What Do You Do?

How can such a simple question be so tough to answer?  Here’s the simple answer:  I am a stay-at-home mom and photographer.  But behind that answer are 264,957 other little answers that all contribute to what it is that I do.

The idea of what I “do” used to be so easy to answer.  I grew up wanting to be a teacher, and a teacher is what I became.  I taught junior high and high school English at two very different schools – first at a tiny high school in central Illinois, and then at the only all-girls Islamic middle school and high school in the country.  Those two experiences left a lasting impact on me.  I value these experiences so much, and love that each was brilliantly unique and meaningful.  As I had worked for most of my life to become a teacher, in my eyes my identity was simply “a teacher.”  And truthfully, I liked that.  It was easy.

Then my husband, Will, got an offer through his company to move to California and everything changed.

I found myself in a brand new state at a time when teachers were getting laid off left and right.  What was I going to do?  I had always been a teacher.  It wasn’t just what I did – it’s who I was!  All of the sudden I had to make a big decision.

When I decided not to even attempt to get a full-time teaching job in California, a lot of people didn’t understand the decision (thankfully Will wasn’t one of them).  I mean, I don’t really blame them.  We didn’t have kids and there was no “real” reason for me not to get another full-time job.

Except I didn’t want one.

So I did some soul searching.  And Target shopping.  And Amazon shopping.  And socializing with the same cashiers at the hardware store and Hobby Lobby day in and day out.  I had to decorate our new apartment, after all.  I thought about a lot of potential jobs to pursue.  But when it came down to it, I wanted to do something that I loved and would give me flexibility when we did decide to have kids.

I really felt like I lost a big part of my identity that summer.  For a while, I kept my toe in the teaching pool by tutoring as much as I could. In fact, I still tutor one student that I have taught for the last three years.  Teaching her brings me the same joy to see her succeed week after week as it did when I had a classroom full of students.

During that time, I slowly let go of the idea of the teacher I thought I would be. I called my family and friends and shared my growing dreams of being a professional photographer.  Even though I had always loved photography and had been working with my DSLR since college, I knew I had a lot to learn.  I went back to school and got my Certificate in Wedding and Portraiture Photography.  As I developed my identity as a photographer, I started my own business and became a mom! My life had changed completely!

And now that we do have a son, I am extremely grateful for the flexibility.  I get to be home with our 14 month-old, Henry, during the week, and I can go photograph clients on the weekends.  It’s the perfect setup for our current situation, but it does make answering that daunting question a little more complicated to answer.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I genuinely want the question “What do you do?” to mean something more than an occupation.  I want it to mean what I am doing to make the world a better place.  I want the answer to the question be something my son will be proud of one day.  Sure, I’m a photographer and a mom, but I want to be more.  I am more than an occupation.

When I look back, I realize that my answer has never been simple.  It’s always been complex.  I’m just aware of that now.

Life has really changed since moving to California.  I like to believe that I am still teaching even though I no longer have a classroom.  For my former students that I am still in touch with, I continue to try to teach them how to be kind, caring, respectful, and fulfilled people.  Most of the way I teach them is simply through being a good example; social media is a powerful tool, and I want them to see that it’s not about how you fall – it’s about how you get back up.  And when I get texts or emails from them saying that something they learned from me (either in the classroom or elsewhere) has made a difference in their lives, I know that my years in the classroom were impactful and well spent.

Photography gives me so much joy and a purpose that I am proud of each and every day.  And being a mom is sincerely the best (and most difficult) job I’ve ever had.  I love where my life has taken me.  I love the friends and connections I’ve made, the family I’ve gotten closer to, and the twists and turns in my second career path.

And most of all, I love what I do.

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portrait and wedding photography

sacramento california

Kathleen Curto Photography