Portraits of My Daughter.

Ever since I started learning photography, Delaney has always been my muse. At first it was because she was my only cooperative model and I just needed practice. But, over time, she and I have fallen in love with creating art together.

When my camera is pointed toward my daughter, I literally get lost in her. I become so entranced by her beauty and my love for her that it almost feels as though I blackout or that I'm in this dream-like state of euphoria. She IS my art (I did create her after all, so I mean that in more ways than one, I suppose).

There is pretty extreme irony in all of this though. Atticus said,

"never the way she looked

always the way she was

I could have fallen in love with her

with my eyes closed." 

THAT is exactly how I feel about my sweet girl. Her beauty transcends so much deeper than her looks. She is witty, bold and daring. To top it off, she is the funnest chick I know and  beams with happiness even on her worst days. She is sunshine. I love how confident she is. More than that, I love how she never feels awkward letting her weird hang out. She will dance, throw  peace signs, pop a hip and pierce me with her eyes. 

So, some may think that I am raising a girl who will be self-conscious and too focused on her looks by putting her in front of the camera so often, but I could not disagree with that more. I am empowering her. I am allowing her to be fearless and free. I would like to think that I am teaching her to be humble enough to know she is not perfect but also confident enough to say, "screw it" and know that she can do hard shit.  

The truth is, people often fear the fire in life, but I have no doubt that Delaney will become it. 

So,

here's to strong women

may we know them

may we be them

may we raise them. 

Dear Delaney: a letter to my daughter

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Dear Delaney, 

I took a photo of you this morning (like I do almost every morning). When I uploaded it onto my computer, I gasped. Sure, technically speaking, it was not the greatest photo I had ever taken-- the focus was soft, the lighting was off, the composition was weak…and yet there you were, exactly as I want to remember you always.

You are 3 going on 4 in this photo, it is January and we spend a vast majority of our days tucked inside, away from the harsh winter air. You are always coloring pictures of our family where arms grow out of heads and noses align with eyeballs…and I think they are absolutely flawless. In fact, I often brag that you're an artist. Because to me, little girl, you could make a circle and I would think it was the most creative circle I have ever seen.

I never, ever want to forget how at age 3 you would follow me around and plop down wherever I was to chat…usually about nonsense or princesses. In the photo above you are sitting on the kitchen counter --criss cross applesauce-- telling me what you want daddy and I to name your baby sister. "Ana," like in Frozen. 

I just smile and say, "maybe baby."

You are on the verge of everything-- walking along the line where your family and the outside world meet. I see you becoming your own person-- outside of us. I see your personality sprouting like a wildflower in the spring. Your heart is spilling over and overpowering those around you. You give off the sweetest scent.

I am so terrified to watch you grow up and yet I ache with pride with every passing day. I miss yesterday and the day before that and the day before that and before that. I miss being the only one who could understand your words. I miss our secret language and the way you only needed me when you cried as a baby. I was your be-all and end-all. And now, you walk away from me in a crowd without so much as a glance behind you.

I smile, and yet inside I am choking back the fear of you no longer needing me.

You always say, "I'm getting bigger and bigger and bigger" as you perch on your tippy toes and reach to the sky. I cannot help but want to stop you.

I want to always remember your baby smell. The way you fit in my arms as if you were a continuation of my own body. And now, how you still rest perfectly on my hip.  It won't be like this for long...

I want to breathe you in and remember the softness of your cheeks and the curve of your little girl nose. 

I lived 25 years without you on this earth and the past 4 years with you...and now I can honestly say that I could never live another day without you-- without hearing your voice or feeling your presence.

You are more apart of me than my own heart. No, you are my heart. My passion. My fire. My entire world wrapped up in a teeny body with snarly hair and too much sass.

Your little sister will be born in the next month or so and I want you to know that though she may need me more, I will still be here for every second you need me. You are and will always be my "best girl." No matter what.

And at the end of the day, my bed and my arms will always be warm and waiting for your presence. I will always be your safe harbor and your escape. I will always mend your tears and brush your snarls. I belong to you, my love. I have your back, your heart and your hand and I will protect them with everything I am.

I love you so much my laneybug <3

20 Life Lessons for Kids

Every time I photograph one of my children, I stare at it for what is likely too long-- dwelling on the curves of their faces and noticing all the ways they have changed over time. I ache by the memories of yesterday and long for a little more baby chub to remain. Just recently I took a photograph of my son Jackson and my jaw dropped when I viewed it on my computer later. He looked so….adult-like. I seriously almost cried. I stared at it for quite awhile and began wondering what he would be like as a teenager…or even scarier, a full blown adult. Have I taught him enough? Have I done enough? Kissed him enough? Told him I loved him enough? Cheered him on and motivated him enough? Been there enough?

Gosh, I hope so.

Now, I know I am not the perfect mom. And I know I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I hope that each one of my four children will step into adulthood as confident, determined, successful people who are crazy happy and understand the true meaning of life.

Here are 20 life lessons I think are essential, and that I hope --more than anything--  I can instill within each of them before they walk out my door into the real world. Gulp. 

1. Happiness is a choice. Choose it-- simple as that. 

2. Politeness should not be overrated. There is no such thing as saying, "please" or "thank you" too often. Express your appreciation sincerely and without expectation of something in return. If you truly appreciate everyone and everything around you, you will find that more people, more opportunities and more things will  inevitably surround you.

3. Persistence pays off. You will never fail if you never give up. Natural born talent, inherited genius and education have nothing against persistence. Persistence pays off. Persistence pays off. Persistence pays off. Get the point?

4. You are loved, always. If everything else falls apart; if you fail, if you break, if you are teased or knocked down; I am here. My love for you is not dependent on your successes. It will remain through every up and every down. It is constant and does not fray. It is unconditional, forever, and without a doubt, no matter what.

5. Learn something new everyday. Expect to. Continue to grow, question and evolve. With every new thing you learn, you will feel more at home in the universe, more comfortable in the nest, and more prepared for tomorrow. When you’re in your twenties – you’re still learning and growing.  You’ll understand in your 30′s.

6. Be a good listener. Always. There is no better way to show you care about someone than by listening and comprehending their words and feelings. That means shut your mouth, keep your ears open and do not offer advice unless asked. Just hear them. 

7. Learn to be self-sufficient. Far too often, we lean on others and expect to be given the answer. Stop that.  If you don't know how to do something, figure it out! Look it up in a book, or on Google for goodness sake. Try different approaches. And most importantly, realize that you can find the answer yourself. You are enough.

8. Be an optimist. See your glass as half full, always. Your perception will pave the way to your success.

9. Express yourself freely. Whether it be through words or art. Your story and feelings matter. So, leave your mark with beautiful expressions of who you are. 

10. Let things go. There are things in this world that are beyond your control; let them go. At one point or another, you will come across people who will hurt you, situations that will break you, and loss that will overcome you; let them go. Life will continue on around you, so all you can do is make peace with today and take a step toward tomorrow.

11. This world is not made for only you. You are living in a compact and populated world; respect that. Respect all aspects of this world-- from your elders to the bees; from someone else's property to your own body; from the organically living to the artistically made --and everything in between.

12. Live slow. Life goes by too fast, don't rush it. You have the rest of your life to be a grown up, don't wish for it just yet. Embrace the moment you are in right now always and the future will come when it's ready.

13. Make a life, not a living. Sure, money matters and you need to be able to support yourself. But, do not get so wrapped up in making money that you forget to make a life that matters. 

14. Learn to love books. They will allow you to view the world from new perspectives, take you to impossible places,  and help you find your meaning. There is power in words, solace in stories, and freedom in the knowledge found on a page.

15. Collect memories. There will be days in your life that feel little and insignificant. However, one day you are going to look back and realize that all the little things steamrolled into the big things. These little moments and seemingly meaningless days are full of moments that are becoming your memories. Embrace them. And don't forget to pay attention to what you see, what you smell, what you hear and most importantly how you felt. 

16. Choose to see the good first. In a world full of gossip, social media, rash decisions and snooty comments, do not make assumptions. Before believing the bad, search to find the good. And if you find it, share it. Remember that there is always another side to the story, there is always a heart inside the human, and there is always, always, always a silver lining.

17. Less is more. The more you accumulate, the more you need to manage. Likewise, the more you have, the less you appreciate. So, unless it is vital to your life; unless you cannot imagine a day without it; unless it essential to your happiness; you could probably do without it.

18. Welcome others. Be the kind of person who pushes over to share their seat on the bus. Be the kind of person who sits beside someone who is sitting alone at lunch. Be the kind of person who smiles at strangers and stands up for others. It can be scary to let others in, especially those who are not always accepted by others; but be the better person. I will not ask you to be anyone you are not, but I will ask you to be kind, always. 

19. Radiate Confidence. Please, no fish handshakes or slumped shoulders. Keep your chin up, your back straight, and your handshake firm. You are someone to be reckoned with. You deserve every opportunity that is presented to you. Believe that.

20. Our door is always open. If you ever get lost or cold or scared; if the world ever treats you bad or breaks your crown; if you ever for one second forget your value or purpose, Daddy and I are here to remind you. You are valued. You are full of purpose. You were placed on this earth for a reason. The world may knock you over again and again, but we will always be here to help you back up. We believe in you and we are here. Always. And Always. And Always.

 

Jackson, Delaney, Luke & Kerri Claire-- remember these words, remember these moments and know that my love for you is as constant as the north star.

The Disappearing Mother.

Right now as I am writing, my two youngest children are literally painting their bodies. I have told them over and over and over again to only paint the paper, and yet their hands are covered in red, their faces look like filthy rainbows, and their shirts are smeared with "washable paint" that never seems to actually wash out. Am I disappearing?

Sure, I could stop writing and supervise their every streak onto the paper; but at some point, you have to back up and just let it happen. At some point, you just need a break. And if a wild romp of painting gives me a break, I'll take it; even if that means I'll ache with regret later as I'm scraping paint off every crevice of my home.

And that is the truth. 

The bare-boned, honest, I can't-give-them-every-second-of-my-life truth. 

Do you ever feel like you are disappearing? Do you ever feel as if the only purpose to your existence is for someone else?  Do you ever find yourself wondering if anyone can actually see you?

Most days I feel as if I am only there to fix things, answer questions, shuttle teeny people in a crumb-infested minivan, find lost objects, smear peanut butter on bread, twist the cap off the jar of pickles, change to channel, rub backs, administer medicine, wipe bums and tend to others --always. 

Recently I have found myself asking, "do I even exist?" 
 

Just after receiving a wonderful writing opportunity the other day and I was expecting the world to stop and congratulate me, one of my children ran into the room in hysterics because he had lost his favorite toy, while another started whining for chocolate milk that she needed right-that-very-moment-no-matter-what. So, rather than basking in my glory, I had to forget about my emails and tend to the needs of my children. In that moment, I could not help but wonder if I existed anymore as a separate entity or if I had become just a continuation of my children?

That afternoon, as I was talking on the phone with a nurse at the doctor's office, one of my children came into the room asking questions and searching for his iPod. Did he not see that I was on the phone?  

Shortly before bed, I told my kids to go brush their teeth. Do you know what happened? No one even looked up. Can they even hear me? Am I even here? 

That night, as I finally returned to answer emails and do some writing, my daughter stampeded into my room, waking up my son who was asleep in bed next to me, declaring that there were monsters in her room. So I invited her under my arm and closed my laptop once again. With two littles resting on either side of me, my heart felt content; and yet, the urge to be more than this person ached within my mind.

I have dreams, ya know? I have passions. I want to write. I want to take beautiful photographs. I want to touch the lives of others with my words and stories. I want my name to be heard-- to be talked about, to be appreciated, to be noticed. I want a career. I want to write a best selling novel. I want a moment of silence. I want to be able to toast to my successes without interruption for just one second.

Here is the irony of it all: more than all of that I want to be a mother-- their mother. So, I put my junk on the back burner and get to it when I can because my right now is only temporary. These teeny toes and chubba-thighs only last for so long. These cuddles are only free for a bit. Sooner or later, I will have to ask--no, beg-- them to come lay with me in my bed. Sooner or later this king size bed is going to feel fiercely empty.

Maybe mothers were made to feel just a little bit invisible from time to time-- maybe it means we are doing something right. Hopefully it means that we have sacrificed just enough in order to give just enough. You see, our job is to nurture our children from the shadows as they frolick in the sun. Is it not?

And while my children bask in their glory, I will keep trying to remember that being called, "Mama," is the greatest accomplishment of all --even better than writing that novel I long to write. After all, a novel will never love me back.

 

Dear mother, you are not disappearing. I see you. They see you.

What I Want to Tell My Daughter About Her Body.

I've written about my confidence issues before, but as my daughter grows up and becomes more and more wrapped up in her appearance, I cannot help but wonder if I am making the same mistakes that my parents did with me. 

As a child, I was often told that I was beautiful. I know, I know, you're probably sarcastically thinking, oh you poor thing. But honestly, looking back I think being told that I was beautiful more often than I was smart or strong or athletic created an overwhelming need in me to be perfect. 

With time, I began to rely on my beauty. I began to see it as the only thing I was bringing to the table. It overcame me. The need to standout in a crowd washed over me no matter where I was. I always wanted to be the prettiest girl in the room because I knew that I was never going to be the smartest or the strongest or the sassiest. In fact, I was a little plain, a tad boring and insanely self-conscious. My face burned crimson red with embarrassment more often than not and one of my very best friends nicknamed me "lobster." I now wonder if the reason I was always blushing was because I was terrified of what I looked like as I spoke to others. Did they think I was pretty? I hoped so. If not, what else was I? 

When I did not feel beautiful, I did not feel whole. When I felt too fat, I would not eat. When I forgot to put on makeup, I felt naked. And eventually it sent me into an obsession about my weight; because, I thought, who was I if I was not the pretty, skinny girl? 

I've told myself so many times that I would only stress my daughter's strength and smarts and never her external beauty. I wanted to dwell on her health rather than her eating habits; and I wanted more than anything to see her eyes light up at artwork or athletics rather than makeup and clothes. 

Yet, here I am, the mother of a 3 year old who sneaks into the bathroom to put on makeup and wears princess high heals around the house on a daily basis. She will throw tantrums until she gets to wear what she thinks are the pretty tights and she wants cupcake-flavored lip glass on before leaving the house. Yeah, she's 3.

Is it something that I have done or is it just naturally embedded into who she is destined to be? I think it's a little bit of both. I believe Delaney was born to be a girly-girl. She loves tutus, sparkles and blush and would rather spend the afternoon pretending to be Lady Gaga than playing baseball; it's who she is. And I love her for that.

But I believe that I am partly giving in to how society is molding our daughters. The truth is, our society values women more for than beauty and the size of their breasts than they do for the intellect or character. And here I am going along with the crowd, as I take her picture after she puts on play makeup instead of after she scores a goal in soccer, or when I say, "Delaney, you are so beautiful" after she puts on her tutu and does the most lovely ballerina twirl. 

Not to mention, Delaney has heard me pick myself apart. She has seen me stare in the mirror as I glide my hand over the curves of my stomach with disgust. She has heard me complain about needing to lose weight, having nothing to wear and looking aged. Too many times I have put my own looks down while she stands in the next room listening. She is receiving all these messages and molding them into how she views herself. 

It is unacceptable.

My daughter needs to be told that her body is not an ornament, but rather an instrument. Her body should not be the scale of which her worth is weighed. She does not need to strive for perfection in boob-jobs and botox. I would never want her to feel the pressure of having to be the prettiest or skinniest girl in the room; because at some point, looks fade and what is left is wisdom. I want her to be wise. I want her to strive to be the smartest, the most well-read, and the most traveled. I want her to use her body to run marathons, play sports, explore the world, and seek creative outlets. 

I want her to expect more of herself than I ever did. I want her to know that her insides are so much more valuable than her outsides.

So, it is okay if my daughter pursues her love of Ballet; but I want her passion to lie in the art form rather than the buns and tutus. And when she gets off the stage after her first performance, I am going to say, "Delaney, you are so talented."