I may delete this in a few years, or sooner. I may change my mind daily until then. I may keep it forever, just the same.
Family portraits come in all shapes and sizes. Colors and emotions. Ages and faces. Expressions and moods. Temperatures and climates. I know this variety perhaps more than a non-photographer because I see it all. I photograph it all. And even though this term barely applies in the land of digital vs. film, sometimes I’m surprised by what develops from the negatives in the long run.
Sometimes I worry that my kids have an invisible mama.
Someone had to take this photo. I’m glad it was me. The short story is that I was practicing for an upcoming gig and it was my first time in awhile using a portable umbrella lighting kit. Someone had to take this photo. I had to take this photo. I’m in it and all around it behind the scenes. It’s my color. It’s my manual settings. It’s my timing. It’s my vision. On a good day, I see myself.
On a bad day, my invisibility is vastly obvious to me. The divide between my family and me is wide. On a bad day.
I’ve always struggled with invisibility. It’s no superpower. I grew up as one of five grieving kids in a blended family. My parents hand-picked a bedroom for me at the end of several winding hallways that overlooked the woods. It was like a treehouse, and large and quiet. I could disappear there whenever I wanted. Eventually I learned how to disappear in a crowd. Body language and voice tactics. Hair over my eyes. Shrinking into my skinny shoulders. When I wanted to hide, I could hide. I could sneeze and no one would say “Bless you” because no one heard me. And if they did, they’d seem bewildered to discover that I was there.
These are the words and stories of a bewildered, grieving, gawky kid. It is not necessarily fact, or anyone else’s version of events. In 8th grade, I confided my invisibility fears to a friend and she confirmed that she could see it, but she didn’t know why it was there. She said she thought I could shine. At times. And that somehow I had learned to shrink away and shut down.
It was my own doing. I did it so well, that eventually I couldn’t control it and I’d disappear even when I didn’t want to.
There are a lot of reasons I’m a photographer, other than art just being in my bloodlines. The camera is like a shield to me. I can wield control in the midst of chaos, sadness, birth and continuing life. I am also very sensitive, internally and externally, so I see things a certain way. It’s a natural reflex I’ve been channeling for years. So I started to see myself develop in the negatives.
And it changed over time. I started to learn to channel the radiating joy and laughter. I learned to shine, maybe not on command, but I shined so often, that it would just happen to coincide with social events. It was convenient like that.
Sometimes I see this. I am this. Not always, but a lot of the time:
Sometimes I see that smiling face on myself when I parent. I know that in many ways parenthood has opened me up and lifted me up into love and heart territory I didn’t know was possible. Then there’s the other side – the “off” days or weeks. I used to call them “gone days.” They’re often “gone weekends”. With Des in the picture, I feel less invisible but I have often felt that the bond between Cassidy and Scarlet doesn’t always leave room for me. Do you ever feel that way with one or more of your kids?
Do you ever think it’s your own fault?
Did I go wrong with her? With me? I know we have sacred time together five days a week but when the weekend hits, I start to disappear. I let it happen. I can’t control it. I never was a four-year-old girl with a live father. This is new territory to me. Surely had he survived, I would have thrown my arms around his neck and never let go. I remember how it felt to have him hold me – strong. When I’d wake up from various toddler-related nightmares, of rising trees and shaking earths, I was steady in his arms.
I lost that steadiness. She didn’t.
And what of Des? He still smiles brightly when I walk into the room. He still calls for me when I walk out.
I don’t think of a second child as a do-over. I think there is ample opportunity for powerful relationships with both. I love and like them differently at different times, but at matching fierce levels. That is a fact. I ache for both. I worry about both.
I marvel at the ways Des seems like me. I marvel even more at the ways he doesn’t. Will my kids learn to disappear or shine?
And how much of each?
I helped make this family, in a pretty major way. It would not exist without me. I invested all of my body and heart. So it’s strange that I feel it could go on without me sometimes. And I wonder how much of it is them, and how much of it is me?
And the biggest part of my heart knows that my worst fears are not true. The family needs me as I need them. Every now and then I remember to put myself into the photo, fully, and make it so that you can see more than just my shadow. My blended background. We all hold each other up. We fill each other in too. We put back the color when the others seem to disappear..
Here I am..