We have not had family photos taken since 2008. You do the math - Jack was not even a year old yet. Henry was three and David was four. Katie was a year old, living in a baby house in Russia, not even on our radar yet. Needless to say, the way our family looks is a bit different at this point than when we last had some professional photos taken.
Enter Melissa Irwin, of Melissa Irwin Photography.
Melissa is a mom of three boys, and she is an incredible photographer. Her youngest child has Down syndrome. (And, as a little funny, Chris asked me where Melissa and her husband "got" their son....Uh, Melissa's body.) I first heard of Melissa through my father-in-law, who works with Melissa's husband. He knew they had a child with Ds and told me about Melissa's non-profit organization, Beautiful Feet Global Outreach. Melissa has a huge heart for orphans. She says on the BFGO website, "Once I was married and began having little babies, the more I could not bear the thought of lonely unloved children across the globe." So she did something about it. She has dedicated herself to helping orphans in Zimbabwe and has raised support to provide a truck, a computer, some Christian materials, and various other things for four orphanages there. BFGO also provides adoption grants to families who are adopting. Chris and I know firsthand how financially daunting the adoption process is, and I love that adoption grants are a part of Melissa's organization. She is also a big supporter of Reece's Rainbow. Without Reece's Rainbow, as you know, we would not have our Katie. She is also incredibly sweet, funny, and kind. She was a perfect match for us when I was looking for someone to take our photos.
We met Melissa on Sunday evening. It was about 90 degrees out, and we were doing outside photographs. Our children were tired, we were all hungry, and it was literally steaming hot outside. Great combination, no? I was excited, but a little apprehensive because I could anticipate the behavior we might see from our littles..... We met Melissa at a store (that was closed) at an old train depot in Franklin, Tennessee. It was right beside some train tracks, so you can imagine how excited the boys were. As soon as we got out of the car, we were sweating. Tennessee summers? Not ideal for outside photographs! Or so I thought.
David had spent the weekend with Chris' parents, and he was tired and kept saying, "My legs hurt." I think he thought he would be able to go sit in the car. In the air conditioning. He didn't want to smile and Melissa had to keep telling him she was going to kiss him if he didn't smile. I thought for sure that in the 300 photos she took there might be one of David that wasn't horrible. I didn't give her enough credit. He looks so grown up and mature, and he is so handsome!
Henry was a good sport, although he was hot and didn't hesitate to let us know that. He's just by definition a very agreeable person, so he was pretty good at just rolling with what she asked us to do. And when I look at his pictures I see a big boy, which is not what I see when I really look at him. Henry is my special, sensitive love and he looks so mature and grown up in Melissa's photos. I think that must be how other people see him, while I still see my snuggly silly little boy.
I love that she got some great pictures of David and Henry together, because that's so typical of them. They are a package deal. They had been apart for three days, and you would have thought it was three weeks.
Jack was a little naughty during the shoot, making crazy faces and just generally being unruly. You know, acting like Jack. He is so mischievous and Melissa captured that perfectly. My favorite part of the photos she did for us is that she got everyone's personalities so wonderfully. How could she do that with naughty behavior and sweat dripping off of us?! Jack is very expressive, and Melissa so got that. He is such a fun, vibrant little love and I'm so thankful we did pictures now so I will have this moment in his big life frozen.
And my sweet, sweet Katie. Looking at Melissa's photos of Katie is like seeing her through someone else's eyes. She is beautiful. Clearly I already knew that, but Melissa's photos are amazing. When I look at her photos from two months ago when we brought her home, or five months ago when we first met her and then I look at Melissa's photographs of her, I cannot believe she is the same child. Melissa so perfectly caught Katie's big personality, her absolute joy for life, and her love for us - her family. It seriously makes me cry to think about it.
When I look at the pictures Melissa took and I see Katie's face and body language, I think about what her life was like six months ago. I think about what her life would be like six months or six years from now if we had not found her. And I cannot imagine her enormous personality, her exuberance for life, her zest for learning, her sweet heart, or her beautiful life being locked away behind the walls of an orphanage. I think about how incredibly lucky we are to be her family and to be the daily recipients of her face splitting smiles, her excitement for the smallest things we take for granted, and I can't believe what we were missing for so long and didn't even know it.
I feel like in the day to day business of parenting and life it is so easy to take for granted what we have. Being a parent is stressful, whether you have one child or four or ten. I so try not to get caught up in that stress, but it is sometimes hard. We have four small children, and I have a full time job. Someone always need something from me. My job is to constantly deal with other people's bad decisions or stressful lives. I make mistakes constantly and I never feel like I am doing enough and can always do things better.
These four little people? I'm doing this right. We're doing this right. I do not take being lucky enough to be the mama of these four people lightly. This family is my reason for being here and they make everything I do sweeter. Our lives have never been more full or more satisfying than they are right now. Thank you Melissa for catching that and saving it for us.
To see Melissa's full gallery of our photos, click here. Also, please like her photography page on Facebook and have her do your next photos - I promise you will not be disappointed with Melissa or her product!