Meet Theo Neff. Theo is two years old and was hands down the easiest 2-year old to make smile in all my years photographing little ones. In fact, there was no "making him" smile. He just smiles. And he smiles almost all the time. Theo's parents welcomed me into their home this morning, and after a quick tour, presented me with fresh coffee and cinnamon buns, for which I am eternally grateful. Theo's Mom, Jill, is a teacher at my daughter's preschool. Jill is amazing. She teaches pre-K all day (which is alone enough to make her amazing, right?) But she and her husband Doug are also raising Theo, a special needs child, and they are doing a brilliant job doing so. The more I have gotten to know Jill, the more I know how she feels about Down Syndrome – that it has been a blessing in her life.
When I asked Jill when she and her husband learned of Theo's diagnosis, she shared with me a story she recently wrote. (Doug and Jill did not learn of Theo's diagnosis until after he was born.) Here are some excerpts from her story:
"On a Tuesday night while eating pistachio gelato my water broke. The nurse said to come to the hospital right away. The baby would be coming just a week early. The next morning I was having contractions. Every time I had a contraction the baby’s heart rate went down. They prompted me to do a c-section but said that it was not an emergency c-section. Then, Theo was born!
It was a great experience and the team was extremely good. Why wouldn’t it be? I had a fantastic pregnancy. In fact, I ran all the way up to eight and a half months. Theo had just a little jaundice but they wanted to keep him in the hospital until Sunday. I remember a doctor coming in to tell me that I could stay until Sunday, too. I thought, how kind of him.
On Friday a pediatrician came in to tell me that one of the nurses had made a reference that Theo might have Down Syndrome. He asked if they could run some blood work. I said, "Of course."
That night, my sweet husband was bringing me take-out for dinner and some bubbles to drink in celebration of Theo. I remember waiting for him and thinking, how am I going to tell him that our baby might have Down Syndrome? When he arrived I told him what the pediatrician had said. To this day I cannot remember my husband’s response, but I know that I felt safe and loved.
We took Theo home on Sunday. As I was unpacking our suitcase I found a note tucked in one of Theo’s blankets. It was from one of the nurses. The words were so kind, she was thanking us for being such good patients. I felt lucky to have connected with her and that Theo had made such an sweet impression.
Wednesday came and we were on our way to Theo’s ﬁrst week check up at the pediatrician's ofﬁce. I looked at Theo in the car and then at my husband and asked, “Shouldn’t I know if my baby has Down Syndrome? I must be a terrible mom if I don’t know.” My sweet husband reassured me that I wasn’t.
At the end of Theo’s check up, Dr. Singleton said, “He looks great and everything looks good.” We smiled and then he went on to say, “Well, you know they wanted to run some tests to see if Theo had Down Syndrome or not.” We both nodded. Dr. Singleton said, “He does. Theo has Down Syndrome."
Instantly, there was a shooting pain and it quietly went up my back. I am quite certain that I stopped breathing, too. Catching my breath, I whispered to my husband, "Please take Theo, please take him!” I was so afraid that I was going to drop him from the shock and numbness I felt. I remember looking over at my husband and watching as he lifted his eyes from the ground and spoke, “What do we do now, Dr. Singleton?”
“Treat Theo like Theo. Let him be Theo,” said Dr. Singleton.
We got in our car and cried really hard. I’ve never seen my husband sob. He rested his head on the steering wheel and cried. We sobbed, not because we were disappointed in our new beautiful son but because of the fear we felt of the unknown, and we also cried for Theo. That day we made a promise to never cry like that again.
Of course, there have been and will always be those moments that sneak up on you and water your eyes. You might see something in the park or at a school that pulls your heart strings. You simply just want the best for your child, too.
One thing I will always be SO grateful for is that we had a very special pediatrician. He said the most wonderful thing that he could have ever possibly said to us; “Treat Theo like Theo.” What he said that day created an upbeat and positive path for us.
That day when we took our son home we took “Theo” home, not a Down Syndrome baby."
If you have been following my blog, you know by now that I will occasionally hold these "day in the life" sessions. My goal is to raise awareness to a local cause or charity, one that I usually feel strongly about on a personal level. Today I want to talk to you about GiGi's Playhouse.
GiGi’s Playhouse is a one-of-a-kind achievement center for individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and the community. GiGi’s Playhouse offers more than 25 therapeutic and educational programs that advance literacy, math skills, motor skills and more; all of which are free of charge.
Did you hear that? I said all of which are FREE OF CHARGE!
I hope that you will consider making a donation to Gigi's Playhouse Atlanta so they can continue to provide these resources to those in our community who need them most.
Please click here to donate. And thank you! Remember, every dollar counts.
I met Pam in Tampa a few years ago through a great friend (yes, you Mindy Adams). We have a lot in common – we're both designers, creative, and frankly, we're both hilarious. When Pam called me about 6 months ago asking me if I "do weddings," while flattered, I told her, "No, not really." Then I said something like, "Well, where? And what kind of wedding are you having?" Honestly, I have never wanted to shoot weddings. I thought on occasion I would consider it if it was a really small ceremony, outside during the day, and well, if I'm being totally honest, I didn't have to deal with a crazy Bridezilla type. (Which of course, if you know Pam, you know that is not even remotely possible.) So needless to say, I got Pam and Noel on the books and proceeded to closely follow her Pinterest page for the next 6 months. Their ceremony took place at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park alongside the Hillsborough River in Tampa, FL. It's a beautiful setting and a place I used to photograph frequently for college photography assignments. I love that Pam is wore one "x" earring and one "o" earring. So darling. Also, the groom is wearing jeans so you know this marriage will last forever (assuming he asked her if she could wear jeans and she answered, "Yes.") If the jeans started some big argument, I apologize for even bringing them up. And look, aw, when they kissed after the ceremony, their heads and her elbow make a heart shape!
Congratulations you two. You adoration for each other has shined since the day I met you both. What an honor to photograph your special day. XO.
So pleased to introduce you to Baby Daniel. He was born September 27th at 6:09pm. 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 20.75 inches long. Isn't he just perfect?
–– Continued from 9/23/13 ––
After meeting up with John at his elementary school last month, I scheduled an in-home visit with the Drambel Family. This "day in the life" series definitely wasn't complete without visiting John's home and spending some time with his parents and siblings in their everyday environment. This latest session took place a few days ago in the Drambel's Atlanta home.
When I arrived, Ed and Maurie, John's parents, showed me around, including John's bedroom and bathroom. They also went over John's daily routine – rising early, followed by potty time, breakfast, and then stretching to help Keep John's muscles from tightening. Ed showed me how John gets into his bed and then John showed me his "Grim Reaper" Halloween mask (he loved putting it on for me). I met their family dog, Ginger, as well as John's twin sister and older brother. When I asked Maurie when they last had a family picture taken, she said, "never." So, we definitely had to do something about that.
I can't even being to tell you how sweet this family is and how much this little man has touched me. I will miss seeing John's sweet face and hearing his laugh. I'm secretly hoping I am invited back for a visit soon (hint, hint).
If John's story has touched you in some way, too, please consider making a donation to Let's Cure CP (here). I know any donation, large or small, would mean a great deal to the Drambel Family. They are in desperate need of funding and awareness to help those affected by CP. Thank you~
I'd like to introduce you to John Drambel. John is 9 years old. What I first noticed about John is that he's charming and adorable. He has a beautiful smile, a great sense of humor, bright blue eyes, and freckles scattered like stars in the night sky. Plain and simple, John is just cute, cute, cute.
I should also mention, John has Cerebral Palsy and is a quadriplegic.
I only spent about an hour or so photographing John at his elementary school, but his presence alone is a potent reminder of the everyday tasks we take for granted as parents (or as anyone, really) such as getting our children dressed, feeding them, and even transporting them to school. I began to imagine what life must be like for his parents on a daily basis. What are their mornings like? (They have 2 other children). What is their daily routine like and what time does it start? What time does it end? How can they afford John's childcare, equipment, therapy, and medical bills? How much sleep do they get? I spent some time with John's mom, Maurie Drambel, and was able to ask her some of my questions:
Letter B (LB): What caused John's CP? Maurie Drambel (MD): John's neurologists believe John received the damage to his brain at week 4 or 5 of life outside the womb. They think John had a significant apnea episode (oxygen depravation) coupled with bradycardia that caused 20-30 minor brain infarcts (brain-damaged areas).
LB: What type of CP does John have? MD: John has what is commonly referred to as, "Mixed CP." He has both Spastic CP and Athetoid CP, the latter being the most challenging. The Athetoid CP is what makes John have the erratic and involuntary movements of his body and limbs.
LB: What are some of the technological tools used to help John? MD: Since John is completely non-verbal, we rely on a combination of both low-tech and high-tech technology. First, we use touch for a simple "yes" or "no". And we use the ipad to help test John as well as another computer equipped with an Eye Gaze device that is calibrated specifically to John's eye gaze. He can use these devices to make a range of choices using 2 to 18 different icons. Unfortunately, due to his involuntary movements, he sometimes has trouble steadying his eyes.
LB: How many people help you take care of John? MD: John has a 9-member school team and a private therapy team of 5.
LB: At what grade level is John? MD: John is at a 9-yr old level, cognitively, but in a 3rd grade classroom at his elementary school. He has been at the same school since Kindergarten. He now has what we call "John's Dream Team!"
Does reading all of this make you wonder how you can help children like John? Please, keep reading.
John's father, Ed, is a cofounder of Let's Cure CP, a national charity that was started here in Atlanta about 3 years ago by two local Atlanta families. Everyone on their board, including the co-founders, have children with Cerebral Palsy. They started their non-profit to advocate and raise money for more research. Sadly, very little funding, whether it be private money or government money, goes towards research for this devastating condition.
Specialized doctors are about to start a first of its kind study in the US in the next couple of weeks. And Let's Cure CP is proud to be a part of not only convincing these doctors to do the trial, but also by substantially helping fund it. However, they need more money and awareness. CP is so frequently under serviced and supported, yet it affects more people in the US than childhood diabetes and childhood cancer combined. The CDC estimates 10,000 children a year are born with CP in the US alone.
Please consider making a donation to Let's Cure CP (here). Every dollar counts and any contribution, large or small, would mean so much to the Drambel Family.
* I'll be spending more time with the Drambel's next month. Please stay tuned for some add'l Q&A and photos.
I had the pleasure of working with the lovely Asha Gomez of Cardamom Hill & The Third Space last month at her new concept restaurant, Spice to Table, opening in the Stupioplex complex in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward next month. Before our shoot, Asha welcomed me with a perfect cup of coffee (delish) and I immediately knew we would be BFF's forever. Okay, well maybe I just imagined that part in my head, but I did know instantly I had just met a kind, warm soul with a lot more deliciousness to add to our flavorful city. According to Eater Atlanta, "Chef Gomez elaborates on her new concept stating, "I've always wanted to open a fast-casual breakfast/lunch spot that explores other parts of my global food influences. I grew up in Kerala but I also lived in other parts of India like Gujarat and Bombay before living in areas of New York, and now I find myself calling the American South home. The menu will feature traditional items from all of my favorite food memories but with a few twists."
Best wishes in your new venture, Asha!
I absolutely loved working with this couple in Tampa last weekend. It was wicked hot and humid, but they handled the heat like true Floridians. We hoofed it around Ybor City, stopping off at a few of my old haunts, like the Castle and the Columbia Restaurant (Cuban sandwich and a 1905 Salad? Yes, please.) Then we had an, er, run in, with a few dozen hornets. I even left their nest in one of the photos – see if you can spot it. Wish you two all the best in your new life adventure!
I'm so proud of these two talented 13-year old girls, one of whom happens to be my second cousin. They are both well on their way to becoming music superstars (although according to my notes, they're already musical divas.) Good luck in all you do girls. And a bit of cousinly advice: Stay away from the too-cool-for-school bad boys. They are all trouble. Every single one. Did you hear me? Okay just driving my point home. I'll stop now.
(One more thing: Don't forget about me when you're selling out concerts.)
I have been so excited ever since I knew I was going to work with this sweet family at the Goat Farm Arts Center. I had read there were not any actual goats residing at the Goat Farm, but there were. And there were chickens, too. And roosters. And there was even a class from SCAD casting iron and a French guy walking his poodle. I ask you, how could it not be a cool place to take family photos? This really was the nicest family ever and a great session to end with for the summer season. Check out these boys and their eyelashes. And their sweet, sweet smiles. They were ridiculously well behaved, too. Enjoy:
Meet Baby Townes. He stars in one of my favorite sessions ever. Maybe because I like his mommy and daddy so much or maybe because they are just really good people. Either way, he really shows his personality off in these images. Enjoy:
Meet Courtney and Brent. They are getting married in November in Micanopy, FL. Unless you have spent a good amount of time in Florida, you likely have no idea how to pronounce Micanopy ("mick-a-no-pee") and even less of a clue where it is (hint: it's near Gainesville.) Courtney is a friend and the only person other than family we've trusted with our children overnight. (My girls loooove her.) And Brent is Courtney's pin-curled manly man. But as you can see, he isn't afraid to mix a purple button-down with cowboy boots. And I must say, I think he rocks it.
Oh and how can I forget Woody, their 7-month old English pointer. Shooting Woody was a bit of a challenge (think: trying to give a cat a bath.) However, I fell in love with him and really did consider pet-napping him after this shoot.
I love these images and how much their personality shines in their outfits and this beautiful location, where they are clearly very comfortable.
I've had the pleasure of working with this family on two previous occasions – once before Mariela was born and once right after she was born. They are the nicest people you'll ever meet. And their sweet little girl let us drag her all over the place and I think I only heard her cry once! Enjoy:
Meet Ruby, bless her sweet little heart. Isn't she a doll? I do not usually photograph babies quite this "old," but this beautiful family has had a crazy few months. Not only was their sweet little Ruby born a little over two months ago, but their dog Faith escaped from their yard over a month ago. After weeks of frantic searching, she was found 28 days later by a woman who lured her into her home with treats. Luckily the woman called the number on the tag and Faith was able to get to the vet quickly for a check up. She hadn't even been home 48 hours when I came over for their session. So happy for this family to have Ruby and Faith home at last. Congratulations!
Ack! I can't believe my littlest gal is going to start preschool in a few months. She is so funny and cute right now, saying hilarious things all day long. Lately she talks a lot about wanting to be an astronaut and go to Mars. After she returns, she wants to be a doctor and a mommy. I love this sweet little thing, I just wish she would stay this age for one or two more years.
Every time I think I've had my favorite session ever, this happens:
Look at this little angel. I photographed sweet "Nora" (lovingly named after her paternal grandmother) on Easter morning at just 12 days old. She is truly perfect! And her big brother couldn't be any cuter either. I just love how sweet he was with his little sister. Congratulations to the Robbins family on your new addition! It was a pleasure working with you again.
This is my friend Amelia. She's beautiful. She's smart. She's Italian. And, she's an amazing cook and photographer (Follow her on Instagram @ZTASTYLIFE and get ready to be hungry.) Thank you, Amelia, for agreeing to be a part of this spontaneous, late night idea. It was COLD and I owe you one. xo.
Meet the very talented and oh-so-pretty Trusha Moghe, realtor and founder of Pondicherry Designs. Pondicherry specializes in space planning, home styling, color selection, cabinet refinishing, antique and glazing, home staging, and custom art work. Trusha offers a whimsical yet elegant approach to art and decor influenced by Indian, French, and American culture. See some of Trusha's work [here.] "I help people visualize how they want to live" ~ Trusha
If you haven't checked out the new Mae's Bakery on Lenox Road, let me assure you, you are totally missing out. Mae's specializes in fresh, made-from-scratch American-style baked goods, including custom cakes, pies and desserts for any occasion. They also feature a full crafted coffee bar serving Counter Culture Coffee with house-made syrups. Gorgeous goodies aside, their space is beautiful and ridiculously clean (not a speck of dirt anywhere – and I went in the kitchen, too.) The owner is a sweet soul and is spilling over with graciousness. And who wouldn't rather support a local business over a chain, right?
Go. Now. Do it.