JulieLeung.com: a life told in tidepools

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Getting a new lens on life

July 24th, 2003 · 4 Comments

Today’s adventure was a trip to the photo studio at the mall, a 30 minute drive from our home. Earlier this summer Abigail had helped me make outfits from a piece of fabric I’d had in my collection for a while, a beachy print with cutesy sea creatures swimming on an aqua background. Together we sewed two sets of shorts, one each for Abigail and Michaela. For Elisabeth, since she is the smallest, I pieced together a skirt, creatively cutting the six panels from what was left over. Pink tank tops (a onesie for the baby) on sale at Target completed the look, the wavy straps fitting well with the beach theme.

Teaching Abigail about sewing was fun. We had special time together, working on the outfits while her younger sisters napped. She sat in my lap and helped guide the cloth go under the needle. While I cut, pinned and ironed, she played, watched and talked with me. We plan to do more sewing together this fall, and to do more shorts for the girls next year.

To remember this accomplishment and to celebrate my first summer with three little girls, I had planned to get a good portrait of them, perhaps even using it for Christmas greetings if it was cute enough. Two weeks ago (the morning after I finished the little skirt!) we had gone to the studio, each child in her outfit, but little Elisabeth had started crying at sight of the camera. After two separate tries, we decided to come back another day. I had thought that perhaps the afternoon appointment (piggybacked onto a dr. appt. nearby) had affected her nap. The second appointment I had to cancel after Michaela tumbled onto the concrete driveway and hurt her lip. By yesterday the scab had healed.

So today I made an appt for as early as I could: 10:10 am, hoping it would still be Elisabeth’s happy hour. Despite my efforts, we arrived 5 minutes late (ah, that summer traffic :)!) and had to wait another 45 minutes for our time in the studio. I didn’t remember in the past having to wait so long for being a little late. Five – yes five – interns were being trained simultaneously, including the photographer. And once again little Elisabeth decided she didn’t like the camera and began crying after the first few moments. She has such a sweet baby smile, with her four teeth emerging on top and two out on the bottom, yet she doesn’t want to show it to strangers, it seems.

The whole experience felt so chaotic and exhausting – from my efforts to get everyone dressed and in the car ASAP this morning, to interacting with five interns at the studio (constantly being asked if I was being helped!), to waiting for the studio time, then trying to cheer crying Elisabeth into smiling Elisabeth. Making decisions about which pictures I did want to buy was almost more than I could do. I had to ask for a piece of paper so I could write out calculations (counting up all the relatives…) – my own children were crying as well as the new set of children now sitting in the studio for their portraits. I tried not to look at my watch while I was being rung up at the register (yes, by an intern), but I will say that it definitely took more time to pay for the pictures than to take the pictures.

And while I was waiting, waitiing, waiting I wondered: Why? Why do I do this? Why do I take my children to the mall for pictures? It is a tradition my mother started with us, and I had tried to continue with my own kids. And it is nice to have portraits to send to the relatives, especially Ted’s family and distant friends who don’t get to see the girls often.

But now, living so far from the mall, and now that I have two children who don’t like the studio camera (Michaela has never been quite as fond of the camera as her older sister Abigail) I don’t think it is worth the effort at this time of my life. We have a digital camera as well as an older film camera, and we produce plenty of pictures of the girls at home. Sure they’re not fancy portraits, but the smiles are real and wide.

And I am thinking perhaps I could ask someone else to take a family portrait of us, instead of us all heading out to the studio. Perhaps I could ask our gracious and generous neighbor, photographer Kate DeVeaux, who, a few weeks ago, responded on very short notice, coming over to our backyard to take a professional portrait of my husband (one of his best photos ever, in my opinion!), now displayed on his blog

I think too, in all this, I am wrestling with a definition of love. My mother felt that to love us meant to treat all four of us exactly the same. She felt compelled to ensure that we all had portrait pictures taken at the studio so that later in life we would all know that we were equally loved. She wanted all of us to have plenty of happy memories of our childhood, with pictures to prove it.

As a mom myself, on some subtle level, I think I’ve also believed pictures equalled love. With three children, I’ve wanted to take the same number of pictures for each of them. I don’t want Elisabeth to think I’ve loved her less, if she has fewer packages of portraits from her babyhood than her older sisters do.

But love is more than photographs, more than memories even. Love is something you know in your heart, more than a colored piece of paper or words can tell you. Love does what is right and best. Love resounds like a loud chord in your spirit. Love is like a song you can’t stop singing and like a fire in your soul: intense, true, intangible joy. Photographs fade. But love endures forever.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Jul 25, 2003 at 7:48 am

    Yes, Ted’s photo is wonderful. Go for it with the casual photos!

  • 2 Christine Hohlbaum // Jul 25, 2003 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Julie! I am Katherine Fedor’s cousin (I believe Ted married Katherine and David). This entry is so incredibly beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with me.

  • 3 Patricia A. Taylor // Jul 25, 2003 at 1:58 pm

    Julie, you have come to some profound wisdom here. Sometimes it is not good to repeat what our mothers have done although they may have been doing things for all of the right reasons! Great stuff here, and an excellent conclusion!

  • 4 Angie Hutchins // Aug 1, 2003 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Julie,
    I am one of David’s cousins, and so glad Katherine forwarded your blog. Am enjoying reading-especially this one, the equality issue is hard but important to me as well. As the mom of 4 boys, I like the non-studio pictures, although I keep wanting them all to be equally represented throughout the house. That’s been easier said than done, as I’m sure you know! But I am thankful to my sweet husband who knows my passion for photos and gave me a “real” camera for my 30th, so that’s helped us a lot.

    Still, sometimes I have to remember also to just put the camera down (or, horrors, even leave it at home sometimes!) and ENJOY!

    Looking forward to future entries,