In 2007, after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin, I moved to NYC to be an actress. I was auditioning for everything and anything, and to supplement my income I was teaching children’s music classes at Citibabes in Soho. My mom, Cheryl, who has since passed, told me that we had a family friend looking for someone to perform at a birthday party and encouraged me to look into it. She helped me come up with the name “Jam with Jamie,” and made me business cards on her computer. I still have a few of them left! When the day came for my first party, I remember being really nervous – which was weird because I had taught many classes before. However I had never performed solo at a birthday party, let alone accompanied by my own guitar playing (which was mediocre at best), but like with anything, “Fake it til’ you make it!”
I love that the work I do is to bring joy to people in a cheery environment. You (generally!) see people at their best at their child’s birthday party. They are accompanied by all their friends and family for a special day. What can be better than to be a part of that, helping put smiles on everyone’s faces and encouraging them to have fun and let loose! Now of course there are the times that not everything goes as planned, especially now that I am mostly managing the business versus performing. We have more than 40 performers on the team nationwide. We rarely have issues, but as with any business you are going to have road bumps. There are a lot of moving parts and I, along with my operating manager Stefanie, are the middle men working to make it go as smoothly and efficiently as possible, leaving clients and their children overjoyed when all is said and done!
My parents always supported my love for music and acting throughout my life. They quickly realized that sports were not my forte after I scored a point for the opposite team during a basketball game! While most of my friends continued with sports, I started taking music lessons, acting classes, and performing at a local children’s theater in Miami called “Actors Playhouse.” My parents saw nearly every single show I was in and encouraged me to do what I love. A few days before my mom passed she asked to come out of her room to watch a video of a show I had just performed in NYC. I couldn’t believe that she had mustered up the energy to do anything. She was, and always will be, my biggest fan. There’s nothing else she would rather do then see her kids doing what they love, even in her weakest moment. Although she is no longer with us, she has implemented the most incredible backbone of support for me that will continue to encourage me to move forward creatively. Also, before she passed she said you don’t always expect the path in life you end up with, “Jam with Jamie” is your unexpected awesome path and one day I just know you’ll be doing parties for celebrities!
Not quite, but I have a ton of songs in my back pocket to use at any given moment. Mostly, I just make up songs depending on what we’re doing to the the tune of a popular song, i.e., “Oh, Darling” with changed words to “Oh, Zachary, You are sleepy. Please please go to sleep. Believe me when I tell you, you’ll feel much better, asleep!” I should probably be recording some of the songs I make up, they would be a hit! (Or at least that’s what my son Zach thinks!)
Yep, I’m definitely all about getting people together and coming up with fun stuff to do. My mama friends and I schedule activities regularly. Some favorites are meeting up in the park, meeting for lunch, or just hanging in the playroom in my building.
The parachute and bubbles are always the favorites!
Play and use your imagination. As we get older, we get stifled by the world around us and we then have to actively find the kid in us and let go and enjoy life. When you’re a kid, be a kid! That will lead you to who you are and as long as you can keep some of the kid in you, you’ll get what you want out of life.
Yes, we currently have all of Laurie Berkner’s songs on repeat in our home. Ever since we got Amazon’s Alexa we play music all the time because it’s so easy to ask her to play whatever we want! At this point, I don’t have to encourage my son at all, he is completely obsessed with music and loves to play his guitar. Something tells me I am going to have to encourage him to put the instrument down in the future to go do homework!
It depends on the day. Currently I have help three days a week, and on those days I will work from home, go to meetings, and do things for myself. I feel lucky because I get to see Zach a lot every day even when I have help. On the days I don’t have help, Zach comes with me to Equinox (Kid’s Club for the win!) and after he takes his morning nap we go to classes, make play dates with friends, or go to the park. I try not to plan any work stuff on these days but on occasion I’ll have to take a call and the person on the other end is always understanding of my energetic one year old. It is not easy finding balance between work and family but I have set boundaries for when work is done and it’s family time.
I am incredibly lucky to have always been surrounded by strong, resilient women, who would support me to the end of the earth. My mother Cheryl set the bar on how to stay positive in any tough situation and will always be my biggest fan. My Aunt Ricki who is my mom’s sister is like another mother to me who reminds me of the value of family. My Great Aunt Sonia is the most incredible woman, stands for no B.S. and tells me how it is. My Mother-in-law Phyllis, another motherly figure who is an incredible “Gamma” to Zach and who is always the first to comment on all my social media (now that’s support!). My cousin Cara, Karen, and my sister-in-law’s, Carly and Leanne, are all like real sisters to me who I am so proud of and they are always supportive of everything I do. I am also so grateful to be surrounded by my mom’s best friends who I have adopted as my own and the best girlfriends from childhood to now- whether they are down the street or in Bolivia, the support of each of them combined makes me a better human. All of the women in my life have been there for me in the best times and the toughest times life has to offer. I am very lucky!
I first fell in love with photography as a young child, shooting on a beaten up point and shoot and developing the film at the local drugstore. I’d dress up my little sister in extravagant get-ups and have her pose for me. I still have a few of the pictures, and they’re incredibly bad, but I remember that feeling of being able to create my own world and immortalize it in film. It was thrilling. Later in high school, and then college, I studied the actual craft of photography, pored over the work of past artists, learned how to work in a darkroom, and and began to carry my DSLR with me everywhere. It remained a hobby for years, until I had my first child. I think that was the period in which the path of pursuing it professionally became clear. With such a perfect subject, as all children are, I found myself shooting again everyday and falling in love with it all over again. And one day I realized that this passion couldn’t be ignored. Everything sort of just bloomed from there.
What I love most is being able to capture the honest soul of a person in a single image. Sometimes it happens right away in a session, sometimes it takes time getting to know whoever I’m shooting before it shows, sometimes it’s in the most unassuming shots like those in-between moments when they glance out the window or embrace their child in the all-enveloping way that mothers do, or spontaneously laugh. But when you get it, you know. You see the image and think, my gosh I hope they know how beautiful they are. A lot of people will tell me they’re not photogenic, and I’ll tell them impossible. Every single person has a light that shines through on film, sometimes it’s just not in the bright, cheery, posed places we all think that it is. Sometimes it’s more interesting than that.
I think the biggest challenge, which took me years to learn to navigate, is understanding that subjects often reflect your own energy right back at you. By nature, I’m actually a pretty soft-spoken and solitary person. I like to be a fly on the wall with a hat shading my eyes and a camera in my hand. But when you shoot a lot of families and high-energy children, you have to get out of your comfort zone and match that energy to keep the little ones engaged, to let them know that it’s ok to be their wild, free selves. So that always takes a lot of stamina, but it’s been a really beautiful learning process for me.
My father has always been my biggest advocate. I could write pages and pages of all of the wisdom he’s passed on to me, but the most important is that he’s always encouraged me to find the thing that brought me joy, and to fight tooth and claw to make it my life, regardless of whether the world told me it was possible or not.
My children often see things in such a beautiful way. They’ll see a stick on the ground and say, “Mama I’m going to make that into a dreamcatcher!” Or see an old wilted flower on the sidewalk and say, “Let’s press it in the back of a book!”. They are constantly dreaming up projects and inventions and magnificent worlds to create, and I think that if I can simply honor those dreams and do my best to make them happen, well then I’m succeeding in my job as their mother. So we do a lot of crafts, a lot of painting, a lot of cooking… our kitchen table has permanent paint stains all over it, our walls have scribbles, but I love it. I’ve also sewn with them from a young age, teaching them to use my old Singer machine, so they’ll design costumes or crazy gowns and we’ll pick out fabrics at the old fabric stores down on Orchard street and sew them together. I want them to feel empowered by their creativity, and to know that no matter how silly or wild their dreams are, they are valid and worth making.
I want to give them the tools to explore their creative side, but I absolutely don’t expect them to follow in my footsteps. They are each so different, and I truly only want for them the same thing I think my Dad wanted for me: to find what brings them joy. The other day I was out taking pictures with my son Lucien on one of our weekly photo dates, walking around the neighborhood teaching him to shoot on one of my old cameras, and he took a picture of a police car. Then he paused and said, “Mama, I don’t know if I want to be a photographer. I think I really want to be a police officer.” And I surprised myself by replying, “That’s amazing Lou. You’d be an awesome policeman.” And I meant it. I really just want them to each find their own way.
My daughter would say I’m a photographer. My middle son would say (has said actually) that I “work on my computer,” which was a bit of a wake up call. My youngest son, if he could talk, would say that I’m a milkmaid.
Thank you! I share images that I believe put beauty out into the world. I share my experiences as a mother and an artist. I share things that feel true. I do often share pictures of my children, but they are but a tiny fraction of the ones I shoot and keep for myself. I am, in real life, a very private person, and choose carefully what to put out into the world. I always ask myself, when sharing images or stories about my children, if I googled myself right now and could pull up this picture or story about my own childhood, posted by my mother when she was a new parent, would I be ok with it? Would I feel exposed or embarrassed? If I even have to think twice, then I don’t share it.
The women in my life are my extended family. They’re the kind of women who you can run to with stained clothes and fussy babies and feel comforted. They’re the kind of women who constantly foster collaboration over competition. They’re the kind of women who know that the juggling act of parenthood and work and city life looks more like a trainwreck than the world of social media would ever have you believe, and can laugh about it all. I think that finding your “village” with women who show up for you when you need them, and for whom you show up for without question, is one of the most useful tools you can arm yourself with as a mother.
I believe the torch of creativity is inherently burning in all of us, young and old, already; all we really need to do is honor it. I think that by supporting one another as women and artists, taking our daydreams seriously, modeling for our children the importance of following our passions, even if those passions don’t yet make sense, or stray from the expected career paths, we are empowering them to follow their own dreams. We are teaching them to inherently honor their own creativity. And the torch is passed.
Photos by Stevi Sesin