Monday, November 16, 2020

Algonkian Regional Park Family Photography Session

 *This post originally appears on my website:

Their beautiful little girl was on a mission and it wasn't to take photographs. I snapped photos as she walked purposefully down the dirt path, pausing once in a while to reach back to her mother or father, making sure they were still following her on her journey. She had paths to explore. Spiders to search for in trees. Nature to appreciate. 

She warmed up to the camera about thirty-five minutes into the session and was the perfect subject. I loved watching her snuggle with her mother and explore with her father. They threw rocks into the river, searched the water for canoes, and clearly loved spending family time together. 

 I loved photographing this family. It was so easy to capture their affection for one another. The sky may have been covered with clouds, but their photos were bright and happy with love.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Sweet Family Photography Session at Claude Moore Park

This post originally appeared on my website:

I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: stunning blue sky, seventy-degree weather, and the gorgeous glow of the setting sun. 

The family was equally as lovely. I've known Jessica for several years; she is calm and kind and has a beautiful soul. Her husband and her darling baby girl have the same demeanor. You can see the love that exists between them with the way they so naturally come together. 

So of course, photographing them was a total joy! Sweet Emmy, who was up past her bedtime, was so easy to photograph. She is obviously inquisitive, and she studied everything around her with those gorgeous, sparkling blue eyes. She snuggled in close to her mama, which made my heart melt, and produced happy grins when she played with her daddy who tossed her gently up in the air. 

It was such a pleasure to watch them interact lovingly with one another and to capture that love on camera.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mean Girls Suck

I wish I wasn't writing this.  I wish I had no experience with Mean Girls.  I'd rather be talking about the goats I photographed last weekend or my upcoming tubing trip.  But I can't write about those things right now because Mean Girls are on my mind, making it impossible for me to focus on anything else.  

I should start by giving you an overview of the behavior of Mean Girls, from my experiences.  Mean Girls work in small groups, never alone.  The Mean Girl group usually consists of a leader and the leader's "second-in-command."  There is also a follower or two, who will go along with the group purely for acceptance, and then the victim, who doesn't yet know she is the victim.  At some point - for whatever ridiculous reason - be it jealously or the fear of being exposed as a crappy human being - the leader decides to turn on the victim.  She starts by convincing the second-in-command to support her.  The follower may recognize what the group is doing to the victim is mean, but is too afraid to contradict, lest she become the victim.  It's this group think that gives them their power.  

Mean Girls are liars and master manipulators, making the victim believe she is safe before sabotaging her.  The sabotage starts by talking about the victim behind her back with one another, gradually spreading these lies to other people.  The victim may catch them in a lie, but together they will deny it and act angry and insulted if questioned. The Mean Girls will start to exclude the victim bit by bit, so she questions herself and wonders what she did wrong.  This gives the Mean Girls power.  Her insecurity makes the Mean Girls feel even more justified, to the point where they start to truly believe they are in the right by turning on her.  

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

In my experience, there is a moment where the Mean Girls completely turn on the victim - as in they announce on the same day - though individually - that they no longer want to be friends with the victim.  They do it over social media, of course, because they are cowards.  They say terrible, hurtful things that aren't true, but are also vague because, in reality, the victim hasn't done anything wrong.  Maybe the victim annoyed them at one point months ago, or maybe they were jealous of her, but she hasn't actually done something to warrant this cruel treatment.  The Mean Girls say awful things to the victim, like calling her "toxic," a "terrible friend," and "not worth it." They won't give actual instances, because those instances don't exist.  They will ceremoniously dump the victim, leaving her crushed, confused, and devastated to have lost what she believed were her closest friends.

But the Mean Girls aren't done yet.  Now, they must destroy any chance of her making new friends who might realize that the Mean Girl's assessment of the victim is incorrect.  They will spread lies about her to anyone who will listen.  They will make nasty comments online that anyone who knows the situation recognizes as inferences to the victim.  They'll make fun of the victim in a public way without using her name.  But this whole time, they shun the victim, who is crumbling even more.

Let's focus on the victim for a moment.  She is blindsided by this attack.  She believed these Mean Girls to be her dearest friends - like sisters - and cannot understand what is happening.  She starts to doubt herself.  She continually asks what she could have done wrong.  She cries - deep, sobbing cries - multiple times a day.  She feels lost and alone.  She thinks about their cruelty non-stop.  She holds out hope they will change their minds because they have been her whole world.  At the same time, she doesn't recognize them anymore.  She's so hurt, but desperately wants to get things back to normal.  As time goes on, she starts to realize she will not be part of the group again - who continue to torment her on social media - and who occasionally send her text messages reaffirming what a "toxic" person she is.  They might give her hope of a reunion, then shun her again.  Their cruelty knows no bounds.

Mean Girls don't just affect the victim, however.  Their actions torment the victim's entire family.  

The victim's world has been turned upside down.  She cries all the time.  She falls into a depression.  Her parents are desperate to help her, giving all the advice they can, but she's a teenager and won't listen to it.  They cry with her and for her.  They see the level of hurt she is experiencing and want to take it away, but there is little they can do.  They think of all the things they would say to these Mean Girls if they were to see them again.  They fantasize about the way they would reduce these girls to tears given the chance.  But that's all the parents have - fantasies.  They become frustrated when weeks turn into months and their daughter - while better - still hasn't healed.  They grow tired of hearing these Mean Girl's names.  They resent them for the turmoil they have caused the family these many months.

The quarantine makes things worse, I'd imagine, because the victim has not had a chance to make new friends, to see that she is still likable and worthy of friendship, and so the hurt continues to drag on and weigh upon the victim and her family.  

These Mean Girls don't see themselves as mean.  They are selfish, vindictive, spoiled, and cruel, yet they are somehow blind to these horrible personality traits.  Instead, they see themselves as justified.  They are incapable of compassion for others - especially the victim.  There is no real explanation for their actions other than the leader is simply a rude, unkind, selfish person, and the leader manipulates the others to follow her lead; the others know if they don't go along with the leader, she'll turn on them, and the leader uses this fear to her advantage.  Once they are done with their current victim, they will invite another into the group and eventually turn on her as well.  Ironically, I have seen that cycle repeat itself in the past six months, so my predictions were accurate.  

Mean Girls are the worst kind of people.  I pray every day that they leave my family alone, and that we never encounter another Mean Girl group.  I know I shouldn't hate, but I despise them more than I can possibly say, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I've wished on more than one occasion that the tables turn and they, too experience the hell and torment they have inflicted on others.  

I write this in the hopes that by getting it out, I can move on.  I can write about other, happier things - about goats at sunset and tubing trips and evening walks.  I can write about the silly antics of my pets or they funny thing my son said the other day or how beautiful and strong and kind, and resilient my daughter is.  

And if you are the parent of a Mean Girl, I beg you to recognize them for what they are.  To intervene and stop their cruel behavior.  To spare another family from their torment.  No one deserves what these Mean Girls dish out.  No one.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Give Teachers Some Grace

Today, I’m asking everyone to send a little love to a teacher. Via email, text, social media.  Any method, really.

They’ve been on a rollercoaster ride lately. In March and April, everyone praised them, as they realized how hard it was to teach their kiddos while stuck at home. 

In May and June, our communities talked about how grateful they were for teachers, and how they couldn’t wait for their children to see them again. 

In July, they started to get angry towards them, because they realized their children might not go back to school full time, and they needed someone to blame. They chose to target the teachers, who had no say in the matter. Some teachers wanted to go back full time. Others were fearful, and hoped to teach from a distance - just like some parents wanted their kids to go back, and some wanted to keep them home.

As July turns into August, I'm witnessing the anger turn to meanness. Words like “lazy” and “whining” are used to describe teachers. Suddenly, they don't do enough.  Don't care enough. They are accused of being incapable of providing students a proper education from a distance. Community members claim that the school system and teachers are failing their children. I’ve seen comments about how teachers get paid all year and get their summers off, and now they want to “extend their summer all year.” One man wrote, under the disguise of social media, that, “LCPS can't even get out (from) under the teacher's boots long enough to provide for special needs children.” Another said, "They (teachers) don’t care about our kids,” and that, “kids would suffer "immeasurable harm" if teachers don't "suck it up" and go back to teaching in schools full time.  And then, one of the nastiest comments of all: “How selfish is it for teachers, who are supposed to care for our children, to sit home in their cowardliness, collecting paychecks or vacationing why the kids go without an education?” That gem of a comment was on a community page on Facebook.  Parents are worried about their kids’ mental health. Socialization. Childcare. Some brought up how this might increase sex trafficking and that “teachers must not care about it.” We’ve been compared to grocery store employees, fast food employees, doctors, postal workers and trash collectors - told that we are essential employees with "no difference between" us. To compare my job as a teacher to those jobs is like comparing a cat to a picture frame.

I became a teacher to teach children. To share my love of reading and writing with them, and because I connect with teenagers and find ways to help them grow as people and as intellectuals. I became a teacher because I care about the youth of America and want to see them become capable, well-informed adults.

I did not become a teacher to be a social worker or a counselor who helps with a child’s mental health; I do care about their mental health, but did not become a teacher to fix it. Depression runs in my family. It’s ugly and horrible. But I don’t expect the schools to solve that problem for me. I combat it as a parent. My husband and I address it together. We make sure everyone in my family is mentally well - in and out of school. And schools were not invented to stop sex trafficking. Are we aware of it? Yes. Do we reach out when we are concerned? Yes. But there are many other ways to combat it then just through schools, and to accuse teachers of not caring is completely unjustified. 

I did not become a teacher to make sure children could socialize with one another. Socialization is important, but parents are responsible for making sure kids can get together with friends after school and on the weekends. I am a parent, and I accept that as my responsibility.

I did not become a teacher to provide day care to children. I can’t imagine how hard this is on parents, and I feel for them. I really do. Were I in their situation, I would also be worried. But it’s not the teacher’s fault, because they were never daycare providers in the first place.

I did not become a teacher to get paid all year. I only get paid 10 months, and while I receive checks over the summer, it’s because that amount is siphoned out of my paycheck over the school year so I’m not left stranded for two months. I did not become a teacher to have my summers off. Yes, it’s nice, but I’ve never had a whole summer off. Starting mid-July, I work about 4 hours a day preparing for next year. That’s roughly 100 hours of unpaid work per normal year, and I’ve been teaching for 15 years. I’m not a math person, so I’ll just leave it at that. This year - a completely abnormal year - I started working at the end of June. I’ve had one week off of not working this summer. I’m up to 120 hours of unpaid work and I still have two weeks before I officially “go back.”

And lastly, to be clear, just because we aren’t in the building doesn’t mean we aren’t teaching. I’m doing the same curriculum as last year. I plan on running my online class much the same as if we were in the classroom. My biggest priority is making sure my students are engaged and learning. I’m a teacher and I plan on doing my job and doing it well, damnit. I don’t attack doctors for not working hard or not caring. I don’t attack the grocery bagger for not working hard or not caring. I don’t attack the trash collectors or postal workers or the manager of Chick-fil-A for not working hard or not caring. 

So how about giving teachers a break? How about backing the frick off and letting us do our jobs. You do your job and be the best parent you can be during this crazy time. I’ll do my job and be the best parent I can be during this crazy time. I’ll give you some grace. You give me some grace. We’ll all be kind people helping one another through this shite show of a year and come out of it better on the other side.

Below, are some pictures I took of the school from March through June.  They are both beautiful and sad, just like our world in 2020.  


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Family Photography Session at Manassas Battlefield Park

This post originally appears on my website.

Full disclosure - I've known this family for ten years. I worked with Jen six of those, where she became one of my dearest friends. So, you can imagine how excited I was to photograph her family! 

She looked lovely, as always. A blue and white dress that brightened the day. Her husband - Brandon - was equally funny and amiable. Plus, he stayed upbeat through the entire two-hour session! 

But their son, who I hadn't seen in about a year, delighted me. If I had a fraction of his energy I'd be the most productive person in the world. His favorite game was for him to yell "Ka-chow!" (Disney's Cars ring a bell?) while I tried to "catch" him with my camera as he raced back and forth. Towards the end of the session, exhausted and hot, he crashed, snuggling with his mother and helping me capture some precious moments between them. 

Our backdrop was perfect for this nature-loving family. Manassas Battlefield park offered us forest trails, a stone house, and a hill-top field. They were clearly in their element. 

They are such a beautiful family. The love and emotion between them is obvious. Jen and Brandon are so in love, and their child knows just how much he is cherished. It was such an honor to photograph them.