Archive for 'Personal'

It’s taken me too long to finally write out my thoughts and post them on my blog. But as the busy fall season is just weeks away, I can’t start the season until I share about my client and friend that passed away.  Along with all his family has endured as it’s more pain in their lives than anyone should experience.

While it’s been 12  years since I left the classroom as special educator for children with emotional and behavioral disorders, my passion  will always be working with children that have special needs.  I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with people that struggled in advocating for themselves, being accepted into the general public and help society to see them just as they are….a child, a teenager or an adult without their special abilities defining their lives and their relationships.

I want to give clarity before I go further as it’s a point that I want understood.  In 1993, I started my first job in a school district as a paraprofessional working 1 on 1 with a kindergartener that had Autism.  Back then, Autism wasn’t the familiar, or popular word, that is now frequently spoken of in today’s world: the incidence was 1 in 5,000 at that time.  Anyone that knows me knows about that little girl as she’s still a constant in my life, her name is Lauren.  I remember the first time I spoke with Lauren’s mother and how powerful she was in advocating for her daughter’s needs as efforts to help her function with every opportunity that was available to her.  But the most powerful lesson I learned from her mother was when she spoke in a meeting that she didn’t like it when she was referred to her as “Autistic {insert any word}”.  She didn’t like it because Lauren was a girl, student, child and daughter BEFORE her Autism.  That laid the ground work for how I viewed all the children I was going to begin working with.

12 years late, I still find my true passion for people with special needs finding their way into my 2nd passion…photography.   Let me introduce you to my friend Luke, whom I met for the 1st time 9 years ago, when he was 9 years old. Over those years, I grew to look forward to seeing him, hearing of his milestones and challenges and photographing all the stages in his life.

Luke had special needs because of a Tramatic Brain Injury that resulted from an accident when he was 6 years old.  My husband is friends with Luke’s father, Mike,  since high school and I clearly remember when TW heard about the accident when a newly installed, large RV gate at their recently built home came unhinged.  Luke was playing nearby when the gate fell, struck him and knocked him onto cinder blocks. The injuries he sustained were severe to the degree that the doctors didn’t expect him to survive but he did.  3 years later, I received an email from his mother, Stacey, wanting to schedule a session with me.  Right after I received that email, I went to TW in tears that THIS family wanted ME to take their pictures.  The feeling I had was overwhelming and a complete honor.  I knew I wanted to make this opportunity epic for them…I wanted to give them pictures where they saw their son and children and who they are individually and together BEFORE they noticed his T.B.I.   I knew this was a challenge for me but it was a challenge I desperately wanted and couldn’t wait to tackle, even though my nerves were crazy.

Over the course of the 9 years I photographed Luke and his family, I grew to know Luke and his family and learned that this family was different. They were the true definition of unconditional love that can’t be described.

While I could write about all the challenges and struggles Luke and his family faced because of his T.B.I., I’m going to share them as the special abilities that he taught his family.  Luke was a determined boy.  Stacey called him their Gladiator when he fought the odds against him and never gave in to his injury or challenges.  In turn, they fought with the same determination in going to any length necessary to ensure Luke had the best quality of life.  They sought out and explored all the medical treatments available to help him to help overcome his physical limitations, speech and language deficits, and social/emotional development.

When I schedule a session, I always ask the client if there is a type of location they are most interested in and Stacey was always interested in every option I had. However, there were locations that I’d often tell her would be difficult for Luke in getting him there or for him to navigate around.  But when I was honest with his mother, every time she would say that it didn’t matter because Mike would be able to make it work for him.  And….she was right!  I often witnessed Mike carry him and move him as and parent would for their child, his father never allowed Luke’s physical limitations to interfere with the options that were easy for those without special needs.  And each time I watched Mike maneuver Luke, my eyes would fill with tears watching how it was almost poetic seeing him with his only son.   In Mike’s eyes, Luke didn’t have any special needs…Luke was just his son, his boy that he would move mountains for.  I also have to add that Mike talked to and with Luke like he had zero language deficits…Luke was perfectly okay and typical in his eyes.  And most of the conversations between Mike and Luke were funny…typically centered around how painful it was to have pictures taken (written with humor).

But as the years went on, the challenges that Luke’s family faced, because of his injuries, did begin to dictate where their pictures were taken, resulting in having the sessions at their home.

The pictures below are from the very last time I will ever photograph Luke and that makes me sad all over again in knowing I won’t be hearing about Luke’s celebrations, milestones or new challenges.

During this session Stacey wanted to include Luke’s new therapy dog and of course I loved that idea as pets always bring an element that brings out the side of people I can’t bring out … no matter the antics I try. I’ll never forget when we were trying to encourage the dog to be a part of the session, Stacey brought out treats to help.  I had one of those treats and I don’t remember why but I put one of the treats on Luke’s leg do something.  Next thing we knew, Mike was saying that Luke was eating a dog treat….insert everyone in shock, scrambling to get it out of his mouth and laughter. I remember someone asking how Luke got a hold of the treat and Mike wasted no time in saying that it was MY fault…again, we were all laughing and I kept apologizing all while Luke was just happy he got away with something and chewing.

I’ll always remember that chaotic and funny memory, because that was Luke…determined to do what he wanted, making everyone laugh and reminding us to enjoy the moment.

This past July, just days before his 18th birthday….Luke lost his fight against the injury that he and his family fought to overcome and lived with everyday.

I’m writing this post at great length that because of photography, I have been fortunate to meet, get to know, love and become a part of people’s lives as I photograph them through every stage in their life.  It’s because of photography that I’m still able to work with children with special needs…in varying degrees.

Every session I had with Luke, I worked hard to understand what thoughts he may have had in his mind and enjoyed the process with him.  While I know I’ll never see him again, I truly believe he knew that he made me happy.  I could often get him smiling by bribing him with me doing some stupid antic that I looked completely ridiculous doing.

I’m going to miss him.  I’m going to miss this boy and his smile so much.

When I spoke to his parents at his funeral, his parents told me that even though it was hard having family pictures not just because of Luke’s challenges but due to motivation, schedules, etc. that they will NEVER regret getting the pictures taken and it was worth everything.

 

If by chance you’ve made it through this long, sappy and probably dramatic blog post then let me introduce to you Luke and his beautiful smile in the pictures below.

To Luke’s family, I’ll always hold my times with Luke close to my heart and never forget.  I don’t know why you chose me to photograph the stages in your family out of all the photographers in your area 9 years ago, but I THANK YOU!  You shared your son and lives with me and for that, I am a better person.

Embracing the ever-changing world has been my focus this past summer.

What seems like a year ago that my twins were starting school has me feeling like it’s a time that is now lost in history as they’ve just started 6th grade.  MY BABIES…my babies that made me a mom are in a stage of life that is seriously frightening me.  The kind of frightening feelings that keep me up later at night than I’d like to be.  And while my very real feelings can be paralyzing, I’m in constant mindset to not feel like my feet are cemented in a place of fear but using those feelings to fuel my drive by taking advantage of every hour and day I have to be with them.

If I had to chose one word to describe how I’m embracing my ever changing world as a mom to twin 6th graders, a 3rd grader and a toddler at 42 it would be….present.  For the first time I can confidently write that I am present in their lives.  But what does me being present truly mean?

It means:

-i’m rarely on the phone

-texts tend to go unanswered

-emails sit in my inbox longer than I’m proud of

-my computer is lonely

-my social life is nonexistent

-and my quiet, alone time happens after the kids are all in bed.

BUT…

I’m with my kids. And I’ve made a new vow to use my BIG camera to document more and keep the iPhone camera for the unexpected moments I don’t want to forget.

Last Thursday, my husband and I decided to make a surprise visit to his parents in Pinetop.  We haven’t been able to spend a weekend with them at their cabin in a year and this visit was definitely a surprise they’ll always remember.

When Cashlyn was at a friend’s cabin for the day, I took my two blonde babies to a nearby park and packed my big camera along.  While Blake and Camryn are 10 years apart in age, they are both full of curiosity and wonder with everything around them.  For Blake, she’s seeing and learning things for the first time and Camryn has this magical way of seeing something she knows like it’s the first time with curious eyes.

After a summer of being fully present with my kids, I learned so much from them.  There is no normal day to day life for me, I’ve learned that even at 42 I have so much to learn. With the biggest lesson learned is that the days pass quickly and to intentionally live without regret.

They’re my grateful reminder that when I’m present with my kids, we’re learning the in’s and out’s of life together.

 

A year since Blake was born has come and gone.  Now that my twins are 10 and my son is 7 and experiencing how fast the days and years truly do fly by, I can confidently write that I took every opportunity to soak up the days of Blake’s first year. I half jokingly, and half seriously, call her my ‘do over baby’.  I call her that in remembering my regrets of not putting off cleaning, laundry and daily what nots to sit and be intentionally present with my three older children when they were little.  I’ve always been an active person that can’t sit for more than a few minutes.  It’s true, my brain operates at warp speed and isn’t able to idle.

During the 9 months of expected Blake’s arrival, my mind was overwhelmed with thoughts, worries and questions of how I was going to manage working, juggling my kids’ schedules and life with a baby in the mix.  I honestly struggled with figuring out how I could do it all. (I’m a worrier by nature.  It’s not a strength for me.)

Then Blake arrived and I was flooded with emotions holding and looking at this beautiful, unexpected and precious gift.  I truly looked at Blake as a gift from God and saw her as His reminder that He’s given her to me as a gift that I’m doing good.  That day she arrived, time stood still and I hit the brick wall that made me realize nothing is more important than being intentionally present with my children.  And at that moment, all the things that needed to be done no longer took priority.

With Blake I forced myself and my warp speed thinking brain into idle mode.  And trust me, that is a victory for me as I’m a do’er and mover.

I took the past year to notice the little moments with my kids and Blake: truly savoring them.  Even my husband joined me in this mindset as he also realized he had missed out on so much when the children were little.

Blake is, and will always be, our physical reminder that we have one chance to be emotionally and physically present with our children because one day our house will be empty and they won’t need us to the degree they need us now.

A few weeks before Blake turned 1, I took my big girl camera out and documented her day.

Her day when it begins with drinking her bottle with one leg up.  Each of the kids help feed her in the morning while I tackle the morning routine of breakfast, lunches, hair……basically the never-ending routine to get the kids out the door for the bus.  And then her day begins of happily playing, scooting around, licking random things that likely have some sort of crusties on it (I call this immune boosting skill), following me wherever I go, racing to play in the dog dishes before one of us can scoop her up, sneaking food to our dog during lunch….her day of fun is never-ending.

Love our little Blakers! We love all the happiness, reminders and pure joy that she gives to each of us.

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