In April, Clickin Moms, an online photography forum, released a workshop that really hit the refreshing and liberating button when it comes to documenting real life. None of these pretty and clean images that take time to create before you shoot. What? No need to clean up the space before I press click? Yes, please! I caved and signed up for the workshop too and boy was I in for a treat. Enter Erika Ray’s “Get Real, An Honest Approach to Photography”. She takes the physical mess and makes it art, the emotional mess and spills them onto the table, and does every little bit of it with unshaken honesty. A common feedback from her blog and photography followers: Erika, you share once again what many of us feel but are not brave enough to speak. Erika embraces the raw hardness of motherhood and doesn’t cut out any part of the mess because it’s real. It’s hard not to love this mom-tographer just a little.
Reading her words inspired a group of us who signed up for her workshop to form a blog circle where we would share our messes in our lives, in our own way. The goal is to own the mess, and rock doing it. So here’s this month’s edition of my Life, unedited. Take one.
It has been six months since my gig as a stay-at-home-mom officially started. To be honest, I never saw this coming. I never thought I would sign up for this. I had my eye on the career prize, eager to have my second (and last) child and dig right in to advance it. After all, I went to school, invested all those long hours and weeks in the field away from my family and husband and friends for just that reason. Balance is what I’ve always wanted, have my career and be the great wife to my husband and mother to my girls. Then I realized this balance is too much for me to achieve. It was hard for me to admit that and for me to accept that there is nothing wrong with staying at home and enjoying my children.
Herein lies the problem, those expectations of enjoying my children, all.the.time. Ok I’ll admit it, I am enjoying Janie, but enjoying Elliotte comes by a little harder. She can be labelled as, what do they call it?, spirited with a capital S. I call her sassy, sometimes so sassy that she’s full of piss and vinegar that I’m supposed to drink down with patience, using positive language, all the while enjoying her. I was brought up in a different time and culture where being physically disciplined was considered the norm. As a seven year old, I remember going to school with rattan cane marks on my legs, the lines of shame. It said I was a naughty, disobedient child and I probably deserved the punishment. As a mother, I try to so hard not to resort to physical punishment or fear tactics to get my children to listen to me. I want them to be good for me because they want to. I didn’t want them to grow up experiencing what I did throughout my childhood whenever I acted up.
But man, is it ever frustrating when I am met with Elliotte’s wall of defiance. I try giving her limited choices, I try to speak with her in a patient voice, I try to remove emotion from the moment and remind myself that she’s not behaving like that because she’s trying to make more work for me or hurt me. Some days, she’s so emotionally overwhelmed that the simplest things will be a power struggle that leads right to a tantrum, going from 0 to 60 in a flash. This might seem cruel but when I need to step back to take a breath and pull the emotion out of it, I have taken my camera out on a few occasions and taken a picture of her difficult moments. She’s not happy all the time, so I want to record her sad emotions too.
It’s so easy to yell, it’s so easy to react, and there are moments when I think maybe a good spanking would straighten her out. I am not proud of the guilt talk, but I have said, “Maybe I should go back to work, since nothing I do with you seems to be working.”. If not for the amazing teachers at her school who educate me about parenting, and supportive friends who listen and gently advise, I would have gone to that bad place, more often than I want to admit. I welcomed the help because I felt desperate and I needed it. I take parent workshops and read articles to look for answers on how to deal with my very sassy and spirited and defiant girl. But instead of giving me answers about “how to deal”, it taught me about myself and how to gain the skills I’ll need in my toolbox to troubleshoot. It taught me how to observe my child and watch her emotions and behaviour and what she’s trying to tell me. No the turning point hasn’t been immediate, but I have to persist because the alternative of being a mother that’s yelling and screaming to make her authority known is not an option. It never fails, I am dripping with guilt whenever that happens.
So today’s workshop is a visual map of what I need to look at to help myself take a step back, breathe, and observe, then come along side my child. I took a picture of it so I have it as a reminder.
As much as she is that difficult child, she’s also got moments of sweetness so pure that it fills my heart so much it could burst. I need to remember that too, moments like this one, where she wanted to pop the bubbles for her little baby sister because it makes her giggle. Thankfully it happens at least once a day, and it’s what gives me renewed hope daily that we can work through this trying phase with her.
Now please head over to Jessica Miller’s blog to check out her version of Let’s Get Real. And definitely take a moment to read this blog post from Erika Ray: Some weeks I’d put myself on a milk carton.