We had our own family photography session in August. I will be forever grateful to Alex of Tiny Marvels for wrangling the five of us in front of her camera.

There were tears. We laughed (until we cried at one moment). Someone took their pants off. We cuddled. We joked. We ended up covered in dirt.

When it comes to photography sessions, people often want photographs that represent who they are but often the best version of themselves. As a photographer I sometimes struggle with trying to find a balance between beautiful family photographs and capturing the real and genuine connections between family members. Because the reality is that life isn’t always pretty and Pinterest-worthy, which is summed up perfectly by one of my favourite quotes: “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time”.

My family is happiest outdoors. We love to camp and spend time with each other exploring new places. We are often dirty. And barefoot. This year we skipped wearing shoes to our photo session because the complaints about the footwear from our session last year were still ringing in my ears.

My boys are growing and changing so quickly that it makes my head spin. We have a teenager. And a pre-teen. Our daycare and kindergarten days are over. The boys have so many different interests and are gravitating more towards friends. I spent years hoping for more alone time and peace and quiet and now that I can see it in the horizon I’m yelling “WAIT, I’M NOT READY!”

Last year I made the decision to focus on my health and I lost 100 pounds. Weight loss is hard to talk about. It’s a quagmire of complications: shame, judgement, the weight loss industry, feminism, body positivity, self-acceptance. As a former counsellor, I find it hard to strike a balance between being open about my experience but also respecting what a triggering and difficult topic this is to navigate for so many people.  

I don’t begrudge the pounds I lost last year because every pound I gained to get me where I started this path to self-focus was necessary.  But I needed to occupy less physical space in the universe to live the life I wanted to. My weight was stopping me from doing many things and I needed to ease the burden on my back and joints; to improve my sleep; but also to parent the way I wanted to parent. 

When faced with personal challenges this year I was grateful I’d spent so much time focused on my health in 2018 because taking care of myself helped me to heal and recover. At the same time it gave me a wonderful shift in perspective that it wasn’t my physical form that brought me comfort and joy when times were hard but the people in my life that I love.

I chose a top for our family photos that is my favourite colour. Yellow makes me so very happy. My hair was wild from the humidity and my kids were baffled by the presence of make-up on my face but do you know what I see when I look at the photos? Love, joy, and happiness. Before our session I asked myself what I wanted to remember a year from now. Five years from now. And the answer was that I wanted to remember that it was love and connection that helped me make it through this past year. More than anything I wanted to remember the gratitude and love I feel everyday.

When my boys look at these photos I hope they see someone who loves them, takes care of them, but who also loves and takes care of herself. This year, more so than other years, I wanted our photos to be more about who we are as a family rather than the more Pinterest-worthy version of ourselves (clean, well-dressed, keeping it together with a relative degree of normalcy).

It’s been five years since I wrote a blog post entitled “There will never be another today”.

There is always another 10 pounds to lose

There are always dark circles under your eyes

There is always a more cooperative age for your children

There is always better weather

There is always a more flattering outfit

There is always something else to spend money on

There is always ‘later this year’

There is always a reason not to

There will never be another today.

In October 2012 I was invited into a family’s home on Thanksgiving weekend.  All the family had returned home for the holiday but the occasion was mixed with gratitude that everyone was together under the same roof and immense sorrow that it would likely be the last time.

A distinguished man walked out onto the porch with his wife and was tucked under a quilt on a bench in the sun.  Less than a month before he had been working and was seemingly healthy and now his family watched as terminal cancer took hold of his body.

“We always meant to have this done” they told me.  There was always a reason not to: conflicting work schedules, a travelling family member, not enough time.  There is never enough time.

There was laughter.  Clutched hands.  Tear filled eyes.  Grandchildren playing underfoot.  The juxtaposition of the intense love and immense grief still brings me to tears every time I look at the photos.

A month later his family invited me to his funeral service.  I sat and listened to his amazing accomplishments.  His love of music.  His travels around the world.  The photos that documented his life danced across the screen in the darkened room.  What I will never forget is that woven through all of the stories and anecdotes of his accomplishments was the immense love he had for his family.  That love was the thread that connected all the different parts of his life.  That I was present to help tell the end of his story is something I will never forget.

My experience on that Thanksgiving weekend fundamentally changed my experience as a parent and photographer. Every year I remember the time I spent with them on their last Thanksgiving together and how grateful I am for the time I’ve had with my own family.

Recently I received an email from a family who I met through my volunteer work with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. They were writing to thank me for spending time with their family in the hospital on the day they spent with their child before going home without them.

They didn’t have years or decades together: all they had was one day. Their email was a beautiful reminder that we don’t know how much time we will have together and that all we have is today.

Photography is a joy-filled profession. I get to cuddle new babies, play with toddlers, and joke around with children and teenagers. I have the honour of capturing memories that will hang on the walls of families’ homes for years. It’s also a profession that is filled with so much heart ache and sorrow. Babies and family members who aren’t there for a photography session. Capturing new memories after periods of struggle and loss. Taking photos when times are hard but families are holding onto whatever happy moments they can.

I hope your Thanksgiving weekend was filled with joy, love, and happiness. And if it wasn’t then I hope you find moments of joy, love, and happiness in the coming days. Take photos of those moments. Exist in photos of those moments. Print those photos and hang them on your walls as a reminder of what’s important to you and what you most want to remember about this time in your life.