Category: personal reflections

Pulling it into the light

I have a photo of my daughter looking at an old, black and white photo of a couple and the woman in the photo is her namesake. The woman is my great grandmother and I’ve heard some funny stories about her over the years but I wish I knew more.

One story came from my mom who said great-grandma had once reached into a cabinet while mom was visiting her and pulled out a small bottle, took a swig, looked over her shoulder and told my mom “It’s for the heart, don’t you know…”

And then she giggled.

I guess there was always something about the photos of my great grandmother that caused me to imagine she had been a fun person, but also one full of strength and wisdom.

I know she most likely also had some big hurts hidden in that heart, especially the pain of a mentally ill daughter who was sent away from the family because back then no one knew how to treat schizophrenia. My grandmother probably felt that pain as well but I never heard her say. It was only her and her sister and then one day her sister was gone and in a hospital hundreds of miles away.

Onieta, my great aunt, sent letters, begging to be allowed to come home with her family. Her life was cut abruptly short in so many ways, not in a physical death but certainly an emotional one as the promise of a future as an artist, a wife, a mom were taken from her by a medical world that didn’t know how to help her and in many cases didn’t want to because of the stigma mental illness stamped on a person.

I didn’t know about her until I was almost nine or 10 when I traveled with my parents and grandmother to see her in a nursing home about an hour from us. I wasn’t allowed to see her, actually. I sat in the car with my mom who explained it all to me as my dad and grandmother went inside. Dad told me later she didn’t really know them but she hugged her sister.

I imagined the rest for myself-that sister bond that could not be broken, even by mental illness no one knew how to treat. I imagined how close the two were growing up and how shattered their lives must have been all those years apart. When my great aunt died, she died alone and I don’t remember her funeral.

For me she was merely a dream I’d once had and later her life was a tangible fear that when I turned 21 I’d go crazy like she has at the same age.She was an artist and even before I knew she existed I had liked art as well. Maybe art was the gateway to crazy I had once thought. Or maybe 21 was the magic age when the genetics kicked in and schizophrenia rose up and took over and you jumped out an upstairs window like she had.

But schizophrenia never tormented me, other than through fear that I would be the next in the family line to crack. Mental illness didn’t affect me the way it did Onieta , though I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. It didn’t tear my life apart or pull me away from the ones I loved in the way it did her. I was lucky to be born in a time of more understanding and more pharmaceutical advances.

Maybe it isn’t the same for others in my family, but for me, Onieta was our big family secret, something hidden and dark, not because of her mental illness but because she was hidden away, pushed away and almost never spoken of within the family. For me, at least, she never really existed. But for my great grandparents and my grandmother the pain of losing her must have been unbearable.

There is something about a mother’s heart that is hit especially hard by the loss of a child, whether that child is lost in a world of confusion or physically lost. A mother spends nine months with a child inside her, feeling the movements, talking and loving the child before they are even born outside the body.

Then the first few years of life are spent caring for the child’s every needs until they are old enough to do it themselves. Back in those days my great grandmother would have done almost all of it – breakfast and lunch and bedtimes and middle of the night cries. For her the day they knew they could no longer care for a daughter whose mental illness had taken over her mind must have been mental and emotional torture.

My heart aches for the women I never knew – my great grandmother and my great aunt – for their heartache and their emotional anguish. I wish I could go back and take it all away for them, hand Onieta some medicine or find out if a thyroid or hormone issue or even a vitamin deficiency was the problem, and let them be a real family, let her live a life full of promise, fulfillment and joy.

I can’t, of course, do that but by dragging it all from the darkness into the light, maybe I can help to be sure history does not repeat itself. If a member of our family faces a similar tragedy I want to be sure they aren’t hidden away, pushed away and loved only in the darkness of secrecy and through memories of who they once were.

I want them to be loved in the light for who they are.

I’ve started to think about how I owe it to Onieta to live my life fully alive, with fears pushed aside, to experience life the way she was never allowed to. The best way to pull her from the darkness of exclusion and back into the family is to not keep her a dark, hidden family secret.

She’s gone from this earth now but if we keep talking about her and imagining even a little of the pain she faced, then we keep her memory alive and we keep the determination for it not to happen again alive. Because of what she faced and suffered through hopefully others will be spared. Hopefully I will spare myself from a life limited by fear, anxiety, illness and mental pain. Sometimes I feel like Onieta is urging me to really live, do what she could never do, be who she could never be and feel free the way she never did.

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Stuffed animals need hugs too

“Mama, wanna play with me? You wanna play with me?”

Her pleas sounded more like a demand than a request and I knew if I said ‘no’ she would keep asking, demanding and continue to look heartbroken and crestfallen.

Each day she follows me around with the same demand – I mean request – so I know the drill now and most days I’m thrilled she wants me to play with her.  What an honor to be the main person she wants to play and interact with in this season of her life.

On this day she had dragged her stuffed animal entourage onto the front steps and sidewalk. She set them up in a circle and sat in the middle of them and instructed me to do the same. Then I was directed to “‘tend you Mama bear,” which is the stuffed white Christmas themed bear that was given to me by my husband.

 

I pretended I was Mama Bear and asked the other animals how they were and Little Miss about her day.

I hugged the fluffy white Christmas bear against me and buried my face in its’ white fur.

Sitting there on the sidewalk in front of our house I felt nostalgic thinking about how my daughter was doing what I had once done.

As a child I would drag all my stuffed animals outside in our side yard in the country and set them up on a blanket and cuddle with them and care for them by covering them with blankets.

Even in our youth we women seem to have that mother instinct already ingrained in us it seems. We cradle and rock babies and whisper to them it’s all going to be okay even if we aren’t sure what okay means.

“What are you doing?” a small, slightly indignant voice brought me from rural memories back to the reality of the concrete surface of town life.

“I’m hugging the bears,” I answered, sure she would agree with my reason. “They need a hug right?”

Her expression was a mix of disgust and pity.

“Mama, they don’t need hugs,” she said and I swear I saw her tiny toddler eyes roll up just like a teenager. “They’re just toys.”

And just like that she burst my sentimental bubble of imagination and shattered it in a million pieces on the ground with her cruel dose of reality.

I shrugged.

Then I hugged the fluffy white bear and sniffled a little in its’ fluffy fur.

That’s okay. Someday she’d be old enough to understand that stuffed animals need hugs too.

The days are long

Lightstock photo by Lisa R. Howeler Lightstock photo by Lisa R. Howeler

It’s the end of a very long day and all I can think is:

Did I pay attention to them enough today?

Did I listen to them?

Do they know I love them?

Was I too distracted?

Too strict?

Too overwhelmed with other things that were not important?

The answer to some of those questions are ‘no’ and some are ‘yes’ and my heart aches as I scroll in my mind back through the day, recalling moments of failure, playing it all back like an old movie reel.

It’s summer and bedtime seems to be later and later each night. It also makes days longer and breaks of quit time for me non-existent. No stolen moments to recharge leaves me mentally depleted, drained, overwhelmed.

I want to try to embrace these long days as a gift – more time with them – instead of resenting the loss of free time. Some days I do but often I fail.

She’s laying next to me in a diaper, finally asleep after begging to hold a flashlight at bedtime that she kept shining in me eyes, asking to turn a light on, lay on one side of the bed instead of the other, anything to not have to actually lay down. There is red and green and blue streaks of marker on her legs and belly from when she drew on herself earlier in the day.

I mentally chide myself for not giving her a bath to scrub off all the mess but then I smile as I look at it with the light of the phone and think about her wild spirit, her determination, her laughter when she found me to ask “how do I look?” after she’d drawn on her skin.

Her stubbornness often has my emotions knotted up in frustration. She insists she no longer needs naps but without one she bristles like a bear at the smallest provoking.

Today she refused a nap, yet I knew if we left the house to do something she’d cry and cling and it would be clear she had needed the nap.

“I just can’t do this anymore!” I told her, finally at the end of my rope.

“Yes you can!” She declared, leaning in close. “Be brave.”

The irony was not lost on me that I’ve been listening to a series of sermons imploring us to “be brave.”

Be brave when we are anxious.

Be brave when we doubt.

Be brave when we don’t understand.

Be brave when nothing seems to be going right.

Be brave when dreams are lost.

Be brave when inadequacy rules your feelings.

Be brave and embrace the moments that don’t fit where you thought they should.

Embrace the unexpected, the changes, the winding trails through motherhood and life.

The saying is true – the days are long but the years are short.

It wasn’t long ago he was two instead of ten. He was stubborn and tough and full of energy.

He and I survived those long days when I embraced our time together, accepting some days would be long, some days too short.

Maybe instead of seeing a day as long I need to see it as full.

Full is good.

Full is positive.

Full is life.

Even long is good.

Long is more.

Long is more time for hugs.

Long is more time for learning.

Long is more laughter.

Long is more moments, more smiles, more touches, more life lived fully alive.

Mud, leg bruises and fun

I picked up my 10 year old son  the last day of camp and found him covered in mud and smiling – just the way I like to see him.

He attends a day camp about 45 minutes from our house in rural Bradford County, Pa. for a week each June.

Stoney Point Camp is literally in the middle  of nowhere, or at least it would be considered the middle of nowhere to anyone not originally from Northern Pennsylvania.

Someone from this county is used to dirt roads that lead to camps deep in the woods or sometimes to another dirt road and sometimes to an empty field.

The camp is full of Christian-based adventure and the day camp offers activities related to Christ and wildlife. They also offer horsemanship and teen camps throughout the summer.

Each day my son learned about wildlife, nature and God, which sounds like a good way to spend a summer day to me.

He spent two nights away from us at his  friend’s house because our friends live less than ten minutes from the camp and it was easier on those days to have them take him with them. My friend is also one of the art instructors at the camp.

I won’t lie, we missed him terribly while he was gone. 

We missed his laughter and the way he can make even the gloomiest day seem brighter.

He’s never been big on sleep overs, taking after his mom and preferring to spend his evenings home in the familiar so he was ready to come home on that final day, he said, even though he’d had fun with his friend.

We weren’t sure how Little Miss would handle her brother not being home since she’s so used to him being there every night. She handled his absence better than I thought, but did ask each night before bed where he was. The day we were ready to pick him up after his sleep over, I asked if she was excited to go get him, expecting a “yes!” but instead she said “No. I’m not excited anymore.” 

I guess the process of preparing to head out the door to pick him up had eroded her anticipation.

But she was excited when we finally had him in our van and headed home for the day, stopping by an ice cream stand, complete with a climbable wooden pirate ship and a small playground, on our way home.

I used to be a writer. . .

I used to be a writer. I used to be able to string words together and have them make sense. Now my brain is jumbled in my head, mixed with toddler demands and elementary basketball and dinner and karate classes and nap time. I won’t even mention all the rest of the mess Facebook pours in there time and time again, which is one reason I’ve begun enacting long Facebook breaks. 

Once upon a very different time I wrote columns for the paper and they were filled with stories of my son. Mothers and grandmothers loved the stories. Someone didn’t and let me know in black permanent ink scrawled all over my column and shoved in the front mail slot. They didn’t care about my stupid teddy bear and no one cares about my kid they told me. I always thought it was nice of my co-workers to share that with me. I suppose they were subtly letting me know they didn’t care either. After all, one of my bosses let me know no one cares too. We had a closed door meeting about it and it was suggested I find other topics to write about. I suppose if I had rambled about politics it would have been more acceptable. It’s weird, though, years after I stopped writing and left the paper I’d have strangers tell me “I loved your columns. It made me think of my children when they were you .” 

Still, those comments, though they only reflected a few, were enough to finally send me into hiding. I hate to admit that the haters got me but each time I start to write a voice whispers to me, “no one cares.” If I try to ignore it I here “no one cares about your teddy bear and your kids.” Which is sad really, because I care about my kids and someone else cares about their kids and maybe together we can find some common ground, but only if I write something and they see it and they “get it.”

So, I’m trying to write again. Sometimes I’ll write about dumb things that someone out there doesn’t care about. I’ll probably write about my kids. I’ll probably ramble on about my old teddy bear. I doubt I’ll ever write about politics because it stresses me out. Sometimes I’m sure the voices will get the best of me and I won’t share. But sometimes I plan to shove the voices behind a closed, locked door, blast some TobyMac or Needtobreathe, and write even if I feel like no one cares.

 

“I got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night

Telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life

There’s a light I see, but it’s far in the distance

I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness

It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness.” 

– needtobreathe 

Things Good Photographers Do….Apparently

I’ve noticed recently, from what I see on Instagram and Facebook, a few things that good photographers (apparently) do:

Make sure there is sun flare in every single photo they take and if it isn’t there add it in Photoshop. 

Take photos of your young children in a cart at target because target is..? High end Walmart?

Take photos of your babies in sinks (don’t forget the sun flare).

Take blurry photos but say it was “free lensed” which will make it trendy.

Take photos of your children splashing in puddles.

Take black and white photos of your children looking moody behind a leaf, leaves or tree limb.

Take photos of children on a swing, from underneath, make sure the sky is blue (sunflare? why yes, please).

Take photos of a child in a field of sunflowers (don’t forget the sun flare).

Take photos of your sleeping baby dressed in vintage clothes on completely white sheets (you should probably add some sun flare… Just to be sure.).

Take a photo of your child looking soulfully out of a large window.

Take a photo of a couple very small in one corner of the frame with rolling hills behind them (yes, duh. Add sun flare).

Take a photo of your child’s face illuminated only by the light of an iPad, leappad or something with the word pad or starting with the letter “I.”

Any other things good photographers should do? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I may have done one or two of these things. *wink* except adding sun flare that wasn’t already there.

How social media sucks my life from me and why detoxes from it are needed

I’m sure some will say I’m being over dramatic and maybe they will say I just need some will power but each day I find myself having to admit what I’ve read about the addictive nature of social media is true.

One day this week, I found myself obsessed with why my blog posts weren’t updating to my business page but instead to my personal page. I was searching support pages, asking in a photography group and becoming moyre and more agitated. In the meantime my dog had slipped out of the back fence and was wandering the neighborhood and the time table for us to leave for my parents before my daughter hit nuclear meltdown before nap time was shrinking.

I had to retrieve the dog from across the street, where he could have been hit. Our plans for the rest of the day were scrapped in exchange for a nap for the almost 2- year old tornado  when we might could have left earlier and snagged the nap at my parents if I had been focused on dressing us and getting out the door and not social media. I had also been checking my Instagram account.

My obsession with my Facebook page and social media in general, not too mention my attempt to promote my photography business, was throwing my day and life off schedule, I told myself. That’s when I set up the extension on Google Chrome that lets me block sites and promptly blocked Facebook.

Enough is enough I decided. I needed my life back. I needed to get my priorities straight. One of the first ways for me to do this was to quiet all the voices yelling at me through my newsfeed. Are all those voices bad? Not all, no. Many of the messages I read on Facebook and social media are positive.

The issue is the volume of voices. They twist my head back and forth and speed up my heart as I always feel I am a step behind in my faith, my health, my parenting, my life in general.

Is Facebook evil? I don’t believe so but I do believe it can take over our life if we let it and even without us realizing it. Before we know it voices whisper to us we are not as good as someone else in our circle of friends or our chosen profession because we see their highlights day after day in our newsfeed. We don’t see the sad days, the tough moments, their feelings of failure, their insecurities, unless we read between the lines of their shares of elaborate vacations, school accomplishments, and career successes. We know they have those bad days but somehow all we can see is the good and for some reason all we can hear is someone telling us we don’t measure up and we never will.

Even if I am not feeling inadequate by what I read, I do feel like I miss out on a lot of important and in between moments in my life by wasting time scrolling through news feeds and images of the lives of others. While reading about how to improve traffic to my site and therefore my business, I may have missed my daughter smiling at me and trying to get me to smile back or maybe I made my 9 year old son feel like he shouldn’t interrupt me for a hug and a story about his school day.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the moments I’ve missed in the lives of my children because of my addiction to likes. I enter photo contests on Facebook and find myself disappointed if I didn’t receive as many likes on my photo as someone else did on theirs. How many times have I subconsciously based my worth as a photographer, and as a person, on how many fewer likes or comments I have? Too many times is the answer.

Prior to this latest wake up call, I had been having other wake up calls to the pitfalls of social media and about a month ago I detoxed from all social media for four days. When I came back on I reduced the time I spent on it and also implemented a new personal policy that I would only check social media after I had done my devotions in the morning. My devotions consist of reading my The Upper Room and Joseph Prince devotional apps.

I also removed the Facebook and Twitter applications from my phone and blocked Facebook through my phone internet browser settings. I kept Instagram because the interaction I have with fellow photographers there is positive and less about comparison. To me it feels more like a community than Facebook.

At that time I decided if I was going to be on Facebook at all I would use that time not to just click like on posts or photographs by family and friends and those in photography groups or pages but instead work to leave encouraging comments whenever possible. Not only would this take the focus off the negative and the underlying feelings of comparison for me but I hoped, and still do hope, it will force me to look beyond myself, my tendency to whine about situations, and help others to feel like they aren’t alone and that their words and art matter. Anyone who knows me personally knows

I failed at this challenge recently when I used an entire paragraph to whine about my failed photography business so I am, by no means, perfect. I take solace in knowing I am not alone in falling to the temptation Facebook naturally creates to complain. In addition I recognize we all have bad days, sometimes feel the need to vent and share our bad times with our friends. We can’t barf rainbows all day long after all.

If you have read this far, I hope you will understand that I am not suggesting you need to change your social media habits simply because I am. I don’t believe every person who signs up for a social media account is or will become, addicted. I do believe some of us have more addictive personalities than others and therefore need to put stop gaps in place to prevent ourselves from losing sight of what is truly important in our life.

Tips for a social media break or reduction that I’ve gathered personally or from others :

  • Turn off notifications in the settings of the social media aps on your phone to keep you from feeling the need to check your social media all day long (if it’s an emergency I would hope family and friends would call instead of text);
  • Turn off the notifications you receive in your email from social media outlets, which are another way they are trying to pull you into their world and subsequently push advertising at you, for one, but also keep you addicted. Again, not saying they are evil, but it’s necessary for their business to keep people coming back. It’s more of a business strategy than a malicious one, in other words
  • Set a timer whenever you use social media so you won’t find yourself wasting time on it. Do what you want to do there and get out, in other words
  • Set up two accounts on your computer, one for personal use and one for work and use a site blocking extension like Blocksite to block social media sites on your work account.
  • Remove your social media applications from your phones and digital devices. If you simply can’t stop wasting time on Facebook or Twitter when you should be doing something else, then it is time to go cold turkey and drop the aps completely. Yes, you will experience withdrawal but you will make it. There is a good possibility what you wanted to share wasn’t that important after all.
  • Replace your online “socializing” with in person socializing. Call some friends and ask to meet some of them for lunch. Maybe you and your spouse could use all that free time you now have to reconnect (emotionally and *wink* physically)
  • Fill the time you used to spend on Facebook with a hobby, journaling, reading, exercising, cooking, earning a degree at your local college

You don’t have to quit social media cold turkey or all together. There are benefits in simply setting time limits or enacting week long detoxing sessions. Some of the benefits I noticed after even my short detox:

 

  • better focus and a clearer mind
  • accomplished more during by the day on a personal and business level
  • less stressed. when I avoided getting sucked in to mindless scrolling it kept me on schedule for tasks that needed to be done at certain times, like waking the baby up early so she naps before I have to pick my son up at the bus stop or starting dinner so it will be done before my son’s karate class.
  • my children were less stressed because I was not only less rushed but more focused on them and their needs
  • less anxiety. I wasn’t bombarded with either political negativity or articles reminding me what foods and medicines are going to kill me or my children or even articles suggesting I need to pray more (those articles are not bad but I have a guilty personality and feel constantly condemned. Yes I am aware that’s not good and yes, it is an issue God is addressing in me and yes, I’ll probably write a blog post about it someday. You’ve been warned.)

In case you need even more incentive to break your social media addiction, articles about breaking social media addictions which encouraged (naysayers will say brainwashed) me:

http://jasondoesstuff.com/social-media-detox-recap/

http://mashable.com/2014/08/09/summer-social-media-detox/#5K29iHxoqiqT

 

https://stevecorona.com/how-30-days-without-social-media-changed-my-life

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/social-media-addiction/

A book for moms that really encouraged me to back away from social media, though I apparently forgot its’ points recently, was The UnWired Mom – Choosing to Live Free in an Internet Addicted World

Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom living in a small town located in northern Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the New York State border. She is a photographer, writer, chocolate lover, and one of those Jesus freaks your mama warned you about. Find her online at http://www.lisahoweler.com; www.instagram.com/lisahoweler; and Facebook, when she’s not detoxing from it,  www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

Children should be photographed as if they are children not adults

I have been watching a trend in photography in recent years of photographers purposely dressing and posing children as if they are adults. It’s not a trend I am a fan of because I feel like our society is rushing children out of their childhood.

Dressing children in stylish clothes, posing them in a field and telling them to give their best model face or runway walk does not appeal to me and neither do the resulting photos. It’s not, of course, the stylish clothes that bother me. Stylish clothes are always wonderful. It’s the idea of coaching a child to look older than they are.

I also don’t support making high school senior girls look like women on a street corner of a major city in their senior photos, but that’s another post for another time.

I enjoy showcasing childhood as it is.

When I photograph children I want them to look like children.

Children  have plenty of time to look fierce.  For now they should be able to simply embrace the joy of childhood.

Children do not always have a smile on their face so I’m not saying photos of childhood should only feature smiling children. There is a place for “fierce” looking images, but I’m not a fan of coaching a child to look this way.

I find myself drawn to the beauty of childhood in all it’s forms: the smiling and the crying moments. My goal is to capture the now of a childhood not the rush of childhood into adulthood.

I know I run the risk of sounding like an old fart here, but to me we push our children to grow up too fast. 

Let them be little. 

Let them be children.

Let them revel in the innocence that is so short lived.

I love photographing children as they are and who they are without asking them to dress a certain way or pose a certain way or be someone they are not. 

Childhood is such a blink of the eye in his journey we call life.

I want them to savor it, not rush it.

Much like we adults need to savor life more instead of rush it.