April, 2013

Sometimes I feel guilty that my blog is so much about Motherhood now. That my creative photoshoot posts are rare. But if I’m going to keep my blog honest then it has to grow with me. And right now Motherhood and life is where I am.

This will change in time. I will always be a Mama and an avid life-documenter but as my daughter finds independence I will get more time to create.

April disappears quickly. We haven’t travelled in a while and we miss it. We check flights to Europe now and then and wish we could, but content ourselves planning our November trip instead. We’re going to Bali for a month because this is where we are hosting one of our Photography workshops next year and we have a lot to organise.

Life continues in the every day kind of way it does when you’re not travelling. So we break it and go camping. The camp grounds are strewn with coloured tents and the air is smoky from bonfires. Beyond a dip in the Earth is a beautiful swimming creek running alongside the grounds. We meet new people and we all share food and stories. I collect ‘dinosaur egg’ rocks with my cousins and float on an inflatable mattress in the river.

The night grows cold and I sit before the fire with Alba. Her arms wind around my neck as she watches the flames. In those moments being a Mama is exactly what I pictured. I may never find the right words to describe what it is like to have the gentle, warm weight of your own child in your arms (if you’re a parent, you already understand), but it holds so much meaning to me. It is something where there was once nothing. It is the strangeness and wonder that is life. That weight is the weight of the world.

We don’t have many friends in Brisbane yet but we see my Auntie and her girls a lot. The way Sommer and Alba love one another makes me melt. My auntie was like that with me when I was a baby, and maybe Alba will be that way with Sommer’s baby too.

An advertising agency hires me to shoot a campaign for The Smith Family. I fly to Sydney twice. The first time I am only there for a day to scout school locations and cast. I interview and photograph close to 50 children at Sun Studios before flying home again. A few days later I am there overnight to shoot the ad campaign. It is the first time I have been apart from Alba this long. On the flight over I feel my face burning as I try (unsuccessfully) to pump milk without drawing attention.

I stay in a boutique hotel in the city. There are a bowl of chocolates on the bed and I eat them cross-legged in my underwear, savoring my space. I thought I would be lost with loneliness and missing my family, but instead I’m rejoicing in my time alone.

It only takes me an hour to prepare and pack for tomorrow’s shoot. Then I have all this free time that for the first time in a long time I am not sure what to do with. I have a long, hot shower. I pump some more milk. I go walking in the city. Memories hit me hard. I have spent a lot of time here, a lot of things happened. The memories crowd my head so much I have to grab dinner quickly and rush back to the hotel room.

The bed is too big for just me and I sleep very soundly. When I wake at dawn my breasts are very full with milk. I was teased so much for being flat chested in highschool that I can’t help but laugh when I see myself naked in the bathroom mirror.

Someone from the production agency picks me up and we drive to the location. I have a digital operator and assistants and everyone is asking me about lighting set ups and I am trying to explain how simply I shoot. Just the sun, I say. I don’t need a lot of assisting either. I know I shoot unusually (and probably unprofessionally in some people’s eyes) but this is the way I make my images.

It is hard to foster a connection with a model when there is a big team standing around you both. So I do what I can to make space for us. The shoot is very long but the children are sweet. The clients love the images and we are all exhausted but content. They are a charity I really believe in, you can donate here and see some of my images here.

For the entire flight I keep imagining what Alba will be like when she sees me. Will she cry out “Mama” and run to me with her arms outstretched? Will she say her first ever sentence “Mama, never leave me again”? My imaginings grow more and more far-fetched. When I walk out to the baggage carousels I can see her walking around Papa’s feet. Her strawberry blonde hair looks bright and her skin glows. She is the prettiest little girl around. I can’t believe I get to be her Mama.

When Alba sees me she doesn’t even smile. She just looks at me like I’ve been here all along, as though she didn’t notice I’d gone anywhere. But in the car she holds my hand tightly all the way home.

March, 2013

It’s March and my daughter is taking her first steps. As I watch her I hold my breath. She steps forward and forward and then falls onto her bare bottom. We clap for her and then she claps for herself too. Her proud smile reaches her ears. I think, oh baby, this is just the beginning.

Brisbane is a beautiful city. We spend days by the big river, walking across the man made beaches, under the flowering vines and spend hours in the library. Alba meets other children here and Papa reads her bird books from the grown up library. We both love seeing Alba happy.

One night I have a gallstone attack. It is the only pain I’ve ever felt that rivals childbirth. I had one in the mountains last year that lasted hours and I thought I might be dying. Back then I talked to my aunt and she told me it was common for the women in our family to have the attacks after pregnancy. I can’t breathe properly and my stomach is as hard as rock. I want it to end but I don’t know when it will. We drive to the hospital. The traffic is bad and time goes very slowly.

Soon after we arrive my lungs begin to open wider, bit by bit. And then like a sail caught in wind I can breathe full breaths again. It feels so incredible and blissful to be well and alive. I am told to get an operation on my gallbladder but the attack already seems miles away. A part of me feels grateful for the reminder of how good it feels to be well.

Every morning M goes for a run up the nearby mountain and Alba and I spend the morning together. For breakfast I make her scrambled organic eggs with lots of coconut oil (for good fats) and nutritional yeast (for b12) and I have chia & oat bircher with almond milk and fruit. When Papa is home we make green smoothies together (kale or spinach, squeezed orange juice & frozen banana). Now that we eat well food is a huge joy for us. Eating a piece of sorrel from the garden sends delicious shivers down my spine. Who would have known that I would one day find more pleasure in a big bowl of salad than an ice cream? Somehow now that we mostly only eat plants, nuts and seeds we eat more diversely than ever before.

We go on a little roadtrip to visit my grandparents. We have breakfast in their garden, picking fresh figs, persimmons and raspberries to eat. Afterwards we lay back on a picnic rug and teach Alba what a cloud is. We forget the camera, so we are careful to not let this memory slip away from us.

As I am picking the raspberries with Alba, I tell M “We need a big garden with strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and mulberries because I could never be unhappy if I had fresh berries to pick.”

We daydream about owning our own land every day. We talk about what we’ll grow and build and how we can live sustainably. I begin planning workshops, a photography book and an app so that these dreams can become life someday soon.

February, 2013

It’s Februrary and Alba is finding her voice. It is sweet and commanding. It reminds me that she is not a little baby any more. We are living with Georgia’s family and making our new house home. Our bed faces the windows so the sun can shine on our bodies. Alba follows the children on all fours like a puppy dog and cries at the door when they leave.

 I spend the afternoons making dinner for everyone in the house and many mornings baking or making nut milks, raw desserts or drying fruit. I give Alba a wooden spoon to stir granola and she squeals with delight and the granola is everywhere.

 Most days I feel like I have too many responsibilities and too little time. I work while Alba is in the garden with Papa or during her morning nap. I know I could be more productive during the day but it would mean not being present enough for her. So I’m not doing as many photoshoots as I used to and the dishes are piling up but we are living and loving as a family every single day.

 Nights can be hard. It’s not always easy to abruptly stop in the middle of answering an email, cooking or editing a series of images to be Mama again. Sometimes when she wakes up and cries my heart sinks and as she feeds (sleepy and safe in my arms) I feel chained. For a while I even tried night weaning.

 It’s easy to forget what is most important in my life. Not those emails, dinners or images, but my family. I’m discovering how to appreciate what I have in each moment, not mourn what I don’t. So last night as I was working on our online store I heard a cry and slipped into our dark, warm bedroom. I curled my girl’s body so her chubby legs were against my belly and I was grateful that she needed me. One day soon she won’t need these night feeds any longer.

 The garden is growing wilder and wilder as the days pass. Alba explores it on all fours or walking with her little hands in ours. A lady bug makes its way across her arm and she holds an earthworm in her open palm. She digs at the surface of the earth with a plastic spade and plants sunflower seeds. She is only small but she is already creating life.

 Me and M are almost always together, it’s the way it’s been since we first met. If we’re ever apart we take time to brief the other on every conversation, thought and event that happened in the other’s absence  We joke that this lets our minds merge back into one again.

 Some day it will be Alba’s turn to fill us in and we will listen eagerly. Right now I can’t imagine ever hearing her talk back to us, but I know the time is coming and I am impatient. I bet her mind is filled with magic. Just imagine the moment you looked in a mirror and understood for the first time that the reflection was you. Imagine being in a world where everything is new and unknown. Babies can teach us so much about ourselves if we just see life through their eyes.

The Hair Cut

Although I’ve often said I’ll never cut my hair, one day I felt the sudden urge to. A few days later it was gone and I was free.

For so long my growing hair had been a place of refuge and a way to feel beautiful. Every morning and every night I brushed it. Mostly I wore it in plaits to keep from knotting and when I wore it out it was like a special dress. People would often compliment it, envy it and I loved the way it felt against my bare back.

But it only took a day of forgetting to brush it and it would begin to matte in clumps of ugly knots. I was spending so much of my time preserving what I saw as my beauty that I didn’t stop to realise I could be beautiful without it. Or, here’s a new idea, I didn’t have to be beautiful. At least not in the way society convinces me I should be.

The hairdresser took my long tail of hair and cut it from me in one sharp swoop. It was like my head was a fish bowl tight with fat goldfish swimming scale to scale, then the next moment my head was as empty as a cloud. I moved and felt a shock of short hair kiss my cheek. I didn’t expect to feel any different, but what I felt was a high so strange it was like being in another person’s body. I thought to myself, I may never feel this feeling again in my life. My hair had been so heavy I couldn’t wear it up without having a headache, and now suddenly the weight had lifted, I felt like I was floating up. I kept a small plaited section of my hair long, as a reminder, and I wrap it around my head to keep my hair out of my eyes.

I focus on being kind, open and generous now and suddenly people are glowing, because kindness is a beauty that can be shared by all. The wall is gone and though I can no longer hide, I feel less like I have to.