The Chorus: Freedom

this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.

– Amy Grace

my life when she was new: an image and its negative, an early morning and its cost at midnight, a deep breath in chaos. i cracked open and spilled out. she opened me, and was the gravity that kept me together. i flowed for the first real time, with somewhere to go, with nowhere to go, the floodgates locked, drowning in what we could be. the phone rang and i answered when i wanted to throw it away, there were fresh vacuum lines in the carpet, the beds were made, the voices were raised, i was bored, i was tired, i was terrified, i was bruised, i was beautiful, my voice shook if you said hello on the street. because that sort of living wasn’t permitted. and i let this happen. and it would take years of undoing. i never wanted to run away from her. only run away with her. the sky had lost its blue. it didn’t matter anymore. it would have hurt to feel its vastness. to watch her beneath it was too much of a reminder. i cried for all that had broken around her. and i felt i had chained her away from everything she deserved, and that i had never been able to carry back to her. but my empty arms always had room for a tiny girl. as if they were meant for that beauty, in those years that were our sunrise. as if the whole wild world coursed through the circuit of our two. the freedom with which love gifts us, with grace like the wind in our hair.

i am split down the middle these days. freedom is in short supply, and it is everywhere. when i was married again i stepped into someone else’s life. again. though this one did not sting so much. and the sting has turned to hope. years ago, it was being fourteen, dreaming of buying a volkswagon bus with my best friend, thinking about time as we would reel it in, death like it would never come, life like it would be a giant, unraveling celebration. anything bad would be a story. and i would conquer it. write a song about it. i believed in surviving when there was only my own darkness to fend off. which was brief and miraculous, a million tears and shades of grey, only the tiniest beginning of a storm. its own self indulgent freedom. before i knew what a fight was. before i knew it was something to which you run. that time was perhaps its inverse. that it is being real, without smiles or truths we conjure, losing yourself in the finding. letting go of my demons to hold a hand at either side of me.

her freedom is the jewel at the center of it all. the heartbeat. we don’t talk about the family she will have one day, the person she might marry. but we talk about everything else. we have conversations most girls will never have to have. good or bad, we don’t have a script. we have her questions, which are gifts from her imagination. my answers are my honesty, my trying, my holding no part of myself back. i want her to feel as big as she is to me.

my kids were in the back seat of the car last week, and i listened to my three year old, at this stage in which love for something must mean possession of it: “no, I love blue. you no love blue!”, he told her. “there is enough blue for everyone,” she returned. “the sky is blue and it goes on forever.” and this made sense to his primal mind. and it made a million kinds of sense to me. freedom like the blue of the sky. we will forever dip into its many shades. we cannot use it up. it is different in different light. the only way we miss is is with our eyes closed.

– Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo

freedom is opening your arms wide,
looking up into a boundless sky
surrounded by glory
giving yourself up to it
and feeling it with everything you have.

– Ashley Meiners

My grandfather uprooted his family at the age of 40 to move to Southern California to live the life he dreamed-as an artist in a village by the sea. He started a travel company that my mom and dad still operate to this day. I grew up surrounded by the exciting world of art and adventure-fundamental freedoms of life.

Highly influenced by this philosophy, I have always pursued ultimate freedom-solo travel in Europe and climbing the highest slopes of California, Colorado and Mexico. Thirteen years ago, after many years of preparation, my husband and I hopped aboard our 38′ sloop and sailed to the South Pacific. It was a truly liberating experience-no mortgage, no car payments, no social status to be ruled by-nothing to bind us to the constraints we allow society to put on us. To have the passion, knowledge and skills to hop on a boat and sail anywhere in the world is the most incredible sense of freedom I have known. Nothing else compares to it.

The taste of absolute freedom gave us perspective on the important things in life. So, together we made a vow to raise our children knowing and experiencing this type of freedom. We raise them to be free spirited-to be who they want to be and to not worry about what other people tell them they should or shouldn’t do. We urge them to follow their hearts and discover what is important to them organically.

Our eight year old son loves the ocean. It is his world of discovery and freedom. He is hungry for knowledge of everything related to the sea. He is fascinated with the creatures of the deep and the wind and the waves on the surface. The ocean is his therapy for the times when the expectations of life make him sad. So, we take him to the sea to let him experience the freedom and joy of sleeping and waking in the shore break.

– Kristianne Koch

FREEDOM.That is all I want for you. To be free. To feel free. Free to dream. Free to be who you are. Free to be who you want to be. Free to make mistakes. As big as the sky is, I want that much freedom for you. I want you to feel freedom in your heart when you have feelings to express. I want you to be free from what others think of you. Free from this illusory shadow that keeps you from being you. I want you to be free to do what you love and love what you do. Freedom for you. As big as the sky is. To feel as grounded as you can. Always.

– Valerie Baillargeon

If there is one recurring theme I see us photographers returning to, it’s the image of childhood freedom. It’s like we’re all sitting around scrubbing dishes and trying to deny wrinkles forming. So we shoot our kids doing dreamy, backlit things in fields of flowers or happily splashing in big mud puddles, jumping on the bed and blowing bubbles.
“Look at us! We’re so FREE. Look at my kids and their CHILDHOOD! It’s so FREE!”
You know, it’s kind of bullshit sometimes. Often, really.
That image of her hair blowing in the wind on a swing set is just an extension of our own yearning for {fill in the blank} more time, more money, more intimacy, less inhibitions, less regrets, less worries.
“Hey Zoey, go over there and twirl in that light in your pretty dress!” And sometimes she does, and it’s magical, and the image that results makes people feel happy. And I’m not denying she had fun and enjoyed the moment. But why did I shoot that? What kind of picture was I after and what kind of message am I sending?
Maybe she has forgotten her hard worries of the day during that tiny moment of twirling for my camera, but I’m denying her reality sometimes when I focus on only those images that glorify her childhood freedom. She’s 7 now, and has started to tug more on her swimsuit and fidget in her own self. I see that freedom eroding. I can see the insecurities forming more often now.There is an urge to turn the camera away because this honest image of her losing bits of her childhood, her freedom, is not pretty to me. It stings.

– Emily Robinson

In December 2011,  we packed what little material belongings we had left in our Dodge Durango. We then carefully situated our four children in their seats, packed up our little dog and waved goodbye to the life we knew.  I will never forget our family standing on the front stoop of our old home, tearfully waving us off. And I had no tears then. But, I have them now. We moved across country, away from all we knew. Away from our only sense of security, my husband’s job of eleven years. We moved away from our parents, our siblings, our home state. We did this because we knew we have one shot at this beautiful, crazy life. We had one chance to give our children all they deserved and more. We had one chance to do it right. Our struggle, the burdens and fears were very real…they still are. We had each other, though. We still do, even more so now. We chose Colorado, because to us, we knew this was our big chance. Our big chance to stand on our own two feet…and each other.  Our chance to teach our children that if you can dream it, you can indeed do anything. We are showing our family that as much we love them, we have wings of our own and we need to fly. That our nest is bigger than any one state.  Never has my faith been so tested, and God has been faithful. Freedom comes in many forms. Our freedom is breaking the bonds of normalcy, and doing what we feel is best for us, despite the negativity and the fears. Our Freedom is our children, and watching them flourish. Our Freedom is this great humble little life, and waking up to them morning after morning. Freedom is being able to hug my husband whenever the whim comes, which is often. Freedom is our new son in my womb, soon ready to join our family. Most of all, Freedom is what comes between those moments of fear and doubt. Those moments of clarity. When I step back and realize, we are doing it. We are making our way in this world, and our children are witnessing it.

– Sarah Cornish

I’m thinking of you… this moment. My joy surpasses every other emotion – it’s almost knocking the wind out of me. It raises me up so high it takes several hours for my body to come back to reality. I wish it wouldn’t. My soul is exploding with love and devotion. This must be jubilee! My heart is full and feels one with yours. I’ve forgotten about my past and my future – they don’t even matter. I’m with you – every bit of me is present with you. It’s the richest love I’ve ever felt and will continue to surprise me when I let it take over. Why don’t I let it take over more often? Oh, that’s right! I’m “busy”. Sometimes, too busy to love, play, grow, and be. Be present. Mindful. Happy. Naturally, it’s addicting to get caught up in you so I’m certain I’ll learn to let go. Be free. Freedom is being present with you. This is the secret to longevity and happiness – I’m certain of that. Sweet, sweet freedom!

– Jenna Reich

I watch them jumping on our bed even though they are not supposed to.
I smile looking at them running naked all around the house after bath time.
I get embarrassed when they start screaming in the middle of the store because they want to go home.
I get nervous when they jump from what seems way too high.
I’m proud when they go talking to random kids at the park.
I wonder what they are dreaming about when they fall asleep.

I wish we could keep more of that free spirit every kid shares.

– Catherine Giroux

I was ready to write about how parenting robs you of freedom.  It’s true isn’t it?  No more lazy days ruminating in your undies.  No more screaming, “FUCK” because you see a pile of dust (you can, but surprisingly I don’t as I don’t need my 5 year old doing the same).  No more Day Drinking just because it’s a Friday and you called off work and felt like celebrating.  Kids mean responsibility and that means a lack of glutinous freedom.

But I’m not writing about that.  I’m writing about the complete opposite.

Prior to children, I was rightfully selfish.  Children have given me a freedom to be true to my core.  I was naive if I thought I was my true self prior to children.  I wasn’t tested.  I didn’t see ordinary for the perfection it is.  I wasn’t forced to focus on lasting details.    Now I have to live in a way that will help foster amazing adults and that means being authentic.  Authenticity spawns freedom.  I’m no longer a slave to what the masses believe is acceptable.  I’m a slave to my truth.  I need to show my children that you aren’t defined by your gender, race, or sexual orientation.  I prove to my children that life is full of kindness and it spreads with simple acts.  I show my children that good food is easily attained and enjoyed.  They see that sometimes you argue, but you do everything in your power to make up.  My kids will know it’s important to take time to laugh and find the silly in life.  I show my kids that I don’t have to 100% agree with my friends and family to be loved.  My kids know that it’s ok to have a strong opinion.  The boys will see that men don’t always have to do XYZ and that women definitely don’t have to do ABC.  They’ll see that assholes don’t deserve your attention.  They will learn that history books show the past and it’s ok to write a new future.  They will know forgiveness and unconditional love.  And all that starts with me being free from other people’s definitions of a Good/Proper/Appropriate Mom.  And with me being Me and the freedom to own that badassry.

Right now, I’m chained to my children.  I created that shackle the second I said, “Yes, honey.  Let’s have a baby.”  Occasionally, I mourn the selfish freedoms of my youth.  But my chain links to the future, so I use it to harness my authentic self.  I desperately hope it helps create a loving future free of hate and judgement.  Once my parenting job is done, I’ll lounge in my undies all day long with martini in hand.  Until then, I like experiencing this type of true freedom.

– Erika Ray

I used sleep until at least 9:00 every single day. I used to put on makeup and have happy hours. I used to pee alone.

oh life. how I don’t want you to speed up, but how I wish I could freeze you so I could take my car and drive to places I have never seen. just a week, but I would bring my camera and stop without taking three people out of car seats and just sit.
Maybe have a drink somewhere pretty by the sea, maybe I would sit at a book store or maybe see an R rated movie.

Is this freedom? I don’t know, but I do miss it.

Even though now it’s nice just being in my mini van with my daughter sleeping in a strapped in car seat for an hour. and I take a little nap, or just sit and take pictures of her sweet face. my new happy hour.

– Elaine Melko

This image screams freedom to me.  The freedom of being eight, freedom from school and schedules and deadlines, freedom of being yourself with your friends.  Summer is amazing time for kids and as a mother, I am trying my best to make it a memorable, schedule-free (well, as much as possible) change from our busy school year.  Play dates at friend’s pools with seven of your friends on a Friday afternoon is the best kind of freedom.

– Kate Parker

My darling girl.
I am so grateful that I can give you the childhood I did not have. For mine was scary and short and my mother was busy. Busy with the drink in her hand and the mirror on her table.
I’m forever happy that I can keep you safe and free from all the constraints put on adults, especially women, for as long as I can.
When I first held you and they said “It’s a girl!” my heart broke wide open and the scary memories of my own past spilled out and left room for you to shine your light into. Room for greater things.
My heart was free.
Free to finally understand what mother/daughter love can feel like.

– Lori Allen

freedom is a song-less bird whose wings beat the rhythm of my longed for younger days.

but it is the choice to be tethered to this too, the here and now, by my heart’s pining to create a nest of a home for them…those whom i practice releasing, daily, out into the world of charm and light.

freedom is what they’ll feel when they rise up, and take flight

– Angela Hendrix Petry

You are dead over five years now. So much has happened to me in those years. I became a mother. Twice. To two daughters. Just like you wished for me. I lived in Vienna for two of those years. Just like you wished for me. I carried your spirit with me, on my journey into true unknown.  At my most fearful times, I smell your presence. A mixture of all your perfumes of my childhood and the last eau de toilette that I bought for you in Paris. The one you sprayed and sprayed to feel less ill. Cancer has a smell. Birth has a smell. Children have a smell.  Your scent is sweet, divine, earth stopingly obvious. You told me a story once about smelling roses in your mother in law’s room, as she lay, on her death bed, semi conscious, drifting in and out of oblivion.   I remember the last Sunday I spent with you. Sitting in your room, with your scent. So strong. I remember rushing away, because my aunts were coming, and I didn’t want to have to look in their eyes, knowing what I knew. I knew. I knew that if you lived until your birthday, it would be your last day. That the day after,  you would be gone, maybe even that night, in your sleep. You knew it too. And with the spirit shown through all of your graceful war, you remained upbeat and wished me well on my journey to London for work. A most hated journey. I was thankful for small mercies. London was an hour by plane. Africa, a whole other ball game.  And so I went up the road, and rose in the middle of the night, to drive to the yacht club where our little boat hung in its crane, ready for launch but needing sweater of anti foul on the bottom of the keel. The air was still. I painted the keel and got on my bus and later my plane.  Arrived, bleary eyed, to my desk.  Then in the afternoon, the phone call to come home.  The rush to get back to where you lay. Unconscious when I got there. The hours passed slowly, but there were just a few. Breathing, shallow, laboured. Sounds I would not hear again, until I heard them come from me, in labour. Animal sounds. Death sounds. Birth sounds.   Circle of life. At your very end, you were quiet. Awake for a few moments. Silent.    We had to leave Vienna, city of my daughters, one born here, one conceived here. The place I learned what love really is. The place I came to understand what you meant by no contentment greater than the feeling of contentment of a baby, sleeping in your arms. It broke my heart to leave.  It was always your wish for me to live here.  I had a puzzle to piece together with my husband, of how to get us all back here. Bit by bit, the pieces came together.  Your legacy drives me. Your legacy gave us the freedom. To come back. To the city of my girls. The freedom you gave me, is why I send this letter from Vienna. In your seventieth year.

– Laura Nenonu

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