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.