterday. We hit it just under the wire after soccer before the shop closed. Yes, we were driving a minivan. Yes, it was a negotiation. Jackson was wanting a buzz cut so he could “feel his sweat”. “Dad, feel how much I am sweating!” Asher was the problem. We have been trying to get Asher (our three year old) to get a haircut for months now. Have not pressed that hard. Don’t really care. Just thought the bowl that was growing on his head needed a little shaping. Really….not that big a deal except that he is photographed every single day, and will be the poster boy on milk cartons in the near future. He likes the vanilla flavored milk. The negotiation was this: Asher could sit in the chair at the barber next to Jackson. We could go to Boulder Freeze for desert (and, most importantly get rainbow sprinkles). Only days before we went to the same low rent barber shop I go to, and Asher put on a show for the barber’s while I got my haircut. The barber shop was empty - it was just after morning rush hour and way before lunch. When I was done with my #1 buzz, I tried to get Asher up on a kid’s seat. He looked around and said, “I am not getting my hair cut in an empty barber shop!” The barbers all laughed, albeit nervously, as we exited. My boys get points for being audacious within reason. Asher won that battle. So the next night both boys were in the barber chairs. Jackson getting his modified buzz. Asher putting on another kind of show sporting his black cape. The only thing that held back a river of tears was my camera. I could not stop shooting. The boys mostly ignore me. This was just all too much. How can anyone look so beautiful under fluorescent light? When I downloaded the pictures I turned Miles Davis up loud enough to drown out my tears. Jim Morrison had been on before that. It was a soft parade. Oh, stop being so sensitive. Oh, but that is where all the good stuff happens. Later in the evening, I turned off the light and told Jackson what I always tell him before he goes to sleep, “I love being your, Daddy.” To which he says, “I love being your Jackson.” Tonight I added, “Jackson, you are really great.” To which he replied, “You’re really great too, Dad.”

Father's Day 2014

Father's dayFather's Day - 2014 When I was 2 or 3 my parents went to New York and saw Bobby Short, a cabaret singer they loved. They had him sign his second album, “To my Youngest Fan,George - Love, Bobby Short.” If my father had a theme song, it was one from this album self titled album, “Bobby Short”, track number 5, “I’ve Got The World On A String.” So by the miracle of Sonos and all these streamingmusic services, in the kitchen this morning to keep the waffles from sticking and the omelet to flip right, we cranked up, “I’ve Got The World On A String.” I could hear my father singing. I could hear my boys asking me about him. I knew every word.

One of the things that is incredible listening to this album is how fully formed Short’s style is on his second album. We bought all of his albums and they formed the soundtrack growing up (with Sinatra and a bunch of musicals). We totally wore out my Aunt Barbara’s copy of, “Bobby Short Love Cole Porter.”

On the day I became a father, Jackson arrived miraculously fully formed, and then Asher three years after. Everyday since they began talking, I have been called, “Dad” over and over and over. When they are hungry. When they need someone to help them in the bathroom or when they are scared. “Dad” is yelled out as we are flying down a hill on our bikes together. “Dad” is begged out to pitch ball after ball in the backyard. “DAD!!!” is screamed as they are running over when I come home from work. “Dad” way too early in the morning when they decide it is time to get up.

On Father’s Day 2014 I am trying to hold onto every precious moment like every single day since I became a father. I take out my camera for a moment as they are standing with their blankets on top of the steps. Then I put it away and we all cuddle up.

There are a lot of articles and posts lately about how hard it is to be a father (it is NOT hard). A lot about how special the role of father is( I could roll that one over a couple of times). Mostly we are a family. There are all kinds of families. All kinds of fathers.

What makes a father are children they can love. A partner or wife who shares it all. It is a room with eggs and waffles warm and waiting. It is Bobby Short singing as he sang at the very first father’s day I ever had with my own father. It is all waiting in the very next room. I am there.

It is hard to write about Father’s Day knowing that a father is not always there forever. My father and Stephie’s father are gone and so sadly missed. Other families who are raising children in so many different ways. We are all raising these kids in the best way we know how. Helping each other. Supporting each other. Knowing that in every family the thing that makes us parents are the one’s who look to us for support and protection and lessons in love.

Jackson's Last Day of Kindergarten

What can I say? All I want to do is hold onto every single moment. Those walks to school holding hands. Other days trying to catch up as his brother, Asher chased Jackson on his scooter. Playing so hard before school, then switching gears and getting so serious in line before being swallowed up by the oldest working elementary school in Colorado.And then the story I didn't think it was right to share. Where his teacher, Kim came to Jackson's Little League game, which was so sweet and so generous. I sent her a thank you note and she wrote back, "I loved seeing Jackson in his element! I think if you looked up 'joy' in the dictionary there should be a picture of Jackson. He is one of a kind." Every child is special. Every child deserves to be under "joy" in the dictionary. I just can't tell you how moving it is everyday to be sharing my life with this child of mine, who I am so proud of, and gives us all so much joy. At the end of the day our friends roasted a whole pig for a last day of school celebration. Farm to backyard Boulder style. The kids jumped in the air, burned their homework and then their marshmallows.