There’s something about extended family sessions that gets me so excited. I have photographed this crew several times now, and it’s my favorite way to close out the year. I love seeing the cousin relationships grow as the kids get older, and the adults keep me just as entertained as the kids. Cousin time was so important to my childhood, and I love hearing about how important it was to Tanya’s too. She articulates so well why it matters for her to have these memories captured for her children here. Thank you, Tanya, for being so generous with your words.
“We have been at the Magic House for just over two and a half years. In that time, we've celebrated all of Akira's birthdays, Anaïs' 5th and 6th birthdays, one of our wedding anniversaries and more than several handfuls of gatherings. But to me, what makes Magic House so magical is having our now annual New Year's tradition of having the Tampa Clarks visit and having Kaleen document a day of somewhat organized chaos.
I grew up in a big family with loads of cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and everyone in between. We would visit each other's houses all over the world (literally--Japan! The Philippines! Canada! The United States!) and no matter how small the home or how large the family, somehow, we always found ways to make physical space for one another. If it meant that kids would have to sleep with their parents, then that was what happened. If it meant that all the cousins were in sleeping bags in the communal living room, ok then. If it meant that siblings had to share a bed and room with others, well, that's what family is for.
These memories I have of my own upbringing are some of the best I have so it's only natural for me to want my own children to have those same experiences. Whenever we anticipate this visit, the air changes. There's an underlying excitement that explodes as soon as we see their car pull into our driveway and the kids spill out to greet each other. There's a comfort in seeing one of my best friends--who also happens to be my sister-in-law--jump out with hugs for everyone. And there's my brother-in-law who somehow manages to bring something to share whether it's homemade dough for fresh bread to be made, coffee, or even discarded/leftover liqueur that they don't even want to drink. There's also the familiarity between Jesse and James that hovers in the room. Brothers and confidantes who have literally known each other their whole lives, they share an unshakeable bond that gives me a sneak peek into the future dynamics between my own children.
Growing up, these family visits weren't extraordinary. What I mean is, there wasn't any one particular celebration or milestone to bring us all together. In my mind, these gatherings were just so normal and expected. They were what you did because we didn't live close to each other. It baffled me when I would hear friends in grade school talk about how they had cousins or an aunt who they didn't even know because they never visited them. I couldn't wrap my head around that idea because all of my extended family just seemed like my nuclear family.
The difference this time around, though, is that we’re the parents now. We’re the ones who coordinate and plan and do the hard things. In those in-between spaces when we finally unite, the spaces we don’t notice that slip through cracks in the day, Kaleen is there to snap it up so that we have a tangible memory of something that would otherwise seem forgettable. With stealth and deliberate detail, she freezes all the wonder in the seemingly normal parts of time with a rapid click click click of her camera. It’s like she has an invisibility cloak when she enters our home. And the unnoticed are suddenly front and center, revealing that there is such a tangled web of complicated emotions and beauty in the every day.
With each passing year, my kids and my niece and nephews grow a little bit bigger and our hearts crack a little bit more. We see it in shifts in attitude with the older ones. We see it in the way they play. We hear it in the conversations they have and the jokes they tell. These extended sleepovers that include a lot of noise, makeshift toys, imagination and giggles also somehow preserve childhood enchantment and wonder. I now see more clearly why my own mother made it such a point to visit so many of her siblings when we were small.
So I hope to keep it going. I hope Kaleen will continue to capture all of our feelings, our hopes, our amazement and our love that makes us a family through the lens of her camera.”