Piercing Indecision – My Messy Beautiful


Abby Jeanne & Madeline

Abby Jeanne & Madeline

Last night, Abby Jeanne, my youngest daughter, asked me to take her to get her ears pierced.  Now, most normal moms would probably have a crystal clear decision made about this.  Something black-and-white.  Not wishy-washy.  You know?  Like, “We don’t do that until your First Holy Communion,” or, “Not until you’re 16,” or, “Silly girl.  We got your ears pierced at the pediatrician’s office when you were three months old.”

But my mind?  It is messy.  Like my house. I think it comes with the creativity gene.  Clear, fact-based decisions don’t just come to me.  Responding to a wedding invitation, or deciding whether to do laundry first, or to vacuum, sends me into an indecisive, paralyzing tizzy.  It’s like, instead of an idea going straight through my brain and popping out with a clear answer, it has to filter through all kinds of memories, and then travel down to my heart, where it gets stuck for a long time, and then if I wait long enough with the idea sitting in my heart, maybe I won’t have to decide.  But sometimes, I do anyway.  And by the time I make a decision, I’ve probably really hurt or annoyed the people who were waiting for an answer to a very simple question.

So instead of giving Abby Jeanne a clear “yes,” or “no,” I froze up and relived the day I took my oldest daughter, Madeline, to get her ears pierced.  It was a long time ago, but the memories came back and flooded my soul.  February 15, 2006 felt like it was happening all over again.

So I


and my  thoughts

traveled through all the curly, cloudy parts of my brain,

and down to my heart,

and I relived the day my oldest daughter got her ears pierced.

All of it.

Here goes….
Sometimes as a mom, you think you’re ready for something (whether it’s giving birth, self-weaning, the first class picture, or sending your child to college), only to discover too late that you’re not ready at all.
My experience with Madeline yesterday was enough to challenge my knowledge and intuition, and shake my confidence as a mother. I am nauseous as I write. Love does hurt.
Since Madeline was 12 months old, I knew that, at some point, I wanted her to have her ears pierced. This probably stems from my own youth, with wild Shirley Temple curls so unruly that my parents didn’t know how to tame them without cutting my hair short. At least in theory, wearing earrings would stop well-meaning old men from complimenting my parents on their son’s curly hair and dimples.
At 15 months, my friends and husband said to wait, that earrings wouldn’t look right on a child so young. My mom said to wait until Madeline really wanted earrings.
Once she became fascinated with others’ earrings, at about age two, I started to talk to Madeline about getting her own. “It’ll hurt at first, but you can get your ears pierced if you want to,” I’d say time and time again. Madeline always responded, “No thanks. Maybe when I’m a teenager,” which was just fine by me. (She doesn’t want to poop on the potty until she’s a teenager either!)
Much to my amazement, last night, on the way to the mall, I asked Madeline if she wanted to get her ears pierced, to which she agreed. I wasn’t too stunned. She’d been talking about it a lot lately. I imagined all the little flowers & hearts she’d someday wear, and how we could share earrings. I remembered how my mom put her very mature-looking gold hoops in my ears when I was six or seven, and how I’d felt like a glamorous, sophistocated mom. (Was anything more glamorous than being a mom?) I remembered, too, how I lost one of those earrings as a careless twenty-year old. (I think grabbed it from my car’s ash try as I donated a handful of change to the Knights of Columbus guy who was standing in the middle of the street to collect.) They were special. A gift from Spain. When I called to tell my mom, she wasn’t angry. Just relieved that the bad news wasn’t that I was pregnant.
I quickly called my husband on the cell phone to get his permission. He hesitated, and then said yes, as long as I didn’t force her. He said yes to make me happy, didn’t he?
When we got to the mall, she still wanted to get her ears pierced. She excitedly listed her plans for the mall, “Buy a birthday present for Samantha, return something to Old Navy, get my ears pierced, theeeeeen, ride on the carousel.” God, I love the way she holds up her tiny fingers as she lists these objectives.
At the first store, they didn’t do two ears at once. Knowing that, at age, five, after begging for earrings for – literally – three years, I had to be held down after the first piercing just so I’d be symmetrical, I asked if they did two ears at once. They didn’t have two “guns,” (“GUNS?” they’re using something called a “gun” on my child?”), and suggested we walk further down the mall to another store. We don’t believe in guns. I should have walked back to my car instead. A tiny voice in my head told me this wasn’t right, but a bigger voice wanted a daughter with pierced ears.
Madeline and I walked, hand in hand, through the halls of the mall. Whenever we’re out without her brother in the stroller, I love to hold her hand. She so big now. She can use the escalator, and walk for a mile or so without needing a stroller. At this moment, though, her hand feels like skin and tiny bones, her entire hand barely spanning two of my knuckles.
Now, at the second store, Madeline still wants to get her ears pierced. We pick out the tiniest sparkling studs. This isn’t right. We can leave. I feel like I have groomed this, manipulated this, but there’s no turning back. I can’t say why there’s no turning back, but there isn’t. They sit my 32-pound girl in a tall chair that is triple her width. Her legs don’t bend at the knee because she is sitting all the way back, and her feet stick up, with her toes pointing in and her shoe bottoms facing me. She looks so tiny and so perfect in this moment – naked ear lobes and all. Her eyes are sky blue and look hesitant, but excited. Her golden curls, for once, are falling perfectly around her face despite a day of wonderful, careless play.
“STOP,” I want to say. She’s still a baby. This is the way she came out of me. Don’t change her. Is she not beautiful enough just the ways she is? What if earrings make her look older?
I have done this. I have planted this seed that her ears are too bare. But they’re not. They’re perfect. Besides, it’s going to hurt. Yes, I’ve told her it’ll hurt. Lots of times. I can reason with Madeline, you know. She is very mature. She knows she can touch her own brother, but not other people’s babies. She gets it. She gets lots of stuff she doesn’t need to yet. But I don’t say to stop. The guy is already taking out the sterile earrings. I don’t want to inconvenience him. I know! I’ll pay him anyway. I’ll buy the unused studs and take then home. But now, I don’t want to disappoint Madeline. Certainly don’t want to make her as indecisive as I am.
She’s ready. She wants this. I ask the excessiviely pierced guy if everything’s perfectly safe and healthy. He says, “No. We’re going to do a hack job on her.” I think I should laugh, that would be socially appropriate, but I don’t. Everything is wrong about this. He tells me everything’s sterile and gives me paperwork to sign. I’m not going to sign without reading it. I didn’t know I’d have to sign something. Why don’t I stop? Why shouldn’t I take the clipboard, with the 3 X’s that are pregnant with my signature to a bench? Yes. Madeline and I can sit on a bench while I read carefully, and talk myself out of this. But no, as I hurriedly read, the people are preparing, and tending to Madeline. I want to tend to Madeline. “Anxious mom,” they must have thought, “let’s get this overwith quickly.” I sign. I skim, I sign some more. I flip to the second page, just a carbon copy. I know it’s just a carbon copy, but I flip to convince myself that I’m being thorough. Vigilant.
Madeline is ready. She is told not to move. She looks scared, but she’s a good girl. She does what she’s told. Her eyes look up to the side and away. I love how her eyes do that. I take her hands. This is wrong. Not for everyone, but for us. “1, 2, 3.” SNAP! Pause. Shock. Betrayal? Pain. Lip. Tears.
I try to pick her up and hold her, but I can’t yet. Cotton balls. Backings. Tears.
Teenagers and a tired mom stop browsing for tacky jewelry. They look up. “What has that mother forced her daughter to do?” I project their judgements. I stand firm for a second. “She wanted this,” I think.
But Madeline didn’t want this. Not badly enough. I thought I did. “It’s going to hurt” doesn’t mean anything to a person who has experienced a mere 37 1/2 months outside of my body. I instinctively look for blood. Don’t know why. Don’t know what I’d do if there was blood. There’s not. Good for me. I almost feel better. Not really.
“It’s okay, Madeline. We’ll pay, theeen we’ll go to the carousel.” Life goes on. You’ll be fine. Your mother will never be the same.
She stops crying almost immediately, and stops at 3 mirrored stores to check herself out on the way to the carousel. She likes what she sees. I think they must have put the wrong earrings in. Those microscopic studs look huge now on tiny Madeline.
As we walk out of the mall, her hand in mine, I absorb the moment. Breathe it all in. The air is too warm for February.
I feel terrible. This isn’t about the earrings. It’s that overwhelming sense of responsibility. It’s back. This is the third time – the day we came home from the hospital with Madeline, on the day my bicycle tipped over with both of us on it, and today.
I’m not ready to be a mom. I’m not in my 30′s right now. I want to go home – to my mom and dad. I want to cry about how badly I messed up. Damage I can’t undo. I want my old room, my old bed, and I want to crawl under the covers and sleep, with long-gone Tiger the dog curled up at my feet. Safe. Warm. No decisions. No mortgage. No husband. No babies.
From the dark, a tiny voice snaps me back to reality. “Mom, I don’t ever want to go to that store again.” I know the one she means. “You don’t have to, Madeline.”
Outside, Madeline follows behind me as we balance on the curb, our imaginary balance beam. I look behind me. Her arms are outstretched just like mine. She laughs as I trip. Her eyes – and her earrings – sparkle in the moonlight. “I love you, Madeline.”
“I love you too, mom.”

Madeline, on the day she got her ears pierced:  February 15, 2006

Madeline, on the day she got her ears pierced: February 15, 2006

After the movie of Madeline’s ear piercing flashed through my brain, I did the only thing I know how to do.  I told Abby I wasn’t sure yet, left the dinner dishes in the sink, took my girls out of my messy house, and captured them.  For who they are.  Right now, on this night: messy, beautiful and all.

My Girls.  Tonight.

My Girls. Tonight.


NJ Children's Photographer

Posted in Elise's Ramblings | 4 Comments


4 Responses to “Piercing Indecision – My Messy Beautiful”
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  1. I love this. I’m not a mother yet, but reading this made me feel (for a split second) what it must be like to be one and I know what I felt doesn’t come close to what you felt in writing this. Beautiful writing, beautiful spirit, beautiful photos! Your daughters look like kindred spirits….<3

  2. Laura

    More beautiful every time I read it

  3. Rhonda

    This is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your messy/beautiful life. You do it in such a beautiful way with your words and photography.

  4. it’s funny how you stumble across words and someone has said exactly what you have inside you but haven’t found your own words for.
    my “messy mind”, i’ve come to accept it but always felt alone in the having of it. until i read your description of your thinking. small but huge, teary but freeing moment for me.
    and the what-have-i-done-i’m-not-ready-for-this-i-messed-up-moments, those i know well. how often it is hard to give ourselves grace until we no we are not the only ones. must be why we crave and need and are so blessed by connectedness.
    thank you for sharing my dear. xo –kris



Communion Photographer


  1. The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.
  2. Common participation in a mental or emotional experience.

Communion.  Wow.  Communion.

Every spring, I’ve wondered what it is about these First Holy Communion mini shoots that makes them feel so, well, divine.  I thought maybe it was the golden light, the flowering trees, or the specialness of this event in a child’s life.  But it is so much more than all of this. And I thought, too, about how, when I was a kid, Communion photos were taken by a department store photographer, against a fake blue backdrop. And I wondered why, for me, that didn’t feel right.

As we work, I hear stories of a mother’s Communion medal from 1976, rosary beads that were a precious gift, Bibles that have been in the family for generations.  Dad’s tie pin.  Mom’s wedding veil. A cousin in Ireleand whose granddad is definitely shining some light down on us.  Stories of children who were hard to conceive and born prematurely, and the parents watch as we shoot, amazed that their children are each old enough and strong enough to receive First Holy Communion. A few happy tears have been shed, for sure.  (Or maybe just tears of relief, or gratitude….)

This year, though, a theme kept repeating itself when I talked to clients, fellow photographers, and anyone who follows my work.  That theme is connection.  When my families and I come together for a shoot, as we work, I feel especially connected to them, they tend to feel connected to one another, we are connected to the nature that surrounds us, and our images seem to capture that.  For me, it is absolutely a spiritual exchange.  A shared emotional experience.  And so, when a simple Google search revealed the definition of communion above, I knew for sure that I was onto something.

It’s so simple, really.  

Camera +  Photographer +  Nicely Dressed Kid + Family + A Little Light from Above.  

Even in all its simplicity, I know for sure that whatever it is that we’re sharing here, it is most certainly much greater than the sum of its parts.

After such a short time – 20 magical minutes of connecting profoundly and shooting purposefully – I go home to begin editing editing our images. Here are a few from this season.









Behind the scenes connections can be just as magical as the posed stuff…or more!




This beauty is so excited for her big day!

This beauty is so excited for her big day!





Mom’s attention to detail makes for a beautiful moment.







Posted in Elise's Ramblings | Leave a comment



It’s a chilly fall Saturday morning.  I could sleep in.  My dog Hannah is curled against me, and somehow, little Abby has snuck in for a “good morning snuggle with mommy,” as she calls it.  The warmth of my bed, and my dog, and my Abby lure me to stay.  I breathe in the warmth and the love in this moment, but something else calls me, and I know that ending my “good morning snuggle” is what I need to do. I go to where I am drawn.

I know the routine.  Black pants.  Bra then sports bra.  Oy. Tank top.  Hoodie.  Search for almost-matching black socks and lace up.

I stop, in the crisp fall air, as I always do, to find the sun and ground myself.  I face the sun, close my eyes, and allow the warmth of her rays to fill me up.  I surrender myself.  I surrender this day. “Guide me.”

Thankfully, I am guided to Janice’s dance class. As I drive, I turn up the radio.  Music fills my car as the gorgeous views somehow continue to surprise me, and I wonder how I could be blessed, again, to witness this kind of beauty.  To experience this beautiful day. It never gets old.  There is no place I’d rather be than here, in my car, on my way to Janice’s dance class.

I climb slowly up the stairs of the studio, around the corner, and the morning light pours itself through the windows and bounces off the hardwood floors.  The spirit of long ago dance performances and theatrical productions draws me in.  The smell of hard work and hard wood bring me back to my own theatre days.

Then, I see Janice, aptly named the Goddess of Groove.  And I see my kind of women.  Ready to dance.  Kind faces.  Natural beauties.  All of them.  Tuned into something that I can’t explain, but somehow they all have it.  Is this because of Janice?

The music starts.  We begin to dance.

“Zumba,” I chuckle as we warm up.  “Zumba?”  I found Janice’s class because of my friend.  She loves Zumba.  She asked me to come.  “I don’t dance,” I said. But then I realized that I was making it all about me, and not her, and so I showed up at a Zumba class to support my friend.  Zumba was fun, I guess.  It wasn’t “me,” but it was exercise, and it was better than the treadmill.

Then one day, by accident, I took Janice’s Zumba class. I mean, she was teaching it at a Zumba studio, but to me, it felt different from Zumba.  It felt like more of a match for me.

The choreography was challenging.  The music was soulful. Magically, the women around me were transformed. In some of them, I could see the little girls who had once been prima ballerinas.  In others, I could see the little girls who had never had the chance to dance….until now.  And dance, they did. (My first friend, Yvette, told me, “When you dance with Janice, you find your core.”  Little did I know that finding my core went far deeper than simply moving the core of my body.)

As the next song comes on, I realize that I’m so caught up in what we are doing that I don’t have time to think about how I do not belong here.  I don’t dance.  I never did.  I never could.  I shut that part of me off a long, long time ago.   I learned to be still.  To be quiet.  I learned how not to shine.  I learned how to fit in.  “Elise, you’re a spaz,” I was told more than once.  “You klutz.”  And so when I was 10, or 11, or 12, I watched the women who moved with grace.  My Aunt Norn.  My teacher.  I copied them.  I started caring about how I looked.  I was too scared of humiliating myself with another klutzy move, so I slowed down and I stopped spilling things and stepping on toes.  I stopped being first, even when I was really excited, and I waited until it was safe to do just about anything.  I turned off most of who I was, and taught myself that good girls play it safe. But as I played it safe, I also learned how not to shine. In my young mind, I thought this would make me more worthy.

As we dance, I begin to smile.  I can’t help it.  I’m kinda starting to shine.  A little.  I’m concentrating, hard, on unlocking Janice’s beautiful and mysterious patterns of choreography.  But still, a smile finds its way to my face.  Because I know.  I know who I am.  I don’t care how I look. I know where I am, and there is no place in the world I’d rather be than here, in this studio, surrounded by women who are following Janice’s lead.  Janice’s grace.  Janice’s soul.  What have they unlocked, I wonder….  Before Janice, I finally learned to choose love over fear. I had already begun to unlock the emotional fog I’d been living under since I was 10, or 11, or 12. The spiritual, too, had begun to come into alignment.  But in my wildest dreams, I never knew that I could be unlock the soulful little girl inside me who always, always, always wanted to dance.

As I pick up on a sequence, and catch on to pretty fancy timing, and that part of me who was hardly ever asked to dance, and who wouldn’t have danced if she had been asked, she comes alive!  She finds her core and she is empowered.   Her curves are awesome when she moves from her core.  Her femininity is beautiful.  She owns her sexiness -for herself- and that is powerful.

Janice stops to show us a step.  She is magical in how she moves, in what she creates, and how she allows us to be.  “The music dictates the choreography,” she explains.  I knew it!  This dance, for Janice, it is like my photography, I think.  We put in the work, for sure.  The learning.  The practicing.  The orchestrating.  The creating.  But the art, it comes through us.  It is not of us.

And so, as we cool down, and stretch, bathed in our own sweat, we are whole.  I am, anyway.  I am ready to embrace this day to which I have surrendered.  We, amazing women, who range in age from 15 to 80, we have the chance, for just an hour a week, to be four-year-old ballerinas, and twelve-year-old hip-hop dancers, and belly-dancing goddesses from 6,000 years ago. There are no prerequisites. We are not judged. We are here, and so we dance.  And that is all.

We walk out heavily, with our grateful muscles and our grateful hearts and we glow.  We glow with sweat, but if I step back, and look really closely at my sisters as they walk down the stairs and out into the crisp, fall air, we also glow from the inside.  We radiate something that I could never find the words for, but I know that it empowers us to somehow light the way for other people – dancers, non-dancers, future dancers, anyone who has something to unlock.  To conquer.

Back home, as I untie my dance shoes, peel off my clothes and step into the shower, the cool water washes away the sweat, but the glow remains. And I know that it is time for me to show up.  All the way.  And to shine.







Thank you, Janice, and thank you, sisters, for sharing this magical thing called dance with me.

Posted in Elise's Ramblings | 34 Comments


34 Responses to “Shine.”
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  1. Janice Style

    Oh Elise.. This is sooo beautiful! You are a” shining “light ! I can’t tell you how much what you have written means to me. Keep on dancing… keep on shining!!

  2. Erin Murphy

    I love this post! Janice’s class changes my whole day…it is my therapy!!!
    Thanks for writing what we all feel;)

  3. Linda

    Great Blog, great pictures. Janice is great, I feel he same way about her Sunday class at Carve Your Body.

  4. Liz

    It is a healing and an energy session and a workout all in one!

  5. Meryl


    Who knew you shine in so many arenas….writing, photography, dance…to name a few. Yes, I agree Janice is one of a kind. She brings out the soul and creativity in her students by allowing us to see her authenticity. Thank you for writing such a beautiful expression of what many of us feel. And thank heavens for Janice! Ladies, you both inspire me!

  6. Carol

    Such a touching tribute to Janice! The writing and photos capture the energy that Janice exudes in her dance!

  7. Maddy

    Loved reading this…Janice is great…just love to dance….

  8. Carmen

    Elise, I am Yvette’s sister. And yes, it seems you have found your “core!” She rarely allows anything to prevent her from attending her Zumba. You ladies are an inspiration ! Just keep on dancin’ !”

  9. Kimberly Knight

    I love it…You shine like the star you are….There is a yearning that comes from with in…when I get that feeling that’s when I know…It’s time to go hang out with the girls….

  10. Yvette

    Wow! Elise, you are amazing! …… you have captured a prism of emotions , braided with the spirit of so many wonderful women…stir in love and soul!!! Whaala ! We got Janice, we got each other!! She is my one hour to dance like no one is watching!
    Shine baby shine!!!

  11. Marcy Prastos

    Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto. Love my JJ!!

  12. Carolina Portillo

    A beautifull tribute!

  13. maria gonzalez

    Dear Elise,
    You did a beautiful job not only in the photography but, in describing the class. I’m sure we all agree, in what a fantastic instructor we have and what she makes this class to be is Phenomenal It’s like “NO OTHER”, I’ve been too.

  14. lorraine myers

    Thanks so much for expressing what we, in Janice’s classes, feel but could not or did not articulate.

  15. Janice Style

    Dear Elise, thank you for your heartfelt words and beautiful pictures about janice. She has no idea I’m replying to your blog. This is the first time I have ever responded to anyones blog. However after reading all that was written I felt compelled to reply. Janice’s love for dance is matched only by her passion for life, her commitment to family and friends and her love for the creative expression that exists in us all. Over time I have had the incredible fortune of calling Janice my wife, my best friend and my soul mate. You all contribute to the energy that fuels that light you refer to and your friendship runs deeper then you think. So keep on dancing and let your soul keep smiling. Thomas

  16. Michele

    You put wonderfully into words what we all feel. Janice is a Goddess. She encourages dancing without inhibition allowing us to tap into our creative selves. I am always sad when I have to miss her Sunday morning class.
    Thank you Janice for all you are and do.

  17. Janice Style

    Truly an amazing class on Saturday!! I was feeling a little down. But you guys lifted me up! Thank You!!

  18. AWESOME! wish I didn’t have two left feet

  19. I discovered Janice’s class this past Wedn. Fell in ‘love’ with her choreography, music, and most of all passion and joy. Experienced the highest high of all…I remembered my HS prom when people were asking me what and how did I drink (it was illegal) and I was just drunk on music. I loved to dance, danced by myself at home. Then I had kids and it was driving them to dance and tennis. Not going clubbing so much, not making time to go to dance classes. It all came back now. Can’t wait for Janice’s class tomorrow.
    Love your blog and pictures.


Extreme Back-To-Schooling

Welcome to my blog, “Offshoots,” where I write about life from the other side of the lens, and sprinkle a few of my images in there.  To see my photography, please go to my website:  EliseCampbellPhotography.com

(This is a repost from last year.  Happy Back to School, again.)

In case you haven’t noticed this about me, I’m pretty sure I’m an empath.  It hit me, like a ton of bricks, when I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep during my worst school year EVER – 2nd grade.  I was riddled with anxiety – not just an uneasy feeling – I’m talking about clinical anxiety. Like, I turned gray the whole year and my mom even took me to a cardiologist because my chest ached so fiercely I thought I would drop dead.

So there I was in bed, when I was zapped with emotion about certain people’s physical and mental well-being, and my 7-year-old self didn’t know how to take it. I ran to my mom, crying.    ”I don’t know what to do.” I said, between heaving sobs.  ”Why do I see out of my own eyes?  Why do I feel what I feel? Why did God make me me?  It hurts.  It hurts, mom!  My chest hurts.” (Mom, do you remember that night?)  That may have been one of the last times I spoke of it.

My poor mom.  Can you imagine having a child come to you with this?

For a long time, knowing things, and feeling an underlying current about somebody, or feeling their pain, was too scary and exhausting, so I pushed it way down deep, and avoided deep and meaningful connections.  It was too much to bear.  And it hurt, physically, too.

Being an empath made me feel like a pale weenie – weak & vulnerable & powerless.  Like it was my crappy lot in life to feel too deeply.  Something was definitely wrong with me.  I was different. Reeeeeally different. Kids pulled the wings off of fireflies, and I cried.  So much for a carefree summer evening in the neighborhood.

I tried to be compassionate, but I didn’t fully commit to compassion.  What  I’m learning now, though, is that you really kinda have to jump into compassion with two feet.  I used to tiptoe around compassion.  Like, when it wasn’t my turn to be picked on, I would stand way back watch a group of people pick on somebody, and then when the bashing had been completed, I’d sneak over to that kid and then I’d see if I could offer some kindness.  Not only was it wrong to allow the bashing to take place, but it was bad for me too, because I felt every emotional or physical jab, punch, shove and kick in the teeth.  (Which reminds me that I was even spat upon once.)

So, now I realize, after 38 years, that empathy + compassion = power. And the right kind of power is good.  That love and fear are opposites.  That I can’t come from a place of fear and exhibit love, and that having the courage to step in and help is a choice.  ”Having the courage” sounds too passive. It’s more like summoning the courage, I think.

The thing is, there are extremists out there who commit fully to hate.  They believe so fully in it that they’re willing to wear bombs strapped to their waists and die just so they can kill other people too.  Full-on, no holds barred HATE.  There is no tip-toeing. THAT is a commitment.  So if there are people who are THAT committed to hate, where are the people who are equally committed to love?  There HAS to be some strength in that, right?  And I’m not talking about the people who wear flowers in their hair and talk about making love; not war, although I love them too, but I’m talking about the people who actively and courageously love everyone who crosses their paths – especially the hard-to-loves. (I’m working really super hard on that one.)

Sometimes, I envision the most compassionate people as big piles of warm, sensitive mush, and I like warm, sensitive mush. What I fail to remember, though, is that compassionate people have to be incredibly courageous. Almost always, compassion requires us to stand up, take a hard stance, and buck the tide.  Love extremists. LOL.  How could I be one of those?  I’m already not quite a mainstream soccer mom. U know? But how could my kids be those love extremists if they wanted to? What would that look like at school, and on the playground?  I love the idea, but I’m not sure what it would look like here, in suburbia.  (Do I have to move to a little cabin in the woods, without plumbing, to live like this?  Don’t challenge me.  Cause I totally would.)  And maybe right here is where it is needed the most.

This morning, my middle guy Ryan woke me up at 6 so we could walk our dog to the local dog park, and back home through the woods.  I love my walks with Ryan. They are so tender, pure and honest.  (<—-Oh, dear…I feel a separate blog coming on….)  The ideas of empathy and compassion were tugging at my heart, as Ryan and I walked side by side, with our long shadows before us.  The more that Ryan talked and thought and shared, the more I could feel this blog start building up and bubbling over.  I just didn’t have any direction for it yet.

Us. Taken with my iPhone. 6:44 this morning.

Then, more than halfway home, we stopped because Ryan’s little legs were tired. I checked my Facebook from my phone, and my cousin Joan, a beacon of light and beauty and strength, well, she sent me this article, from The Huffington Post, by Glennon Melton, one of my favorite writers there.  Here it is: The Talk.  It’s a guiding letter to her son as he goes back to school.  I love it.  I absolutely love it.  Tears, goosebumps, the whole nine yards. Her message feels like my message, except it’s written with so much more beauty and clarity.  In it, she teaches her son, and shows me, how radical, extreme love and compassion can be demonstrated in the classroom. And really, it’s not radical at all.  Or extreme. It’s just a choice to be a courageous human. And it teaches Chase to see his classmates as gifts from God who are to be treated as such. I would pay a million dollars, if I had it, for my kids to go to school with her son Chase. And yet, there are lots of Chases everywhere, especially if parents would simply share Glennon’s letter with their own children as part of a back-to-school ritual.  Maybe we can shorten back-to-school shopping by 45 minutes and sit down with our kids and read The Talk with them instead.

I hope to raise 3 Chases.  I know they’ll slip up and hurt people’s feelings. Shoot, I still do.  :(  But I hope that when they do, they’ll come to me and tell me so we can learn and grow together, and then get back to some extreme, radical loving.  There is work to be done, and now, I can’t wait to send them off to school to meet the new gifts that have been presented to them.

Blessings to my children, and your children. May the work we do at home with them be reflected, at least a little, in how they value every single soul, in every single school building, every single day, for the next 100 years.  (And may we, and they, share and grow from the lapses in loving behavior, because, goodness knows, we all have those kinda lapses.)

Happy (almost) Back to School!  xo

A quick iPhone snap of my Ry Guy this morning….



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  1. Laura

    Yes, Elise, I remember that “night”. Although I remember somewhat differently. I remember it as being daytime. I remember being in the yard weeding – over by the Miceli’s side and I remember only some of the words. I may have forgotten, some may have been said on another occasion or maybe you could not actually verbalize all those thoughts. Whatever the reality, the concepts were definitely in your head at the ripe old age of 7.

    Funny this topic should come up because I have thought of it often – especially this summer. I know I tried to soothe you with my words. I remember telling you about a haunting thought in my childhood so you would realized such thoughts were “normal”. I remember almost verbatim how I answered one of your questions. But I don’t remember if I stopped weeding . Did I look you in the eye? Did I touch your tiny hand or gave you a hug? Sadly, I don’t remember that so I wonder, did I make your problem top priority? And what if I had…?

    I know you are not asking me for advice but if you or any of the young mothers out there in your bolgland wanted an old lady’s advice, it would be this: Listen to your child. Stop stirring the soup or texting the friend or paying the bills or weeding the garden. While you are listening, look and touch and try to feel what that child is feeling. You still may not know what to say but you will give your baby a sense of validation.

    If you screw up a few times and miss some of the opportunities to help that child, forgive yourself. There will be many more. It is never too late BUT one of those missed opportunities may be the one that will haunt you for life with the thought, “What if I had…?


How to Enjoy the Ordering Process

Decisions, decisions, decisions….

Being stuck in indecision doesn’t feel good, does it?

Let me guess.  You’ve just looked at your online gallery of images from the shoot that we created together.  You’re still wiping tears from your eyes because you’re so deeply touched by the idea that your family IS art.  Your love is evident.  Your personalties radiate right through these images.

And then, a little “uh oh” sets in.  ”I wasn’t expecting to like so many of these,” you tell yourself.  ”I want all of them.”

On top of that, your photographer, who loves you very much, needs you to place your order within a limited amount of time.  She needs her gallery space back, and she needs the peace of mind that your order is fulfilled, and that you are feeling fulfilled.

How can we make this decision-making process easier for you?

First of all, have a strong sense of which products you’d like to have as the result of our time together.  Look at your walls.  When I capture your family, my vision, especially for huge pieces of art for your walls, is always this:  gorgeous light and beautiful scenery that you love so much you’d like to hang that on your walls…and then…BONUS!…the people you love most happen to be a part of that beautiful scenery!  And then…DOUBLE BONUS!…the moment that has been captured OF the people you love most shows loving, happy interaction, the true essence of who they really are, or some combination of the two.  So…think about which walls are crying out for art.  The kind of art that features YOU.

Next, have a strong sense of your budget.  Show my pricing page to your partner.  A month or so before the shoot, discuss which collection, or which canvases, you think you’re hoping for.  Don’t try to sneak this one past him or her.  Trust me.  Buying this kind of art is an investment.  It should be a celebration.  You don’t buy a new dining room set without consulting with your partner, do you?  And this timeless art will last longer than your furniture.  Ordering photos is not the same thing as sneaking a Prada bag or a pair of Manolos (or, in my case, a new lens) into the house from the trunk of your car and hoping he doesn’t notice.  (And, I’m not encouraging that, either, or saying that you would ever do that kinda thing.)

When I know what you have in mind, it helps me to shoot with more purpose.

I’m going to describe a few of the products that I truly, truly believe in so you’ll have a better understanding of what I have to offer.


For the most decision challenged person, I love offering a disk of all the images from your gallery.  By purchasing this disk, you may print as many copies of your images as you’d like, from wherever you’d like.  Because I care about how your images look, I do recommend professional labs.  In addition, those images can be used to print cards, gifts and novelties from Tiny Prints/Shutterfly, and Minted. Print hundreds of copies.  Make albums. Scrapbook.  Procrastinate.  But know that you have all of your images forever.  A disk of all images is $1088, and you can print top-quality images 5×7 or smaller.  Save 50% on any larger images you order from me, when you purchase this disk.


Gallery wrap is a canvas, with your image on it, that is stretched over a wooden frame so that the image wraps around the sides of the frame. Gallery wrap has a timeless look.  There is no frame to go in and out of style.  It pops on your wall, and has a beautiful floating effect.  The best part?  You don’t have to decide on a frame.  It comes ready to hang.  It blends nicely with other framed pieces. As far as canvas is concerned, the bigger you order, the better.  I like to order one large anchor piece, like the whole family, and surround it with smaller individual shots.  Make a statement with your art. Tell YOUR story. Canvases start at $268 for an 11×14.

This 30×40 is 1.5 inches deep.


Good, old fashioned prints.  Frame an 8×10 for Grandma for her birthday.  Order a set of images that tell a story and hang four 16x20s side-by-side on your wall.  Order a black-and-white close-up of your child’s face on a 20×20 square.  Frame it.  Ditch the classic “school photo” thinking that an 8×10 is the be-all-and end-all largest print you can get.  5x7s and 4x6s are great for your desk at work, or to stuff in an album.  But you can take lots of snapshots in that size at home.  If’ you’re investing in art, display it. :)


Mounted Prints

These prints are mounted on a thin styrene board.  They can be displayed on a frame holder, or framed, with or without glass.  They don’t wrinkle or warp over time.  I automatically have all prints, 11×14 or larger, mounted for you.

Float Wraps

Your image on canvas wrapped around a sturdy backing, that sticks out from the wall when hung.  Float wraps are stylish, fun, and ready to hang.

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Wiggle Room

Today, I met a man.  Three minutes later, I said, “I love you.”  And then I felt like I’d won the lottery.


Mercy.  Again.  Again, for some reason I get to experience an act of mercy.  I witnessed it, I felt it, and I received it.


During a busy day of doctor appointments, I pulled into a tight parking spot in Englewood.  I had just started learning that while driving (and while taking photos… and in defining myself), there is more wiggle room than I typically allow myself.  I had been playing it safe.  And I was changing that and beginning to have a little more confidence in my wiggle room.  So I was believing that I had enough space to park, plus, I was preoccupied.  I suppose I’d taken my newfound wiggle room to an extreme, because I swiped a parked car as I entered the spot. Its middle aged driver was sitting in his car when I hit it.

So, I took a deep breath, accepted this moment, and told my babies to stay in their seats.  ”Mommy just bumped that man’s car, and I need to apologize.”  They were silent as I got out and locked them in.

As I approached, I saw the damage. It’s funny how I am about these things now.  I used to be a wreck.  I’d panic at the idea of hitting a car and having to approach someone and apologize.  My head would have been spinning with “What should I do?  Call insurance?  Call the police?”  My other fender bender took place in 1999, and I’ll never forget how nasty the women were to me. But I now have confidence about these kinds of things. I can listen to someone’s rage, acknowledge it, and usually bring the situation down a notch. Or, I just let go, do the right thing, and allow the course of action to unfold.  (I wish this applied to everything I experience, that’s for sure).  No more end-of-the-world thinking for me!

So I looked this man in the eyes, and I said, “Sir, I just tapped your car and I’m very sorry.” (Tapped?  That was a totally watered down description.  It was a definite swipe…a scrape, even.)

“Yes, you did.”

He got out and walked over to assess the damage. I wondered whether this would result in a lawsuit, or a day of calling my insurance company, or the filing of a police report, or all of the above.   He rubbed away a bit of the smudged paint to show me that it wasn’t too bad.  He didn’t seem to acknowledge the pretty deep, pretty long scratch.  (I was surprised that I’d caused that much damage.  I hardly felt it!)  He said, in his beautiful Jamaican accent, “It’s not that bad.  I don’t think we need to worry about it.  It’s okay.”

I looked into his eyes again.  I noticed this time that they were dark brownish grayish.  Probably faded from a rich chestnut brown, in the same way that my grandmother’s eyes faded over time.  I couldn’t believe how kind he was.  I said, soul-to-soul, “Wow.  What a beautiful act of grace.  Thank you.”

He said, “It’s okay.  What did you do?  I could do the same thing.  Anyone could have done this. We take these things too seriously.  People go crazy over these things.  What for?” Wait a sec.  Did HE just give ME a little wiggle room?

“I know,” I said.  ”I’ve done what you are doing for other people. I try to let these things go, too.  This is how I treat people, like you do.”  (I mean, I try.   I don’t show mercy every chance I get, that’s for sure.  But most of the time, I come from love…even if it doesn’t come across that day. When I was in college, on the way to work at a daycare center, a younger girl rear ended me.  It was raining, and it was 7:30 in the morning.  I got out, asked if she was okay.  She was a shaking mess.  I told her it was okay, and asked that she be careful. She looked shocked, and drove off with relief.  I did it because my dad told me he’d done that one time and that act of immediate forgiveness always stayed with me.)

After I told him how I try to treat people like this, he said, “I know you do.”  <—Huh?  How?

“Thank you,” I said, thick, warm tears rolling, in slow motion, down my face.

He reached out his hand, and we shook hands.  It was a deeply connected handshake.  It was not an act of meeting, or a business deal.  It was so much more encompassing and loving than that.  A silent agreement that we’d each carry on in this loving way.  Our own secret mercy mission.

I leaned in, and hugged him.  He hugged me back.  Then I looked in his eyes, and said crystal clear, “I love you.”  He smiled, surprised, kinda.  I was too, to be honest.  And then he smiled bigger and he said, “I love you too.”

I walked heavily away from him, in the same way lovers have to when they are forced to part before they’re ready, but I wanted to be there, with him, and bathe in this grace for a little while longer.

What a beautiful day this was turning out to be!

And you know what?  I have a feeling that his day was better, too, as the result of my careless perception of wiggle room.  Imagine how dark his spirit would have felt if he acted on his right to belittle me, shame me, and/or sue me because of my mistake.

Good things are coming to this man, I am sure.  And I wouldn’t trade my exchange of energy with him for all the scratch-free cars in the world.

And as for wiggle room?  I’ll allow myself a little more with my photos and with who I am, but I think I’ll go back to parking with more caution.  ;)

If you have the chance to forgive someone today…to allow grace to flow through you…to let someone experience the gift of mercy…you know…give her a little wiggle room, please do.  I know I will….


(You know what’s kinda funny?  I had a friend offer to watch my littler kids while I went to this doctor, and I knew for sure that I wanted all of them there, with me.  I didn’t know that they’d get to witness this, but I’m really glad that they did.)




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“Hey Mom, Why Don’t You Want To Play With Me…Ever?”


It’s funny, what happens, when you sit down with your kids, and just be there.  Quietly.  No motive.  No scurrying.  In my all-time favorite parenting book, The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine writes, “It is almost always in quiet, unpressured moments that kids reach inside and expose the most delicate parts of their developing selves.”  Time and time again, I see this.  It usually takes place in the car when the radio is off, when I’m all zoned out, and from the back seat I’ll hear a high pitched, sing-songy, “Hey Mooooom?”  and I think, Here we go.  We’re tapping into the stuff that matters most.

So anyway, today I hired a fabulous sitter to come and be with my kids for three hours so I could manage my photography business.  While she was here, I heard that Ryan was downstairs sulking.  My first instinct was to be with him.  My second thought, honestly, was, I’m paying a sitter right now.  I’m on the clock.  Get work done NOW, cause it may be your last chance today.

I decided to follow my instinct.  To check in.  I wish I made that choice more often. Then again, I make that choice a lot.  I sat down on a chair, with enough space for him next to me, if he wanted, and just said, “Hey Ryyyy?”  kinda sing-songy.  You know?  ”Wanna talk about stuff?”

Immediately he came to the chair and filled that space next to me.  We fit together perfectly.

“Yeah.  But I can’t tell you why cause you’ll be mad.”  His voice, when he’s trying not to cry, it gets really soft and high, and crackly, kinda, and it’s enough to break my heart.

“I’ll be mad?  You sure?”


“Did you poison the dog?”

“No.” He laughs, knowing that Hannah, he and I are a solid trifecta that can NOT be separated.  Ever.  We have a thing that’s too beautiful to put into words.

“Did you hurt somebody on purpose?”


“Am I going to have to drive you to jail after you tell me?”


“K.  I can’t promise, but I’m preeeetty sure that I won’t be mad.  And even if I am, we’ll figure it out.”

He thinks.  He sighs.  He breathes.  He waits.  Finally, stuttering through his tears, he confesses.  His fall from grace was that he failed to share some silly pool toy with his little sister.  But there was a loophole in the sharing arrangement.  It was his turn – he took a break – it was still supposed to be his turn, and he was, according to him, falsely accused of — get this… NOT SHARING.  THE HORROR!

Still pressed together on the chair, his head on my chest, his tiny hand, with fingernails that need to be trimmed  (how DO they grow so fast?), played with my sodalite necklace as we talked, and talked and talked.  I wasn’t mad.   I understood his side.  I heard him.  I got it.  My words to him were lessons for me.

  • It’s terribly painful to feel misunderstood — falsely accused — even if you’re 8 and it’s only about sharing.  ESPECIALLY if you’re 8 and it’s only about sharing.
  • These opportunities, like the chance to ride in the neighbor’s awesome, motorized boat that is fascinatingly weapon-like in the way it shoots water, they’re not usually once in a lifetime.  And if you can accept the disappointment without going straight to end-of-the-world, “I”ll never get a chance again” kinda thinking, you can probably rest easy   knowing that you’ll have another chance some day.  (I’m working hard on this one for myself.)
  • Feeling understood, even by someone who wasn’t there, it helps.  A lot.  And taking the time to understand is major.
  • You can tell your mom anything, and if you stretch out the suspense by saying, “You’ll probably be mad,” and then make her almost beg you to confess, you’ll probably end up with a lot more compassion that if you had just blurted out your confession.  Just sayin’.  I know. Cause I have a mom, too.

So after we worked through the “not sharing” debacle, he dropped a bomb on me.

“And mooooom?”


That voice.  Soft. High. Crackly.  Stuttering.

“Why don’t you want to play with me…ever?  You always have to edit or dance or do other stuff.”

Elise, I said, don’t make a list of excuses here.  Don’t get defensive.  

“I mean…I think…I think I do play with you Ryan, but I guess you want me to play with you more, huh?”

“Yeah.”  (<—- Honestly, that “Yeah” was quite gracious, cause I really don’t play with him ever.  But he let me have the “I think I do play with you” in that moment.)

Long pause.  I waited for Ryan to contribute more information.  To berate me.  To tell me he was calling  the mom police to take me off to mom jail for emotional negligence.  I wish I’d said, “Tell me more,” but I don’t think I wanted to hear more.  So I said, ”Good.  Cause I want to play with you more.  I’ve been meaning to build a new Geotrax track with you.”  (Anything is better than Pokemon.)  ”Oh!  And remember how we used to read together before you could read yourself?  Let’s read the Wizard of Oz again.  The book is so much better than the movie.”

So, for this afternoon, the world will stop and I will, come hell or high water, PLAY.  And I don’t mean Get-him-started-so-I-can-run-off-and-do-something-else play.  And I don’t mean, Sure-I’ll-be-the-hat-or the Scottie-and-you-can-roll-the-dice-for-me-and-move-me-while-I-text-my-friends play.  I mean PLAY. Be there.  Be present.  Look at how his eyelashes rub against his glasses when he blinks.  Listen to how he strategizes to build a better track.  Notice every new freckle that has appeared on his face this summer.  Feel his hand on my knee when he leans over to move a train that won’t budge.  Laugh.  Sing a little.  Embarrass him a little.  PLAY.  PLAY!  P-L-A-A-A-Y!!!!  Play. I’m going to get all up in there the way grandmothers play with their grandkids.  Present and invested and enjoying.

(I’ll also take my camera out for about five minutes, but then I’ll put it away and keep playing, no matter how brilliantly the window light makes this beautiful boy’s huge blue eyes sparkle.)

We parents, we are blessed.  We mess up and get disconnected and blow it a lot of the time.  We choose laundry over Barbies.  We rush bathtimes.  We hold hands and drag toddlers instead walking at their pace. We walk when we could skip.  We check out juuuust before a big emotional catharsis. We put or friends first.  We tuck them in real fast so we can get on with the night.  We worry about frizzing our hair instead of dancing in the rain.  But again, and again, and again, we get chances.  Second and third and fourth chances to get it right.  I believe that our lessons keep coming back to us, in all different forms, until we learn them.  How gracious of  life  to keep giving us opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.  Restoring to us the years the locusts have eaten.  Over, and over, and over again.

Marianne Williamson, another favorite author of mine, wrote about how she overheard her daughter say, “I miss my mommy even when she is here.”  How blessed she was to hear that.  I hear it too.

Off to play!


And not just today…every day!


Photos to follow….



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9 Responses to ““Hey Mom, Why Don’t You Want To Play With Me…Ever?””
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  1. Lynn

    you did it again. hit that nail right.on.the.head. i’m sniffling and fighting back tears as i read this post. i was just telling a colleague today that i need to be more present in my daughter’s life and forget about having a perpetually dirty house or disorganized mind. thank you for being another reminder to stop and play. <3 love you.

    • me

      THank you, Lynn. Your comments inspire me to think more and to write more. Lauren is blessed to have you. You know that.

  2. Connie

    (friend of Lynn’s)
    Love this essay…you really found a way to describe what (I’m sure) many moms feel when it comes to deciding what should be done during the day: work, clean, play with kids, spend time out doors with kids, cook, etc.
    Thanks for writing this…I feel better!

    • Connie,
      Thanks. Any friend of Lynn’s is a friend of mine. That’s for sure. I’m really glad you can relate, and am thrilled that it made you feel better. We moms need to be gentle to ourselves, sometimes. And play sometimes, too. With our kids, and without them.

  3. I feel so blessed to read this Elise. xx

  4. Rhonda

    Elise… This is so beautiful and appropriate, no matter what age our kids are. The gift of love and attention… priceless. The look on Ryan’s face is also priceless in every picture, but I especially like the one of him sleeping with the look of pure contentment. Thank you!

  5. Laura

    This is beautiful. Don’t know why I never saw it in July but glad I finally noticed it tonight. And guess what is even better than getting second, third, fourth… chances as a Mom. You get hundreds of more chances with the next generation as a Grandmom


Book Now. (YES, Now!) {Bergen County Family Photographer}

And, believe it or not, it’s time to grab your Holiday Mini Session! Book now! ALL current clients must complete open orders and pay unpaid orders before they are eligible to book a Fall/Holiday Mini Session.


Contact Elise Campbell here: Contact Elise


Posted in Elise's Ramblings | 5 Comments


5 Responses to “Book Now. (YES, Now!) {Bergen County Family Photographer}”
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  1. Vanessa Iseman

    Hi Elise,
    We want to do the holiday mini shoot. Do you send us an invoice?

  2. Mary Anne Doran

    Yes for the holiday mini shoot

  3. Clare Ditrio

    I’m interested in booking what should I do?


Two Dead Fish

Fish Grave – Under Colby’s Tree


I buried Ryan’s two dead fish today.  His charges.  I wasn’t going to.  I was going to flush them down the toilet and call it a day. And then Ryan’s little face got to me.  And his friend Noah’s face got to me too.

“Mom, I don’t want you to flush them.  Okay?  Can you bury them?  In the back yard?  But do it while I’m at school, okay?  Cause it would be too hard to watch.”

Yeah. Sure,  I thought.  I’m going to stop my day of a million responsibilities, after a night of staring at the ceiling, wondering what the heck matters, and I’m supposed to find the time, energy and presence of mind to scoop dead fish and dig a hole and bury them in my back yard?  And honor them in some way, too, I suppose?  And not even with my kids – not even for a “feel good” moment of connection – the kind of moment that makes me feel like the most awesome mom for a nanosecond?  One quick flush, a little lie about a peaceful burial, and I can move on to my next chore.

Then I had a shift.  I remember how those fish came to be ours.  Ryan’s best friend, Noah, gave Ryan those fish.  Noah moved here from California.  He immediately related to Ryan’s softness, his not-so-athleticness, and Ryan’s dog, Colby, who reminded him of a dog they’d just lost, Jett. As the months passed, they bonded over the loss of their dogs, over Star Wars Lego guys, and the rescuing and training of their new crazy dogs. His mom and I did, too.  As I type this, I can still hear Noah’s and Ryan’s laughter coming from the upstairs bedroom.

Without much warning, Noah’s family needed to move back to California.  Ryan was heartbroken, but Noah had asked Ryan to keep his fish for him.  Forever.  This wasn’t just a fish-sitting job.  Ryan was asked to ADOPT them.  Feeling proud to be regarded as “animal people,” we immediately agreed. Plus, it was a way for Ryan to hold on to Noah.  To nurture something OF Noah.  FOR Noah.

So we cared for those fish pretty well.  I, busy and scattered, did not do enough for the fish.  I left the feeding and care of the fish up to Ryan.  I didn’t even know their names. (One is named Oreo, I think.  That’s all I know.)  I would walk by from time to time and see that they were clean and happy, but I was most definitely removed from their care.  I told Ryan, once in a while, what a great job he does every morning – either feeding the fish himself, or delegating to one of his sisters.  But I wish I’d taken the opportunity to really, really do more.

This morning, still in pain about other yucky stuff floating around in my universe, I drove Abby to preschool and focused, the whole ride home, on these fish.  I cried. I actually cried.  Isn’t that silly?  I cried about what they represented to Ryan and me.  I cried about how I could have done better for them.  I cried about how stupid it felt to be so deeply moved by two goldfish, and how much a 38 year old could miss an 8 year old boy who’d moved away, leaving only his fish (and a pair of pajamas he’d forgotten) for us to remember him by.

So I came home and I scooped those bloated, bug-eyed fish into a used coffee filter with some coffee grounds still in it.  I wanted something that was biodegradable.  It felt right.  Whatever.

I couldn’t find a shovel.  Didn’t want to ask a neighbor for one. How do you explain what you’re doing?  You know?  Or why you’re crying?  Or if that’s even why you’re crying to begin with? So I found a camping stake for a tent we don’t even have any more and I used that to move the soil.  It was so much easier than I thought.  Healing, too. Damp soil.  Who knew?  It feels good.  And I buried those tiny beings’ bodies in my favorite spot in the yard.  Right under our dog Colby’s tree.  The spot, in fact, where we took our last photo of Colby before we took him in to be put down.  That spot was so right for the burial.

And it didn’t seem complete, this humble little resting place for Noah & Ryan’s last living connection, without something to mark it.  The mound of fresh soil would soon enough be covered over with grass.  And so I made a cross out of sticks and a twist tie.  And I hope Noah is okay with a cross.  It’s the only thing I could think of.  Cause I was not about to check Amazon for tiny fish headstones or any such nonsense.

So thank you to the fish, and to Ryan, and Noah, and Noah’s mom, for giving me this chance to reflect and focus on our time together.  I hope that Noah and Ryan will understand how much these little tiny fish mattered.  I do.  We all matter.  A lot.

And when I take the time to capture a moment – whether it’s the death of a fish, my dad’s hands, or a young boy’s brand new car, well, it’s just my way of marking it.  Of remembering that that moment, regardless of how huge it was in the grand scheme of things, it mattered.  And the people, or dogs, or fish, or trees that I captured?  They mattered too.

Capturing what matters.  I love doing that.  I really, really do.

Colby, getting his last Ryan kisses, under his favorite tree in our yard.






Posted in Elise's Ramblings | Leave a comment


Capturing It in 2013 – and Holding All of It, Too.

Welcome to my blog, “Offshoots,” where I write about life through my lens.  To see my photography portfolio, please go directly to my website, EliseCampbellPhotography.com. Xo.

This image, to me, is  not a “say ‘cheese’” kind of moment. I try really hard not to demand fake smiles.  Don’t get me wrong: captured moments of bliss are magical.  And yet, even without a smile, this image pulls me right in.  It makes me feel whole, like I’ve nailed it.  In photography, you capture the whole moment, whatever it is.  Although stories have many interpretations, it’s hard, in photography, to tell only part of the story.  The captured moment – all of it – is right there – for us to hold.  All of it. Here, it’s the unsureness. The questioning. The wondering.  All of it.

Holding On in the New Year 

My first few hours of 2013 began just like all the the others for me – -  In the state of extremes:


“I am fat.

By February 11th, I will lose the 20 pounds that I’ve almost intentionally manifested.


I need to learn studio lighting.

All month, I will spend 4 hours a day studying and practicing.  Cause, clearly, I suck at everything.”


(I could go on and on, but it gets increasingly painful to reveal that kind of stuff, and I choose not to participate in that kind of Elise bashing right now.)


And then, I thought long and hard about my discomfort – and all of ours.  You know the things we never want to face?  Maybe those are exactly the things we need to face.  The thing is, I know for sure that without the pain, suffering, hard work, & stuff, we would never be able to fully enjoy the other stuff – the rewards, the joy, the grace. The only way for me to take the edge off of pain, loss, grief & stuff, is put up a protective wall, make safe choices, and not live fully.  And that’s painful anyway, right?  Or lonely, or something….  You’re not capturing all of it.  And so I’m choosing not to make 2013 all about extremes.  By extremes, I mean, paying attention to only one feeling, in one moment, and making a huge deal of it, instead of capturing the bigger picture.


Right now, in this moment, my goal for 2013, is this: Hold it.  All of it.  All at once, as much as I can.  I want to show up, in my purest Eliseishness. To show up with honesty, and to experience all of what I need to experience.  To live fully.  It’s this idea of holding it all.  I’m going to say it again:  Holding. It. All.  Life isn’t one isolated emotion or experience, right?  It’s not one big thrill, and if we’re always out seeking thrills, then, we’re probably spending a lot of time hurting over unmet expectations. And life is certainly not one big success, either.  At least not in my experience.


So, if I’m going to add my own delusional story to any given moment, I may as well hold the other side of that story too.  Hold all of it.  I mean, I should probably just allow everything to flow through me – not making any meaning to it, or having any attachments to the outcomes – but until I’m ready to do that, maybe holding all of it is the next best step.


So, what I’m hoping for me, and what I wish for you, is that you hold all of it, in any given moment, and accept the joy and the pain together. (If that is what works for you.) Hold it in your heart.  Your soul.  All at once. It’s okay to be thrilled to have something AND be afraid to lose it.  It’s probably better than holding on to it so tightly that it’s only with you because you’re forcing it to be.


Hold the warm glow of sunlight on your face, and on your upturned palms, while holding on to the knowing that it has rained, and that it will rain again.


Hold the pain of missing someone, while also holding on to the love that you once knew.


Hold on to staring at your phone, waiting for a call, while also knowing you don’t need that call to make you whole, or to give you answers.  They’re already there.


Hold on to your shame, knowing that again you will hold your head high.


Hold the smell of your newborn’s head, knowing this moment won’t last.


Hold on to how it feels to wear your skinny jeans, remembering that the scales have tipped the other way too.


Hold on to your unmet expectations, and remember how good the fantasy seemed.


Hold on to homesickness.   Whatever you’re homesick for, I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it’s homesick for you too.  It’s on its way to you.  Or maybe you’re on your way.


Hold on to real hugs, the kind where neither one of you wants to let go.  (Are you the one who usually releases the hug first? Or do you hold on?)  While you’re holding on to the tight hug, also remember the last time your arms ached from loneliness.


Hold on to feeling deep, indescribable love, knowing it may not always be this easy to recognize.  It’s always there, but sometimes you don’t get to pick the form in which it comes.


Hold on to the feeling of your Emmy Award, or trophy, or bonus paycheck, or being Mother of the Year, even months or years later when you screw up.


Hold on to the overcast skies, remembering the warmest reddish purplish sunsets you’ve ever experienced.


Hold on to having no place to go, and remember your magical mosquito-bitten evenings at the cottage on the lake.


Hold on to the pain of losing the big game, and hold on to how it felt when you actually won.


Hold on to the angst of being judged, while remembering how it felt when in those warm moments when you were profoundly understood.


Hold on to the grace of forgiveness, while at the same time, embracing your guilt.


Hold on to your purest self, while letting go of all of the labels that have been stapled to your forehead. (You probably stapled them there yourself, anyway.)


Hold on to your family, even if you’re not holding them in the way you expected to be holding them.


Hold on to love, while releasing every last bit of fear.


Hold it.  All of it.


That feels so good to write.  I love it.  All of it.  Even the bad stuff.  Maybe holding it all means loving it all.  Even if we don’t particularly like it. Maybe it means embracing it anyway.


Love comes, I am sure, in many forms.  Sometimes the depth of love is more important than the type of love.  Hold on tight to the warmth of a beautiful love – any beautiful love – that surrounds you, while doing nothing but allowing it to be.  Don’t waste energy defining it or labeling it.  Just hold it instead.


Yeah.  That may be it right there.  Hold on to all of it.  Capture the whole moment.  And surround all of it with love.  Xo.

Posted in Elise's Ramblings | 7 Comments


7 Responses to “Capturing It in 2013 – and Holding All of It, Too.”
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  1. Stephen Heath

    Hi Elise,

    I loved reading this. I love your insights and friendship.


  2. Rhonda

    Just beautiful Elise. I’m holding on… to all of it. Thank you. Rhonda

  3. Lynn

    I love that you DON’T capture and share only the “say cheese” moments you get. I think the moments you do capture touch my heart more truly, madly & deeply than those staged ones. You’re right – you nail them, and I enjoy scrolling through them. I just wish you didn’t live across the states, or I would hire you to take Lauren to a local park and shoot away…

    And like you said, your words are as much a part of you, just as much as your photography. Don’t stop writing… I am a fan of your writing as much as of your photography!


  4. Beautifully well written post! I really respect your honesty and willingness to share the more vulnerable parts of yourself. Beautiful image too!

  5. I love your pictures, and I love your writing so much! I’m happy I found your blog :)

  6. This so speaks to where I am in my life right now. Thanks so much! And I’m so adopting your word “Eliseishness” – my Elise is 2 and full of it!