family

Sixteen

Graham-100.jpg

Here we are...sweet sixteen.

I'm not sure it feels as sweet from this end.  No longer my snuggly little boy. Not yet a full independent man. But you are well on your way. It's inevitable. The clock just ticks along...and with each passing day, change is eminent.

You tower over me now. At 6'1", you are man-sized. But its your spirit that remains so sweet. It's still got the innocence of you when you were a toddler waking up from a nap – bleary-eyed and drunk with thoughts of dreams that made you full of wonder and curiosity. Sometimes, it makes it hard for me to see you as the man you are becoming.

This past year was hard. It was a year of growth. A year of hurdles. You gave up a little, and then you gave it all you had. You learned such big lessons about life. You know when to ask for help and where to look for it. You know what struggle looks like and how it feels to be hopeless. More importantly, you know how it feels to be empowered. Strong. Capable. And in control. You know how to change the story with mindset, grit and grace.

The year ahead will be something you remember forever. I often reflect on my 16 year-old self and what she did. The mistakes she made and the trails she faced. So this is my advice to you: Make good choices.  You are ready for the year ahead, but the world will test you - pushing back like a the bully it can be. That's how it works. Stand resilient in it's face. Just keep remembering who you are.

You are good.

You are kind.

You are strong.

You are smart.

You are talented beyond your years.

You are gracious.

And yes, you are beautiful. Full of heart. Full of soul. And full of wonder.

 

You are wonder-full.

I love you, sweet Graham. Happy Birthday.

 

Dad

Dad

I miss you, Dad.

I miss your big, strong hands that held mine tightly when I needed to be safe and loved.

I miss your tenacity and your insanely positive outlook on everything.

I miss watching you love the kids and the pets in our family. I miss seeing you chatting with Graham, both of you snuggly tucked into his bed having conversations about trains and jet fighters and weapons and boats and all the delightfully simple and sweet things toddlers talk about.

I miss the comfort of our simple conversations. I miss the quietness they held. I miss the simplicity of their tone. I miss the complexity of their quietness.

I miss having someone that believed endlessly and faithfully in all my powers, dreams and hopes.

Mostly, I just miss you being here, quietly guiding me, gently supporting me, endlessly loving us all where we were...as we were.

Thanks for being there, Dad.

XO

Lib

Blood, sweat and tears

 National Air + Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Annex

National Air + Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Annex

I recently took a short trip to Washington, D.C. to kick off the summer. Our trip was a real contrast to last summer where I basically hid away in the mountains in a cabin and slept off what felt like a very long year...or few years. I was coming out of some mild depression from – well...life I guess – and hiding away in the woods was really just what I needed at the time.

This year, feeling a little more adventurous and energetic, we took flight and headed to D.C. for some culture and stimulation.  Since I was traveling with boys, there were lots of adventures planned – airplanes, sporting events, spies, and news were all on our agenda. I was happy to go along for the ride, even though the art galleries are more my jam. But on trips like this, you never know where inspiration will lurk or what new things you'll see.

As we walked through the museums and giant structures with massive planes suspended precariously from the ceilings, my mind wandered - not to the history or the information behind each one - but to their stories. I wonder: how many times did those inventors and scientists have to fail to reach their goals? How many times did they screw up or go back to the drawing board?  How many times were they SURE of something only to be proven wrong, yet again?  The Wright Brothers failed miserably before achieving their goals. But they kept going. They had bigger plans, and an even bigger belief in themselves and their ideas.

The things that strikes me most is that they didn't give up. Each person had a belief that they worked tirelessly for. They paired themselves with like-minded friends and collegues to help them achieve their wildest dreams...all while failing over and over again.

Failure was eminent in those walls of the Air and Space museums, but that's not at all what we see. What we see is an evolution of flight, a tireless display of dedication and the grit to never ever ever give up - no matter how crazy your thoughts may seem. What we see is the success, the achievements, the trophy...the end result. What you don't see is failure. You don't see frustration. You don't see the tears and long hours it takes to get a rocket ship off the ground and into orbit. 

Sometimes, life can feel like that sometimes - like a massive plane grounded by gravity and the weight of it's heavy armor to protect it from the elements. And then other times, life can feel weightless and free like you are floating gently through space, unencumbered by the gravity of it all. Just remember on the days it feels heavy that it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, failure, and a whole lot of fire power to launch yourself into the future.

You just have to keep trying. It's as simple and complicated as that.

 

Messy rooms.

g room-101.jpg

Some days, I wake up and look at my son's room and sigh. It's always a mess. Carpet tiles askew. Bed never made. Clothes strewn about the room. I turn the other way as much as I can. But honestly, some days it gets to me. The mess feels chaotic - like loud music with a lot of dischord.

Lately, though I have been leaning into the mess. I walk by the room and smile a little. Nothing has changed except, perhaps, for my outlook on it. He's growing up. In 2 years he will be gone, walking across the stage in a cap and gown, a sea of opportunity in front of him. After that, his little room that he has know since he was 2 will be tidy, quiet, and organized. But it won't have him in it.

So today, I sat in here for a few minute. I admired the spots and stains on his white carpet tiles from the juice he spilled when he was sick. I traced the tiny, dirty hand prints on the wall that he outgrew so quickly. I picked up a little matchbox car he has on his bedside table and remember all of it... flood of memories I can't quite contain before they come spilling out around me, messy and chaotic...just like his room.

I guess the moral of the story is that life is messy when we have more in it. Soon enough, his sheets will be tucked in, dresser dusted, and life will be tidied up. For now though, I will hang on to the mess. It reminds me of how much I have to hold on to.

Good Grief

mom.jpg

Grief is a curious and sneaky emotion. It lurks around those dark corners, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Sometimes it stands out there - front and center - challenging you to try to avoid it's clutches. But it's smarter than you. It knows your escape routes. It knows the places you hide. So it always finds you, weak and tired from all the running and avoiding.

I have lived with Grief for a while. I had brushes with it in the past through lost relationships and the general passage of time. But I didn't really get to know Grief until my Mom got sick and died. I knew it was coming. We all did, really. But honestly, there is no way to face it until you come face-to-face with it.

Grief washed over us this day 11 years ago when my Mom took her last breath. We all stood, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, watching helplessly as she slipped away to a dimension I don't quite yet understand. And then Grief stepped in to overshadow it all and run the show for a while. It cozied up to us when my father died one year later. Then, I got real familiar with Grief when my sister died a few years ago. We are well acquainted now.

I used to try to avoid Grief, like the close talker with bad breath at a cocktail party. I had ways of slipping away - or so I thought. But it always knew where to find me again. Lurking in corners, in empty spaces, just waiting for me everywhere.

I live with Grief now. We understand one another. Once I stopped running from it, our relationship became something I understood. I am not afraid now. I know when it comes around, I just need to be with it...sort of lean into my time with it. This isn't something I ever understood until we played the game and I always kept losing. Grief always found me. So I decided to let it in.

I miss my mom. But I have learned to live with this life without her and with Grief standing in her place. I have no other option but to lean into that. I spent so much time exhausting myself by running away from it all the time. But I can't anymore. I am too tired and it knows all my tricks.

So now I lean into the tears, the hurt, and the memories. And suddenly and swiftly, Grief slips away so we can get on with our days once again, living in the present.

 

Wild love.

boy and his dogs

"Sometime's hope will look a lot like you." Unknown

It's Christmas.

I didn't do a card this year. In the past, we have had some winners. The first one was you as a naked baby sitting on a stool with little, white, drawn-on angel wings attached to you. That's where we started. And truth be told, we are still there. I could draw wings on you in this photo and it would be very fitting. You amaze me still...every day and in every way. Your heart is kind and full and ready to give. Your soul is like gold. To me, you look a lot like hope.

But we are at 15 now. It's been a tough year for you so far. Fifteen is hard. Between hormones and high school, you have been battled, beaten and worn down. But you just keep getting back up, facing it every day in the only ways you know how at 15. By flying with those wings.

I have admittedly been worried about you lately. It's what parents do. I know you feel it, too. The future is looming. There is so much pressure to Be and Do and Achieve. The expectations that life puts on you at this age are unfair. I don't buy into them. And yet, I still fret. I worry because I am unsure of what life holds - not only for you, but for me. I am unsure of how much to push, force, or encourage you to do things like study for an English exam or practice guitar. The doubt and pressure you are feeling are most certainly trickling down from me standing on a little shaky ground of my own.  Some of it matters. And some of it just doesn't. It's a fine line that is a unclear to a lot of people.

I saw a video the other day. It said something I was so sure of and I will never forget. It said "The world is desperate now. It is desperate for unconditional, wild, defiant love. Be that love."

I may be unclear about many things, but if there is one thing I am sure of it's this...we need love. Wild love. Unconditional love. Defiant love. So stay on your path...this path of kindness, empathy, caring. It's in you.  Be brave with your self because your self is beautiful. Spread it around like confetti. It may hurt sometimes, but I know one thing: the world needs more of you.

Merry Christmas, my wild love. You are all I could ever hope for in this world.

Cultivating Kindness

tomato

Today has been an awfully hard day. The biggest mass shooting in American history just happened. It seems a little disingenuous of me not to mention that out of the gate. People are hurting and in pain. Even the ones not related to the shooting or the victims are carrying a burden today.

And yet...

And yet, all I can think of – all I can muster up the strength for today - is love and kindness. All I know how to do is to give love somehow. All I can say to everyone I know - whether I know them or not - is that I love them. I love them DESPITE our difference of opinion in gun control. I love them DESPITE the fact that we grew up so very differently. I love them DESPITE the fact that I don't know them.

I find that, generally speaking, this is all we ever need: someone to love us, to hear us, to see us. Right where we are in the present moment. And that requires us to get up close and personal with each other. It requires us to get to know one another on a fundamental level. Moreover, it requires us to get to know ourselves on a fundamental level. Live with our truths and speak them. It requires that we live with them, side by side, day in and day out, and accept them for what they are.

I struggle with stating my truth sometimes. Like many of us, I suffer with I-wonder-what-they-will-think-of-me-itis. Will I offend them? Will they "unfriend" me? Will my business suffer because of this? I become the Switzerland of social media. Not commenting. Not voicing what I feel in my bones. Perhaps my silence is not a sign of passivity. Maybe it's not because I feel powerless around you, but more because I feel the visceral contempt you have for my political beliefs is the opposite of that which I seek: LOVE. TRUTH. BEAUTY.  KINDNESS. COMPASSION.

So now each day, I start there. I start with Kindness. I begin with compassion. I seek out love and belonging. And then I let it take fire. I spread it around however I can. Is it perfect? No. But it's a place to begin... a place to breathe into.

_________________________

I woke up this morning feeling helpless for the world. People were already arguing on Facebook about our President reacting or not reacting. They were already slinging insults over their rights for guns and their panic over gun control as they watched their kids walk into school, some wondering if they were safe today. Was it going to be their baby next? Their concert going teenager? The conversation was already heavy. And I hadn't even had a cup of coffee.

As I sat in traffic after dropping my tired and grumpy teenager off at school, I took a giant deep breath into my heart and I let it go. I envisioned micro packets of love and kindness riding dancing around like little dandelion seeds. They circled me, my car, and swirled around outside of me into the universe, dropping microdrops of love everywhere. Maybe they landed on the grass, or a windshield, or just floated aimlessly up into the sky. Dancing freely, looking for something to plant themselves into...looking for fertile ground to take root.

 

Fifteen.

Fifteen.

How did we get here?

You are now well into in high school. A full-blown teenager. A rising sophomore. You are a rugby player and really close to becoming a full blown adult black belt – a true testimony to your grit. You are almost driving now - which scares the heck out of me. You are 6 feet tall (or more) and truly more beautiful than anyone I know - inside and out. You are kind and compassionate. You are braver and far more daring than most people I know. You are more patient than anyone I know - despite what your last name indicates. And you are so gentle and sweet with animals that it truly melts me.

I can't believe what an amazing human being you are. As much as I hate the passage of time and mourn that little baby that grew up way too fast, I am inspired and full of awe at who you are becoming. It's such an incredible thing to witness from this side of life.

I don't worry now about the the things that regular parents think about – the trouble you'll get into and the mistakes you'll make. That's how we learn, grow, evolve and become. What keeps me up at night now is whether this world will break you. I worry that it will convince you to be something you are not, or stifle that which you are. Because what you are is truly one of the most beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed.

Your gifts are great, Graham. Your heart is huge. On your birthday this year, all I wish for as you blow out the candles is that you keep that with you forever. Don't let this world break you. Don't let them take you over. Own YOU... because what you are is a beautiful soul.

Fifteen is big. Take precious care of this age. But mostly, enjoy every last second.

Love,
Momma

 

The adventure of being alive...

  One of my most favorite photos ever. I dream of this day every day.

One of my most favorite photos ever. I dream of this day every day.

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It' doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

A Father's Day Tribute

 My crazy, mixed up, loving crew.

My crazy, mixed up, loving crew.

By all accounts, this shouldn't work.

We are the most unlikely family, filled to the brim with our own set of colossally hard issues and significant problems. Together, through this thing called parenting, we have raced against a losing current and hurdled over more obstacles than an Olympic horse jumping event. 

Yet, somehow...

Somehow, against all odds, the better advice of therapists, friends and our families, with a lot of time, effort and communication, something sticks us together like bonding glue. Through it all, we have we cobbled together a family and a history that normal people wouldn't stand a chance with. Some days I am surprised we are still standing here in the middle of this life together.

But that's us. Against all odds. Different. Like a mix of ingredients for a dish that sounds really bad on paper... until suddenly you taste it and you are transported to a new world, full of flavor, character and spice. We are an unusual blend of flavors that somehow fits together.

So now we stand, shoulder to shoulder, 15 years into this game changing thing called parenting. It's been back breaking work together and apart. (Or at the very least, wine glass breaking). Some days, I really don't know how we have made it this far.

What I do know is that listening has worked. Hard work has worked. Bloody, sweaty, tear-filled hard work. Gut-wrenching hard work.

But mostly, Love has worked. Unlikely, unconventional, unrelenting Love.

Happy Father's Day.

 

Summer Benchmarks

sleep

It's always been strange to me that we live in a world that values busyness over self care. We boast about work hours, job accomplishments and GPAs only to ignore the fact that we are simply undernourished and exhausted.

For me, summertime is the best time to actually allow yourself to unplug. It's the perfect time to let your body wake up when it needs to, eat what you hunger for, and really get some good quality soul time in. It's a perfect time to reset your self care routine and start fresh. Take a vacation. Start an exercise program. Cook fresh foods. Read a new book. And, of course, sleep in until mid morning (or, as in the example above, very late morning).

For me, summer is about changing those benchmarks you have been trying to accomplish. It's not about hours worked or grades made....it's about how you feel. Are you recharged? Rested? Refreshed? Do you feel healthy? Did you exercise you mind, body and soul today? These are my benchmarks of successful summer.

And by the looks of things, I think we are well on our way there!

 

Ten.

mom

Ten Years.

A decade has passed since you left us...a decade since our little party ended too early for my liking.

Ten years is a long time to love something you can't see or feel or touch or hear or talk to. It's a long time to love something that is no longer tangible. I can look at these pictures and try to remember what is was like to walk down that sunny street with you on that crisp fall day, or what it was like to eat chocolate together, or play Yatzee before bedtime, or just melt into the the comfort of your soothing, strong voice on the phone.

But it's not the same, is it? Memories always feel like they become more translucent as time goes on until suddenly and without warning, you can't see them anymore.

In ten years, I have become a pro at living around the hole you left behind. I did my fair share of falling into it's clutches in the early days. But now I know how to co-exist with it – dodging it's jagged edges and walking around it's stony cliffs. Sometimes I stand on the edge of it, just looking in... just remembering. But I know now how to climb out and dust myself off. I know where it is. And I know how to live with it.

Death changes the landscape of your life. Grief and sorrow become the pit you live around. You lose your way. You lose your sight. You lose your sense. It's disorienting and all-consuming – like being in a storm at sea without a mast to your sails or oars to a boat. And through it all, you still have to pretend like you have some semblance of control.

After ten years now, I have figured out that this landscape that I got used to in my early days will keep changing. Life will continue to shift things, so we can't get too attached to the view. Babies will be born. Children will graduate and become adults. Family members will pass on. Relationships will fail. Trust will be lost and found again. Friendships will be made. Love will be had. It's all part of the landscape of life: it's ever-changing. 

So I will just strap on those hiking boots and keep learning how to make it through the dry, harsh deserts and deep, musty caves. I will swim and sail through dark, stormy seas and slink through the wild, sticky heat. In the end, I hope see it all and witness the brilliant spectacle that is life.

In the meantime Mom, just keep being that shiny star, helping me navigate this ever changing terrain. I still need you.

With love,
Libby

 

Muddling through

 This new momma has got this motherhood thing down.

This new momma has got this motherhood thing down.

We all want to look like pros at whatever task we are handling - work, make up, dinner, motherhood. But in reality, most of us are faking it along the way - sort of like we do those first few weeks with our brand new baby. It's excited, exhausting, and exhilarating, but in reality, we are just winging it all hoping for the best outcome. Even though it all looks happy and easy on the outside, we are still on shaky feet behind closed doors.

Truly, I think it mostly works when we "fake it 'til we make it"... that is until something big comes along and gently reminds us that, in truth, it's all overwhelming. 

Just remember...the moment you feel like you are out of your league, stop, look around, and remember that you've already gotten this far in life and done just fine. All you have to do now is keep going. And truly, while it may not always look like this on the outside, nobody else really knows what they are doing either. Take comfort in knowing you have muddled your way through more than one time in your life and I am certain you can do it again.

 

Giving Thanks

thanksgiving

Yesterday was another Thanksgiving. Another reason to pause and show gratitude for the things we have which isn't a tall order for most of us in this country. Our forefathers took over one of the prettiest frontiers of the planet filled with lush forests, dry deserts and vast fields to live a life most people only dream of in their lifetime. We owe grace to that.

Yet still, for some, there are days it's hard to find grace in the mix. Things go wrong. Family gets sick. Relationships crumble out from underneath us. And money can be hard to come by in our society which is focused today on more abundance than I think yesterday was built on. It's hard to find a balance in that. It's hard to say "I'm lucky" when we are feeling less than so.

But pause for a moment. Look around you. Remember the things that matter most. Find something you have that fills you up. Sometimes it's family or a friend. Sometimes it's the place you live or a pet you couldn't get by without every day. Some days it's merely that you have a roof over your head, food in your refrigerator and a soft place to lay your head each night.  Whatever it is, find the gratitude within it and give it the honor it deserves.

Today - on the day after Thanksgiving - I am grateful that I have people I love, a roof over my head, clean water to drink, freedom, the best bed in the south, and some seriously good deep fried Turkey. I have it all, even when I don't.

Everything I need is there...right in front of me, just waiting to be appreciated.

 

Underneath the costumes.

trick or treat

When you wear your vulnerability on the outside, your days can be a real struggle with balancing how much or little to reveal about yourself to the world. For me, this is a daily challenge. 

I am, in the deepest and truest form of myself, a very vulnerable human. I tend to wear it loudly. Knowing how much to reveal about myself is both a struggle and a gift. Most of the time, I look for the safe places - like the well-lit, pumpkin carved houses on Halloween night...they look warm, inviting and cozy from the outside. But often those same character traits are harder to see in humans. We don't wear our acceptance on the outside all the time. So many days, I just find myself trying to blend in in this world.

The problem with blending in for me is that it becomes as obvious as a glittered princess costume on Halloween night. I can't hide that it's really me under here. My authenticity has a way of stripping me bare and revealing who I really am to the world in the same way you can see that those trick-or-treaters are perhaps not TRULY superheroes just because they are wearing the shiny, glittered costume that says so. Those costumes show the world both what we are hiding from and what we dare wish to dream to become. We end up revealing a little too much in the hiding of our authentic selves.

We train our kids when they are little to dream big and for a moment let them become something they are not. But is that the right thing for them to learn...to cover up who they really are? Why can't they go as their authentic selves? Why can't we trick-or-treat as the vulnerable versions of who we are? "Trick-or-treat!!! I am feeling down and scared of my life today. I hate my hair and my boss is mad at me again....can I have some candy? Or should I just toilet paper your front trees since you aren't going to help me?" This seems like a much better idea than covering up our truth, hiding who we are struggling to get away from by throwing a super hero or (even worse) princess costume on ourselves.

Now don't get me wrong....I admittedly love seeing the kids run from house to house in their best costumes on Halloween night, proud parents standing at the street, sugar high kicking in right on my front porch. I love that people go all out for something - decorating every surface of their homes and selves for a cause. It seems to be almost spritual. But I can't help but wonder if we would all be better just presenting our authentic selves out there instead of the pretend versions we send out into the world every day. I can't help but wonder what all this covering up is for in the first place.

The world isn't made for vulnerability. So I will keep trying to blend in. And I will keep failing miserably at it. Because in truth, I just can't help anymore but to be who I really and truly am. Fully me...even under all this costuming.

The Real Picture

hands full

No matter what my shoot - be it commercial, personal, editorial - and no matter what my subject, I am always trying to tell the story. I am always trying to covey something with my images - mood, story, or feeling.

One of the hardest things to do is to let that happen with shoots that have expectations. Whether people are trying to pose for traditional Christmas card photos or whether I am working on a commercial shoot for a big client, most people have trouble letting go and letting things evolve during our time together. Sometimes the mood isn't quite right. Or what they thought looked good in their head looks awful in camera. So I sometimes have to convince my clients to just let things be as they are. I have to show them how to trust me. So we wait sometimes....longer than normal. And we let things happen as they need to.

As a photographer, this is one of the hardest parts of my job. It requires my clients not having attachments to the outcome. Mostly, it requires a large level of trust in me and what I am doing. 

Admittedly, this is even hard for me at times. It not only requires them trusting me, but it requires me trusting myself. When a client has paid a large sum of money to do something...believe me, my goal is to deliver a product that they love every.single.time. But there has to be a letting go in the process. Both from them and from me.

In this shoot, we were trying to get a specific shot...newborn twins with momma. But the 2 year old toddler had something else in mind. He wanted to be in on it – on the bed, bouncing from all the sugary snacks we were feeding him in bribery to behave. He was done...finished with me and this day by this time...buzzing with sugar and ready for attention. This tells so much more of the real story. A young mom, hands full with identical twins and a toddler, life moving at a blurred pace.

And honestly, this is the story. This is what she will remember for the rest of her life. Not just a pretty picture, but a real one.

On feeling safe

I think there is an element to all of us that wants to feel protected, safe and embraced. Somehow, though, the older we get, the harder this is to achieve - or at least admit outloud. We are supposed to protect ourselves and be strong enough to hold ourselves up. We shouldn't need the strong arms of protection wrapped around us at 14 or 44 or 84. There is this unspoken expectation that we should just automatically feel that we can deal with anything life throws at us no matter what.

But life is scary and hard and overwhelming when you go it alone - trust me, I know. And truthfully – on some level – I think we all want to feel safe. So how can we feel safe and embraced and protected where we are? What are the things that ground us into feeling this way? Is it money in the bank? Friends that have your back? A strong family support? Is it love? Does love simply by definition make us feel safe?

The more we talk about this, the easier it seems. Showing vulnerability makes lots of (but not all of) those we love come out and show empathy. We find our tribe when we become vulnerable. We find those that say "me too" and "you've got this" and "I have your back." Perhaps that's all we really need - to feel a sense of belonging in the world. And every so gently, the strong arms that protected us when we were oh so little turn into simple phrases like "I love you." "I am here for you." "I have got your back." "You've got this."