My son is an everyday reminder how wonderful life is. And life is going by so fast.

For him, for me. Everyone. So if I’m lucky I’ll find enough time to get out a camera, capture a moment we’re living in, and make it a standalone vignette of his world. I don’t do it nearly as often as I should, and I don’t have enough time to compose all of the music myself. I try to write a little bit, too. This project began in 2010, with the earliest/oldest videos at the top of the page and the most recent (summer 2013) at the bottom.

Four and a Half Years Old

Dear Jonah,

Where’s the snow? It’s cold out so we stay inside, but only because we can see the grass on the ground. The year is off to a bumpy start although you and I seem to roll right along as though bumpy is smooth.

I was sick this past week. We lost heat for a day/night. And there is a bunch of other not so fun adult human drama that you need not worry about. But this morning when we ate chocolate chip, banana pancakes (with syrup) it was like that stuff never happened.

Tonight you ran around the house for hours with your friend from day care. Yesterday we both spilled milk all over the table and were able to laugh about it. Every day (even the days you’re at your Mom’s) you make me smile. I’m not sure how to repay you for that. I’ll just keep making these videos until I come up with something better. Thanks, son.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Dear Jonah,

You really didn’t want me to film you earlier in the day. So I didn’t. Then after a while you really did want me to film you. It is, after all, our new Saturday staple. I never have the camera out for more than 10 minutes, usually, but that is long enough for you to get tired of it.

You declared “quiet time” OVER today, after only half an hour or so. When it got really quiet I went to check on what had happened and found you fast asleep in bed, comforter pulled right up to your chin. That has only happened a handful of times in your four and a half years on this planet, so I grabbed the camera, again, and filmed you sleeping.

It didn’t last long though, I ditched the camera, edited this quick video, and crawled in to bed next to you. We slept like champions until a text message woke us up.

Thank you for that. I love you,

Artist Statement

Dear Jonah,

You’re asleep upstairs and I’ve watched this video five times in a row now. Lately we’ve taken to coloring on Saturday either just before or after lunch. It was only a matter of time before you decided to combine your stories and your artwork. Or maybe it is the other way around. Your active imagination has been present in everything you do. You describe dreams as though I experienced them with you and the playful stories you spin throughout the day leave me speechelss.

And your art is beautiful. Never stop, J.

Spring?

Dear Jonah,

I look at your childhood, both in the immediate moment and in these videos afterwards, and end up thinking about my childhood. We’re so similar and yet our environments are/were so different that I can only hope you enjoy this time as much as I am and as much as I did as a four and a half year old (my earliest memories). What will you remember? If I hadn’t taken this video I wonder if you would be able to picture our driveway that you colored, the fence that you loved and the worms that you played with. Or how loud our neighborhood is. The smell from the compost. Our little, happy world.

J-O-N-A-H

Dear Jonah,

We had elaborate plans to make artsy, homemade Valentines for your friends at day care. Instead we saw a super cool Transformers set and blew off the personalized cards. Kind of: you wrote your name.

And what a job you did. A few weeks ago your letters were kind of all over the place. Not in a line. Not really resembling letters, either. But you were so careful, so deliberate with each of these that I ran and grabbed the camera. Just in time, too. This was the last card you signed, and even as you ran out of room (which you didn’t do on the others) you stuck with it.

The sad thing is, I don’t think my penmanship is much better than yours (see: flickr.com/photos/sursly/4333308392/ ). Will you even learn cursive in school? Will you write anything by the time you’re in high school 10 years from now? For now, you’re doing great.

Science Experiments

Dear Jonah,

I saw you today for the first time in eight days. It feels so strange to go even a day without you here, and I don’t think you or anyone else in my life really understands what that feels like (except other parents, and I still don’t know many of them). At work today I counted down the seconds, which seemed to creep by, until it was time to get you. You and your mom went on a vacation (visited family in the DC area) and we spoke on the phone a few times (lucky me, since you’re conversations are “hi, love you, bye”). But when you opened the door to greet me it looked like you aged a year, maybe two.

Luckily you were just as excited to see me and we went home and played played played. We even played out in the rain (on your porch, the playground, the run home). We threw a baseball back and forth, you, happy to be reunited with your glove. And after we played with moon sand we decided to get out the volcano we made out of sculpy on my birthday. We used the vinegar sparingly because there wasn’t much left, but you didn’t seem to mind when the bottle finally emptied.

And like that, a few wonderful, happy hours went by. Your mom picked you up and I scurried up to work to finish my day, sad to see you go, but glad to have you back. And we’re both excited about you coming back tomorrow night. See you soon, and thank you for a memorable afternoon.

Five

Dear Jonah,

We were more awesome than usual on your birthday. In Maine. Ferris wheel at the ocean. Swimming in your grandmother’s pool. Ice cream cake for dinner. And you, starting and ending a beautiful day in the bed that I slept in at your age, the bed that your grandfather slept in at your age. We spent the next day recovering from all of that, but it was worth it.

Seriously though, stop getting older.

Jonah and the Leafpile

Dear Jonah,

No need to describe this moment.

February 2011

Jonah and the Museum of Glass

Dear Jonah,

This was a great Saturday. We had fun hiking at Watkins Glen, listening to silly songs in the car, and playing with things at the museum. Thanks :)

Jonah & the Blinky Bugs

Dear Jonah,

It’s New Year’s Day and you’re making something wonderful. It seems like you’re always making something wonderful. We followed the directions to create the first of these glowing creatures and it was tricky but we ended up with something cool. Then you wanted to try and do it by yourself. And that’s what this video is. I watched you concentrate and make another neat four-legged bug. You laughed and had fun, playing with them as you made each one unique (with working lights)! But that’s where this video ends. In the middle of creation number three you became so frustrated that you threw the other two bugs to the ground. I stopped recording to help you but you called yourself an idiot, cried, and ran away. You wouldn’t listen when I told you how amazing it all is and that you made something great without my help at all. Your frustration overwhelmed you and we didn’t make any more critters. But I’m glad I have this, since I just showed it to you and you said watching it makes you feel good about yourself. You have a lot of reasons to feel good about yourself, kiddo.

Love,
Dad

Jonah & Nemo

Dear Jonah,

Yesterday your school sent everyone home three hours early in anticipation of a major snow storm. By 6pm (long after you would have been home from school) there was only an inch of snow on the ground. But by 7 you had shoveled the driveway. No one asked you to, but you took pride in doing it.

Overnight the snow continued. This morning you shoveled the driveway again. I came out to help you and we finished the job together. After that I got my camera and this footage documents what followed. I edited the video together while you played Nintendo and now we’re heading back outside, to a family event.
It is still snowing, and something tells me you’re going to shovel the driveway again before the day is done.

Love,
Dad

March 6th, 2013

Dear Jonah,

I’m sorry, so, so sorry. Your world is upside-down right now because of something (someone) that is completely out of our hands. Life is like that, every now and then. I’ll tell you what my friends and family have been telling me: we’ll be okay someday, and we’ll be stronger for it. I’m reminded of “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, and we will face up to our problems, whatever they are, even if we’re in a slump/lurch. But it is hard, and it hurts, I know because you’re not alone in this. You know that saying about how when life gives you lemons you need to make lemonade? Well today, in the darkest time I’ve seen in your seven years here, life gave you a virus. I’m not sure what to make with that. The last thing you need right now is the flu, but here it is, confining you to your bed with a mid-day nap. I know we’re not treading water in the deepest ocean, sharks under our feet and vultures over our head — it just feels like that. Hang in there, son, I’m going to get us through this I promise. It’s you and me, and we can do anything. It might just take a little while.

Love,
Dad

Distraction Tactics

Dear Jonah,

Sometimes it’s like we’re the only people in this world. We walked for hours and didn’t see anyone. The sun was shining but we were alone, together. I’m glad you still want to hold my hand, but I know that gesture won’t last forever. I’ll take it while I can get it because even though it feels like the past six weeks have moved at glacial speed, you’ll be on your own before I know it. Before I’m ready.

Love,
Dad

Jonah and The City (view photos)

Dear Jonah,

This was our first trip to NYC together. You had been once, with your mom, a few years ago, but it was a first for us. We had no real plans or schedule, we just hopped on a train in South Norwalk and got off in Manhattan. Clearly you had never seen Grand Central Station. You took it all in slowly and were relieved to see that many other people were doing the same thing. There was a lot to look at but that was only the beginning.
On the street I could tell you wanted to stop and see it all. Your only other visit was over two years ago so while I’m sure you remembered bits and pieces, it was probably all new and exciting. The City looks, smells, and feels a lot different than our life upstate.

We didn’t have enough time, of course, and we both tired of the scene by 3pm and caught the last off-peak train back to Connecticut. It was a fun day and you had nothing but good things to say about our adventure. Me too, but then again, the second we got home I puked my brains out.

Love,
Dad

We Move On

Dear Jonah,

Since 2009 the corner house at Dey and Lincoln has been our home. When I had to find a place to live after your mom and I split I saw a “for rent” sign in front of this magical place and two weeks later we moved in. It was almost too good to be true. But it stayed good. It was true. Our new home was perfect for us, even though you only spent half of each week here. I filled the place with pictures of you and when you were around we filled the place with fun. Halfway through our time here we swapped bedrooms, which gave you the loft that overlooked everything. From that spot you could see the Sciencenter during the day and the moon at night. Or you could watch me work below, or smell the food I cooked in the kitchen under your feet. The house shook every time a train passed, and TCAT busses woke us in the mornings. We played baseball in our big backyard. We dug snow tunnels next to the sidewalk. For a while a cat lived with us (two, at one point). And for a longer while a woman lived with us and became part of our little family. I began making these movies at the house. You would finger-knit for hours on end. I recorded two albums here. The dining room was for science experiments. We ran out of secret places to play hide and seek. I rarely hired a babysitter and when I did I was only ever a few blocks away. We grew together here, and for over three years it was a stable center. You’re excited to move but I know you’ll miss this home. That’s okay, and normal: I’ll miss it too. We’ll wave at it when we pass, on foot as we go to the farmer’s market, in the car on our way to swim lessons, and when we return to our new home after a long day of adventures.

Love,
Dad

Jonah and the Rocky Coast of Maine (see Jonah’s photos)

Dear Jonah,

In typical summer fashion: we’re all over the place. I’m writing this on your birthday, but this beautiful ocean day (and Maine company in general) that we enjoyed for two weeks happened almost a month ago. I have no documentation of our time in Connecticut. And in just a few days we’ll pack ourselves up and drive 12 hours west. Jasmine (our dog) will not be joining us on that trip.

We’ve been here before but this was the first time that you seemed to truly love it. Two Lights State Park is a magical place to explore. You were enchanted by the old fort but the tide pools and rocks are what held your interest, just as it did for me when I was your age. It still does, actually. In fact: I appreciate this place now more than I ever did as a kid, so you can imagine how excited I am to see you take it all in.

So you’re eight now. For whatever reason, that comes with what seems like a huge shift in consciousness, appearance, abilities, whatever, compared to seven. You even sound different. But that is just a number, so I realize that the shift might be in me, not you. You’re doing the same wonderful things you’ve been doing for the past few months: immerse yourself in Adventure Time, swim at any given chance, collect stuffed animals, and talk (or play) Minecraft with whoever is around you. The “thing” you were most excited for on your birthday was/is to stay up with me until midnight. Way late (you’ve been crashing at 9 all summer). I’m writing this during the attempt, and like a lot of other things you’ve put your mind to lately: you make it look very easy.

Party on.
Love,
Dad

Jonah in January

I pulled out the camera to document the end of our solo time together. For the past 17 days your mom has been out of town and it’s just been you and me, all the time. You’ve grown used to having two homes, for about half a week at a time (barring vacations and trips) since 2009. I wonder if when you’re my age you’ll have any memories of the days when we all lived together.

These past few weeks have been wonderful. Part of what has made it unique is that despite the altered schedule we’ve mastered our routine. It isn’t a vacation; I go to work, you go to school, and we fill in the gaps with whatever we want. There’s a repetition in our rhythm that works. You’re reading a lot. You fly through my old Calvin and Hobbes books. Garfield cracks you up, for reasons that I understand but can’t stand. And the books you’re bringing home from school hold your attention for hours. You’re waiting on the latest Adventure Time (#25). We just finished the My Father’s Dragon books at bedtime and started, for the fourth time or so, The Little Prince. We both love the story, but it is intense. That’s how you roll, though, and I’m not trying to change that. You’re a passionate, emotional boy. I need to remind myself of that more often. Since when you speak you sound like the fourth and fifth graders at your school it’s easy to forget that you’re only eight. I don’t want you to grow up too fast, so I ultimately compare where you are to where I was at your age. It’s likes apples to oranges, honestly, but there’s no way I was as smart or interesting as you are now. Every year I tell people you’re at “my favorite age yet” and ever year I mean it. Eight is the best. But I have a feeling I’ll say the same thing at 9, and 10, and on and on. I’m glad for everything we’ve been through but nothing in the past can compare with the greatness of right now. You’re wonderful, kid. And it embarrasses you a little each time I tell you that. Thank you.

Love,
Dad