Another Summer in Lake Tahoe

I lay on my stomach on the bow of the boat, my hands dipping into the cool water when it surges. I am riding the gentle waves of the lake and all feels perfect. The sun is hot on my back and Alba is fast asleep. The patterns of the waves put me into a trance. I am smiling at everything.

The lake house where we are staying is a mansion of a cabin. Our bedroom window overlooks the woods and as I lay with Alba I watch for grizzly bears. The backyard dips down into the lake, reflecting the bright blue of the sky. It is cleansing after the last few days of smog in LA, and the stressful flight from Australia before that.

Alba runs across the lawn after a butterfly. She is quick on her feet now, I watch her and I see flashes of the little girl she is becoming. She pulls me into a hug and my eyes close tightly as our faces touch. All of her unexpected affection reminds me to be deserving and good. I know I am not always deserving. Doing this trip alone seemed a small thing back at home, but I’m quickly realising I was wrong.

It’s strange to think that I am here because of my passion. Because a young actress in Hollywood fell in love with my photographs when I was still in highschool and her Mama flew me over to visit. Now that glowing girl is Alba’s Sunmother and her family are like my own family. The luxury of this lifestyle is a contrast against the world of my upbringing, and I can appreciate both worlds.

I spend a lot of time watching the chefs cook. They are a beautiful pair who make the most beautiful food. There are always delicious dishes in excess for every meal and I give my appreciation in excess too, because I understand the hard work that goes into creating it. I eat slowly, savouring everything, remembering where it came from. The bags of organic produce from the markets on the counter, the berries being washed gently beneath the tap, the kale being massaged, the radicchio being peeled layer by layer, the dough being kneaded.

Nick and Alba dote on one another here and I am thankful for it. Alba traces the colourful tattoos on his arms, asking “drawing?” and he says “yes baby, drawing”. When she falls over he scoops her up and kisses her better and tells her he loves her. One afternoon she falls asleep on his chest on the trampoline on the lake and the moment is bursting with tenderness. He leaves earlier than the rest of us, and that day she runs to his cabin and stands outside his door calling “Nih” over and over but he’s already flying home to LA.

Alba takes a while to warm to everyone. I can understand her shyness, everyone and everything is new. But I still long for her to be trusting. To have my own space to breathe. Thankfully, at the end of the week she is completely at home, running around making everyone laugh, picking flowers to give away and talking in her own language to her new friends.

She’s learning new words every day, like strawberry and drawing and boat and cuddle and water, and it is amazing to hear her speak. When we skype with her Papa she spends the whole time covering the screen in kisses meant for him. How can it be that she is only one? It feels like she has been with us for so many years.

We take canoes out on the water. From the middle of the lake I take pictures and as I watch my friends through the lens I realise how important they are. They are so different to me in many ways, but I love them. I feel accepted here. I wish I could have a circle of friends this strong with me always, but instead they are scattered all over the planet.

One night I am particularly lonely. Alba is asleep and I am sitting on the grass by the water. It is late, the air is cold and my skin is goosebumped beneath my jacket. I am surrounded by beauty but I am too overcome with longing to notice. I miss my love and parenting alone has been tough.

Whenever I am feeling down I remind myself that I have the power to change it. So I run inside and see if anyone wants to go swimming with me. Most think I’m crazy, but two boys and Zelda’s Mum say they’ll come. We run down the dock and strip off. I throw myself into the cold air and then the icy water hits me hard, chews me and swallows me.

The water is so cold it feels incredible. I can’t stop giggling. I swim out in the blackness, laughing and feeling totally alive. After a while everyone gets out and I swim to the trampoline on the lake and jump into the night sky. When I join the others in the spa afterwards my teeth are still chattering but all my sadness is gone.

Everything is always so peaceful at the lake house, just like I remember. In the evenings Marsha is doing puzzles on the deck, the chefs are busy making dinner, music is playing and my friends are talking around the fire with glasses of wine. Being around them reminds me that I am 20, that the yearning for experience and connection is still unsettled in my chest. I am the youngest here and it’s strange how I can feel like a Mother and a child at the same time.

I hug Marsha for a long time when we leave. I can’t find the right words for how grateful I am to her so I try to put it all into my embrace. I don’t want to say goodbye so I tell everyone I will see them again soon. Alba kisses her tiny palm and blows a kiss goodbye.

We fly back to LA, sunkissed and happy-hearted, with more adventure to come.

June, 2013

I am writing this from Los Angeles a month late, and all of this seems a world away. Alba is sleeping with her head on my chest and her Papa is on the other side of the world. Life changes suddenly for me, there is no order. Sometimes I write notes in my phone when the feeling strikes me, so instead of trying to recollect I’ll share those from June.

(These images are from our trip to our family in North Queensland, and a visit to the community gardens near our new home. I wish I took more photos. I was disconnected from photography this month.)

While I sing Alba to sleep on the highway, with her small hand in mine, a thought strikes me and makes my voice tremble mid-lullaby. My voice holds more power than it ever has. The sound is calming her and may always be a source of comfort.
I often forget just how important I am to her, how the details of my face are more familiar to Alba than they are to me. How my mood colors her day. The patterns of my clothing are a part of the landscape of her world. I am home to her more than anywhere on Earth and I will always be her Mother.

In our new home the past has followed us. It is there in the dreamcatchers I made from twigs from the Blue Mountains hanging above our bed, the polaroids on the bookshelf of when we first fell in love, the worn teddy that was mine when I was as small as Alba is now. I love to remember it all, to stay up late with Matt retelling our shared and seperate pasts.

I’ve never been content with being content. The excitement that stirs in my chest is my drug. Yet when I feel the lows of living without stability, it’s all I want.

I lay on the grass at the community gardens and Alba runs down the path dragging my bag, she pulls out my camera and lifts the heavy thing to her face to take a photograph. I wonder if she will be a documenter too.
My little girl is growing up. Not fast, like everyone said she would, but slowly and perfectly in her own time. She spends days with my auntie and cousins now. When I call her my baby I pause and wonder if she really still is.

In the backseat of the car on the way to the hospital I hold a gauze pad over Alba’s burst blister. It is so swollen and big I can’t look. Pus and blood trickle stickily down my arm. I cry quietly, so Matt can’t hear me. My girl has been in pain for days now. I can bear my own pain, but hers cripples me.
Soon I can no longer keep quiet, I cry with all of her heartbreak and pain to come. Motherhood weighs me with sadness, with the same intensity that it fills me with light.

I trace the places where my body stretched. Softly beneath my breasts as they became heavy with milk, less softly across my sides as I grew a human being in my womb. Not so long ago I traced these places with disappointment and longing. All too influenced by the image obsession of our society and my industry. But now as a Mama I finally accept my body. And I am happy to have a body, to have life, to feel love.

May, 2013

It’s been a long time since I last posted. Life has been full.

Every morning I am woken with a kiss from my daughter. In an instant my dream world fades and I am left with the indescribable softness of her lips smushed into my face with love. She glows with an almost tangible potential and it seems wherever she goes disorder follows. Toddlerhood is both incredible and frustrating. I still watch her while she sleeps some afternoons, taking in the rare stillness and the perfect proportions of her features. The rounded eyelids and cheeks, the dimpled knuckles, the golden spiralling hair.

In many ways I don’t feel like a Mother. My mind is still the same mind of my child self, just with different thought patterns, more knowledge and a dullness which I assume is part of getting used to being alive. I expected to be transformed into someone entirely different, but I am glad to find myself still me. Still sleeping in, giggling to Peppa Pig, jumping on the trampoline at midnight, eating too much dessert and fantasising about other worlds. The thing that has transformed most is my idea of what a Mother really is.

I was feeling a little lonely in Brisbane so I organised a picnic, which I named the Plant Love Picnic. It was a celebration of how delicious healthy, plant-based food could be and a way for like-minded people to come together. I thought maybe two or three people would come along, but by the afternoon more than a dozen people were sitting around on a patchwork of picnic blankets surrounding plates of beautiful vegetarian food made with love. We talked in the gardens ’til the sun set, bonded by our want for a better world. The happy buzz from the day and the knowledge that the world is filled with such good human beings lasted for a long time.

One day we decided we’d load the car up and go on a road trip to my hometown. It took two days to drive there, with stops along the way. Hungry, tired and halfway there, I decided to get breakfast with Alba while Matt catnapped in the car, warm and cosy with the morning sun. At the time it seemed so funny to be vegetarians stopping for a meal in the beef capital of Australia. We found a nice little cafe, where I swapped out meat for avocado and mushrooms and we shared an orange juice. We stayed for a long while, me writing in my journal and Alba scribbling with coloured crayons on a notepad and somehow that little moment brimmed with beauty.

A few days after we arrived in Townsville we took the ferry to Magnetic Island. My siblings and I ran to the back of the ferry where the water and wind were wild and we clung tightly to the metal railing, shouting to one another over the roaring sound. That night we walked to the beach and my brother told me to look up at the sky, so I did, and when I did it wasn’t just a familiar background unworthy of wonder, I saw the sky and the stars for what they really were. I looked up at our universe, with its countless slowly exploding stars and enormous galaxies and I was overcome. I felt the Earth spinning beneath my feet and I felt very, very small. I looked at my family, old and new, and I realised the power of blood and the strangeness of life.

When we were younger our Mother could never afford to take us on holidays, so this trip was special. My childhood came back to me as we shared pizzas, drew in the sand and played board games. But my siblings weren’t children any more and at times it was as though I barely knew them. Still I felt a sense of love and protection for them, and the grown ups they were becoming. My brother fell the deepest in love with Alba. He has never been taken with children but he doted on her, taking his role of uncle to heart. I felt a new feeling, a feeling of pride for creating a being that brings so much joy to others. I visited my cousins and regret swept back, that they had kept on growing while I was gone. I wanted to go back, I wanted to be 14 and babysitting them all weekend, pretending they were my own children and letting them fall asleep across my lap on the couch, stroking their soft cheeks.

When we arrived home to Brisbane we knew it was time to move again. This time to the rich red soils of Toowoomba, the garden city where my auntie, cousins and grandparents live. We bid our dear housemates and our growing garden farewell and packed all of our things into boxes. There were jars upon jars of grains, nuts, dried fruits, beans and seeds I’d been collecting over the year. Time rushed as we packed, cleaned, cooked, worked and cared for Alba. As we drove away for the last time M said “It feels good to know that the gardens I leave behind will keep on growing and keep on giving,” and I let go of my sadness, like letting the ocean current carry the sand from my loose palm.

Until we find our patch of Earth our home will be ever-changing. And even when we do find land to settle and nestle into, we will still always travel. We are still young and there is so much to learn and experience. So much goodness to be found and shared. Now, a new adventure.

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.