Today is my baby boy's 6th birthday. Every day I've spent with him has been a blessing. I think I look forward to my children's birthdays more than they do. And that's saying a lot. I remember the anticipation I had as a child. My parents wouldn't make much fuss about it. They were raised in a different generation that didn't make a big deal about birthdays. They'd bake a cake, get a small gift and get to choose what they wanted for supper so that's pretty much how I was raised as well. I remember getting birthday spankings as a kid and dreading them like a trip to the dentist. I never understood why humiliation needed to be a part of a happy day -- and yes, it was humiliating going to the front of the class to have my bottom smacked once for each year I was. And the one to grow on always hurt! How is that fun!? Grown-ups just didn't get it.
For kids, a birthday is a huge deal. And since I consider myself a kid at heart, I still think birthdays are big. They're important. They're something you can extend into a whole week if you try -- and we do try. There's party prep work, there's the day of the party -- which is usually not the same day as the birthday since there are 7 days a week and your birthday rarely falls on a weekend. Then there's party aftermath and more build up to the actual day of the birthday itself. Then there's cupcakes at school and the wearing of the birthday crown. Then there's the birthday dinner the night of in which the birthday boy or girl chooses the place (usually Chuck E. Cheeses until they're about 8 or 9). It's a big ol' party.
But this year's week-long birthday celebration of my boy was bittersweet for me because of the work I do for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I volunteer for this wonderful organization that provides professional photography for the families of babies who will not live to see birthdays of their own.
The calls come at all hours of the day or night. There's usually not much notice. "There's a family at the hospital who needs your help," the nurse will said. I know when I get those calls, my day will be put on hold. If I'm not otherwise booked with a client, I drop what I'm doing and go. I've had two of those calls in the past three days.
Last night's was especially heart-wrenching. On the eve of my baby boy's 6th birthday, I met with the family of a baby boy who would not live to be 6 weeks, let alone 6 years. As I held his tiny hand in mine to put a rosary in it, I remembered the way my boy's hand felt at that age. So warm and soft.
When I'm at a NILMDTS session, I keep my emotions in check. I focus on composition, lighting, camera settings. Which lens do I need for this shot? From what angle should I light? Strobe or window lighting? Get the paperwork done, offer the condolences, then leave. I can usually make it to the car before I break down.
Last night I arrived back home at bedtime. I went up to my boy's room where he had just heard his bedtime story from his daddy and he was ready for me to tuck him in. I crawled into bed with him and held his almost 6-year-old little hand in mine, the same way I had held the hand of the baby boy and told him how much I loved him. "To infinity and beyond, over and over." Just like we always say to each other. I held him extra close and cuddled extra long, like I always do after a NILMDTS session. These moments are important to me as much as they are to him.
People tell me, "I don't know how you can do that," when they hear about my work for NILMDTS. And I usually answer, "I don't know how I couldn't if I'm able." It gives the family something to treasure forever. And it gives me a perspective on the beauty and preciousness of life that so few understand.
Tonight a family in Conroe will mourn the passing of their baby boy. And I will take my boy to Chuck E. Cheese and feed tokens to the whack a mole and sing with the teenager dressed as a rat and eat bad pizza. Because life will go on. And every moment is priceless.
Lisa On Location Photography