Take Your Daughter to Work

My dad is a photographer. Nowadays he shoots mostly digital, but when I was a kid he used black and white film and printed the photos in our kitchen. Looking back on that time, I remember feeling excited on the nights he would set up this makeshift darkroom, like there was a wild adventure about to happen inside my little Manhattan apartment. He would hang thick, black curtains over the kitchen door and windows and a long clotheslines across the center of the room to hang his photos on while they were drying. The chemicals were poured into red and orange trays. Usually, I was asleep for all of this; but every so often, for reasons I do not remember, I was allowed to stay up and join him in that Halloween-like room that smelled strongly of photo chemicals and looked nothing at all like my kitchen. I would watch, wide-eyed, as blank pieces of photo paper turned into pictures. Sometimes he would even let me swish them around in the tray prior to hanging them. 

Before printing, my dad would have to load the film into a metal canister to develop it. Since this procedure had to be done in absolute darkness, he would go into one of our hall closets, close the door, and perform it as if blind, with only his knowledgeable fingers to guide him. I vaguely remember trying this once too, when I was older, with my own roll of black and white film. 

It was not easy.

For a good portion of my early childhood, my father was a stay at home dad. In addition to photography, he was an avid jogger, who liked to run around the reservoir in Central Park. Sometimes he would take me with him, and since I was a kid, therefore not so great at jogging, we would do an exercise that he referred to as "run a little, walk a little."(It is exactly what it sounds like.)

Growing up, my dad and I had all kinds of problems too. I was a willful toddler, which is a nice way of saying that I liked to scream and yell when I didn't get my way. I then grew into a difficult teenager, which is also a nice way of saying that I liked to scream and yell when I didn't get my way. But the rest of the time, there was jogging, and the smell of photo chemicals, and pasta sauce cooking and my mom scratching my head when I was sleepy and all kinds of other memories that are the warm, fuzzy stuff of memoir and poetry. Not just dinner and swings and baseball, but the activities that are unique only to your family.

In addition to a love of writing and a passion for making up her own lyrics to songs, my daughter has inherited my stubbornness. When I was a toddler, I would sometimes fall asleep outside my parents bedroom, head slumped into my tiny chest, refusing to give up my tantrum. ("I waaaaaant one more hugggggg!") Although she is older now, and her crying fits are few and far between, Maya still has the occasional meltdown. She is nothing if not determined, willing to commit a full twenty minutes to dramatic wailing and the deep, deep sorrow that is really only appropriate in Shakespearean tragedy.  "I want someone to lie with me. Pleeeease. I just want some love. I feel like no one loooooves me!" When you implore her to please stop her monologue and go to sleep, she says. "I caaaaaaan't I am just toooo sad." (Oscar worthy, that one.) 

But most of the time, Maya, like the childhood me before her, is engaged in the kind of special activities that make up our life. Like sitting on the sidelines of a class that meant for 3rd degree black belts and up, a class where the students have all been training for over twenty years. At the last one of these, Maya watched, unfazed, while we tried to stab each other with wooden knives. Normal. She has sat at the head table with us at events where we were special guests, a table that was reserved for only karate instructors. She has followed us to BJJ classes and made rubber band bracelets on the side while we attempted to choke our partners unconscious for fun. Normal.

Over the summer, Maya played chess against a master in Washington Square Park. She tried to explain this experience to one of her friends once. ("You know that park in Manhattan where all the chess players are? The one where Josh Waitzkin used to play? You know, from the chess movie?") It did not even occur to Maya that playing chess in the park was not something that everyone did, that her friends not only had no idea what she was talking about, but had no idea what an arm bar was either. 

One of her buddies is the son of restaurant owners. I am sure he could tell her exactly how to make an arepa, about early morning visits to a fish market, about the night the fire department was called. When Matthew was a little boy, he napped in the back of a delivery van while his dad ran his pre-dawn paper route. Normal.

Sure, tumbling class and babysitters is the stuff of a typical childhood. But so are sweaty mats and the smell of photo chemicals and sidewalk chalk all over your butt, and the egg cream from the Brooklyn Luncheonette that you bought all by yourself , and the time you and your buddies found that body in the woods behind your house...

Okay, that was Stand By Me. 

But this other stuff, its important. More important, in my opinion, than what mommy and me class you take and which stroller you buy.

In our never ending quest to keep our kids safe from evil predators, to be the perfect parents, to raise climate conscious, quinoa eating, Prius driving leaders of the world, lets not forget to take them with us to work sometimes, especially if work happens to be a makeshift darkroom in your kitchen. 

Lets make our own normal.

Provided, it is safe and legal of course. 
Mostly safe and legal.


  1. This is absolutely wonderful! I'm so proud of you.

  2. Ah memories! But I'm glad I can't smell the chemicals anymore, especially the stop bath (acid) and the hypo.

    Mr Photographer (Dad)


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