"Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it's breathtakingly beautiful." - L.R. Knost
COVID-19 Shelter in Place Orders: Day 47
I made a keepsake film for my children a few weeks ago-right in the midst of COVID and homeschooling our children. I had signed up for the class prior to the shelter in place orders here in Virginia. Even though all of this can be really overwhelming, I felt that it was important to push forward. To show my kids that they aren't alone in this, I am learning with them, and life is still going on. I also felt like it would be really meaningful to document their lives during this pandemic in film, stills, and in writing (they are keeping a journal). This was a huge accomplishment for me, because film really intimidated me. It still does! It something new, something I don't understand like I do photography. If you've started out as a photographer, some of it seems really counter intuitive.
I am a firm believer in continuing education. Always seek out knowledge, never stop learning. Hobbies, skills, academics- just never stop. So, here I am, going out on a limb, and learning new things... and it feels really good. I'm so proud of the end result!
The main idea of the film was to create a keepsake for them from their mama, with me reading a letter to them that I had written from my heart. One of the things I say in the letter is that I hope and pray that they are able to always see that life is beautiful, even when it's hard. The beauty is there, you just need to know where to look for it- and be open to seeing it.
As a family documentary photographer here in Hampton Roads, I have trained a lot differently than portrait photographers. My job as a storyteller is to observe the connections, the things that are important to your individual family, and shed light to the details that make up your everyday. No matter how small. My job is to not interfere with the scene. Only to artfully document what I see, so that hopefully you can see how beautiful your life really is.
I encourage my clients not to really change the scene. I'm not there to judge your dishes in the sink or the crumbs on the floor. See the picture above? That's my everyday. There's cheerios everywhere, the dog has even stopped picking them up. But it's beautiful and meaningful to me because it's mine.
These are your memories. The images only need to speak to your soul.
Needless to say, I've been in the habit of documenting our daily life for over 5 years now, so I have an array of photographs showing what our life looks like. The quiet moments, the fun moments, the messy moments, the loving moments, and the hard moments too. I've always focused on the details, but lately I've come to really appreciate documenting the empty scene.
I appreciate the life that it represents. The living. These spaces are where you spend your time. Where you raise your family. Where your heart is. I appreciate the messes and the beautiful souls that create those messes. The perfect imperfections that make up the precious life that we live. I appreciate the sentimentality that is attached to our belongings and the things that help to shape our personalities.
And what I certainly love is when the space reflects those living there. That is truly beautiful to me.
So please, enjoy these scenes from our everyday life. And mama, know that you are not alone- during this pandemic or otherwise. Our lives may look very different, but we are all connected by the thread of motherhood.
If you had asked me 40 days ago what life would look like today, I would have easily told you that we had just hosted our annual Easter/Resurrection Day celebration with our friends- church, big home cooked meal, egg hunt, and good times all around. I would have told you that this week is our Spring Break and we had so many fun plans. I'm sure they would include Busch Gardens and thrilling roller coasters and meeting Sesame Street characters for our little guy. I'm sure we would have spent one day at the beach, visited the local zoo, visited the aquarium, and a day at the botanical gardens. It would've been a jam packed stay-cation of epic proportions. Fun all day everyday.
What I wouldn't have said is that we would be under shelter in place orders and haven't left the house in 31 days with the exception of going to the grocery store...and not even going inside. I wouldn't have said that school has been canceled for the rest of the year. That's kind of overwhelming when you think of it as a whole. It's like house arrest, but you haven't done anything wrong. But, by the grace of God, I have been given exactly what I have prayed for (daily, every moment of every day, this is my heart's prayer)- an attitude of gratitude. I have been given the ability to see the silver lining in each and every day.
I thought I would share some of the things we have been doing over the past month to help us stay sane, what our day to day looks like, and some little lessons we've learned along the way.
First and foremost, our day consists of about 2 hours of school work. For my kids ages, 2 hours is plenty for them. I'm fortunate to have always had a desire in my heart to homeschool, the logistics have just never quite worked out for our family. Well, all of that changed 30 days ago. It was now not only possible, but necessary. The community as a whole has come together to pool learning resources for our children and it's been nothing short of amazing. We color, do some reading, do practical math lessons (cooking, counting money, telling time, simple addition and subtraction, fractions), art, science, and Bible study. And of course recess and PE! Have you ever heard of Cosmic Kids yoga on YouTube and Amazon Prime TV? Our kids have been doing it a little over a year and they love it! Don't be fooled, they get screen time too. I'm not above screen time. And honestly, being made to spend every minute of every day together, sometimes you just need a few minutes to yourself to zone out. I get that. I truly do.
Another thing that has kind of changed our lives (even before COVID) is the 1,000 Hour Outside Challenge. My friend Chelsea over @dimples.and.the.blonde on Insta introduced me to this challenge a while back and early in February, I signed the kids up. We printed out the charts and have been consistent in filling them in. The goal is to log 1,000 hours of outside time for the year. It has been amazing for our kids and it's transformed how they view outside time. It's become more of a priority in their daily life. Not only have their attitudes improved (side note- they didn't have bad attitudes to begin with, but they do seem more eager and lighthearted!), but I have also seen a difference in their physical strength. They are growing so much stronger! Climbing trees, learning tricks on their bikes, running faster and longer! Their skin is glowing with all of the delicious vitamin D from the sun and they look so healthy (and dirty!). Find out more about the challenge by clicking here.
We've done art projects and science experiments, we've played board games, and video games. We've had epic Mario Kart battles and even a few lazy movie days, especially when it's raining. My other friend on Instagram @csogalvin gave me the recipe for 2 ingredient Cloud Dough and that was a big hit too! A bit messy, but nothing that a wet mop can't fix.
I have been so blessed that we are safe, happy, and healthy here together. Beyond all of the chaos and uncertainty right now in the outside world, I'm happy here in my bubble with my family. My husband is home from work earlier, we have dinner together every night, and I am so thankful for each of these silver linings. I'm thankful for the garden we built together (everything we built it out of was recycled, found, re-purposed, or reused in some way!), I'm thankful for the memories we are making together, I'm thankful for the time we get to spend together.
Cloud Dough Recipe: 2 cups cornstarch and one cup baby lotion. That's it. Mix, enjoy, have fun!
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.