Finding Neverland

Author’s Note: I’ve posted on here about going to photography school. This week I finished my photography website. I’m stealing this post from my website’s About Me page. If you want, you can check out the site here: www.neverland.photography

Hook Vintage-1

Several years ago I was raising a miniature Captain Hook. My three-year-old son was obsessed with the movie Hook and each morning he begged to dress as his favorite character – the villain.

Not only did he want to wear a red overcoat and black loafers, he wanted a wig, hat, knickers, gold buckles and a drawn-on mustache. Every. Single. Day.

I took Hook to the doctor’s office. I held his hand as we walked through the grocery store. He played at the park in costume. He wielded a gold-handled plastic sword everywhere – except maybe church. I had to draw a line somewhere.

I remember being frustrated. I wanted to ditch the costume. After him wearing it for a couple months straight, I was done.

Now I want to go back.

Time flies faster than we could ever imagine. Six years later and I long for that little boy who thought he was a pirate king.

But he has grown up, even though he promised me he wouldn’t. Even though I have begged him not to.

I haven’t found enough pixie dust to get me to a place like Neverland. A place where kids never grow up. But I have been able to find a way to freeze time.

The photos that I take capture the memories, the moments I don’t want to forget. Like those I have of my bright-eyed Hook son.

I have pictures of my oldest playing with his toy sharks when he was a young marine biologist. I have pictures of my youngest son running around growling and thrashing as a Tyrannosaurs Rex. I have pictures of my baby girl’s newborn double chin and her sweet, simple smile.

These are things my children have far outgrown. But I can always remember.

Because despite my best efforts to hold on to my memories, they have faded.

That’s why photos have always been so important to me. They bring back the images, the feelings, the moments.

Like the moment I had to say goodbye to one of my sweet little babies. Words cannot express how much I cherish the pictures I have of my angel baby who died before he was born. Those images help me vividly remember the amber curl of his long newborn hair and the slight sag in his chubby baby cheeks. When I look at those pictures I can almost breathe him in again.

Because photos take me back.

Back to times when my babies were young enough to cradle in my arms. Back to times when they cried while visiting Santa Claus. Times when they blew out birthday candles and cuddled to me during nap time. Times when they held my hand while walking down the stairs and asked me to catch them at the end of the slide.

Good times. Times we have out grown.

Sometimes I wish I could fly my family to Neverland. We could live in a magical place where no one ever grows up.

But the second star on the right is too far away. That’s why I’m going to keep snapping photos.

Photos that will take me back. Photos for moments I don’t want to grow up.

Restaurant Rebellion

I dream about going on vacation. There’s no laundry, no toilets to scrub and no cooking. I get to go out to eat! I imagine relaxing while my waiter brings me another root beer and I calmly look over the dessert menu.

Then I wake up.

Going out to eat with our family is crazy. There’s no relaxing. I feel like my kids are fairly well behaved, but something about stepping into a sit-down establishment brings out the circus clown in all of them.

My oldest two begin arguing immediately over where to sit and who can watch the touch-screen monitor that can call our waiter. My four-year-old has to go to the bathroom the second the waiter arrives and the 2-year-old won’t stop using her high chair as a gymnastics apparatus.

No one can decide between apple slices or French fries, let alone nuggets or mini cheeseburgers. Then the four-year-old throws a half-eaten apple down the aisle.

I feel like half the restaurant is staring as I issue sit-down and be-quiet orders – repeatedly.

Sigh.

So much for dessert. We’ll be lucky if I can finish my entree.

I love going out to eat. But it’s totally different now that I have kids. It’s all a high-paced, let’s-keep-them-quiet session. I get so nervous that they are going to spill their drinks or fall off their chairs that I can’t even chill.

I usually end up sharing my seat and half of my food with one of my kids who didn’t “like” the $6 kids meal I bought for them.

I spend an arm and a leg on a meal none of us really enjoyed.

You would think I would learn. I should realize that it’s going to be hard. They are going to be noisy. They are going to be wiggly. And they are going to barely eat anything.

I’ve got to save the sit-down establishments for when they are older. For now maybe we’ll head somewhere like McDonald’s. With a clown mascot, my kids will fit right in.

Picture Imperfect

Headshot-2

Here I am in my headshot. It’s not the one I’m planning on using for my website (I picked the one where I’m using my camera). But it is the one that I was picking apart when my sweet baby girl helped me see that none of the stuff I was worried about really matters.

Confession time: I hate looking at pictures of myself. I know what you are thinking. That’s pretty hypocritical for someone who is training to be a professional photographer.

But it’s true.

I look at pictures of myself – especially close up pictures – and I cringe. Inevitably something bugs me. My hair looks dumb, my smile is weird, my wrinkles are too deep. I could pick each picture apart and hate it.

And yet last week I was reminded that I need to stop worrying about all of those things.

I needed to get a head shot done for my business website. So I asked my photography school teacher to snap a few pictures for me to use. (If anyone could make me look better than I feel I really look then it’s him.)

So he snapped a couple of pictures at the end of our class on Saturday and I went on my way uploading them for my website.

As I sat on my couch sifting through the images and wondering how I could try to make my hair look better in them – my bangs were windblown off my forehead and I was seriously considering photo shopping them to look better – my daughter woke up from her nap and walked out to where I was sitting.

Immediately she saw what I was working on and exclaimed, “That’s my mama!”

She was so proud and excited all at once it made me smile.

Did she see the crazy bangs? Did she see all those deep smile lines?

No.

She saw her mama. A person she loves and trust.

I need to stop seeing all of those other non-important things too.

I need to stop picking my pictures apart.

I need to remember that I am who I am. My hair is seldom perfect. My smile may look silly sometimes and my wrinkles aren’t going anywhere. But none of that should matter.

I don’t want my daughter to think that she has to photoshop her hair for her images to look all right. I don’t want her to look at a picture of herself and pick it apart.

I want her to look at it and be proud and excited. “That’s me!,” I want her to exclaim.

So I better start practicing what I preach. I better start accepting myself for who I am and loving me like my own child does. I better start getting in front of the camera instead of behind it all the time or I’ll regret not having captured some of the most important parts of my life – which is one of the reasons I love pictures.

They help me to relive a memory, a feeling, a moment when things were different. They help me freeze time. I’m going to try to freeze time more often – even if I’m frozen with crazy, wind-blown bangs.

Time Change Zombie Effect

Dear Daylight Savings,

You win! Once again you have completely kicked my butt.

I’m on day five of this new time and I am so tired I can’t think straight.

I had high hopes for the change this spring. I was looking forward to longer evening light when I could practice my photography skills. I even had hopes that my early-bird kids would sleep in for a week or so while they adjusted to the change.

HAHAHAHA. My kids must be working with you. They are out to get me too.

They slept in for half a day. Then they adjusted. I think they are robots.

Yesterday my youngest got up at 5:30 a.m. which was 4:30 a.m. for her just a week ago.

She cried in the corner for 10 minutes because she didn’t want me to cook her a sausage for breakfast, she wanted her dad too. She finally calmed down and ate one bite of the sausage I cooked before she cried and shouted again because she didn’t want regular cheese with it she wanted string cheese. A half-hour later she cried because she didn’t want to wear the shoes that I picked out for her. This was the pattern all…morning…long…she was just too tired to be awake. But she can’t help it. She’s thrown off. I’m thrown off.

Again, I am so tired that I can’t think straight!

You would think that because I’m so tired it would be easy to get to sleep at night.

Not so. You got me on that one too. By the time I’m ready to go to bed I’m not sleepy. I lay there for more than an hour because I’m not used to going to sleep at that time. I stress about not being able to sleep and so I lay there longer – wide-eyed.

By the time I doze off it’s after midnight and in just a few hours my baby girl gets up.

It’s a cycle of sleep deprivation that I can’t bust out of. AGHHH.

I hate you and I love you. And I just can’t get rid of you. So I’m going to take it easy this week and let the dishes pile up in my sink. I’m not going to vacuum and I’m skipping the toilet cleaning. I may even sneak a cat nap in this afternoon. I can’t do anything extra. Like enjoy that extra light in the evenings that I was looking forward to. Not when I’m this tired.

Maybe next week will be better.

Catch you in November,

Zombie Mom

Half Way There

Alexsys-Natalie4I’m half way there – half way done with my professional photography certification from the FotoFly Academy in Salt Lake City.

It’s been crazy. It’s been busy. It’s been amazing.

I am officially half way ready to launch my own photography business. Half way to fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams.

Things have settled down on the home front. We’ve managed to escape any more rat-chasing episodes and my kids have stopped complaining about me taking their pictures. (That could be because I’ve been studying bridal, maternity and newborn photography the past few weeks and they weren’t eligible models for my homework, but I’ll take it!)

Things have also settled down with my camera. I am confident with my settings and how to change them up to get the best photos. Things that were like a foreign language to me at the first of the year are now becoming second nature. Thank heavens.

Anna-Natalie-15But my brain is still constantly cycling through the concepts we are studying.

I can’t stop thinking about light. How is it flowing? Is it too harsh? Where is the sun? I keep asking my family to look toward me so I can see the shadows on their faces and catch lights in their eyes.

I can’t stop thinking about locations. Would that bridge be a good spot? How about that arbor? Would it frame my subject? Will the snow ever melt so I can take more pictures outside?

And then there is the topic of interaction. How can I get genuine reactions out of people? How can I make them feel at ease? How can I get them to be themselves?

Julie-Natalie-1Those things and more are circling through my mind ALL OF THE TIME.

And I’m testing and trying them out in real-life situations.

Not only has my school given me a solid photography base, FotoFly Academy has given me the hands-on practice I have been searching for. I’ve been able to take these concepts that I can’t stop thinking about and perfect them.

For the past couple of months we have taken field trips to test everything out.

Raquel-Natalie-13At first I was incredibly intimidated. The first time we took pictures of someone who wasn’t one of my classmates I nearly threw up. How was I going to pull all of this off? I was so anxious and nervous and excited. I nearly forgot my flash.

But it’s getting easier.

We’ve been through several field-trip photo shoots now and although I still feel anxious and excited every time, I think it’s mostly anticipation. I can’t wait for class to try things out. I have earned more confidence and ease with every photo shoot. Confidence and ease that will help me in my own business.

Confidence and ease that helps me with my homework assignments. Which right now include conducting two of my own photo shoots each week.

Bailie-Natalie-20Through it all, I feel like a part of me is coming alive. A part that I never new existed.

I feel like one of my favorite Disney princesses – Rapunzel.

She cooks, she cleans, she sews, paints and sings. She’s happy. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s still waiting for a part of her life to begin.

A new part of my life has officially begun.

I have trudged through snowy hills to snap bridal pictures in the wintery mountains. I have sloshed through cold, gooey sand to capture gorgeous shots of expecting mothers near the Great Salt Lake. I have swaddled tiny babies and shushed them to sleep so I could document their newness.

Jenny - Maternity-1It has been invigorating. It has been intense.

I’ve been averaging four different photo shoots from Thursday through Saturday each week on top of my other Rapunzel-style responsibilities like grocery shopping, check-book balancing, PTA activities, church meetings, laundry, cooking, cleaning, Lego building and My Little Pony playing.

If you run into me on a Sunday afternoon I may resemble a zombie. But I couldn’t feel more alive.

The next few weeks will be a challenge. We dive into babies, toddlers and then kids next.

I can’t wait. Bring it on.

I’m ready to jump from half way to completely there.

Losing A Child Is Not A Joke

funeral 108Seven years ago I was getting ready to bring home my third son. I was 37 weeks pregnant. My second little boy was born before my 36 week mark so I expected to hold this new little one in my arms any day.

I was tired. I was huge. I didn’t feel good. But that couldn’t stifle the excitement I had to meet my baby.

My husband and I hauled out the crib and set it up. We moved our oldest two boys to bunk beds to make room. We hung up the new clothes we received as gifts from a small baby shower.

I was getting ready to swaddle him up and cuddle him close.

Then I stopped feeling him move.

The next day he came to us stillborn.

We spend just about five hours with him. That’s it. Nurses didn’t get to bring him to me in the night when he wanted to feed. I didn’t get to hear him grunt or cry while changing his first diaper.

I moved to a different hospital floor where I wouldn’t have to hear other little babies cry. I spent one terrible night tossing and turning in a rigid hospital bed while having nightmares about my deceased child. I had to coach the nurse who assisted me on what type of postpartum treatments I needed because that wasn’t her specialty. I had to ask for my own ice pack.

It is the most tragic experience I’ve had yet. My heart was ripped outside of my body.

Instead of tucking my child tightly inside his new carseat and driving him carefully home in a day or so, we left the hospital as soon as possible. I had given birth to a full-term baby boy but didn’t have time to rest or heal.

I left the hospital the next day and drove to the cemetery we might bury him in to scope out the grounds – I wanted to make sure we somehow could feel right about putting our little angel there.

But there really is no place you feel right about burying your child.

My husband and I made it home empty-handed less than 24 hours after our baby’s birth.

That afternoon I drug my tired, sore body to the funeral home to make arrangements. It was a Friday and we needed to meet with a director before the weekend. We picked out a casket and outlined the program.

The next day I remember clearly standing in a back room at the floral shop picking out tiny blue forget-me-not-type flowers to place on our little one’s grave. My body was exhausted and my milk had started to come in. I was terribly sore – physically and emotionally.

Losing a child was horrible. Terrible. Tragic. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I have so many hard memories. Carrying a small white tuxedo into the funeral home to dress our little guy for his funeral. Closing the casket – never to see him again. Sitting at home with just my husband and older two boys after the funeral wondering what to do next.

I would not wish the death of a baby on my worst enemy. And yet there are dozens of women – many of them my closest friends – who have also gone through stories of loss. Stories of heartache. They too have lost a piece of themselves when they found out their child had died.

It’s a life-changing experience that no one would understand unless they too have experienced it. And even then, everyone’s experiences are so different. It’s hard to know exactly how someone else feels.

But recently I have discovered that there are people in this world who like to pretend they understand. I have been made aware of some who have lied about losing a child. I can’t even begin to describe how deeply this offends me. I am disgusted to think that there are people out there professing to know what it is like to be swallowed up in grief like I was when I lost my sweet Luca.

What are they thinking? I just can’t understand.

Why would someone want to pretend to go through something so horrible? Are they looking for attention? My mind is blown. I’m completely baffled. And quite frankly it makes me angry.

I have spent the past 6 and a half years dealing with and internalizing my loss. I will spend the rest of my life missing the child I didn’t get to raise with my other four kids. My arms have physically ached for my boy.

So when I find out that other people have said they have miscarried or delivered stillborn babies and I know that they haven’t I am upset. Majorly upset.

No need for attention, no excuse of trying to empathize could ever excuse the act of lying about something so heartbreaking.

Like I said, losing a child has been the biggest tragedy I have faced. But it is my reality. It is not something I asked for nor something I can ever walk away from. I can’t ever change the fact that I buried my boy. This is not a game of make believe. This is my real-life horror story. My heart and my life has forever been changed because of my loss. It is not something to ever joke about or pretend. Ever.

I hope that I don’t hear of any more made up losses. I hope that these people will stop pretending. I hope they realize they are crossing a line.

But what I hope even more than all of that is that someday there will be no real losses. My dream is that all babies get to go home to their cribs. And that they live long after. No one should ever have to experience what it really feels like to lose a baby. No one.

Drowning in Four Gallons of Milk

20170222_230156I am drowning.

I have about eighty things I have to do this week and I keep forgetting forty of them.

I went to bed at midnight Tuesday night. Then got up at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning after tossing and turning for several hours while my 2-year-old alternated kicking my face (yes she was in my bed again) and hollering out sporadically for a drink. Why did I get up before the sun? Because my crazy puppy needed to go outside.

Honestly it was probably a good thing I got up early so I could get a jump start on all the stuff I have going on. But it only added extra exhaustion to my bone-tired body.

From going back to school, to responsibilities with my church to PTA activities I’m helping with and school functions for my kids, I am drowning.

I am living in a never-ending sea of activity. And I just keep swimming blindly. Those of you who know me well, you know that I can’t swim.

I try, but I fail. I float for half a second and then I sink.

I try to be organized but I just can’t seem to pull things together. Last week I forgot to show up to volunteer in my oldest son’s classroom like I have been doing every Wednesday for the past six months.

This week I showed up twenty minutes late to a field trip because I got the starting time wrong.

I ordered four gallons of milk with my online grocery order yesterday. FOUR! We drink a lot of milk, but come on.

I am completely losing it.

So tonight I’m going to skip a formal blog post. I just don’t have it in me.

I’ve never hidden my imperfections on this blog and I don’t want to start now. I don’t want to write something fancy and polished when my life is a complete hurricane.

I want to be completely real. My floor needs vacuuming. My underwear needs washing. I need to sort through the mountain of junk mail and school papers that keeps growing exponentially and I need to find am indoor location to do a couple of photo shoots this weekend because it won’t stop snowing. I have no idea how this is all going to come together.

But somehow I’ll make it through.

Meanwhile, I’m going to drown my sorrows with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a glass of milk. We all know I have plenty of that to spare.

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