I think it has to do with my general tendency to chafe against expectations, but I’m not so good at giving birthday gifts. It’s not that I don’t like to give things to people but instead, on some level, I find it uncomfortable to give gifts just because I’m expected to. Like my daughter Fiona (and my mother and my father), I have a tendency to be contrary. Today is Fiona’s 13th birthday. She gets so many gifts from everyone else – like her aunts, uncle, and grandparents – that it has often felt redundant and spoiling for us to get her big gifts. Still, we knew she was expecting something, so after some discussion yesterday Suki picked up a necklace and some shorts that she gave her this morning when she woke up. I was still asleep, but last night I made her a card that I left out on the counter for her.


In my 20’s, I made a series of letter books. I would pick up my photos from the hallmark shop where I got them processed and then pull out the images that caught my eye. Then I would tape a few into some folded sheets of paper and riff off of the images to spur the writing. I made this card in a backwards way. I wrote her a letter and then grabbed a few images to tape in. The scratched out lines of my writing felt cold. The card needed some images. I wanted to give my daughter a gift, but not the kind I might buy in a store. Still, I can also remember the excitement and expectation that accompanied birthdays when I was young. When I was little, and even when I was a cynical teenager, I looked forward to the birthday cards that my mom would make. She is a tenacious birthday card maker and her cards are like a window into our lives. She pulls together the significant events of the previous year, with some mention of what’s expected in the future. When I look back through mine they form a mini cliff-notes of my life. I have also held onto all of the ones she has made for my daughters. This is the card she made last year. All this week she has been checking on details for the card she will reveal tonight.

Last night I sat down to make her a card myself, and it turned into a letter instead. When she was younger I kept a journal for her, detailing the highlights of her life, as well as the traumatic events. I hoped that having access to these thoughts might help her to better understand herself later in life. I had thought about giving it to her this year but I can’t find it. In the book I discussed things like the difficulty she had with getting dropped off for daycare, our conflicts about her desire to get an icee every day after pre-k, and my struggles to deal with her headstrong demanding behaviors. I also talked about how amazingly bright she could be. I tried to keep at it until she was about 8. My memories from childhood are dim and far between. I also don’t have a lot of images to draw on. However, when I do see an image of myself and my siblings, it does help me to connect to thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I wanted to provide even more robust tools for my daughter. As I wrote her this letter, I thought about that book and tried to draw on the insights that were in there. Maybe she doesn’t need to see it. Instead, it was a way for me to stay present and aware of how my behavior was going to affect her. It served in some ways as a confessional, to keep me in check.

Even though she sometimes complains about being photographed, Fiona loves the camera and the camera loves her. I photographed her with my wife and I every day of her life for the first year (in the first image of her below you can see that she has tacked a selection of these to a board in her bedroom). She always loved having her picture taken, especially after I got a digital camera and she could see them right after they were shot. I try not to be too invasive with the camera, but I also want to capture life as it happens. As she’s gotten older she’s become a lot more interested in selfies than having me capture her naturally. This morning, since it was her birthday, I captured a small series of images. Sometimes I wonder if I should be shooting with a better camera than my iphone. I love the simplicity of it, and I like the images. Regular cameras have gotten so good at capturing images, that they often strike me as too good. I’d rather listen to the Clash than Chicago. Production is a good thing, but too much production gets in the way too much of the time. So here are a few iphone captures from this morning. Fiona wanted to go out for Breakfast, and I was happy to oblige.


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