This was it – the last big adventure of the summer, saved until the end.
The trick was lining up our northern Michigan vacation with the grandparents’ schedules. One pair in Mackinaw City for a few days, and the other in Petoskey for the second half. Help with adventures, babysitting, and overnights. With three kids, taking one to spend time with the grandparents relieves a bit of the strain.
Not that this was stressful. No, northern Michigan moves at a vacation pace. Water, and sky, and enough green and blue to make both of our major state university fans happy.
This close to Lake Michigan, and this close to all those forests – it’s a proper goodbye to nice weather, and water, and wilderness for a while. We even said goodbye to the trout sunning themselves at an honest-to-goodness fish hatchery, complete with a bald eagle waiting, and watching, in the canopy above.
It’s what’s so great about living in our state. A few hours in every direction and you’re next to a giant freshwater lake and enough nature to forget that it’ll all be buried in snow and ice in a few months.
It was supposed to be an easy-going four day vacation – a quick trip down to Toledo, Ohio (the Midwest’s premier getaway destination, naturally) and visit the zoo on Friday. Our first trip with the three kids.
What we got instead was a near-drowning in the hotel pool, a scary trip to the emergency room, and a rainy zoo day.
Despite all that, we made the best of it. We took an impromptu trip back to the Toledo Zoo on Saturday, when it was warm and sunny, and did it right. We also met some friends at Tony Packo’s and enjoyed some good Hungarian hot dogs, coney style.
Easy-going? Not so much. But we got out of the house and started the vacation season in earnest.
We never had to prompt either kids to pick up a crayon and start doodling.
They both do it totally on their own. The crayons are always there, there’s always paper handy – they just need to sit down and scribble. It’s what they do.
That’s a good feeling, to have both kids take to art and music. It’s our fault, of course, as parents, because we surround ourselves with such things. It’s what we do.
As a kid, my parents always had music going in the house, and we loved to doodle and color in coloring books. But neither of my parents really did music (like play an instrument), or did art (as a hobby, say). I took their small spark and ran with it.
It’s exciting to think about what these kids will do.
We wait all winter for days like this: sunny, decently warm, fresh breeze blowing.
In our new neighborhood, we’re surrounded by parks and playgrounds. Sparks Park – kind of Jackson’s own Central Park – is a block or two away, and we have several schools in the street next to ours, lousy with playground equipment. Our old neighborhood was very walkable, but it’s nice being so close to all this fun.
Now, when we go on walks around the neighborhood, the kids beg to go to one of the playgrounds. I have a feeling we’ll spend a lot of time here.
And that’s great. For today, we’re just happy to be outside.
I’ve spent the last week enjoying our new baby daughter, Riley May Lawrence.
She arrived early Tuesday morning, purple and gooey, and has been either eating or sleeping since. We got back home on Friday afternoon, and took most of the weekend getting settled: spending time with the other two kids, getting our routine down, and taking care of the baby.
This baby – the c-section, the hospital stay, our sleep cycle – has been a smooth one. We’re lucky. We’re also lucky to get lots of help from grandparents and friends. And our new house is prepped enough to make the living part easy.
I’m taking this next week off of work, too (the first time in my working life I’ve had two consecutive weeks off), to help with the kids, enjoy the new baby, and help my wife around the house. Plus photo making, of course.
Life gets really simple when you have one big (or tiny, as it were) priority. I find it surprisingly relaxing to tune out everything else and concentrate on this crying, squeaking little person.
A generous On Taking Pictures listener gifted me a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family for our gift exchange during the holidays, and it has me thinking about family photos. As a parent, family photography came naturally. Is there a better way to capture your kids growing up?
Unless you’re a parent, a lot of this won’t be clear. But for those parents out there, you instinctively know how important family photography is.
In her memoir, Hold Still (which is a great read, by the way – give me a memoir over an autobiography any day) Mann tells her photography students:
Photograph what is important to you, what is closest to you, photograph the great events of your life, and let your photography live with your reality.
“Your reality” could include dreams, or emotions, or flowers by a big window. For parents, “what is closest” is often our children, especially at first. And what is photography if not to capture something before its gone?
Photographing the family has a few side benefits. For one, it’s just good practice. Think about shooting something every day, week after week. and then add in that you have a readily-available subject who more or less cooperates. Want to try out a new technique? Want to test a new piece of gear? Need to sketch out an idea? “C’mere, kiddo. Stand here.”
Second, while I love a good snapshot, I love making art with my family even more. I put feelings into the photos I make of my family, and that lends them a greater weight. Maybe they don’t mean anything to the casual observer. And maybe the kids, themselves, will look back and wonder why I made such a fuss. But with my family photos, I’m the audience (okay, maybe the grandparents, too).
Can I show someone that I love them by taking their photo? I believe so. That’s the ultimate reason I photograph my family. All you need is love, as John Lennon sang. It’s the ultimate personal project.
So now, I look for examples of good family photos, a genre I would never had been interested if it weren’t for exploring image making with my own kids. If I get the same sense of fondness and artistic expression – artists living with their reality, as Mann says – then the photographer has succeeded.
It’s that time of year again – time to get our annual photo book featuring pictures from 2016.
Making a family photo book is one of my favorite yearly rituals. Each holiday season, I gather up the photos from the year and assemble them into an album, usually 8″ x 10″ and 20-40 pages. The cover image is always something from our summer vacation.
This year, I went with a Blurb book instead of Apple’s Aperture/Photos options. Here’s a tip: Follow Blurb on Twitter to get periodic discount codes. At 35% off, my photo book was a good deal.
Keep your story going long after you pass away, or your hard drive dies: print your photos. Make a book of your photos. You’ll be glad you did.