18 months ago our family had the privilege of being cast in a Google Fiber ad. The photographer for the shoot was Samantha Mitchell, originally out of L.A., but now living in Salt Lake. We loved her. A year later, out of the blue, she reached out to Katie.
“My friend, Alyson Aliano, is also a photographer. She's originally from New York, but she's living in L.A., and she’s working on a book called Real Mother. I told her about you. She’s going to be in Utah just before Thanksgiving. Could she come do a shoot with you?”
The inspiration for Real Mother came to Alyson after marrying her husband and becoming a stepmother to young twin girls. People continually asked her the same questions - "Aren’t you going to have children? Don’t you want to have your own children? You know, because you're not their real mom." This started her on a photo series exploring what it means to be a "real mom." You can see some of the original photos here and here. She is looking at getting it published into a book. And Katie is going to be in it!
Alyson showed up at our front door the day before Thanksgiving. Wednesday. The day the pies get baked. One of the smaller of our 8 children answered the door and let her in.
“Hi, I’m Alyson.”
“Hi, I’m Katie.” [Walking from the kitchen to the front door.]
“Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, I mean...do you have cousins or friends over or something?”
“I don’t understand.”
“These are all mine.”
Blank stare from Alyson.
“I have 8 children.”
Continued blank stare. [Alyson is apparently, literally gobsmacked.]
“Did Samantha not tell you I had 8 children?”
According to Katie, Alyson had a look on her face like she was doing long division in her head. It was taking a while to process the words floating in the air between the two of them. But when they did, Alyson finally said, "This is the biggest family I've ever photographed." Katie couldn't tell if this was a good or bad thing, because Alyson still looked perplexed. Like, Italian-Queens-New-Yorker kind of perplexed. But then she confirmed, with the same no-nonsense inflection, "This just made my whole year."
These two women, from com-mm-plll-eee-tely different worlds (I cannot spread that word out over enough syllables to illustrate my point) connected, sharing the experiences of motherhood. All while Katie and the kids made pies for Thanksgiving.
I was at work and absent for the whole thing. I’m kind of sad, but kind of feel like it wouldn’t have been the same experience if I’d been there. And I love the experience for what it was.
Alyson left a questionnaire for Katie to fill out. It was no small thing for Katie. It's several pages long. She soul-searched and wrote answers and re-wrote them and finally sent them off, assuming Alyson would realistically use one or two answers. Alyson’s response? “I’m using everything you wrote. You will be the biggest family in the book and your voice is unique. I’m using everything from everyone.”
I’ve been married to Katie almost 20 years, and in reading her responses to these questions, I learned new things about her. I want our children to have copies of her answers as part of their own personal history records. I’m so happy for this experience. The book isn’t out yet, and I don’t want to make this a “spoiler,” so I’ll just share one of Katie’s answers.
What is motherhood for you? What is it like? How would you define it?
Motherhood is everything I do all day and into the night. It is snuggling my nursing baby’s sweaty head. It is staying up later than I had planned to listen to my 17 year-old tell me about someone at work. It is hearing “Mom!” and knowing whether it means my 3 year-old is ready to have her bum wiped or my 13 year-old finally got the LEDs on his arc reactor to work. It is cleaning up barf and urine and poo. It is answering the worst question (“What’s for dinner?”) and already knowing who’s excited and who’s in mourning. It is trying to react appropriately to missing socks and lost library books and big messes because I know I am always being watched. Motherhood is singing and crying and scolding and kissing. It is learning what a broken finger looks like and what pneumonia sounds like. It is spending a day making cookies with my 11 year-old and making a covered wagon with my 6 year-old. It is watching light saber fights and puppet shows and magic tricks and first dates. It is driving to auditions and try-outs and recitals and games. It is leaking milk through your shirt and wearing spit up on your shoulder. Motherhood is being hugged and scowled at and cried for and sneezed on. It is crying with your 15 year-old who feels friendless and laughing with your 9 year-old who got a joke. It is getting kids to practice the cello or piano or times tables or the Preamble. It is trying to reason with a toddler. It is midnight prayers for a fever to break. It is births and miscarriages. It is a front row seat to the best and the worst of your own and your kids' emotions. Mothering is the most important thing I will ever do with my time and my life. To me, motherhood is the most important work in society. I am creating and teaching and shaping the next generation. It’s messy, sweaty, and bloody and I choose it every day because I love it. - Katie Fillmore Craig
This photo was in response to Alyson asking, "What else do you all like to do together?" and Katie responding, "We're practicing the hand chimes for a Christmas program." And so they played for Alyson.
*Photos by Alyson Aliano