Tomorrow I’m doing something that makes me a little unsettled, a little nervous, but mostly sort of excited. Tomorrow I’m inviting my uber talented photographer friend, Julia, to come into my home for an afternoon to document the chaos and craziness that is my life at home with two kids.
Sounds a little crazy, right? Right.
So first, a little background…
I met Julia over a year ago when I walked into my first First Friends playgroup. Once the initial introductions concluded and AJR was off playing I stood in the back of the room, jaw clenched, as I pushed my snap n’ go stroller willing 4-month old Olivia to go back to sleep so I could enjoy a few moments amongst adults listening to adult conversations. Listening was all I wanted as I wasn’t quite at a mental state where I could actually participate just yet because, you know, the total lack of sleep.
Julia came over and peeked at Olivia, commenting on how adorable she was. Immediately, this endeared me to her. Complimenting my kids will get you EVERYWHERE. Julia asked me “so, how’s it going?” and not in this “please give me a quick “fine” response because I’m just asking this question to be polite but I actually don’t care that much” but in a real, like, I know you rolled in here with your hair washed, makeup done, and jeans on, but seriously, how IS it going? Because even though she didn’t know me at all, mom to mom, she cared. It was pretty disarming and I honestly was so hard up to talk to an audience other than my husband and sister about how unbelievably difficult not sleeping and spending 12 hours a day solo with two kids was that I word vomited all over her. And she patiently listened.
Thankfully I hadn’t been trapped indoors with two kids so long that I completely forgot how to hold a conversation so once my one-woman pity party was over I asked, “So, what do you do? Do you work?” With a playdate happening at 9:30am on a Monday, “do you work” is a pretty fair question.
She told me that she is a family photographer. Immediately I was intrigued. It’s no secret that I love photos and if Joe would let me, every square inch of our walls would be plastered in photos of our adorable family like an obsessive stalker in a Lifetime movie. But wait, not only is she a family photographer, she specializes in “Day in the Life” sessions. Sessions where she spends AN ENTIRE DAY WITH YOUR FAMILY and just follows you doing normal family stuff and documents it from a photojournalistic perspective.
I drew a breath in. What? Who are these brave people willing to expose all of their parenting tricks and shortcuts? I gasped…would I ever allow someone to see the fruit snacks and lollipops spilling out of the cabinets as my toddler screamed for me to find a precise episode of Mickey for him based off nothing more than a vague, three-word description? Or witness and provide me with photographic evidence of just how much my jaw unhinges when I’m yelling because no one thought to listen when I said it calmly the first time? Then there’s the small issue of my physical appearance, which sounds so incredibly vain but the other day I had the humbling experience of Snapchat’s facial recognition technology being unable to detect me in order to bring up the filters because I looked like that much of a Gollum that day.
But once the initial shock wore off I thought about how awesome a concept it actually is. The day-to-day business of raising kids is messy. It’s chaotic. It’s not the picture-perfect photo you see on the Christmas card with everyone in perfectly coordinating outfits looking at one another adoringly (note, I can mock that because I’ve done that every year since the kids have been born). Those photos are great, but they’re not fooling anyone.
There’s something beautiful in the little moments of everyday life. Yes, a bulk of my day is spent hunched over cleaning up urine, food, toys, and screaming at the kids to stop well, screaming. But there are the moments when I’m tickling a baby belly and we’re both laughing, or when I’m snuggled up reading a book with a rambunctious toddler that’s finally slowed down for cuddles. These are the moments that keep me going every day. These are the moments that in a few years I know I’m going to struggle to remember because wow, this time is as exhausting as it is fleeting and I basically possess the memory of a goldfish. I want these images for me as a testament to the blood, sweat, and tears I put into doing the best I can do for these kids every single day. Whether it’s something frameworthy or not.
I also want my kids to have these memories when I’m gone or they hate me in an angsty teenager way. I want them to remember how much we loved and laughed and, yes, yelled and cried and had bad days too. Because that’s all a part of it. The good, the bad, the every day essence of life being lived. I want them to have a few moments captured where mom was real. Where mom was in the thick of things and she was so busy loving them whether it meant pushing cars around on the living room floor with them, giving a bath amidst protest, cooking dinner, cleaning up after another uneaten dinner, kissing boo boos, and the million other things that I do day in and day out for them in one of the harshest, most thankless working environments you could imagine.
I am excited for the reasons above but I’m also nervous. There’s a certain amount of vulnerability that goes into exposing your life in such a raw, unfiltered way. Because while I hope to have photos of the sweet “this is why I do what I do” moments, I’ve made it no secret that a lot of my day is frustrating and exhausting. It feels as if Julia is going to hold up a mirror for me to see myself as someone else does. What kind of mother will it show? Am I going to like what I see? I struggle with mom guilt, wonder what am I doing wrong, and have such critical introspection on a daily basis – are these photos going to exacerbate that?
One thing I’ve learned in getting to know Julia is that she takes the same kindness and empathy she showed me on the first day we met and brings that to photographing each family. Her work strikes such an emotional chord with me despite the fact that the majority of the families she shoots are people I’ve never met. Surprisingly, it’s not the heart melting candid moments Julia captures that cause me to gulp down that big ball of emotion rising in my throat. You know, the moments you hold onto and replay in your mind to keep yourself from killing the kids when they’re acting like complete a-holes. It’s the images where the parents are in the thick of it that stir up the biggest feelings for me. The images where a parent is struggling with bath or where the kids are totally losing their shit and the parents are trying, really trying, to keep from doing the same that resonate the most. Despite the frustration I’m sure the parents felt at the moment, Julia’s perspective and what she captures with her lens isn’t negative at all. Instead I’m sitting there giving a knowing head nod of and sending out a mental fist-bump of parental solidarity . This is parenthood. For better. For worse. For tantrum. For cuddles and kisses. This is what it is. A mess. An awesome, amazing, chaotic, and beautiful mess.
So, here goes nothing! I’m looking forward to seeing how Julia handles this hot mess of mine and of course sharing what happens when I stop being polite and start getting real. Mom real.