Rebecca Clair Photography
 intimate winter lifestyle engagement photos at Burr Oak woods in Blue Springs, MO near Kansas City

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Lauren and Caroline's Mommy and Me Session and Some Simple Ways to Connect With Your Child {Kansas City Family Photographer}
 Black and white portrait of mother cuddling with daughter in a field, mommy and me session at Shawnee Mission Park, Kansas City emotive portrait photographer

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” – Jill Churchill

I am a perfectionist by nature and that tendency definitely extends into my role as a mother. I have high ideals for myself (ideals mostly created before I had a child, of course, or while he was still an infant content to snuggle peacefully in my arms!) but those ideals often come crashing into the reality of my life right now. So in this real life wrestle of motherhood, I sometimes need that reminder that while I will never be a perfect mother, I can be a good mother (and that sometimes being a good mother just means focusing on being present in the moment in simple ways).

Do you need that reminder, too? Here are just a few simple ways that you can connect one-on-one with your child and be present in the moment:

  • Read a book together
  • Listen to your child
  • Take a walk together
  • Push them on a swing
  • Cook something together
  • Sit down and play a game together
  • Dance together (even if you look silly!)
  • Invite them to help you with whatever chore you’re working on
  •  Just snuggle for a little bit

What are your favorite ways to connect one-on-one with your child? Share them in the comments below!

(Do you want to set up a custom mommy and me photo session to intentionally connect with your child, be present in the moment, and remember the beauty of motherhood? Send me a message to start the conversation!)

He Makes All Things Beautiful; a Glimpse of the Precious Life of Benjamin Levi {Kansas City Newborn Photographer}
 Rebecca Clair Photography lifestyle NICU newborn photography Children's Mercy Hospital mother and father holding baby through the curtains

I have this phrase I sometimes repeat to myself during sessions: “find the light”.

That little phrase reminds me of the basic principles of photography, but more than that, it’s an invitation (perhaps even a challenge) to find the light and beauty in every season, every person, every story. 

There are days when that feels like an easy task. When a perfectly dressed family cuddles together in a field at sunset or when a young couple laughs in each other’s arms as they look towards a sweet future together or when a family finally brings their newborn home to the nursery they’ve lovingly prepared for her, it feels easy to see and celebrate the light and beauty in those moments.

But what about in the hospital room where a couple holds their newborn son, born alive but unresponsive? What about those hours when they hold him close, knowing it could be their last day with him? What about the day when they have to choose to let him go? Can we – can I – find beauty in that place, too?

At the end of June, I had the profound privilege of spending a couple hours in the NICU with my friends and their newborn son Benjamin. Benjamin was born alive but unresponsive after suffering a severe brain injury in utero. He held on to life for eight miraculous days, amazing us all by the ways he defied the odds and by the ways that his little life stirred and united so many people in prayer. The day that they planned to remove Benjamin’s breathing tube, my friends asked me to come and take some photos of them as they snuggled him skin to skin (their skin to skin times with Benjamin are some of the precious memories they hold onto from his time in the NICU). I was a little nervous to enter this space with them, because I had never photographed anything like this before and it would be an understatement to say that the moment felt weighty, but at the same time, I had never felt the value of photography as deeply as I did in that room. 

Near the end of my time with them, they played a song that a friend had written and dedicated to Benjamin. I couldn’t hear most of the lyrics, but the one phrase that resounded in my ears as I snapped those last photos was, “You make all things beautiful.” Later, when I re-listened to the song, I found out that the lyrics actually said, “You make all things new,” but I think perhaps the word “beautiful” was what I needed to hear in that moment. That phrase, “You make all things beautiful,” defined those hours (and all of Benjamin’s life) for me. 

Because even in the midst of the heartbreak, those two hours in that NICU room were full of more beauty and peace than I could have ever imagined. And I saw so much beauty in Benjamin’s short life:

Beauty in his mother’s greeting as she gently touched his head. 
Beauty in his tiny, perfect fingers and toes.
Beauty in the way his arms snuggled around his mother’s chest.
Beauty in the way she tenderly cupped his feet in her hands.
Beauty in the sound of her laughter billowing into that hospital room. 
Beauty in the gaze his parents shared as they held him close and the way they closed their eyes as they touched their foreheads together.  
Beauty in the way he nestled under his father’s chin.
Beauty in his father’s soft kiss on his forehead.
Beauty in the way his fingers (so tiny, so strong) curled around his father’s finger.  
Beauty in the light on his mother’s face as she closed her eyes and entered into the prayer of the music. 
Beauty in each rhythmic breath he drew, skin to skin on their chests. 
Beauty in the warmth of his body alive in their arms for those eight days.

And even after those moments of beauty were gone and Benjamin was “swallowed up by life”, held only in memory and photographs, still I saw beauty in Benjamin’s story.

Beauty in the rawness and vulnerability with which his parents have shared this story.
Beauty in their posture of humility and faith each step of the way.  
Beauty in the words that flowed in from all over the world in response to his life.
Beauty in the voices lifted in prayer and worship, day and night. 
Beauty in the hearts that rallied in hope.
Beauty in the hearts that broke in grief.
Beauty in the emotions of wonder and grief, celebration and sadness, that unite us all.

There is grief here, to be sure, and a depth of pain that can’t be put into words. But through it all, so much beauty. And finding the beauty here, even in these hard spaces of Benjamin’s story, renews my hope that He can make all things and all stories (including my own) beautiful.

And so each click of the shutter as I witnessed these moments of beauty became a thank you. A thank you for the preciousness and purpose of Benjamin’s little life, even in such a short amount of time. And a thank you for the privilege of witnessing this little bit of his story.  

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

(If you'd like to hear more of Benjamin's story firsthand from his parents, I encourage you to listen to the message, "Swallowed Up By Life", that they shared recently at our church)

Great Expectations: A Tale of Two Donuts (and a Few Tips for Happier Toddler Sessions) {Kansas City Family Photography}
 Kansas City family photographer toddler eating a donut Cider Hill Family Orchard

Let me tell you a little story about expectations vs. reality with a toddler.

Last week, on one of those gloomy, rainy days we’ve had lately, I ran out to the grocery store with Ethan to grab one quick thing that I had forgotten during our normal grocery trip (because now that we have a second car, we can do that!) While we were there, I decided to pick up a donut for us to share, a special rainy day treat.

Here’s how I imagined we would enjoy it:

We would come home from our errand, snuggle up together while the rain fell softly against the window, and share a sweet blueberry donut treat together.

Here’s how it actually went down:

Ethan cried and yelled “Dono! Dono! Donooo!” the entire car ride home. He ate his portion of the donut at the table in about 30 seconds. And then proceeded to cry, “Dono! Dono!” again, until naptime.  Not exactly the sweet moment together that I’d imagined!

Why do I share this with you? Because I get it. I get the frustration of planning something fun, only to have your toddler melt down. And I get the disappointment of booking a photo session and having your toddler frown and refuse to sit down or look at the camera. Toddlers are hard to predict and often have strong opinions of what they do or don’t want to do. It can make picture day a little stressful for you and them.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are a few tips for setting up a session that’s fun for your toddler (and therefore fun for you, too!)

1) Loosen your expectations. I know Pinterest is full of cute poses and ideas and we can try a few of them, but don’t push too hard if your toddler isn’t into it! I find that we get happier, more genuine photos when we follow your toddlers lead. If they just want to cuddle in your lap, go with it! These moments won’t last forever and you’ll be glad you captured them. If they don’t want to let go of their favorite toy, let them keep it. You’ll look back at these photos and remember the season when they were inseparable from it. Do they just want to run around with sticks? Jump into the game and chase them! We can totally capture that, too!

2) Bring a favorite toy or book. Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal or car? Do they ask you to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear every single night? Bring those along! They can help your child feel more comfortable in a new place, with a stranger, and we can catch some photos that capture these beloved pieces of their childhood.

3) Bring a snack or treat. I’m not necessarily advocating for bribing your child (but maybe just a little?), but it’s no secret that a fun treat can often quickly turn around a toddler’s mood! My only suggestion is to bring something that you don’t mind being in the photos since I won’t be photoshopping those out (you may find that cookies are cuter than cereal bars and fresh fruit is cuter than an applesauce pouch!) and don’t bring something messy unless you’re willing to embrace the mess of the moment!

4) Play together. I know that sometimes you want just one good picture where you’re looking at the camera and smiling (the kind that the grandparents will hang on their fridge) and I always try to get at least one of those. But most of the session I want to focus on you enjoying being together. Snuggle your child. Tickle them. Toss them in the air. Spin them around. Explore with them. As you focus on spending quality time with them and having fun together, I’ll focus on catching the sweetest, authentic photos, too.

Despite my rainy day treat backfiring, we had a little bit of donut redemption at Cider Hill Family Orchard’s Apple Blossom Festival this weekend. After we took a wagon ride through the orchard, we sat together on a bench, a warm bag of donuts crinkling in our hands and cinnamon sugar coating our fingers, watching a fire and munching on the BEST apple cider donuts (and then we wandered around the orchard, fed ducks, splashed sticks in the pond, and swung on a swing!). It wasn’t the same rainy day snuggles that I’d imagined last week, but it was a sweet family moment I’ll cherish.

Community Over Competition: A Photographers Play Date {Kansas City Couples Photography}
 Couples session in Kansas City west bottoms couples photography hair blowing

“Community over competition.”

I first heard this slogan (which originates from the Rising Tide Society) at the Inspired Story Conference in Dallas last summer, when I gathered with women photographers from around the country for a weekend of learning, creating, and listening to one another’s stories. Every photographer who spoke at the conference shared their knowledge and stories candidly and generously. I was blessed and challenged as much by their humble attitude as their words. My experience that weekend at the conference pushed the value of “community over competition” deep into my heart.

As my own knowledge and experience slowly grows, I try to remember the gift that that those photographers were (and still are) to me as I learn this business of photography. And like them, I strive to share what I know just as generously, whether it’s sharing a particularly lovely location I’ve found or passing on client questionnaires I’ve created. Although this can be a competitive business, with dozens of photographers clamoring for the same clients, I believe that the competition doesn’t need to define my interactions with other local photographers and that forming positive relationships with other area photographers can only help all of us grow stronger in our art and business.

I’m grateful that there are other local photographers that feel the same, including Jen Williams and Jordan Friend. A couple weeks ago, Jen and Jordan organized a play date for some local photographers in the West Bottoms and I had the privilege of joining them. They had recruited some couples and singles to model for us and we spent a couple hours that afternoon, wandering the area, taking photos and getting to know one another. I had never been to the West Bottoms before and the urban environment definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The harsh mid-afternoon light was also a challenge, forcing me to embrace the contrast and find flattering light in the shadows. Several of the photographers there that day also showed me how they use some of their lighting equipment to offset the harsh light, inviting me to rethink the usefulness of flash.

In the end, I sweated a lot (it was HOT out that afternoon!), made some new connections, stretched myself beyond my comfort zone, and created some images I’m proud of.

Kolby and Shaffen

Rebecca and Trevor

Olivia