Whitecourt family photography

A Full Time Referee

Mary's four sweet little ones are in a very busy time of life; constantly creating, snacking, scoring, jumping, farming, playing, and of course, battling. When Mary's first two were just babes, her neighbour had kids in this stage of life, and warned her "Oh, just wait for this, it is like being a full time referee", which Mary of course casually brushed off at the time. Now she laughs a little as she realizes that indeed she has become a full time referee herself. And of course, with the older ones in school, the dynamics are constantly changing.

Being a full time referee can be draining at times, and having a village around you can be everything. Mary has embraced her village by participating in a weekly coffee break and bible study for moms, and it has brought her the connections, the insight, and the respite to the world of adulthood that makes it possible to keep the referee in the game. I have now made it to a couple of these sessions and can see why she so values those moments and relationships.

Managing the changing dynamics can be a challenge, but observing them is such an interesting part of the motherhood journey. The littlest one is now the wild-card, and the game of choice is to see who can add her to their team. Of course, she has quickly learned to play right into this hand, choosing new allies each day, and making it known when she tires of being the plaything.

When you are so caught up in those early days of baby land, it seems that every moment has a new milestone; first teeth, first words, first steps... it seems sometimes like once all those great big firsts are over, the thrill will somehow fade. Yet the new milestones, while farther apart, are so big... each one a step closer to our biggest achievement and also, secretly, one of our biggest fears. They are growing more capable, more unique, and more independent. Growing closer to being a person who will one day stop needing us, because that is what we have raised them to do. And so we soak in every beautiful moment as they learn to read independently, and as they embrace their passion for hockey, and we savour this time when a few dolls can create an entire universe of possibility.

So during the fellowship at church this Sunday we were reminded by a mother just a few years ahead in her journey that we would miss these little ones rolling under the table at our feet. Reminded that as we enter the phase of being a friend, a guide, and a support, we will actually miss the days of wiping bums, carrying an extra body everywhere that we go, and being needed almost more than we can bear.

That is why these sessions mean so much to me; because sometimes these moments are hard to embrace when we are amidst the chaos, yet every wise mother has told us the cherish them.

One day we will long to step back to this moment, and in a way, we will actually be able to relive it. This is a gift to our future selves.

Finding the confidence to be the mother our children need

Motherhood the first time around is a whirlwind journey. When I asked Amber how her experience of motherhood relates to the expectations that she had for it, she emphatically said "Not at all!" In nearly every way, this journey has been harder, and also so much more fulfilling than she could have imagined. In the struggles and at the deepest bottoms, she has found a new sense of empowerment, of confidence in her own strength and instinctual wisdom.

From the outside of motherhood looking in it was easy to imagine the "right" way to parent. Easy to imagine sleepy and cooing babies. Easy to imagine that the arrival of this sweet babe would be a relief from the challenges of pregnancy. We don't really ever expect to be out of the frying pan and into the fire. From a rough pregnancy straight into a colicky and "spirited" baby, it hasn't been the easiest transition of their lives.

When they made the decision a year ago to make the move from the comfort of their humble abode to building their dream home, right as baby was due to arrive, it seemed terrifying. Moving a family of three into a holiday trailer in her mother's yard didn't appear ideal. In the end, it was the biggest blessing they could have hoped for. The challenge of sleepless months was tempered by the ready support of family.

They still don't sleep through the night, and car rides are still not easy, but Amber has found the strength to manage their expectations and obligations, to say no when she needs to, even if it isn't easy. She has given her spirited babe love wholeheartedly and deeply, rather than resenting the challenges she sometimes brings.

I find one of the most amazing but subtle gifts of motherhood to be the confidence we gain by standing strong in our instincts and values.

The experience of carrying, growing, and bringing a child into this world, (or of working so hard and waiting patiently as you ride the adoption roller-coaster) makes you more aware than ever of your innate strength, of the wisdom of your creation, and the power that you hold within you.

Even before a child ever arrives, we are inundated with "shoulds" and "rules" and the "wisdom" of the well meaning public. It is hard work to build strength to accept the loving intentions of others, while releasing our guilt of going against all the advice that just doesn't fit with our children or our homes.

Support is so vital to gaining that strength, and thankfully Amber has an amazing husband who provides balance to her anxieties and assurance of the wisdom of her instincts. She has a mother close at hand who has been in her shoes many times over, and uses that wisdom to build up rather than to dictate or critique.

Spending time with Amber and her little darling was such a reminder of how distant that time already feels. That time of being at home, way out here in the bush, alone with my first baby, at that age where she needed constant stimulation. That feeling of overwhelming boredom and love.

It was hard for me to feel like an adequate mother when I am just not that good at being entertaining. It is hard work for me to be ON all the time. I am a quiet listener, a soulful conversationalist, and a lover of peaceful time outdoors and contemplative creation.

I adore everything about toddlers, their sweet cuddles and precious giggles, their wispy hairs and dimpled fingers, their chubby legs and silly dances. In small doses, they are a breath of fresh air, of joy and possibility. Even so, toddlers are not my kindred spirits, and I am okay with that. Motherhood doesn't always come easy or naturally, every stage holds it's own blessings and challenges. That toddler that I so struggled to entertain, she ended up my exact replica, quietly colouring at all hours of the day, soulfully caring for her younger siblings, and imaginatively creating new worlds for them to enjoy.

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Sometimes we don't sleep, our hair gets pulled, and even our bodies are not our own. Sometimes we make concessions to our preconceived notions of ideal motherhood. Sometimes we realize that we were once the ones judging the way that we now feel judged.

Sometimes we move past that all. Sometimes we accept our own choices and embrace our own strength. Sometimes we take comfort in knowing that we are more equipped than ever to handle what this world will throw at us.

Sometimes we release our judgements of ourselves and of others, and the world is a better place for it.

 

I am proud to support and share the real stories of local mommas. Are you enjoying the 20 Mothers Project? Care to share your own story and have your everyday moments documented? The project is still accepting applications, just head on over and fill out the short form.

Why Documentary Sessions?

These images are from my personal collection from about this time last year. At that time, I didn't share them here, because I was afraid to pollute my "brand". My artistic heart was pulling in two directions, and I wasn't sure how to fit the two together. How does one balance the desire to create beauty, to draw out connection, with a passion for acknowledging and capturing the simple beauty already present in the everyday? Looking back at these a year later I am more confident than ever in the importance of these images.

The same love and honesty is the driving force behind both my connection images and my documentary images. The beauty and appeal of connection images is more obvious to the casual observer, but that does not diminish the significance of documentary sessions.

As a mother, this is why I am sharing these images with you today...

preschooler colouring with pencil crayons in kitchen

Because some things haven't changed... This little girl is still most at peace with a quiet room, a crisp sheet of paper, and a healthy supply of colouring tools. That dress is still in her closet, and she still only wears it if I have packed it in her bags and she doesn't have a pinker, purplier, or frillier option (this was taken at Grams' house, so I know that is exactly why she was wearing it then).

...But some things have, her nose, her cheeks, her lips, they are all a little less plump and baby like. That first haircut is again stretching down her back...

watching big sister colour

Her baby sister still watches closely to learn all the tricks of how the big kids do it, although she now has stronger opinions of her own.

chubby toddler fingers grasping pencil crayons

The phase of trying so diligently to grasp every crayon has passed, and her knuckle dimples are all but gone for good.

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She still sits on her feet on this bench, but will not need to for long. Those grippy bunny socks have been loved to the point of holes and are long gone. And most importantly, that precious curl on the bottom of her hair has grown out and I miss it to pieces.

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Anneliese still layers as many accessories as she can find, and her drawings have only grown more detailed.

And this one, oh my! Accidental naps are much fewer and farther between, that beloved soother is finally gone, but the "dot blanket" remains. Those jeans, well, don't tell him when he gets older, but they are in her baby brother's closet now ;)

 

Last year, these were sweet images of my girls colouring together. Today, this is a time machine that pulls my momma heartstrings back to a very particular moment in our lives. As this moment grows more distant, the value of these images will grow immeasurably. These are my girls. They are real, they are beautiful, and they change every day.