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a letter to my children | summer portraits weeks 26 – 35

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Dearest children,

We are now several weeks into our school year and have been reading oodles of fables together lately, samples from the more familiar Aesop’s Fables to India’s Jataka Tales to West African Folklore, and while the characters and cultures these tales represent dramatically shift, the themes within them often do not. Each in its own manner offers a simple lesson on how one ought to live or possibly in some instances, such as the devious Anansi or other foolish characters, how one ought not live at all. Perhaps one day we will think on your childhood summers in a similar manner, unique versions of the same narrative, personal tales and images that become a tonic when life demands us to be more focused and diligent.

Naturally, as you each grow older, life will require more diligence of you. It is the mark of maturity, the preface to adulthood. While you are young, I hope to store enough adventure and courage in your thoughts and heart so that you learn to seek it on your own someday, a tonic for the harder parts of adult living. You are children now, and while I can’t imagine it differently, you will not always be. It is the nature of every living thing to change and grow, and so it is with you. Part of this portrait project has been a catalogue of this change, a small way to bottle your childhood for all of us to enjoy when it is gone. Maybe one day, like the simple fables, you will sift through them and discover lessons tucked beneath our play, travel, and silly stories. At the very least, I hope as adults, they will remind you to leave space for frivolity, room to cast off form and simply play or explore possibilities when necessary. Wisdom and discipline require the balance of a wild, courageous heart. These too are lessons for us in how one ought to live.

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You will soon discover that some seasons in life will force you to create or make something with very little. You may feel overwhelmed by possibility and endless choices. Perhaps then you might remember the feel of our paper roadmap in your hands, not a smooth, glass computer, but paper, bound and wrinkled with use. You might recall the way you traced your small fingers over red and blue and green lines, each one overlapping and leading some place distinct. Like that map, your life also will one day freely spread across veins of unknowns. It will require courage, as doing anything new or unknown often does. I hope then you will also remember your toes in the cold Pacific Ocean or climbing the red rocks in Southern Utah or picking fresh blueberries on the mountainside of North Carolina or even random no wheres on the road in between. All paths lead to distinct, unknown places, and you will need courage and wisdom to get there. Like our own summer travels, you’ll discover in life also, the longer, harder journeys often have the sweetest rewards.

As a mother, I am learning my own lessons of sorts, the hardest being how to slowly release you. My maternal instinct naturally cringes at watching you climb or slide down boulders, walk across waterfalls, or coast down rapids, but right now we are with you and have the privilege to participate with you. It’s exhilarating to see how you come alive with accomplishment and how you manage unknowns. These moments, too, are a gift, ones I will return to when you are older and off on your own adventure without us. I am grateful it’s not time for that quite yet. Travel has been one of my favorite experiences with you all. While I know most lessons from your childhood will come through our everyday living. I expect our summer adventures will always hold a special place in each of our hearts. I’m so proud of you.

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Although the American West has my heart, this summer we traveled East, leaving Georgia and South Carolina as the only states we haven’t visited in the Southern half of the U.S. While your father and I were in Taos, you all were at grandparent camp with Nina and Papa and your cousins. They make that time so special for you with night swims, library trips, art projects, and fun excursions. You each look forward to this week all throughout the year. And of course, I don’t have a portraits of you that week since I wasn’t there. At the back end of summer we visited PoPo and JoJo, who took you to a trampoline park and introduced you to eating crab legs. Olive, I had to sit there and crack every one for you, to which you’d turn and say, “can I have some more of that white meat?” as though it were just that easy. On the other hand, Liam and Burke, you loved having a meal that required tools in order to eat.

In July, we spent a week in Asheville with good friends in a beautiful cabin generously lent to us. There the older three white-water rafted, while Olive and I enjoyed our own time together playing with friends, reading together, and picking blueberries for dinner. Blythe, Dad says you giggled the entire time on the rapids, and I can’t wait to do it again when Olive is a bit bigger. Blueberries grew right off the back porch, and each day before meals you all would take bowls and fill them. Liam, you often led the initiative knowing it might amount to blueberry pie or pancakes, which it did.  We hiked beautiful trails, although Burke, you informed me you prefer the Rocky Mountains in the West, to the dense forests of the East. I appreciated having this little inlet into your thoughts. We only briefly strolled the downtown area, visiting the general hardware store and listening to the rotating musicians play outside its doors. We also ducked into a small art gallery before it began to rain and we headed home. We rode bikes through the incredible Biltmore Estate and walked through the warm house, if you can even call it a house. On our way home, we visited Dave and Kara in Alabama, where we again hiked gorgeous green woods, played with new friends, went to the science museum and walked around large space rockets. As they prepared for work one day, Olive asked them, “you have to work during the summer?” and I realized how special this warm season really is for us. We have chosen a smaller life in effort to have time, and I don’t regret it one bit.

We went to Houston with your father, and while he attended meetings at Rice, we cruised through both the Fine Art and Natural Science Museums and swam in the hotel pool–a rare luxury.  At one point we attempted a midday walk around Hermann Park and nearly melted, and opted to go back to the room and watch episodes of Shark Week instead. When we finally returned home, you all attended a local drama camp, where you made your own costumes and participated in a small musical. Liam you sort of despised the singing and dancing parts but loved making costumes and developing the set. Burke, you were the laugh of the show playing the giant with an over-sized head. Girls, you both adore singing and dancing and felt right in your element. What a great finale to summer’s end (and a helpful way for me to get a few projects in order before the school year began). I’m so grateful for every bit of it. And for you.

With all my heart,

Mom

4 replies
  1. Allison
    Allison says:

    What beautiful words, not only for your children to one day read, but for you as their mama to express the joys and simplicity and amazing experiences you had this summer. I’ve written a few letters to my kids individually for when they’re older but have a few things pressing on my heart and this format might be the way to go. I would love to travel with my children more~I have big dreams of a long cross-country trip but I don’t know quite how to make it happen in this season we’re in. And your photos are quite breathtaking. You capture your children and the moment so perfectly. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Thank you so much, Allison. A couple of years ago, my husband and I made several drastic changes to our life, in part so that we would have more financial room for adventure with our children. We often wish we could do more, but we are so grateful for what we have, especially at our children’s ages. I hope you and your family will have a chance to experience your own in the right time. I really appreciate your thoughts and encouragement. x

      Reply
  2. rachel
    rachel says:

    Are you guys using a Waldorf curriculum this year? We love Waldorf and these were the exact tales we read for Waldorf second grade which focuses on saint stories, fables and trickster tales. It seemed too similar to be a coincidence. 🙂

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Ha! I’m sort of all over the place this year in terms of methods. The literature guide I’m loosely using is Charlotte Mason, I believe, but there are a lot of similarities with Waldorf. Do you have more Waldorf resources to recommend? I’d love to hear. Thank you for sharing, Rachel.

      Reply

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