To: The Parents of the Class of 2021,
I’ve been doing photography for a couple years now. I say I dabble in it and it’s a hobby, but the “hobby” has picked up momentum and hundreds of photoshoots later, I find myself in the middle of senior photo season. I’ve had opportunities come my way where friends of friends have someone in need of photos of their soon-to-be graduate, so they send them my way and a couple weeks later I find myself in a park with my camera anxiously waiting to meet the parents and their senior.
I thought senior photos would be fun, but I mostly thought it was just another opportunity to improve my photography skills. I thought it would be like doing a family photoshoot. We would meet, I would instruct them where to stand and where to look, I’d fool around with my camera settings, we’d get some great shots, and we’d head home while I took note of things to improve next time. But it ended up revealing much more emotion than I anticipated.
I’m not a Mom and haven’t become one by choice. I’ve even blogged about the role those of us without kids want to play in your kids’ lives. But one thing I’ve never publicly shared are the days that are hard to not be a parent, even when you’re not a parent by choice. People often ask me when I meet a friend’s newborn if it makes me want to have a baby. They ask me on Christmas day if I wish I had a kid to watch open presents from Santa. They ask on first birthday parties if I think I’ll ever have kids. Contrary to popular belief . . . while I love those babies and toddlers and birthday parties and Santa stories, those are not the days I go home feeling a void or wishing I had a diaper bag to pack up.
For me — it’s the first day of school.
It’s the photos the parents post on social media when their kid is standing in their first pair of dorky glasses in a brand new dress while drowning in an oversized backpack. The first day of school symbolizes the beginning of so much. It’s so exciting! There’s new outfits and new school supplies and it’s like standing on the brink of this little person’s future life. Who will their friends be? What subjects will they like? Will they miss their parents? What will they buy in the cafeteria while unsupervised by parents? What kind of art projects will they make? It’s all so . . . exciting. And hopeful. And a moment I can promise you I’d never miss if I were a Mom. Every fall, I walk through the school supplies section of stores and get excited for all the kids with their new grade ahead. Oh how there’s nothing better than a brand new notebook to match your brand new folder.
So here I am — doing senior photoshoots. And I realize so quickly and deep down in my gut as the parents and their senior walk up . . . it’s these days. These are their final days of school. I’m capturing their last days of school. They are on the other side. They ate 1,000 school lunches that consisted of bags of Doritos, string cheese, and a tiny chocolate milk. They made their friends. They may have even made enemies. They’ve learned all the subjects and formed their own personalities and preferences. They did all the talent shows and school dances and football games and band performances and signed all of the yearbooks. They got letterman jackets and their first C- that they blamed on the teacher for being bad at teaching. They faked their way through a foreign language class. They ripped holes in their backpacks from slinging around books and gym clothes. They became their own people. And here I am getting to hang out with them and ask them their plans for their future. I’m seeing the output of everything their parents were dreaming of on that first day of school photo. I am sneaking moments off to the side with them to ask what subjects they ended up liking and what their plans are for next year. I am finding myself beaming with pride, and I’m not their parent . . . heck, I’m not even their friend. I’m just some woman they were told to find at the entrance of a metro garden downtown. And somehow I was given this gift of getting to play a part in these moments.
After every senior photoshoot I come home and tell Chris that this is the good stuff. These are the moments that being a parent seem so exciting. I want to hug the parents when I leave the shoots and say, “You did it! They’re amazing! You’re amazing! Take them out to dinner. Hug them. Tell them we — I mean you — love them!”
During every senior photoshoot when I want to capture candid moments, I simply say one phrase, “Look at your parents” and without fail, they look over at their parent(s) and smile and laugh. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or guy, they smile when they glance over at their parents. Parents . . . you did it! You’re doing something right. And I’m lucky enough to stand there and capture it.
What I want to tell the parents of the class of 2021 is — this global pandemic has stolen so many celebratory moments for your senior this year. I could work up a good cry for you if I think about it too long. Stolen graduation ceremonies, stolen senior memories, stolen moments you all deserve. But, if I can tell you anything as someone without kids, these are still your moments. The big ceremony would’ve been great, but the fact that your kid just looked over at you and can’t help themselves from smiling speaks louder. You should feel so proud of your kids. You should feel so proud of yourselves. They are amazing and resilient and they show up for these photos mostly because you made them . . . and they have the most exciting future ahead of them no matter what they choose to do. You are their moms, dads, stepmoms, stepdads, grandparents, guardians, and caretakers and even if we’re all locked inside this year . . . you are doing it. As a family. Even if your family is just you and your kid.
The class of 2021 is mature and funny and smart and ready. I consider myself blessed to photograph their final days of school. I consider it serendipitous.
From, Your Photographer