Thursday, September 8, 2011

Parenting and Photography

I am a parent first and a photographer second. I didn't realize this four years ago when my son, Z, was born. Instead, it has slowly crept into my mind over a period of time. My wife, Merril, works long and hard hours at a local hospital so we can afford some basics of life that my career of photography can’t always provide (like shelter, food, etc.). I stay at home most of the week and try to figure how to take care of my son. We have only a few days together as a family and when we do, it never feels right to use them for photography.

In between my responsibilities, I carve out minutes here and there to do some shooting. When Z was young, I trained myself to type one-handed while I held him during his naps. I spent late-night hours scanning film and uploading images to stock agencies. What I didn’t get was time to immerse myself deep in the woods or high up on the mountains. I keep trying but attempts to find large amounts of time to spend on photography are always blocked by the realities of life that parenting demands.

When Z first began to walk, I began my quest to combine my nature photography and parenting. We started with walks around a small pond and, as he grew older and stronger, we graduated to longer walks in the mountains. We explored together, taking time to stop and talk about all the twigs, bugs, and leaves along the path. He was still small though, and required my constant attention. The camera gear got left at home.

Last week, we took Z camping for the first time. I chose Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula. It had flush toilets, a playground, plenty of trails, and close proximity to civilization should the youngster completely rebel at the idea of camping. It also had the longest natural sand spit in the country and maybe, just maybe, the chance to sneak away for a little photo excursion. I started to pack the car and quickly filled the back seat and cargo area. No matter how hard I tried, I could not fit everything the three of us required into the car. I knew what had to be left behind, my camera gear.

The trip was a success anyway. Z never complained or asked to go home. In fact, he desperately wanted to stay on the final morning. I had a blast watching him and was another step closer to joining my parenting and photography life into one.

I had a hard week after that. Merril went back to work, there was no camp or school to give me a break during the day. I could not seem to get a moment to myself and I guess it showed. Merril came home Monday night and told me she was staying home the next day. She also stated in no uncertain terms that I was to leave, take the day for myself, and not show my face around the house till well after dark.

I drove as fast as I could to the mountains the next morning. All day, I hiked to waterfalls and lakes. I stopped the car whenever I saw something I wanted to check out. I sat by rivers and watched the water pour over the rocks. I relished driving the rough dirt roads, throwing a plume of dust in the air, and singing with the stereo as loud as I could. There was no little voice in my head (or from the back car seat) telling what to do. For one day I was free. Free like I was before my son was born. Free to wander. Free to explore. Free to do whatever the hell I felt like. And yes, I took some photos (quite a few as a matter of fact).

I got home well after dark, kissed my wife goodnight, and crept into Z’s room. I sat in the chair and watched him sleep like so many long nights before. I watched his fingers move as he tried to complete some task during a dream. I watched his face change expressions and I could feel the connection between us; the bond that has been built up over the years. It felt great to be away for a day but it felt even better being home. I closed my eyes and just listened to him breathe.

I’m taking Z hiking again this weekend. It will be just the two of us (Merril is working again.) Maybe we will hike to a lake, to a meadow, or perhaps we will never make it anywhere and just hunt for sticks along the trail instead. Wherever we end up, we will have fun. There is only one thing that is certain. The camera gear will have to stay home and I am OK with that.

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