An afternoon at the Magic House, Atlanta family photographer

An extended family walks down the street swinging children from their arms

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.” 

A mat with the word home on it in front of a door that is decorated with a wreath with pumpkins on the ground on the sides of the door
the top of a door with the words Magic House written above the door frame
A mother places her arm around her son and lies her hand on his chest
A mother gently caresses the side of her daughter's head as she wakes from a nap
Two women prepare food at a kitchen island while a man reaches into a fridge behind them and another man walks towards them
A boy rides a cart down a driveway while his dad winces in the background as a piece of the cart falls off
A boy stands on a ledge in front of a fence looking down at the grass that matches his boots
A girl rides a cart down a driveway and laughs as she holds her feet out
A man comforts a child as another child swings and two boys climb on a playset
A man holds his daughters hand who is reaching out to hold her brother's hand as they cross the street
A boy bends over on a stump as another boy prepares to jump off another stump while a boy and a girl play behind them
A boy emerges from an underground tunnel
A child poses at a mural while her mom takes her picture with a phone
A boy puts his head through his dad's legs as two men stand nearby
A girl goes down a slide head first
A father and daughter play at an outdoor play kitchen
A little girl looks at another child as she mixes something at an outdoor play kitchen
A mother and father watch their boys slide down a slide and climb up the hill
A boy looses his boot at the bottom of the hill
Children play at a play kitchen as a dad holds a boy across his shoulders
A father comforts his son as two children and a man play at a play kitchen in the background
A boy lies on the ground and another child sits on a stump in the distance
A boy plays with his zipper as he sits on a painted stump
A girl slides down a slide as two boys jump across the slide in front of her
3 children play on and around a slide while their mother stands near them
a girl pokes her head into an underground tunnel
a scene of an extended family at an outdoor play area
A mother plants a kiss on her son's cheek as she embraces him
A mom embraces one son while her other son leap frogs over the top of a slide
a girl jumps from one stump to another
A mother watches as one son gets ready to enter a tunnel and another one exits the tunnel and her daughter gets ready to slide down the slide
A child pulls his hood over her face
an extended family walks down the street as a mom gives her child who is turned around the mom look
two children swing from the arms of their parents as they walk down the street
a mother pulls a boot off a child and lines it up with all the other boots
3 siblings take a bath and one child puts a pretend frog on another child's head
A girl lies in her parent's bed with her doll beside her
A mother watches at the doorway as a man sits on a toilet drinking out of a coffee cup as his children take a bath
a woman stands at her kitchen island looking off to the side
a child sits on the toilet and watches her brothers play in the bathtub
a boy shrugs his shoulders as his mother gestures for him to come
A mother holds her daughters arm and hands as she speaks with her
5 children sit on a bed in their pajamas watching tv

An afternoon at home with Stephanie and Haddie, Atlanta Family Photographer

a girl laughs as her mother catches her after a chase during a documentary family photography session

When Stephanie’s daughter lost her two front teeth, she knew it was a special fleeting time that she needed to have documented. During our session, she shared some of her thoughts with me around this milestone, and I asked if she would write them down so I could share them here. Stephanie and I had our daughters one month apart, and I’ve loved experiencing motherhood together with her from the first months of pregnancy. These words hit me hard as I know I will be looking at my own daughter’s toothless smile with bittersweetness sooner than I will be ready. Thanks so much for articulating this milestone so beautifully, Stephanie!

The In-Between

When I was pregnant, I worked hard to not spend the whole 40 weeks simply waiting for baby. I made a point to treat both the pregnancy and the birth as their own sacred entities, rather than a means to an end. Through that journey, I got to know, trust, and honor myself and my body in ways I never had before. In that vein of awareness, when labor began, I was able to recognize that my pregnancy was ending, and soon all of the feelings—both physical and emotional—of that journey would be gone with it. Somehow, I managed to have the same level of consciousness around the birthing process and, when my daughter was born, was able to—amid the chaos—take time to both greet the new life I’d helped create and hold reverent the work I’d just done. Taking those moments to notice the new feelings of an empty belly and life on the outside helped create a pause that forbade me from missing my transition into motherhood. The very moment I became a mother, I experienced a fundamental change in how I perceived and operated within the world. I needed time to process that change, and am grateful to have had the intuitive notion to take the time to do so, rather than simply barreling ahead into this new life.

As with my experience with pregnancy and birth, I have found some places to mark time and have closure along the parenting journey: when my daughter hit major milestones, when she weaned, when she started school…her first this or first that. But, there are so many other things, in between, that I haven’t been able to put a stamp on: when did she stop saying “mazagine” instead of “magazine” or “vecause” instead of “because”? When did she become capable of doing so many things I thought I’d be doing for her for who-knows-how-long? When did she begin to become big?

Logically, I know it’s been happening all along, but in the day-to-day, I don’t notice the little changes as they come, or realize I need to say goodbye to those pieces of her left behind in the wake of new developments. The growing child has no boundaries. We may be aware of when a new chapter has started, but we rarely know when the one before has ended. It’s not often that we get to put closure on the child who was before we start getting to know the child who is. And so, the moments that are full of joy and accomplishment are often equally full of grief and mourning as we bid farewell to our child as we knew them for such a finite amount of time, and welcome the new version in…and it goes on…this revolving door of childhood.

My daughter began 1st grade in August, and the last few months have brought a world of change. The philosophy of the school where my daughter attends imparts wisdom around a period called “The Six Year Change.” The idea highlights this age as a major transitional point that looks and feels like a prequel to adolescence: the body changes, the teeth change, attitudes change (for better and worse), and the baby within the child starts to disappear. I’ve been [mostly] enjoying the experience of my daughter’s growth over these months, but when her top two front teeth fell out last month, it struck me that it was time for me to prepare to bid farewell to my baby, and welcome my daughter as the whole, beautiful, brilliant, challenging human she is becoming. It occurred to me that we are in a time of in-between, and the window in her smile is a beautifully bittersweet reflection of this very thin window separating her early childhood from all that is to come. In that moment of realization, I felt a strong need to take some time to hold space around this moment in our lives, and give it a bit of closure…not for my daughter, but for me. Children don’t miss being babies, they long to be big, and it is my job as her mother to be able to let go so that I can support and revel in her bigness, just as I did in her littleness.

Thanks, Kaleen, for creating this time capsule for us. I will hold this moment close to my heart as I love on my big girl, and miss my baby.
— Stephanie Singletary

a young girl stands on her tippy toes to look at herself in the mirror to put on makeup while her mom is putting on makeup in the background
A young girl holds a makeup brush to her cheek and smiles with a toothless smile
Young girl stands on an indoor swing during documentary family photography session
A young girl walks on hardwood floors with tights not pulled on all the way during documentary family photography session
a young girl makes a funny face in the mirror as her mom combs her hair during a documentary family photography session
Several Barbies float in bathwater in a bathtub during a documentary family photography session
A mother puts her daughter's hair in pigtails during a documentary family photography session
A young girl sits on a swing in her house while her mom holds the swing and looks up at her during a documentary family photography session
A girl puts her hand against a wall to push she and her dog in a red swing during a documentary family photography session
a young girl lies on her mother's lap and closes her eyes during a documentary family photography session
A girl eats a snack and smiles up at her mom with a toothless smile during a documentary family photography session
a mother touches her smiling daughter's nose as they sit next to each other during a documentary family photography session
a young girl laughs while eating a snack and lying on a large dog bed during a documentary family photography session
a young girl lies back on her mother as they sit together on the ground as a small dog lounges on the couch behind them during a documentary family photography session
a young girl climbs a tree and looks back at her mother with a worried face during a documentary family photography session
a mother roars with hands out to her daughter who is facing her and laughing during a documentary family photography session
a young girl looks up at her mom as she pulls her shirt with her teeth during a documentary family photography session
a mother smiles as she watches her daughter on a swing during a documentary family photography session
a girl smiles with joy as she swings on a swing during a documentary family photography session
A mom whispers into her daughters ear while she is on a swing during a documentary family photography session
a girl laughs as her mom tags her during a game of chase during a documentary family photography session
A girl runs in on direction as her mother runs in another direction during a game of chase during a documentary family photography session

Why you should be in your family photos

This is the version of my family that includes me in the photos

a family portrait in a kitchen with a tortilla

I had read all the blog posts about having three children and was aware of the challenges from the beginning, but I was still caught off guard by how impossible it would feel to handle life with any sort of gracefulness. I was under the assumption that we would be fine since we had already embraced a lesser version of our expectations after the chaos of having two children. We were already rarely showering, we already considered cheese, chips, and olives a full meal, and I already left the house a mess knowing it was a complete waste of time to clean anything. Certainly we could handle having three children in the same mediocre fashion that was working for having two kids, or so I thought until I realized a whole new level of keeping it together was going to be necessary to just get through our days unscathed.

Roland was such an easy baby, the transition to three kids was made almost too easy at first. But then he started to crawl, and walk, and climb and I was forced to be constantly vigilant at the same time Winnie started expressing her delayed feelings of jealousy. Of course this all coincided with the time Charlotte was experiencing that thing that happens to kids as they are about to turn 6 (a time aptly known in Waldorf circles as the “first puberty”). Daily meltdowns by us all had me frantically waving a white flag and muttering either “namaste,” or “Lord have mercy,” not so under my breath to avoid screaming profanities throughout the day (if I could manage it at all). My mantra was (still is), “I can handle this without screaming or swearing,” often merely an aspiration.

These fast-paced, blurry, often rage-inducing days are my new normal, and being in it is equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. The struggles are real, but I know it goes fast. In one breath, I’m dreaming of the day a few years from now when they will be older and it will all be easier, and in the next breath I am dying to hit the pause button to have time to take this season in and appreciate it for what it is. In many ways, that’s what these images are for me, a way to press pause to see it and feel it at a time when the pace and emotional demands of the daily routine make it nearly impossible otherwise. When I look at these images, I don’t forget about the craziness of this year, I don’t forget about the times where everyone is crying (myself included), but I feel ok about it because these moments exist on the other side of those experiences. When I look at these pictures, I get to see that who I am for my kids is enough. I see the way I smile at my kids, I see the way I make them laugh, and I see how much love I give them all day long. I feel like a good mom, and we all deserve to feel like good moms.

So, here we are in April of 2018. My final baby is turning one and we are coming up on our 10th year of being married. It’s all very ordinary, but I couldn’t have imagined a better way for it to have all turned out. I love seeing how tired and happy we are and how crazy and bizarre our kids are. This is the bittersweet end of the season of having babies for us. Anda, the way you see us is a gift to me. It’s a gift that grounds me in the present and shows me just how beautiful and good our life together is. I can’t even imagine what these images will mean to me in 10 years. Thank you.

mother nurses son while child puts her feet up above her head on a couch
son smiles at mother who is holding him
woman and child write
man picks up boy by the arm
man places baby on child's head while mother looks on
a family portrait in the kitchen with a tortilla
a child reaches up for a tortilla her father is holding
a child uses a tortilla as a face mask
two girls and a tortilla mask
a mother touches the nose of her tortilla masked daughter
a child climbs a doorway while two other children watch
a mother holds her baby and locks the door of their house as two children race down the sidewalk
a mother pushes a cart down an aisle
a mother wears a baby while pushing a cart with another child
a child in a cart sticks out her tongue at the person taking the photo in the onion aisle
a couple sits on the couch and looks at each other
a family sits on the bed in the morning
a mother sits on her bed with three children
a chalkboard wall and a shelf with plants and cookbooks
a mother brushes her toddler's teeth
a woman holds up a string of yarn
a mother wears a baby in the library as a child sits in a stroller and another one looks at a book
a child sucks on the toe of a baby
a mother and two daughters read on the couch
a mom and her child duck under a table during laser tag
a woman runs through the kitchen playing laser tag
a man and woman are on the couch together
a family on the couch
a girl sleeps on her mothers chest
a mother nurses a baby and a father unbuttons a child's dress
a mother hugs a daughter and a father hugs a son
happy birthday roland on a chalkboard easel
a mother dresses a baby while her daughter holds her hair
a dutch baby sits on the stove
a girl poses while her brother looks at his new car
a child kisses her sister
a woman peels a carrot and a girl looks at one
tenga chicken on the stove and powdered sugar frosting explosion
a giant man carries two children on his arms and one on his shoulders
a boy sits in front of a piece of cake with one candle lit on it
a family snuggles on the couch
two children laugh at each other while sitting on their parent's laps
A mother sits on a couch with her three children