I met Dante in the summer of 2000 when I was working at my future father-in-law's restaurant. I was a few weeks away from turning 21 and Juliette's dad had given me a job waiting tables for the summer, a job I wasn't really qualified for and which I probably didn't deserve. Dante was one of the other waiters on the staff and, like me, he mostly worked lunch shifts so I got to spend a lot of time with him that summer. From the moment I met him, he was always friendly and warm toward me, even though I was a pretty terrible waiter. He was patient and kind, and he helped me a lot. Today I was saddened to learn that he died suddenly and unexpectedly this morning--of a heart attack, I'm told.
I can't help but regret the fact that I didn't know him better. We worked together for a summer, and in the years since we always took a couple of minutes to catch up whenever I came back to the restaurant for a visit with the family. There was a lot I didn't know about him. And yet, looking back, there was a lot I did know. I know he was hard-working, and that he cared about his work and took pride in doing it well. Since that summer we worked together he became a manager at the restaurant, and everyone I've ever talked to about him has loved him. I know that he was easy-going, quick with a smile, a genuinely nice person. I know that he loved his family. I know he had a bit of playfulness to him--I watched him spin a serving tray on one fingertip, laughing, one afternoon after the lunch rush was over. I know he will be missed, by me and many others.
I wish I could remember clearly the last time I saw him--but then, it wasn't remarkable at the time, just another visit home, another meal at the family restaurant. It's not as though this was something any of us saw coming; he wasn't even that much older than I am. So many of the moments in our lives that turn out to be important go unnoticed. I guess that's just the way of things.
My heart goes out to Dante's wife and children. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a father and husband this way, so completely out of the blue. It's a tragedy, and we are all the worse for his loss.
Goodbye, Dante. I'm glad I had the chance to know you.
"You know, one thing that I don't love about a lot of the pictures you've been taking of Eva is that she's got her pacifier in her mouth in almost every one."
"Well, yeah. She has it in her mouth in the pictures because that's what she looks like right now. She just has it in most of the time."
"Maybe we need to work on that."
"Yeah, I guess we do."
Pictures from Preschool
This year for Teacher Appreciation Week, I decided to be a bit more organic than last year's interview:
Beeswax. It makes a great lip balm. It's also something you should mind--but only your own.
You have probably seen this week's "Are You Mom Enough?" cover of Time. At least, judging from my Facebook feed and the blog buzz about it you have. I have no doubt that the photographer, Martin Schoeller, and Time's cover editors were fully aware of how riled up that cover would get people. It is, after all, exactly the kind of thing about which people these days feel a need to opine. You know what, though? This is not something that falls into the category of "your beeswax."
"But! But!" I can hear the objection coming already. "Don't you think she's screwing up her kid by keeping him on the breast so long? My God, don't you think it's weird?"
Yes, of course I think it's weird. You know what else I think is weird? Something you do in your family. Yes, you--all of you. And of course I think she's screwing up her kid, not because she's extending breastfeeding or following attachment practices but because she's a parent. You are screwing up your kids too. So am I.
Look, every single one of us is going to get it wrong with our kids. The best we can hope to do is to minimize the damage we cause and give our kids the means to cope with the rest.
And aren't there enough real problems in the world without having to find new things to get upset about? On the scale of things for me to care about, this is somewhere between how other people make their hot dogs and whether or not they put sweaters on their pets. Are they doing something I wouldn't do? Sure. Does it affect me? No, not really.
So, sure, maybe I think it's weird if some family wants to breastfeed their kids until they're twelve. But odds are, their kids are going to be fine, and parenting is hard enough on a good day; the last thing most of us need is some nosy blowhard butting into our lives to tell us what we're doing wrong.
It does cut both ways, of course. That other family over there? The one that bottle fed from day one and Ferberized their kids? Those kids are going to be fine, too. Maybe that's not how you would raise your own children, but it's none of your business.
None of us are perfect. We're all doing the best we can. Let's all just take a deep breath and get back to minding our own beeswax.
The Corner of My Mom's Dining Room
I keep looking at this picture--or rather, the pictures in this picture--and thinking, "Look at how young they are." By the time I met my stepfather's parents they were already old. In the years since, his father has continued getting older and his mother has passed away. But in that portrait they'll always be young.
Back when I was pretty fresh out of college and the world of Internet forums still felt new and fun to me, I had a woman insist to me that photographs steal your soul. It didn't occur to me until an embarrassing number of years later that she might have been pulling my leg a bit--I suppose this may have something to do with why so many people thought (think) that I didn't (don't) have a sense of humor. In any case, I answered her seriously.
"How can a photograph steal your soul?" I asked. "Especially a digital photograph. All it is is a bunch of ones and zeros that describe something about some light that bounced off of you." I just didn't get it. I was very earnest--I think she was probably smiling at me. (Not laughing, just smiling--she had (has) too much class and style to laugh at someone's naiveté.)
And yet, somehow, the longer I live and the more photographs I make, the more it starts to make sense. Because what's a soul if not the thing that makes you you? The million little pieces of yourself, the looks, the gestures, the angle at which he cocks his head when he asks a question, or the way her nose crinkles when she smiles. It's not stealing, exactly, because you can't steal something without diminishing the one from whom you steal it. But something gets caught, captured, made permanent by the camera.
I find myself looking at this picture and wondering what these two were like when they were that age. There's something in their eyes that hints at something, but I don't know what. All I can think about is how young they look. And then I wonder who will be saying the same thing about that picture of Jason. Who will be saying it about me? And will we be around to know? If we're lucky, some day someone will say it about all of us. Or, at least, about the bits of our souls hanging around in the corners of someone else's dining room.