On Selfies and Motherhood

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Until Nathalie brought it up, I had never given much thought to the selfie. Largely because I don’t see very many, with my kids too young to selfie and me too old to know people who do. In theory, I don’t see much wrong with a selfie, or even a load of them, although in practice wouldn’t it get dull fairly fast?

As for me? No, I don’t selfie. It hadn’t occurred to me to, but because I gave it some thought because of this blog, I can now illustrate more reasons why not.

Remember the foster kittens I mentioned?  Well, the last one was finally released from the vet yesterday and he returned to my house. I assumed the reunion with his siblings would be a happy one.  Then, as I was about to sit down to dinner with the kids (husband works nights), I heard myself say, “I smell cat poo.”

Frozen, I sniffed again. “I think it’s on you.”  I pointed to middle son, seated at the table.

“I don’t have cat poo on me,” he said, as if I were ridiculous.

My eyes scanned down until I saw the blobs and smears on his shirt. I helped him take it off and went upstairs to the toilet to scrape, wash, soak (and silently cuss).  I was drying my hands when middle son walked up the stairs, swinging his pants.

“What are you doing?”

“My pants smell like poo, so I took them off.”

“Stop swinging them then! You could be flinging the poo everywhere.”

“They just smell like poo,” he said patiently, “they don’t have poo on them.”

But of course they did, all across the middle section. I scraped, washed and soaked that up too, then searched for the cats. I caught the culprit, and cleaned her up. What could cause such strange behaviour? Perhaps her brother’s return stressed her?

I finally return to stiff risotto and soggy salad but before I sit, the boys point to the couch: “There’s poo there too.” What? I walk tentatively over. It’s everywhere! All over my iPad case, the floor and who knows where else? Stop moving! I cry. The two youngest have stepped in it and trekking it around.

One is sent hobbling on his heels to the bathroom; I carry the other. I run the bath, and quarantine all the kittens in the bathroom. I go back to the kitchen and start cleaning all the disgustingness. My youngest is three; I thought I was done with this nonsense.  By now, to avert contamination, my eldest is basically standing on his chair.

The doorbell rings. Seriously?  I hate solicitations anyway, but never more than now. I am so going to send the person away, or maybe we can just pretend we’re not here.  Except all the lights are on and she can see me through the window in the door.

Arg! It’s the Toronto Environmental Alliance, and I actually want to support them and have done for years. I tell her that I have to clean up cat poo and it’s everywhere and can she please come back in 10 minutes. I go back to cleaning up the cat crap in the kitchen and then notice I am getting dripped on. I look up.  O.M.G.

I run upstairs and my youngest is bailing water out of the bathtub onto the floor and the flood is leaking through to the kitchen below.  I freak out, just as effectively as I have every other time he’s done it. Only his size prevents me from flushing him down the toilet.

Cut! I could continue, but why bother. You get the picture.  There’s not a word of a lie, and it’s only a bit more outrageous than many a night around here.

Why would I selfie this??

And yet…

Anyone who’s into it could tell you that parenthood is equal parts gore and glory, and they trade places with schizophrenic alacrity.

For today I took my youngest to the beach, in search for his brothers who were spending the day there with their school.  It should come as a surprise to no one that I could not find them, but all was not lost, not at all. My baby has been asking me for days to go to the beach, and we were finally here. Just us two. Instead of trailing along for his brothers’ events, my youngest took centre stage. We played at the beach, and I gave him the best that I have: my full attention.

It was gorgeous outside and in, and I took quite a few pics of him with my phone to record it.

And then: I took a selfie.

IMG_20150623_142133Lopsided pony tail, wisps of hair flying with the wild wind, sporting gold rimmed sunglasses found in the car and almost certainly bought by my husband from the thrift store along with 15 others as a joke three Christmas dinners ago.  Retro is in again, and I think I could actually look pretty cool in those shades if only my face were 40% bigger.

I had a sense of what I looked like, but I took the selfie (and some selfies with my little son) anyway.  I took it because on that beach I had survived the day before and was still standing there in the sand, in the present – truly, madly, deeply. I took it because there was no one else to take it, and that wasn’t good enough. I took it because when my son looks at pictures of this stunning day, I want him to know that I was there too, that I looked at all the rocks he showed me, that we dug for pirate treasure together, and that I gave him my sweater when the windblown sand stung his skin.

I took the selfie because I was satisfied, and I wanted to remember it.

How To Take Timeless Family Portraits

BethAnneJones-10_EYears ago I hired a photographer to capture my family. The boys were ages 4, 3 and 1 and I was desperate to hang onto their cuteness . . . and populate a very barren, very large wall.

Family portraits run the gamut from the cheap(er) and cheerful to investment photography. Since I wanted these prints to be enlarged and framed, it was important to me to have a professional whose artistic eye and professionalism I admired. I splurged and hired a high-end photographer who took beautiful photos of my family and years later I still cherish them. These photos are classic in part due to her creative genius but also her guidance on how to create lasting, timeless portraits.

Thinking of capitalizing on the warmer weather and lush greenery, and taking family pictures this summer? Before you do, heed some this advice I compiled by asking photographers for their best tips on creating classic photos.

Research!

Take the time to research a photographer. When you’ve narrowed it down, be sure to set a meeting and go through their portfolio. Ask lots of question about their process. Do they prefer to do staged photos or candid? What equipment do they use? How are the photos presented? Are the prints colour corrected and photoshopped as necessary?

Price is something that is best discussed up front. Is there a sitting fee in addition to the proofs? How many proofs are provided? Are photos ordered in packages or a la carte? Know what you plan to do with the photos. This will help to determine the dimensions and overall cost.

Location! Location! Location!

Researching the location is just about as important as the photographer. You’ll want to choose somewhere that is comfortable and maybe even familiar to your family. If walker-bound grandma is going to be in the shoot maybe hiking along a bramble path isn’t the best fit. If wearing stilettos in your photo is a must, a cobble stone street may be great for posed shots but not as natural for candid shots of you chasing around after your toddler.

It’s also worth noting the natural light. Know what time the sunlight is soft as opposed to beating down. Squinty eyes, sweat stains, and shadows don’t make for the best photos. Neither does the dog parade or all you-can-eat rib festival encroaching on your frame. If choosing a public place, ensure there are no events scheduled on the day that might conflict with your plans. Also, permits are required for many locations. A good photographer will know this, but it’s worth checking into so you’re not disappointed.

What To Wear!

imgres-1This is where things can get tricky.   Remember the 80s? Perms and frosted lipstick were the beachy waves and smoky eye of today. Hair and make-up should be simple and natural or else you may find yourself groaning over your look in a few years time.

Clothing can also be a challenge. White can make you look larger and washed out, and black can look severe. Stick with clothing you feel comfortable wearing that reflects your personality but at the same time is not too trendy or flashy and unless you’re being paid to advertise for Gap, keep clothing with logos in the closet.

imgres-1Planning outfits for the entire family is an exercise in patience and good humour. Remember that episode of Modern Family when Claire loses her mind trying to make sure everyone is picture-perfect in their all-white ensembles? You don’t need that stress. Instead, make sure everyone is in the same colour palette but not matchy-matchy. I’ve never understood the appeal of family photos where everyone is wearing jeans and a black top, or khakis and a white-button down. It looks less like a family photo and more like a greeting card from your local Walmart staff.

I love this photo. It pretty much sums up everything not to do if you want to create a timeless photo! Thanks Awkward Family Photosimgres-1.

Be Yourself!

It may sound obvious but be yourself. Take some time with the photographer and take some silly shots to help loosen up or play with your kids with the photographer snapping in the background.

Don’t be afraid of “time and place”.  The night before my family photos my middle son scratched his older brother ALL OVER HIS FACE. It looked liked poor Jack had been locked in a closet with Cujo. He still has the scars to this day. I had a Claire (from Modern Family) moment, and cried to the photographer that the pictures “were ruined” but she calmed my nerves and reminded me that photography is for capturing the now. She graciously photoshopped several of the images but she didn’t do them all, and for that I am actually grateful.

Lastly, speak up! Most photographers shoot with digital so you can preview the shots on-site. If you don’t feel good about the direction of the shoot, you need to say something. Photographers take pictures, they don’t read minds.

 

When There’s No Photo Opp

Exactly one week ago, I arrived home one night to find my three kids buzzing and awake way past bedtime and my husband busying himself in and around the bathroom. I immediately looked inside the clawfoot tub for the prize: three tiny kittens in a furry heap. Ooo, they were cute!  Instinctively I turned to get my camera: what a photo opp!

My husband gently took my arm before I left the bathroom.  “Carol,” he said quietly, “they warned us that the kittens may not survive.”

I didn’t get the camera. Instead, I returned to the tub and took closer look. The orphaned kittens were only 3 or 4 weeks old, far too young to be on their own. With no mother to care for and teach them, they were thin and vulnerable. They were also sick – my husband had discovered worms in their diarrhea. This was our first inkling that as newbie foster parents, perhaps we were unprepared.

Six days later, I had been to veterinary hospitals across the city as many times. The rescue organization has relationships with certain clinics and to keep costs down, these are the ones I was asked to go to.  The three kittens had: roundworm, upper respiratory infections, Calicivirus, and Giardia. At different times, two became hypoglycemic to the point of collapse and required emergency runs to the vet hospital.

In the meantime, I could not great a straight or consistent answer about the risk of contagion of the parasitic worms to my children, and continue to worry about it. I also had to explain to them that the kittens may not make it. In an attempt to contextualize the situation, I explained that sometimes orphaned animals are so sick or their lives so difficult that they can be put down. This was,how shall I say, not as helpful as I hoped it would be.

I did not decide to foster kittens on a whim. My husband and I discussed it at length, and we thought for various reasons it was a good idea. It’s humbling, I find, to make missteps even when trying to tread carefully.

I was trying my best for these little kittens, but it’s no exaggeration that yesterday when I was told to take all three to a clinic where they would stay for treatment until Saturday, I felt pretty much nothing but relief. I had devoted every moment of spare time and many moments of stolen time to these kittens for a week, and I both wanted and needed the time back. I hope when they return to us that they will be reasonably healthy.

I’ll follow this project to the end, but I don’t want to foster rescued kittens again, not now anyway. I’m not sure I even want to have a pet now, although I’ve certainly gone and put the idea more concretely than ever in my children’s minds. And I’m sure it will be a barrel of laughs when my boys watch me hand over the kittens to their permanent adoptive parents in a few weeks.

I like my camera. I love a beautiful photo. But at the moment I have no shots of the kittens, because they’d look adorable in the snap, and that’s not what this experience has been.  The little things are struggling to get off death’s doorstep, and I’ve been struggling to help them, my kids are struggling to understand, and the rescue organization is overwhelmed. Sometimes life isn’t a photo opp.

Maybe later, when the happen ending comes.  Fingers crossed.

DIY Gallery Wall and Jewelry Display

While I am not much of a DIYer, I am all about creating a living space that reflects my family and the people and things that we love. Have you heard of man-caves? Well, in this house of 5, I am the sole female. The lone wolf. A man-cave we don’t need but a mom-cave? Yes. That I do need!

My office is a small room in our basement that houses my favourite treasures, mostly books among a few knick-knacks and a beloved chandelier. I have slowly added to the room over the years, taking advice from Nate Berkus to only add things that I love and “tell my story”.

This one wall remained a blank space for years, but I finally decided to take wedding photos of my parents, in-laws, grandparents and grandparent in-laws (is that a term?) and create a gallery wall. The first step was deciding on frames that would fit nicely on the wall in a cluster of six. I am what some may call a traditionalist, and others may call boring, so black frames won out.

I then visited Blacks with the original photos, a few more than 60 years old, and spent some time with one of their photo technicians. They helped me to digitally restore and resize the photos. Their expertise proved invaluable and regardless of how tech savvy you may be, ask them for input. No need to DIY it all.

I would like to preface this by saying that a gallery wall is a lot harder to hang than it looks. First off, it involves math. A lot of it. And measuring. A lot of it. I can hold my own when it comes to math, but I wanted to limit the number of holes made in the wall. Needless to say the adage “measure twice, cut once” was running through my mind while I wielded my hammer.

My thorough research suggested that I tape off the gallery before actually hammering in the nails, and this worked out well for me. I was able to rearrange the photos and modify the spacing to my liking without puncturing the wall. Overall, I am happy with my handiwork (one is slightly off, but I can obsessed about that another day) but more so, this DIY project fills my space with people I love, and tells quite the story.

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Next up on my DIY project list was to arranging my collection of costume jewelry.

My pretty necklaces and chunky bracelets were stored away in boxes and drawers, not allowing for admiration or ready-to-wear. My favourite style blogger and interior designer, Erin Gates, provided inspiration with this picture from her recent best seller.

imgres-1Here’s my take. Thank you, Erin for showing us that it’s okay to have fun with our girly accessories!

I sourced a collection of inexpensive display vessels from Home Sense. The trays were less than $30, the cake stand was $6.99, the butter dish $6.99 and the small vase $3.99. The mug was from my kitchen.

I sourced a collection of inexpensive display vessels from Home Sense. The trays were less than $30, the cake stand was $6.99, the butter dish $6.99 and the small vase $3.99. The mug was from my kitchen.

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I have two of these guys flanking the display. My youngest calls them "the treasure men".  I like that.

I have two of these guys flanking the display. My youngest calls them “the treasure men”. I like that.

Best of The Blogosphere

home-office-336378_640Photography is one of those art forms that seems easy . . .until you try to perfectly capture a moment in time with a camera. Good photography manages convey emotion and beauty with one click and for this very reason, I remain in complete awe of good photographers. Elena Shumilova, a Russian artist and mother, photographed her boys with animals on the farm that she runs and the resulting images are simply breathtaking!

Someone I know recently lost her husband to cancer. She is a mom to three young children and for the past few years balanced caring for them and caring for her husband. There were times that I would snap myself out of a funk by thinking of her family and being inspired by the courage they demonstrated while faced with such incredible adversity. Paul Kalanithi wrote How Long Have I Got Left for The New York Times and so eloquently expressed his feelings about mortality, specifically his own. It’s a stark reminder of just how precious each day really is.

Have you ever called someone the wrong name, repeatedly? Even after being corrected? Or worse, like me, maybe you’ve chatted with someone so many times but have no clue what their name is? You can’t remember it for the life of you? I am guilty of this. I called my former neighbour, my neighbour for goodness sake, Michelle (repeatedly) but her name is really Sandra! It was comic relief for me to read Deanna’s account of Mistaken Identity on her blog A Mother’s Tonic.

Take a minute to watch this video by Kid President but don’t watch it alone; invite your kiddos to join. My middle one busted a gut laughing, and repeated “so true!” over and over, which begs the question, where on earth did he pick that up?

While your kids are at your side take a minute to flip through this slide show courtesy of Take Part. DIY World Change: 14 Kids You Should Know About and Their Incredible Projects is nothing but inspirational! There is the 12 year-old food blogger who is encouraging kids to eat healthy and the several teens dedicated to raising funds and awareness about a variety of worthy causes from Alzheimer’s disease to poverty. I was especially moved by Jessica Water’s Cupcakes for Camp benefitting kids and families with epilepsy – a cause close to my heart.

From Nathalie

Experience the power of a bookbook, a spoof commercial from IKEA for their catalogue (that paper thing that comes without cables or batteries).

We recently repainted all the boys’ bedrooms and included chalk walls for them to write and draw on.  Last year, Eldest did a unit in his art class about graffiti, and it’s been fun to seek out street art in the city and to think of ways to include it at home.  Here is a great article about ten female street artists from around the world.

We are going to try to keep up our drawing routine that we started in the summer.  (I’m going to need an intervention to stop me from buying any more absolutely adorable how to draw books.)  Good news: there is some absolutely adorable on-line instruction from Luke Pearson at The Guardian.  His is one in a series from children’s illustrators.  So great!

Blogosphere Round-Up!

We here at 4mothers1blog like blogs. We like other people’s blogs just about as much as we like our own, which is to say, a whole lot. Here are five posts we think you should be reading:

“God, I love it when your breath smells like Gaviscon” — Porn for Pregnant Ladies (from Pregnant Chicken)

“I get to wear those?!” C.J. said smiling.
“Yup.”
“ALL OF THEM?!” he squealed looking at the tub of about 100 pink lost and found ballet shoes.
“No, silly, just two, you only have two feet.” – “My Son, the Dancer” (from Raising My Rainbow)

This post is a couple of years old now, but it about sums it up. Ten Things I Hate About Motherhood (And One That I Love) (from Her Bad Mother)

The Hidden Mother — a practice in photography of old. To ensure that a young child didn’t move during the long exposure, the mother held the child tightly; all the while, she was hidden by a blanket, not being the obvious subject of the photo. Worth a look ( via A Cup of Jo and Retronaut)

And because it’s a new year: well, hello!

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

Clone Love

With two boys in the house under the age of ten, it is rare that a day goes by without the words “Star” and “Wars” being said by one or the both of them.  So it’s probably because I am so deeply immersed in all things Star Wars that I find these pictures so clever and charming.  Star Wars fans will appreciate these carefully-composed photos by photographer Kristina Alexanderson. Alexanderson, a Swedish amateur photographer, has been taking so-called “family photos” of a Star Wars action figure Stormtrooper, and his Lego family in various familiar and sometimes tender poses every day since the beginning of 2011 as part of her CClones 365 project. What’s so remarkable about them is how well Alexanderson has captured the intimacy between parent and child with a couple of pieces of articulated plastic. Have a look:

A Trooper in the air

Is it rebel-missile's or is it ordinary summer weather?

Hiking on the bike

All images by Kristina Alexanderson. For more of her photos, check out her blog (in Swedish) and her Flickr photostream.