Spotlight on the students of...THE FAMILY HISTORIAN with Heather Robinson

On the first day of my workshop, The Family Historian, I share a quote that I wrote years ago.  The words carry great weight in my motivation to create my own family legacy.  

“none of this was all that extraordinary. just some in between moments that would quickly fade from our memories. yet these moments are the glue that holds us all together as we journey from one remarkable moment to the next.”

Days spent with little ones can linger on like an eternity.   And then one day much sooner than we can fathom they push off leaving us reeling.  It is as if these times never even happened.  

These early days are filled with repetitive acts.  Routines lace up our days.  And no matter how many times we tie a bow, those shoe strings never stay tied.  

We could quite easily spend all these childhood years going through the motions as we count down the minutes until each day is done.  Or we could take our eyes off the clock and instead use our cameras to see the beauty of these everyday moments while there is still time.  

During class, I teach my students how to reflect on what matters most in their everyday.  They learn to see the repetition in a new light.  Using not only dramatic light techniques but also creative compositions, my students begin to reveal the beautiful stories that are constantly unfolding in even the most mundane moments.  

It is my sincerest desire to create a safe space in which the students can feel at ease to share their vulnerabilities.  By opening up and finding their truths, the students learn to pair images of the seemingly unremarkable moments of life with intimate, revelatory narratives.  It is through the writing that we connect the dots to see the bigger picture.  And what a breath taking picture it turns out to be.  

I challenge my students to embrace these vulnerabilities so that they can “show up” in their stories not just through their words but also through their presence in the photographs.  These self-portraits often end up being the most treasured of all the family photographs. 

The students regardless of whether they were active, silent, or alumni dedicated themselves to finding their own unique voices with which to retell their family histories for the rest of their days.  Below is just a sampling of the beautiful “in between” that my students captured for themselves and their families.  

Heather Robinson | instructor of The Family Historian 

“Sometimes I feel like all I want is to be by myself, to clean and cook, and sleep.  Alone.  All alone.  But when I look at my favorite spot to photograph without my tribe I feel an emptiness. An echo that pricks my heart that I know that life without you all would lack purpose, and would be essentially empty.” image and narrative by Shelli Dame

“Sometimes I feel like all I want is to be by myself, to clean and cook, and sleep.  Alone.  All alone.  But when I look at my favorite spot to photograph without my tribe I feel an emptiness. An echo that pricks my heart that I know that life without you all would lack purpose, and would be essentially empty.”

image and narrative by Shelli Dame

“The play doh "factory" has seen many hours of work in its day. and for once, I didn't hesitate to let you play with it wherever you wanted. and although there were pieces of orange and yellow and green and blue strewn across the floor...and the tables...and the chairs...and the shelves...you took your little orange dust pan and broom and you cleaned up after yourself. but you left your "hummus" on the table as a token of the fun that was had while mom was busy making dinner. and I'll help you clean up any day of the week when you're willing to chip in and do the same.” image and narrative by Megan Millsop

“The play doh "factory" has seen many hours of work in its day. and for once, I didn't hesitate to let you play with it wherever you wanted. and although there were pieces of orange and yellow and green and blue strewn across the floor...and the tables...and the chairs...and the shelves...you took your little orange dust pan and broom and you cleaned up after yourself. but you left your "hummus" on the table as a token of the fun that was had while mom was busy making dinner. and I'll help you clean up any day of the week when you're willing to chip in and do the same.”

image and narrative by Megan Millsop

“it doesn’t happen every time I see your precious belly, but today when you paused your building task to have a peek at your belly button my thoughts went straight to your mom, your China mom, your birth mom, your biological mother. I don't even know exactly what to call her yet. it changes, but we do talk about her. someday you'll even ask me about her. what i know is so very little. but I know about a pink bag, a red coat, and a fancy hotel all evidence of care and concern for you.  evidence of love. my heart is tied to hers just like you were once tethered to her from that very spot that captures your interest in this moment. I wish I could share her with you and you with her. and I cannot. but I will do my best to fill in the missing pieces of your story, but know I cannot fill it all. if I can give you enough that the sadness exists alongside hope, that will be enough. and I will always be there with you even if it is not.” image and narrative by Stephanie Bieniarz 

“it doesn’t happen every time I see your precious belly, but today when you paused your building task to have a peek at your belly button my thoughts went straight to your mom, your China mom, your birth mom, your biological mother. I don't even know exactly what to call her yet. it changes, but we do talk about her. someday you'll even ask me about her. what i know is so very little. but I know about a pink bag, a red coat, and a fancy hotel all evidence of care and concern for you.  evidence of love. my heart is tied to hers just like you were once tethered to her from that very spot that captures your interest in this moment. I wish I could share her with you and you with her. and I cannot. but I will do my best to fill in the missing pieces of your story, but know I cannot fill it all. if I can give you enough that the sadness exists alongside hope, that will be enough. and I will always be there with you even if it is not.”

image and narrative by Stephanie Bieniarz 

“Today you found a dress buried in the closet. It's one of the few that I brought with me here that used to be mine. Before we moved here I went through and found a few things that I wanted you to be able to use when they fit you. You ran to me, and told me about this beautiful dress that you found. In reality its pretty faded, and worn, and smells like it's been in storage, but that didn't change your mind. When I told you that it used to be mine, and that Grandma made it, well that made you even more excited. You told me that you were going to wear it all day, all night, and tomorrow.” image and narrative by Chrissy Gilliland

“Today you found a dress buried in the closet. It's one of the few that I brought with me here that used to be mine. Before we moved here I went through and found a few things that I wanted you to be able to use when they fit you. You ran to me, and told me about this beautiful dress that you found. In reality its pretty faded, and worn, and smells like it's been in storage, but that didn't change your mind. When I told you that it used to be mine, and that Grandma made it, well that made you even more excited. You told me that you were going to wear it all day, all night, and tomorrow.”

image and narrative by Chrissy Gilliland

“Your room is small, I know. Luckily you love being close to each other and have never complained about sharing a space. You will be older one day and each have a room of your own. Will you visit each other in one room sometimes? Will you stay in your room with your doors closed and music up loud? What will your relationship be like when you are teenagers? Right now I enjoy your need for closeness. You orbit around each other throughout the day, interacting with closeness I can't relate to as an only child. I observe with awe and gratitude that you have one another. “ image and narrative by Sara Wright

“Your room is small, I know. Luckily you love being close to each other and have never complained about sharing a space. You will be older one day and each have a room of your own. Will you visit each other in one room sometimes? Will you stay in your room with your doors closed and music up loud? What will your relationship be like when you are teenagers? Right now I enjoy your need for closeness. You orbit around each other throughout the day, interacting with closeness I can't relate to as an only child. I observe with awe and gratitude that you have one another. “

image and narrative by Sara Wright

“You have been missed. The whole of last week whilst you were away on a school trip your little brother has wandered around the house not really knowing what to do with himself. He's been teasing your little sister and bothering your older sister because his pal and playmate was away. The family dynamics completely changed and although you have been a bit of a pain just recently and I thought it might be good for us all to get some space we actually don't function very well without you.  So now you're back the equilibrium is restored and you go straight back to your imaginary star wars games with your brother. I can see he is more relaxed now you are back to show him how to do stuff, playing Star Wars on your own is a lonely business.” image and narrative by Abigail Fahey

“You have been missed. The whole of last week whilst you were away on a school trip your little brother has wandered around the house not really knowing what to do with himself. He's been teasing your little sister and bothering your older sister because his pal and playmate was away. The family dynamics completely changed and although you have been a bit of a pain just recently and I thought it might be good for us all to get some space we actually don't function very well without you.  So now you're back the equilibrium is restored and you go straight back to your imaginary star wars games with your brother. I can see he is more relaxed now you are back to show him how to do stuff, playing Star Wars on your own is a lonely business.”

image and narrative by Abigail Fahey

“We used to eat dinner together every night. That was before daddy and I switched our schedules around so we could have a little more time home with you guys. Now I work a little later at night so I can be home with you in the morning while daddy works in the morning to be home with you in the afternoon. By the time I get home you are done eating and are ready to curl up on the couch and watch TV. You always liked TV more than your sister, who is probably off playing somewhere right now. Your brother is just starting to eat `big people’ food so he eats a little slower. Plus daddy makes sure you two are fed before he feeds your brother. I look forward to the weekends when we all eat together as a family again.” image and narrative by Debbie Deonier  

“We used to eat dinner together every night. That was before daddy and I switched our schedules around so we could have a little more time home with you guys. Now I work a little later at night so I can be home with you in the morning while daddy works in the morning to be home with you in the afternoon. By the time I get home you are done eating and are ready to curl up on the couch and watch TV. You always liked TV more than your sister, who is probably off playing somewhere right now. Your brother is just starting to eat `big people’ food so he eats a little slower. Plus daddy makes sure you two are fed before he feeds your brother. I look forward to the weekends when we all eat together as a family again.”

image and narrative by Debbie Deonier  

“Daddy coming home from work is one of your favorite things ever!  Kissing him with your big open mouth makes you howl with laughter mostly because Daddy can't help but dramatically wipe all your slobber off his face. Even though all Daddy wanted after a long day was to sit down and drink his beer, he happily indulged your games. He knows you need the quality time. It feels like we never see you and your sister anymore. Later tonight, after making it a mere 6 days at home, you big brother is being readmitted to to the hospital. You and your big sister will be back in the loving arms of Grandma who is lovely but, no one plays quite like Daddy.” image and narrative by Heather Barrett

“Daddy coming home from work is one of your favorite things ever!  Kissing him with your big open mouth makes you howl with laughter mostly because Daddy can't help but dramatically wipe all your slobber off his face. Even though all Daddy wanted after a long day was to sit down and drink his beer, he happily indulged your games. He knows you need the quality time. It feels like we never see you and your sister anymore. Later tonight, after making it a mere 6 days at home, you big brother is being readmitted to to the hospital. You and your big sister will be back in the loving arms of Grandma who is lovely but, no one plays quite like Daddy.”

image and narrative by Heather Barrett

“You hate when I change your nappies so I try to trick you with kisses cuddles and lullaby (your favorite one "Ainsi font font") that you don’t feel vulnerable. I love those moments. It s part of the routine and when you are on top of the change table we are at the same level. You sometimes put your little arm around my neck and put your head on my shoulder and I melt… Not this time though you were too busy playing with my necklace.” image and narrative by Nadia Stone

“You hate when I change your nappies so I try to trick you with kisses cuddles and lullaby (your favorite one "Ainsi font font") that you don’t feel vulnerable. I love those moments. It s part of the routine and when you are on top of the change table we are at the same level. You sometimes put your little arm around my neck and put your head on my shoulder and I melt… Not this time though you were too busy playing with my necklace.”

image and narrative by Nadia Stone

"These days have been some of the longest of my life.  I know I'm blessed to be your mama.  To have had two years of post nap wake ups.  But some days are prettier than others.  There are often lots of tears.  And little hands grabbing at my pants or a toddler on my hip as I try to pull dinner together.  I hold on for dear life until I feel hollow from giving or guilty for giving into laundry and choosing to fold instead of play.  More days than I care to admit I blow up Papa's phone, shooting text after text until he finally walks in the door. But. The smell of your hair still damp from sleep.  The weight of your body as you snuggle into me while the sleep drifts from your eyes.  The smoothness of your skin as I tickle your back to soothe your emotional, over-tired nerves.  When I stop, everything falls back into balance. And here I am on the brink of heading back to work.  And I'm scared.  Not of the work.  I'm scared that I missed it, that I didn't soak it in, that I wished these days away. Tell me it isn't so.  Put your little fingers in my hands, snuggle your downy head into my chest, tell me it will be all right.  And let me tickle your back for a few more minutes." image and narrative by Sylvie Grahan

"These days have been some of the longest of my life.  I know I'm blessed to be your mama.  To have had two years of post nap wake ups.  But some days are prettier than others.  There are often lots of tears.  And little hands grabbing at my pants or a toddler on my hip as I try to pull dinner together.  I hold on for dear life until I feel hollow from giving or guilty for giving into laundry and choosing to fold instead of play.  More days than I care to admit I blow up Papa's phone, shooting text after text until he finally walks in the door.

But. The smell of your hair still damp from sleep.  The weight of your body as you snuggle into me while the sleep drifts from your eyes.  The smoothness of your skin as I tickle your back to soothe your emotional, over-tired nerves.  When I stop, everything falls back into balance.

And here I am on the brink of heading back to work.  And I'm scared.  Not of the work.  I'm scared that I missed it, that I didn't soak it in, that I wished these days away.

Tell me it isn't so.  Put your little fingers in my hands, snuggle your downy head into my chest, tell me it will be all right.  And let me tickle your back for a few more minutes."

image and narrative by Sylvie Grahan

This class will be offered this fall. Registration for the next run will open on August 23rd at 12 noon EST right HERE. In the past, the active seats have sold out within minutes so don't hesitate if you are interested.