Catch and Release

The mornings unfurl before me now, expansive, open ended. Suddenly there’s time to sit on the screened porch, the cicadas humming, their white noise infiltrating the silence, the rain playing its staccato beat, and write. Think. Be. Suddenly there’s endless time to swim and train, to run errands, unencumbered. To meander around bookstores, the colorful spines of the books lining the shelves, a running rainbow of words and stories.

It’s unsettling, this free time, and I’m unsure how to navigate because in the midst of exhaling, of realizing this gift of quiet and time to myself after years of very little, is the immutable reality that my role as a mother is always changing. We spend years knitting together our own version of motherhood. We question; we cry; we laugh. We sigh exasperatedly and feel that we will never quite get it right. And all the while, as we furiously create new layers, new textures, and designs, we realize that the other end is slowly and methodically unraveling.

Motherhood, it seems, is a catch and release, a ceaseless practice of gathering close and of letting go. And the unraveling around here lately has reached a furious pitch; we are on the cusp of change, just dipping our toes into the liminal spaces between the shadows of childhood and the hazy beginnings of becoming.

The sun hadn’t yet begun its wide arc across the sky as I stumbled out of bed and downstairs to find Pacey already dressed, packed, and ready to catch the bus on his first day of high school. Over the rim of my coffee cup, through the steam, I examined him, memorized the few remaining round, boyish features that lingered along the lines of his face. We’ve grown together; we’ve argued and said many harsh words; we’ve snuggled and watched movies and read books; and now that he’s tipped the scale towards more man than boy, now that he’s starkly taller than I am, I see that I’m releasing more than I’m catching. Our orbit grew ever so wider as he walked to the corner, backpack-less despite my futile protests, brown paper lunch bag in hand, his plain black lunchbag quickly becoming another unwanted relic of middle school. I couldn’t help but see the boy he was, the knock-kneed, striped polo shirt, backpack so large that it almost swallowed him figure that I sent to kindergarten in a release that was no less large, no less wrenching than this.

I know our time together, this day to day getting on with school and soccer and home and endless summers has already reached its pinnacle. We are on the downward slope, quickening with each day towards even more difficult releases, and I frantically want to grasp at every scant piece of his boyhood that remains on the edges. And while I know that the teen years are a time of reckoning, a time of push back and brassy behavior, I can’t help but want to soften my response to the increasing chaos and embrace the crazy, emotional, and sometimes obnoxious ways they embrace the world. Because I’m learning that softening, a more emollient and gentler approach with my children and maybe more importantly myself is the answer to the tumultuous way life refines us.

To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. —Pema Chodron

Every part of me wanted to panic and rattle as I struggled with gracefully allowing Rowan to board the bus later that morning. It was now her turn, with her too-big backpack and knobby knees, another image that will be a fallback, a marker, one to draw up when we need comfort. The bus drove away with a loud rumble, and I saw in such sharp relief that our entire reality shifted in that moment. Another orbit dramatically expanded and our slow mornings and drawn out and placid days are now the stuff of memory: another release, more merciless unraveling.

We talk of how babies change our lives, how time to ourselves becomes something of luxury. We move sleepily through molasses infused hours that bind each day indistinctly to the next, and then we finally come to the day we send everyone to school. I’ve been expecting to find more clarity; I expected to be invigorated by the freedom, and it’s surprising to find it feels just as hazy but with less noise. We will find our way, our comfort with this new routine and schedule, but for now, it feels strangely foreign and ill-fitting. It’s scratchy and unfamiliar, and in an attempt to not unravel myself, I’m softening my approach here, too. I’m, begrudgingly at times, giving myself the space to feel completely raw and uncomfortable because I’m learning that this constant knitting and unraveling is life’s way of refining us. The unraveling will relentlessly continue, but on the other end, unfurled and beautiful, ragged and undefined, there are new intricate layers and designs surfacing.

06-13-2016

Rebuilding

Today I held Jon tightly and had my first teary-eyed goodbye at an airport gate. Strangers walked by and smiled gently as I wiped the tears that traced my cheeks, and I had to almost laugh at the subtext of my story because I was only going to be away for 48 hours. Still those tears have been pooling, nudging, wanting to fall for more than just today.

I don’t know if it’s the heavy, heat of summer, the prospects of a short visit to parts of my past life this weekend, or just my nature that has me splashing messily around in my emotions. Maybe it’s part of the journey, maybe it’s the two-to-one intervals of making progress and stepping back: the ebb and flow of growth.

And while it’s incredibly easy to slip into auto-pilot mode and float along on the surface of my life, it’s not how I’m built. The more I avoid the deep, sometimes murky parts of life, the more dark and murky and confused I become. In the last few years, I’ve felt pressure— internal and external— to carefully curate what I present to the world. Because this has become less of a purely personal blog and more of a blog for my business, I’ve held back from writing. From sharing, from thinking, from really being who I am. Because what would people think? What would clients think? What would colleagues think? Shouldn’t I be building my brand first and use my blog for a different purpose than I once have? And while everyone says that branding should be personal, I feel like there’s an asterisk: *but not that personal.

I have my own asterisks.

*I’m tired of branding myself.

*I’m tired of curating myself.

This summer has been full and active and filled with layers that I know I need, but it has also felt dark and heavy, and I think that is a culmination of over two years of layerless living. I threw myself so fully into building a business, into becoming successful, into learning, into fitting in that I gave up on the dimensions of my own story beyond photography. When that happens it’s incredibly easy to slip into old habits of self-criticism, of feeling eternally less than, of never measuring up to self-imposed notions of perfection.

I clipped my own wings.

Is it any wonder that now I feel stuck? I know this place well. It’s a cycle that I’ve perfected since childhood, and for the past two weeks, I’ve hidden. I’ve managed only the bare minimum of social media business tasks. I’ve really wanted to stay under the covers, and a bad cold gave me the excuse to do that some of the time.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
-Brene Brown

My story may not be tidy and exceedingly peppy all of the time. It’s true that sometimes I think “too much” about life, and I will always prefer a deep, whole-hearted conversation over small talk. I could choose to continue running from my story, but instead I’m ready to own it, to share it, to layer it with what fits, and to ruthlessly extract the parts that don’t so that I can authentically and carefully rebuild.blog

 

Live in the Layers

The noise of life always seeps in. It gnaws away at my edges and creates its familiar and distinct anxiety. Year after year, I’ve looked around and wondered when life really begins. When will I have arrived at the life I’ve yearned for. The life that will be wholly fulfilling. One where I’m not restless. Not second guessing. Not wondering what else or why.

It’s an overwhelming process that ranges from an incredibly joyful satisfaction to an increasingly uncomfortable restlessness.

I’m tired of the restlessness.

Hyperfocusing on only one part of my life and then floating along on the rest is exhausting. I’m convinced that a perfectly balanced life doesn’t exist. But I believe there is a recipe to the perfect balance we need at any point in our lives if we are disciplined enough to search it out and live it.

If you want to measure the level of happiness in your life, measure the level of discipline in your life. You will never have more happiness than you have discipline. The two are directly related. […] Whether those experiences are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, discipline elevates them to their ultimate reality. It heightens every human experience and increases every human ability. –Matthew Kelly

It’s been a challenging awareness to accept that in many ways, I have lacked the discipline to really create the life that will be wholly fulfilling to me: the discipline to consistently commit to all of the layers that I know I need. Oh there has been plenty of discipline surrounding them in very concentrated areas. I’ve completed challenging physical goals. I’ve written for hours and hours. I’ve gone to church. I’ve built a business and grown as a photographer. I’ve devoured books. But all of those have happened in isolation. There has been a stark lack of dimension, so where I’ve very intently focused on one, the rest have faltered.

In photography, composition is crucial. The foreground, background, the edges matter. The negative space is as important as the weighty presence of the subject. Each layer of the image has a responsibility to the whole. In some moments, different layers hold more importance than others, but it is a conscious choice we make each time we press the shutter.

And I’m learning it is a conscious choice in life.

Live in the layers, not on the litter. Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. –Stanley Kunitz

It’s time to live in the layers. This is my reentry. Because I am not done. Because I’m more than a photographer. And a mother. And a wife. Because I’m a writer. A runner. A triathlete. I’m more than I’ve even begun to discover.

07-22-2016-01

Hiking and Natural Waterslides

A few weeks ago we took our yearly family vacation to my home, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Virginia Beach for nearly 30 years, but the mountains will always feel like home.  I know the exact spot on Route 17 in Virginia when we hit the crest of a hill and the mountains come into view for the very first time. I get excited every time, and Jon might possibly call me a tree hugger every time. Just maybe.

I’ve always wanted to take the kids to Ohiopyle State Park that is about thirty minutes from my parents’ house that has hiking, white water rafting, waterfalls, and natural water slides, but it seems like we always run out of time. Sometimes it’s really easy to slip into wishing that I did things but never taking the time to plan them out and make them happen. It’s such a bad habit to get stuck in, so this year, I made Ohiopyle a priority, and my mountain loving heart was in heaven.

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We went my sister and her family, which made the entire day even sweeter! And if they look familiar (minus the blue fohawks), theirs is the epic session I shot when I was there!

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Jon isn’t what you’d call a nature lover, but even though I had to convince him that he would like hiking (really, I promise, you’ll love it!), he had a good time. And he saw his first waterfall in real life! (What? Really?! Yes, really. Sad.)virginia-beach-family-photographer_0064virginia-beach-family-photographer_0063

This would be the fallen tree we either had to go over or crouch under. virginia-beach-family-photographer_0065virginia-beach-family-photographer_0068

I just love my crew! And Jon can take a good picture with instructions!

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I had to laugh when I saw this. This kid would sit down anywhere. Even on the side of a mountain!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0066

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One of my favorites from the day!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0074

After we hiked back over Meadow Run Trail, we arrived at the natural water slides. Yes! I was tempted to try it, but then I remembered my back probably wouldn’t be happy with that, so Rowan and I watched from the edge.

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The boys were brave enough to give it a go, and they both said it was pretty rough banging against all of the rock!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0072virginia-beach-family-photographer_0073

It was such a great morning, and sitting there along the rocks and water, I’ve never felt more at home. The beach maybe my home now, but my heart is always in the mountains. <3

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Choose Courage

We’ve been living in our new house for about three months, and there are still boxes. Flattened boxes. Half-unpacked boxes. Still tightly-taped boxes full of random bits and pieces that I can’t quite find a place for. It’s a funny thing about boxes. They are at once useful and confining. We can pack away those bits and pieces. Store them later for different times of the year. Useful!

Boxes become confining when you create them for yourself. At first it seems a safe way to live: compartmentalizing and packing emotions and thoughts into neatly cushioned boxes. By defining so clearly the expectations of the world and our place in it, it seems safer and more sensical. Until suddenly it’s not and the packing materials and styrofoam peanuts become suffocating. The neatly placed and taped boxed world you’ve created for yourself no longer functions as it once did. You scratch at the underside of the taped flaps, aching for new light and new air.

The world can feel overwhelming without the limits we create. For me it becomes a loud static and some days I wish for a pause button, a chance to stop and organize and plan. Functioning in the midst of life’s speedy timeline is quite challenging and my protective response, my styrofoam, is to function minimally. To exist rather than live and create boxes of space to define what I believe and do.

My word this year has been limitless: a chance to see if I can break out of the boxes and live more fully in this world. A chance to believe I’m capable of a multifaceted approach to life and a chance to trust in the order of the universe. The process of building a successful photography business has been at once exhilarating and terrifying. It has highlighted a confidence I would have never believed I could muster. And in the way things have of bringing along a counter balance, it has also exposed my lack of belief in myself, the fear of being visionary, and my tendency to exist in one space. I’ve realized recently that for most of my life I have lived believing that my voice isn’t worthy to be heard. That my ideas must be silly. That story has filled the empty spaces in my head and my heart. I’ve woven it into the tapestry of me, and it is so hard to break those threads.

I’ll stare blankly at the computer screen hoping for the words to find me (like today). I’ll have moments of terror behind the lens wishing for inspiration to come. Sometimes I’ll shut down, believing in the boxes, but lately I’ve begun to scratch through the cardboard flaps and see the light beyond them. The more I grasp at that light, the more I see that it takes courage to live a limitless life. It takes trust to believe that life will bring what is meant to be here for me.

Brene Brown believes that, “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” I may have had a comfortable life before this adventure, safe within my boxes. It might have been a lot less scary, though a lot sadder, enviously watching other people do amazing things and building the life of their dreams. Some days I might feel slightly paralyzed by all of the options, by the wish that grand ideas will find me more quickly and easily, by the notion that by putting myself so bravely out there that now things are expected of me. That now I can’t so easily retreat into my quiet box. And I’m finding more and more that that’s okay.

My new impulse is to push forward, to thrive, to grow, to dream. And happily the boxes aren’t quite so appealing anymore.

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Love this image that is now a part of Elizabeth Henson’s Live Happy Creative Stock shop on Etsy! Check it out– lots of great stock images for blog use and more!

Grasping Time

I’ve always been keenly aware of the passing of time. The boys’ rooms are sparse now and bare little resemblance to the rooms they once had: the rooms that were overflowing with action figures, stuffed animals, and lego creations. Now they require very little in the way of toys, and packing up their rooms for our recent move made this painfully obvious. While Rowan’s room required many, many boxes, the boys needed just a few to store their childhood mementos and video games. It’s a funny transition that as their bodies are growing, their need for space is shrinking significantly.

Time’s relentless forward motion is sometimes suffocating, and suddenly I’m frantically grasping at moments before I look around and realize high school is about to end. I’m pitching my thoughts back to when I thought it sounded crazy to say I had a 5 and 3 year old when now we are on the brink of 14 and 12. To accept that I’ve been home with Rowan for three years is madness. She’s entering her last year of preschool, and I can’t quite figure out what we’ve spent the last three years doing. As much as I wanted to hold onto her toddlerhood because I learned how quickly it receded with the boys, it has also become a blur of memories and moments.

So I sometimes sit and watch our lives pass by in images on my computer screensaver. It’s a mesmerizing meditation that reminds me that we have, in fact, lived and experienced so much together despite the tendency for my mind to lump it together into one, messy blur of emotions. And this is when I am so grateful for my historic tendency to document so many moments in images. Because, as we are all so intensely aware, time does continue trudge forward no matter what.

I am so grateful for this little mommy and me session from my dear friend Erin Ammons. Her heart is always in the right place, which means her images exude poignant emotion.

My sweet girl has been such a perfect addition. Her sass, her heart, her personality, and her love is the bond our family needed. She’s made me a more confident woman and a more patient mother, and I love watching her life’s story unfold.

I’m so glad to have these to add to my screensaver timeline! <3

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This is my absolute favorite!watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0020watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0025

Rowan scripted this one… not surprised, of course! My little posing girl! <3watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0026

This is so totally her. She talks with her hands… just like her mama!watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0023

Oh, I love her so. <3watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0022

Finding Words | Personal

I’m not sure why writing comes in ebbs and flows. It pulses. Faintly underneath the fear and muck of this life, it’s the draw that gently nudged me. To come back to focus. To come back to clarity in my mind instead of blindly navigating through.

I often feel restless and dissatisfied. There’s a deep ache and yearning for something that’s not there. Something that should be there. It always seems so grey and fuzzy this should be there but isn’t feeling. So I sometimes flail about recklessly dismantling things until the newness buries the anxious tension.

I’m sure that isn’t the smartest practice. And as I lie here, the rush of traffic swelling behind me continuously rising and falling. Rowan is beside me. Safe in her warm, middle spot in our bed. Secure in her girly nightgowned world, I wonder if it isn’t the world I am restless about. Maybe it isn’t the changes that anchor me to something secure. Maybe it is this. Maybe it is a writing practice. Maybe it is getting all the jumbled words and thoughts into a slightly coherent space and stepping back and seeing what has become of them.

I feel rusty. Especially in this early morning, the words feel pedantic and simple. Flat and lifeless. But it’s a start. It begins with one. Then two. Then ten and more. Maybe it is a free flowing of words that will start the upward climb to consistency. Maybe it is writing just for me in the grey light of the early morning. Maybe it is being totally incoherent and rambling. Maybe it is the journal-style brain dump that is the foundation for a more consistent practice. And in the end a more secure view of myself and the world.

In the rush of this business over the last year, every ounce of my creative energy has been poured lovingly into photography, and it has been a necessary care-taking process. I simply have not had enough left in me to write more than short snippets before image-laden posts and maybe a simple personal post here and there. But now that the business-life dance is finding some sort of consistent rhythm, I feel ready to find words again. Because I am not only my pictures and my work. I am not only my running, biking, and swimming (or lack thereof this year), and in words I find the meaning to frame this crazy and beautiful life.

I look forward to once again sharing them with you. <3

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