Growing up is hard to do….

Oscar Wilde wrote, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” We are entering into a new era with Vicente. The precarious preteen stage, and the other three are following closely behind. I hope I can dole out firm wisdom without being judgmental. I pray I can foster honest communication while still letting my children know we are the adults and they are the children. Navigating these dangerous parental dichotomies seems treacherous, but for now at least they are thrilled to incessantly chatter about their favorite scenes from Captain America, and we are free to relax a bit, even as this period of magic and freedom from self consciousness slowly draws to a close.

Great Expectations

My husband and I are quickly approaching our seventh wedding anniversary, and soon our 14th year together. I am the last person to claim that I am savvy enough to give advice on marriage. Victor and I first ‘dated’ when we were barely 13 years old, back when dating meant exchanging letters in the hallway and holding hands between classes. Two years later, having matured into earnest, wise 15 year olds we started a relationship, and this time it lasted. Our road has not always been smooth, there have been ups and downs, casual criticisms that devolved into fissures in our relationships, missteps on both our parts, and of course the daily humdrum of family schedules that can leave you overlooking the very person you so anxiously wanted to build your life with. Most of our trials have been commonplace, some are exclusive to us, and the majority of the heartache we’ve caused each other has been solely our making. I wouldn’t change a thing though, we’ve educated one another, and there are a few patterns I’ve noticed in myself and others around me that I just have to bring up.

Expectations. My mother raised me with forewarning that expectations will only hurt you. Of course intellectually I understood this, but it has only been within the last year or so of my relationship I have fully tried to grasp on to this statement and put it into practice.

I am certain men have unrealistic expectations just like women do, but I’m not positive their expectations are so numerous, or wrapped into some grand scheme of how they envision their lives to be.

I cannot tell you how many female friends of mine, say things along the lines of, “I’ve always envisioned my marriage this way since I was a child, and I don’t understand why he is being so distant.” I’ve always wanted to respond, “Well, you only met Tom when you were 24, so I suppose you are trying to jam him into the mold of a marriage you’d projected since you were a little girl.” Yet, I don’t because I also had apparitions of some spectral romance.

As a teenager, these dreamy ideations manifested in expecting my husband to be as superfluous and flowing with his words as I was. I expected tit for tat, and it made me miserable. I frequently roamed my high school hallways complaining to my best friend about how I wasn’t sure why Victor was so distant. He wasn’t distant though, he just wasn’t me. He shows his affection and love in different ways, back then he would pick me up after school – even though he went to a different high school. He would drive 20 minutes out of his way just to see me for a few minutes, but since he didn’t arrive spouting poetry I was too young to see it.

I’ve seen numerous relationships fall apart because one partner already has the framework of whom their significant other is, and what duties they are to fulfill – sometimes long before they even meet. If this was done as routinely to women as we do it to men, we would be calling foul. We’d lambast men for thinking we had to fit into their outline of what a woman is. As I’ve said, I’m sure men do this – but I’ve yet to meet a man who creates the elaborate backstory for his future wife that women do for their husbands.

Perhaps if we all took a breath and saw each other for who they really are, and not who we project due to our own needs, our history, or our insecurities, it would make for a more honest, multifaceted relationship. It’s the old adage that you can’t change a person. Too often, people marry great expectations and not the individual.

Felix’s Rodeo Birthday – Cowboys, Cotton Candy and Horses – oh my!

Some photographers aren’t fans of event work, they deem it ‘inartistic’ – but I enjoy it to the fullest! Meeting new people, watching families create memories, capturing great candid shots that show tender moments between different generations – event shoots hold a special place in my heart.

For Felix’s first birthday his parents planned this wild west theme to a tee – every detail was picture perfect and on theme. Everybody had a wonderful time, and I was so pleased to preserve these special memories!

Our Happy Halloween!

For portrait photographers, the holidays are always a busy time of year, for me this time of year can be just plain chaotic. Between October 8th and January 16th, not only are all the holidays sandwiched in among football games, Open Houses, school projects, and portrait and event shoots – but this is when all six of our family birthdays fall. Yet, every year it’s my absolute favorite time.

I adore Halloween, I always have. The costumes, candy, trick or treating, crafts, and holiday spirit carry me on waves of sugar-soaked nostalgia. Halloween is my mother’s birthday and she always enjoyed us dressing up. We would make our costumes from whatever scraps we had lying around our house – and tons of creativity. We created elaborate stories for the characters we made up to dress as on Halloween, and sometimes if I squint my eyes and try to remember very, very far back – there even seems to have been a chilly autumn night or two in South Florida.

Halloweens at my house are no different now (although I’ll admit we buy most of our costumes – I have to outsource some things lol). The hurried excitement builds up exponentially until Halloween night. We start thinking about what characters we are planning to be the next Halloween on November 1st (I’m almost ashamed to admit what with it being the first week of November – but I have three of my four children’s costumes for next year already hanging in the closet!). When the children were smaller we had themes, Star Wars, Peter Pan, Super Heroes, and my favorite was last year’s Wizard of Oz. I had the perfect ‘set’ – from my barrel chested Tin Man (my oldest Vicente) right down to my braided brunette Dorothy (my darling Audrey). Liam was the Cowardly Lion with a ferocious growl and Nikolai had just turned a year old and was the sweetest little Scarecrow. I knew that last year would probably be our last ‘themed’ Halloween.

Even though we didn’t have a theme this year and all the children picked their own costumes (with the exception of Niko) I would say it was a Middle Earth/Hogwarts extravaganza lol. Vicente read all the Harry Potter books last year in first grade, and with his dark hair and roguish grin – he couldn’t wait to be Hogwarts’ favorite student. Liam has always had an affinity for archery (he dressed as Peter Pan one year, and to this day still wears parts of the costume!), and when he watched The Lord of the Rings movies this year with us – he was drawn to Legolas’ character. Let me tell you – that was a tough costume to find lol! My dark haired little guy completed his outfit with an official Legolas blonde wig (which he wore with such solemnity!) and the leaf of Lothlorien pin. Audrey is feisty and very temperamental, much like Merida, her favorite princess. She was overjoyed to wear the tangle of red curls on her head and chase around her brothers with her bow and arrow. Nikolai, our youngest, well he didn’t have much of a choice – but I think he enjoyed being Harry Potter’s trusted owl Hedwig.

We had a wonderful (very nerdy) Halloween, and I hope you did too!

And yes – because I know you’ll ask – I did align my oldest son to catch the waning sunlight so that his wand seems to be evoking a Patronus charm lol!

My Top Five Children’s Books (ages 5 to 7)

Here are some of our family’s favorite children’s books. Even though these books are primarily aimed at the preschool to first grade age group, all my children enjoy them. The stories have just enough heart, action, and rich illustrations to keep us all entertained!

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Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth

Zen Shorts, is not only one of my children’s favorite books, it’s mine as well. I love the parables that are at the heart of this book. The elegant illustrations perfectly bring to life Stillwater, the Zen panda who teaches three siblings some integral life lessons. Not only is this storybook magnificently magical in it’s expressive narrative but when you finish reading it you feel as if you’ve educated your soul. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I really enjoy children’s books with a bit of a deeper, spiritual side to them, my oldest son Vicente has picked up on this and now searches his shelves for books with meaningful anecdotes.

 

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly illustrated by Pam Adams

As a child my mother read this book to us, and I knew I had to have it for my children. The repetitive, sing song style of the story is fun for all ages. And the crazy, wacky, bright colors hold even the crankiest toddler’s attention for the duration of the book. My two-year-old daughter Audrey loves to clap her chubby little hands as we sing the song together.

 

Oh, the Thinks You can Think!” by Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ books have been a staple in most children’s libraries for the last forty years, and it is no different in my house. This book has Seuss’ typical run on sentences, fabricated words and whimsical pictures. The story not only asks children to think and use their imagination, but it’s as if Dr. Seuss has written the book from within the vibrant, varied head of a young child! My sons adore this book, especially Liam who is four now. It’s not so long that his attention wanders off, but just long enough to have him become enthralled in the kooky creatures.

 

If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff

The books in the “If You Give” series are considered hysterical in my family. This story is no different. Mayhem ensues when a little boy gives his dog a donut, then the dog gets wilder and wilder. The donut is not good enough; the dog then needs juice, a ball, to dance and so forth. My kids enjoy this book because they think the little dog is so silly, and I love the book because the little dog reminds me of my four children. There is always something the doggy needs; ad the little boy doesn’t rest until the dog has gotten what he wants. The pictures are playful, the tone is lighthearted, all in all it’s a wonderful anytime story.

 

Clifford The Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

I know this might come off as completely ditzy, but Clifford and Emily Elizabeth’s relationships are one of the most enduring and sweet love stories in literary history. All right, that’s a bit much, but in the world of young children, this is one love story for the ages. Clifford was a lost and lonely pup until Emily Elizabeth brought him home and loved him. She loved him so much he grew bigger than a house! Besides the sweet relationship between Emily Elizabeth and Clifford, readers get to meet a whole host of characters (dogs and people alike), which makes this series definitely worth reading! There are multiple stories detailing Clifford, Emily Elizabeth and all the townsfolk’s triumphs and adventures. The illustrations are vivid and just exude a sense of happiness. I think you and yours will enjoy this book as much as my family does!

A page from Zen Shorts

A page from Zen Shorts

A Mantra for All Mommies (and Daddies too!)

            Since I gave birth to my first child, I’ve had so many of my friends ask me, “What’s the biggest change when having children?” I’m assuming they’re not asking about the pregnancy flatulence, the swollen feet, or the projectile spit up. Those are things everybody knows about pregnancy and newborns. What most people aren’t ready to come to terms with (sometimes ever) is that having a child means putting yourself on the back burner for quite awhile. I tell everybody the same thing; “It’s not about you anymore.”

In fact sing that mantra to yourself “It’s not about me, it’s not about me.” Truly having a child, and especially in the case of multiple children, or children with special needs, you are on hold. Don’t get me wrong; parenting isn’t a selfless act by some martyr. But so many of the things you were accustomed to will vanish upon having children.

I have to admit, in a way I was saved from the shock of this a bit. I came from a large family, was raised by a mother who believes it’s tacky to talk about yourself, and started having children so young I had just graduated from teenager to college student. I hadn’t spent years cultivating an adult lifestyle; I went from accepting my high school diploma to becoming a parent within a very short period of time. I know many people who parenthood has hit pretty hard. They’ve been used to their freedom, their careers, and their weekends sleeping in or traveling. They’ve been accustomed to writing their own ticket, on their schedule, and it seems the more habituated they are to that, the more difficult the transition to parenting can be.

I’m sure these parents bring a more adult perspective into their child rearing, than perhaps I did at the time. Many though are appalled to learn that babies and children have no schedule. Of course, eventually you can get them into a sleep pattern, school routine, etc. but children are a lesson in unpredictability. Not just in their behavior, but in their very essence. Children become sick at one in the morning, they throw up on you just after you’ve gotten dressed for work, they decide to melt down in the middle of the grocery store when you’re rushing to get home and get everybody fed. They are completely capricious. As their parent, you are as well.

I hate to even think about how many birthday parties, weddings, family gatherings, double dates (and the list goes on) my husband and I have canceled at the very last minute due to our children (or should I say our role as parents). Being a parent requires you putting your wants on hold for your children. Most of the time that is effortless, some days it can be excruciating. Everyone has days where they say to themselves, “I can’t remember the last time I took a shower in peace!”

If you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle, if you think you can just ‘tweak’ a few things and a baby will slide right in, you’re on the precipice of a huge revelation. I’m not telling you to give up going out, to quit your job, become a hermit for 18 years and only venture into the sunlight once your child is ready for college. I’m certainly not advocating giving up your identity, but there has to be a gargantuan shift in priorities. Whether you ease into those changes naturally or surrender to them screaming is your choice.

While child rearing may sound exhausting and almost thankless to some of my single friends, it is the most amazing experience. Not only does loving and caring for your children benefit them, it benefits you. You don’t fathom your own strength until you’re a parent. You can’t grasp the depths of love until you are a parent. Sure you may be giving up many things, but nothing is more amazing than snuggling your newborn, or hearing ‘I love you’ from your child for the first time.

My young sons routinely tell me I look beautiful (usually late in the day when I’m covered in baby spit up, dust and who knows what else), and I have to take a step back and look at myself through their eyes, and that is pretty spectacular. They don’t notice that I still am carrying around baby weight, that my hair hasn’t been coiffed properly in who knows how long, that I haven’t gotten a real pedicure in years. They just know I’m their Mommy and they think I’m great. In the end, what did I really give up anyway?

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