I Photograph The Chaos Of My Family’s Life, And I Actually Like It
I made a promise last year. To myself, to my kids, to my husband. I would take less client work and spend more time on forced family fun. I’ve started to write about my kids too and found they’re not only loud but also pretty entertaining.
Here’s a few words from: “The Year of Us: A Series of Uninterrupted In-Between Moments”:
“We are a mess. My kids stay up too late. We are not neat, nor tidy. My kids’ clothes are either too big or too small, most likely all in the same outfit. Our kitchen is yellow. Like the brightest yellow and cobalt blue you can imagine. We finally have a set bedtime after 5 years of nailing it down. We are always late to school. Everything we own is wrecked. Like things people had for years and gave to us in pristine condition. Yah, we wreck it within months. My kids aren’t multilingual. They don’t play any instruments yet. They won’t go to the best academy in San Diego and honestly we’re not pushing college as a must do rather than an option. We don’t listen to ‘kids’ music. In fact, my oldest knew how to sing “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys way before he ever learned the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. They’ve seen more bands in concert already than I saw until I was 18. They love to rock out to Vance Joy, The Pixies, and The Lumineers. We go to concerts at the Open Air Theatre but we don’t buy tickets. We sit on the grass outside and play as a family (and have a bottle of wine). We don’t buy all organic. We can’t, unfortunately. I tried to go to the grocery story three days in a row last week but never made it. The kids pick their own clothes out. They normally look disheveled but happy. We have a google calendar but I’m the only one who uses it. My boys didn’t sleep on their own until they were two and a half and the little one still routinely kicks my hubby to the couch on the weekends. One of our family mottos is “Every day can’t be the best day”. My kids are almost always barefoot. My husband calls them little black foot which of course comes from the fact that he calls me black foot. We have an untrainable dog wild hybrid thing, seriously. We lovingly call our two year old Nick Nolte, and yes it’s because he’s crazy. The irony of yelling “QUIET” on a daily basis does not elude me. We get by. We’re happy. We are every ounce of mess and we love it.”
“Sometimes, I can see them in the future. They smile a certain way or have a certain expression. The baby face fades away and I can almost see what they’re going to look like when they’re older. Asking for advice for significant others instead of battling over hot wheels. I know it’s coming. I know we’ll blink and we won’t have these babies anymore. Eventually, it will be our kids and then our teenagers and then our young adults. We’ll be old and boring by then and they’ll be excited and nervous with life. They’ll fight their way through whatever obstacles they have to. They’ll hopefully love each other more than they’ve ever loved anything. Because when my husband and I are gone they’ll only have each other. Their children will play together. They’ll start their own traditions and some of those won’t include us. Eventually they’ll have their own fully formed families and eventually they’ll love their kiddos (and be just as tired) as much as we do (and are). Eventually, our house will be still. And boring. We’ll have time for everything we don’t have time for now. We’ll go on dates and adventures like we did when we were 19. It’ll be an entire different life than the one we lead today. But for today I’ll just brush that vision aside. Today, maybe I’ll enjoy the fighting over toys and complaints about damn near everything. Because soon enough we’ll be talking about how much we miss our kids being kids.”
That summer mom made us pack up our whole life, moved into a tiny trailer and drove to Canada from San Diego.
“Oh Ev. My indestructible, stubborn-as-me, tough little guy. You don’t fool me. Beyond the jumping off couches, not listening worth crap, and screaming fits because you want to do something just exactly how you want to do it, I see you. I see you, Ev. Your daddy once joked about the chances of making a beautiful baby with his determination and my stubbornness. We knew we would be in for the challenge of a lifetime. He couldn’t have seen into the future but somehow he knew you were ours. Beautiful you. With your gray-blue gaze and infectious smile. You surprise us daily with how much we could simultaneously be so in love and so damn frustrated. You are the best little judge of character. You never let your guard down when we leave the house. You always shy away when you are spoken to by strangers. You make people earn your love. You love to make them work for it. You are a brute, a beast, a bear. You are off the charts tall and a boy of very few words. I think you like that intimidating combination. You hit, jump, scream first and ask questions later. You take what you want. You don’t take no for an answer. You are fearless. You are reckless. You are destructive. But I see you, Ev. I see the little boy that reached for the pink baby doll one day when we were shopping and it quickly became your most treasured toy. I see you kiss your little sister on the forehead with a gentleness I didn’t know you possessed. I see you look up to your big brother, I see the admiration in your eyes and I know you will always be best of friends. I see you get hurt and need a kiss from us. I see you when I put you to bed and tuck you in like a burrito. You laugh as I add all the toppings and tuck you in tighter with each one. I see you at 2am, drowsy and terrified from a bad dream crawl into our bed and cuddle. You are a lover and a fighter. I see you, Ev. My sweet Ev. Little love of mine.”
“My husband says to let them go. I know he’s right but I can’t. I fold these tiny little clothes. I fold them for the millionth and one time. It is mindless and numbing and boring to fold. Until it’s the last time. Until we’ve both agreed that our last baby was our very last baby. I have tears welling up saying those words. Five years and some odd months ago I had my first son. Today, I blinked and my family was complete. There will be no more pregnancies. No more uncomfortable sleeps. No more belly rubs, belly kicks or belly hiccups. From now on, they just grow. There is no new life on the horizon. From here forward, it’s a matter of nurturing the babes that make our family complete. But I can’t let go. I hold the tiny clothes to my chest. I feel the fabric between my fingers. I remember just what my kid looked like as he was wearing this little hat. These tiny pants. That small shirt. I remember how cute and smiley he was. I remember exactly what pictures we took in it. And then I packed it away for his brother. And then I packed it away for his next sibling. And now. Now, we don’t need these tiny clothes but I’m having a really hard time letting them go. With them go the hopes of expanding our family. With them go the memories. With them go the tiny rips and tears from their falling first steps. They are taking a piece of me with them too. Our family is complete. I keep saying it over and over and hoping the next time it doesn’t sting to say. We live in a tiny home with five people and two big dogs. I completely understand my husband’s rationale that we need to find either a massive amount of cash or a house twice the size of ours. It’s logical and reasonable and the best thing for our family. But it doesn’t take the hurt away. When I think that our family will never meet another member, never bring a new baby home, never experience another personality to call our own. It hurts. It’s logical but it hurts. These teeny tiny little clothes. How much love and life they hold.”
“Yesterday. The pieces just didn’t fit. I was broken and defeated. Sobbing while listening to Amy Grace speak about the head and the heart and wondering where I had lost both of mine that day. I was red faced, embarrassed, and sad about the mom I had become that day. After the house was quiet, I went to the bathtub and sulked and soaked on how I had ended up being the mom I didn’t want to be. I was praying for the baby to nap, sending all my thoughts to Buddha for my patience to not kill my two year old as he ripped apart books we had carefully picked out for him and his brother. I had a deadline to meet, dinner to cook, photos to edit, 10 days of laundry to fold, the baby to nurse, the toddler to hug, the 5 year old to reassure my love for, the kinder meeting to make, the dishes to put away, the floor to scrub. Never mind the goals I wanted to meet. This was just to stay afloat. I thought of the vacuum that doesn’t vacuum anymore. The house that is never as clean as I need it to be. The dogs who need more walks. The husband who needs more kisses. The babies that just need my time when it’s the only thing I don’t have to give. I cried. I don’t cry. I thought of my failures and cried. But I remembered a quiet moment that morning. The moment my Everett was coloring on his own in this beautiful window light in our living room. And I stopped. I stopped for 5 minutes to look at him. Not to see if he was coloring on the walls or throwing crayons. I just watched him. His too long dirty blond hair covering his cornflower blue eyes. His mismatched outfit he picked out. His bare feet. His always bare feet. And he just sat there quietly in the alone moments he has when his brother is at school. Unaware. It didn’t matter to him that I needed to work. That the house was a mess. That dinner wasn’t made. He didn’t care about any of that. He looked up and smiled at me. His most mischievous smile. The one I love and hate at the same time because it normally precedes a huge mess I’ll end up cleaning. He lowered his eyes and went back to his crayons. The baby woke up. I heard an email come through on my phone. The dogs started barking. The moment was over but I am so glad I hadn’t missed it.”
“My little girl. This ever-so-sweet little girl. She shares our bed in the early morning hours. She nurses, cuddles, grabs onto my finger, and makes the tiniest little mouse squeaks as she drifts in and out of sleep. Her grip fades as she smiles softly and goes back to sleep. I run my fingers through her hair because she’s the only 4 month-old I know that has bed head. She wakes and smiles at me. She nods off. She looks outside through the blinds, she has loved to do that since we brought her home. The white noise and the warm bed make it hard to get up. She drifts back to sleep. It is quiet and perfect in our bubble. This tiring bubble. She wakes. She giggles. Her brothers burst in. They climb into bed. They coo at our little girl. Tell her they love her. Everett squeezes her cheeks, hard. She laughs and giggles at him. Daniel kisses her forehead. Our little girl. Our sweet, sweet little girl.”
Our mom made us drive 2 hours to the desert and all we got was this stupid photo!
“Every single night, at about 5 pm, our little Meadow’s witching hour hits. It is not an easy hour for our family. Between dinner and dishes, evening stories and tubbies, 5-6 ends up being the crescendo for our already loud day. But after having two babies that refused to sleep, I am so grateful for a baby that asks to go to bed. Dinner is left to simmer, dishes are left dirty, and the bath water cools. Out of the wrap she goes and into a quick bath followed by warm Pjs. I massage her little arms and chest with lotion and wrap her tight in her swaddle. Then we read this “I Love You” book that grandpa sent. It immediately calms her. Even from a near feverish scream. As soon as the first page is read she has completely calmed. I kiss her round cheeks after each page and she smiles. The same sweet smile she shows us all day. The lights go off and the white noise on. She drifts to sleep and thankfully stays there until at least midnight. Yesterday, I needed help. The baby was fussy but didn’t want to be wrapped. So I laid her in our bed and her brother asked if he could read to her while I finished the dishes. For an hour, this sweet boy read the same 10 pages over and over, changing the story every single time. I love that he can make up his own stories. Meadow laid there just staring at him and smiling. It is the kind of sibling love that makes me completely forget that an hour before I heard battle cries over legos coming from the boys’ room. It is this type of love that I hope they remember.”
Little Miss Meadow Mae.
“This is two. This. Is. Two. This is count-down-the-days-to-three two. This is let-me-tell-you-a-story-about-the-grocery-store-trip-we-took-last-week two. Wednesdays are accounted for. Every single second from sunrise to sunset is taken. We mad dash in the morning to get my oldest to his class in time. This usually means we’ve either forgotten to brush teeth, comb our hair, or put matching socks on. We kiss him goodbye at the door of his classroom. We can see his the back of his little Christmas reindeer cardigan as he runs to his friends. We run to the car and fight traffic just to be 17 minutes late to my middle kids “school”. In reality, it’s a mommy and me development class at the local college and truthfully he doesn’t play with a damn kid there. But all week he asks me if it’s Wednesday and if it’s his turn to go to school. So we go. And he ignores everyone and it’s equal parts hysterical and adorable. At noon, we walk back to our car half a mile away because I refuse to pay for a parking pass. Then because it’s Wednesday and Wednesday is double deal day at Sprouts, we head to the grocery store. Except it’s nap time. And this kid needs a nap. Nuclear-meltdown-needs-a-nap two. So normally I drive slow and then I park at the grocery store and menu plan with my littlest in my lap. He gets a solid 45 in the car which is just enough to tide him over for an early bedtime. But this nap in the car means we have to rush through the store and then rush home with only enough time to put the cold stuff away before we have to go pick up my oldest. So I tried something new. And it failed miserably. I thought if I had him stay awake right after school then he could sleep after grocery shopping and he would be able to take a longer nap and in turn yell at me less. It did not work that way. He had just fallen asleep as we got to the store. I handed him his canvas bag and got him all riled up to pick out his favorite produce and what sushi we were going to split for lunch. He was fine until he saw the chocolate muffins. He lost his ever loving crap. I tried to distract him. I tried to reason. I tried to get him to breathe with me. I tried to bribe him with a honey crisp apple. He lost it even harder. Epic-battle-cries-lost-it two. The-whole-store-is-looking-at-us two. I’m-debating-on-leaving-the-cart-and-walking-out two. And that’s when a very sweet employee came over and asked what was wrong. And he screamed MUFFIN at her like he signs her paychecks. She asked me if he could have one because she would like to buy it. I politely declined and walked to the next aisle. Where an even sweeter employee bent down and asked him what was wrong and tried hand him stickers. He smacked them out of her hand. I thanked her for her kindness but said he just needed some space to work through this. We started with the produce. His favorite part to pick out as he normally chucks apples and bananas in his bag. Except I had to put him in the cart and he was furious that I had picked the wrong ones. So he took them out of the bag and threw them back in the pile. And then he picked the exact same freaking apples and put them back in the bag. At this point, an employee from the deli brought him a cheese slice but he pushed it away and then freaked out when they walked away with it. So they came back and laid it on top of the broccoli and ever so slowly backed away. I went to thank him for his kindness but the words hadn’t left my mouth before someone else brought him a cup of fresh fruit. Then he decided he couldn’t share the bottom of the cart with anything and started kicking the groceries to one side. He sat in the corner of the cart and ate fruit and sobbed. He was over the worst part. We breathed together as I eyed the wine aisle. I mentally added a massive white wine bottle to the meal plan. We picked out our sushi, we got an extra packet of soy like always for our crunchy roll. We paid. We thanked everyone again and we parked our exhausted bums on the wood pile in front of the store and we ate lunch. He laughed and ate and talked about how much fun it was. This is two.”