Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Favorite Thing...

Saturday evening, after a very long day of being on the go with my family, I packed up my adorable six-year-old nephew, Jay, and headed into town from "The Farm" where my brother and his family now live. They have had some plumbing issues and currently have a working shower, but not bath tub. Everyone was in agreement that Jay could use a good soak after a long day working as a farmer, so I took on the delightful task of hauling him to the nearest free bath tub at Granny's house. 

We left the Farm later than we should have - probably close to 8, maybe even 8:30. Jay crawled in the back of the Granny Van and buckled up as I started up the engine. We settled in for the ten-mile drive and I quickly realized that he was so tired that he was going to talk the whole way to Granny's so he wouldn't fall asleep. I loved every single minute of the drive. 

Together we noticed the sunset, and how black the trees look when the sun is going down on the other side of them. He pointed out all of the farm machinery along the way - naming which pieces Daddy and Great Papa have on "Our Farm" and which pieces they do not have. He noticed our little town off in the distance and was curious about a couple of buildings in the "skyline" - "Which one is the Ethanol plant, Auntie Jen?" and "I think that big tall one is the elevator, pretty sure." It was priceless to so freely be watching his little mind at work. 

I decided to prompt, "Tell me what you and Daddy did on The Farm today!" I heard all about putting an auger into the truck, and how Great Grandpa says the H-word a lot, and how Jay worked really hard to clean up and organize the space between the chicken coop and the shop. His efforts were visible on his clothes and his skin all covered in dirt. He even told me, very mathematically, that he "spent ALL day, but ONE HOUR out workin' on the Farm! I just came in for one hour to do Easter eggs." 

I prompted again, "So, what was your favorite thing today?" And this was my most favorite, priceless moment: 

"Farmin' and Easter eggs, Auntie Jen. Them were my favorite." 

Bless his heart -- he is a mini-Joel, who is my brother, and he cherished his time decorating Easter eggs with me as much as I cherished the time with him. Day Made. It made his bath more special to just scrub all of his hard workin' little body parts, and to wash his hair and give him a great big hug at the end of his exhausting day. And the second-best part of the day for me was after he fell asleep (which took about two minutes), sneaking back in, tucking in his covers one last time, and giving my little prince a smooch on the forward as I prayed over his sweet little life, that he will continue to grow into an incredibly wonderful little man. Love Him. 

:) j. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sweet Baby Girl!

This sweet baby girl was born to one of my co-workers and her hubby and their son. She is such a beautiful little girl, and our day together was priceless! She is lucky to have been born into such a beautiful family. She is going to have a wonderful (and giant) big brother - keep in mind, he just recently turned two when you see how tall he is. :) Her parents are some of the best I have seen. They love their kids so incredibly well. I was blessed to spend the day with them, and have loved holding this little bundle a time or two since! Congrats, Kelly and Josh!! Thanks for letting me capture your little beauty just after she came home... 

Can NOT get enough of those perfectly squishable lips! 

Daddy's Hands.

Is it bad that I LOVE baby cry faces?!?! Seriously. LOVE them.

Seriously -- just love them. Everything about them. 
:) j. 

Baby O!!

PHOTO HEAVY! :) It has been SO fun to be photographing this family for the last three years!! They have made a very special space in my heart for them. This past two months, it was fun to watch them prepare, and then welcome, baby boy #2 into the world. They have a wonderful big brother, and the love they have for their boys is priceless. Congrats, Liz and Eli! Your boys are so handsome and I am so honored to continue capturing them as they grow!! 

This was my view as I walked into the hospital room the afternoon that the newest little was born. So priceless! 

The love this Mama has for her boys is contagious! 

Gammy meets her new babe!

Family of FOUR! 

And of course, the perks of photographing siblings, a couple of years apart: 
On the left: Big brother. On the right: New Baby Brother.

Again, on the left: Big brother. On the right: New Baby Brother.
:) j. 

The Beginning of Happily Ever After!!!

Last month, I spent the most wonderful day photographing my dear friend, Cheryl, and her future hubby, Jeremy, whom I have also grown to adore. I cannot way for August 2nd, to celebrate the day away with this amazing couple! Thanks for sharing this journey with me, you two!! love, Love, LOVE you!!!

Now seriously -- aren't they ADORABLE?!?! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Our job is HARD. Today was Super Hard.

It started out simply enough -- a teacher snuck in as I was teaching and waved a little yellow sticky note flag to catch my eye, pointed to my desk, stuck it there, and snuck out again. I always appreciate not being fully disrupted in the midst of a lesson with first graders if it isn't absolutely necessary. 2 hours and four groups later, I stood up for lunch and moved toward my desk. There sat the yellow sticky that had completely slipped my mind. My heart got nervous as soon as I read the simple words: 
Name blotted out for obvious reasons... 
Instantly, my head started raking through my interactions with him, and our group. Could something have happened that made him uncomfortable? There are only two students in this group - could something have happened between the two of them? On their walk to or from my room to their classrooms? Did I do something? If that were the case, wouldn't it be the principal contacting me? Yes - yes it would. We were on spring break last week, so think back TWO weeks.... nothing. I got nothin'.... 

While my heart is still unsettled and my mind is racing, I head toward that teacher. She steps out of the classroom, 

"Have you heard what happened to him?" 

"Uhh - no." 

Her head drops and she takes a deep breath. I brace myself. "His parents - the parents that were in the process of adopting him - they changed their mind, because they can't handle his sibling who has been having some really terrible struggles and has been in and out of care facilities. The only way to adopt him is to adopt the siblings together - they can't be split up. Yesterday, his social worker picked him up from school and took him to a local children's home where he stayed last night. His social worker picked him up and brought him to school today, but we don't really know what else is going to happen. It is really impacting him. He is a different kid today." 

"Ya think??? Oh my gosh -- I feel sick. I don't get it. I don't even know what to say. I am really disgusted and angry about this." I tried to catch my breath for a second - this is beyond my wildest nightmare. This is HAPPENING... to an ELEVEN year old. Heart. Shattered. "Ummm -- should I say something or was this just a heads up?" 

"I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and asked, 'Are you OK?' first thing this morning to let him know I knew. He nodded a half-genuine nod, but I knew he knew I knew and that I am going to keep supporting him." 

"OK - if I have a moment alone with him, I will see how it goes. THANK YOU for letting me know." 


Slow big breaths. Some lunch. Kindergarten. A walk around the building, outside, in the fresh air. 

His group time: 

"Hey Boy!" 

"Hey Miss Baumgarten!" 

"How are you today, Boy?" 


Then, a brief banter about my new Seahawks tape dispenser, and about our favorite football teams, and about why mine is technically better, for at least one year, since they earned the right by winning the Super Bowl, and how his were better last year, because they won the Super Bowl last year. We laughed, together, when I reassured him that yesterday when he saw my tape dispenser, he must have simply forgotten to tell me how much he loved it and loved my favorite team. :) (One of my favorite parts of this particular boy is that he gets my sense of humor, and plays along.) 

Internal dialogue - That is our normal start to the day. I will leave it at that. 

Work, work, work... I watch like an overbearing hawk... he's reading. He's talking. He's engaged. He's OK... right now. 

45 minutes go by and it is clean up time. 

"Go ahead and have a good day, Other Student! Boy - I want to tell you something." 

Without hesitation, he stops and turns to look at me. Given that my room is about the size of a shoe box, I only need to take one step to be in front of him. I put my hand on his shoulder, resisting the temptation to embrace him as if it will fix the messed up world we live in. 

"Boy, I need you to know that your teacher told me what happened to you yesterday. I want you to know that I am so sorry that some adults could do something so horrible to you. Your teacher and I are SO glad that you are here today, and if you need anything, or if we can do anything to help and support you, you need to let us know. Ok?" (Direct, intense, honest eye contact -- he sees -- he sees that I mean it. Thank you, Jesus.) 

I see a glimmer and am not sure if it is from the tears welling in my eyes, or if it is the tears in his, and he says, "OK. Thanks." in his calm, matter-of-fact, but genuine, way, and turns to leave. 

My heart still hurts tonight. I hold on to the brief moments of debriefing and wrapping our heads around the situation with his teacher at the end of the day. I shared this story with her, and our principal, and we all cried some more. She affirmed that when he returned to class, he walked in laughing and smiling, to her great relief as well. 

I thank God that kids are resilient, and I pray, Pray, PRAY for this CHILD tonight, in a children's home - not in his own bedroom, which he no longer has; not down the hall from his parents, which he no longer has; not down the block from the school he knows. My heart breaks. 

My eyes hurt from crying. I need to sleep and be rested to support him through tomorrow. As I drove home tonight, I reminded myself, "This job is HARD. Teaching is the easiest part. Getting to know these kids is the fun part. Supporting them because you can, because you have taken the time to get to know them - that's the HARD (and scary, and heart-breaking, and sometimes the blessed, and wonderful) part." 

Our job is hard. Unpredictable. Amazing. Challenging. Exciting. Ever-changing. Fun. but Hard. Thank you, to each of you that are with me on this journey of raising up our youths through the classrooms. It takes a village. 

~ j.