Since I got a smartphone, I’ve taken thousands of pictures. Over the same seven years or so I’ve also spent a lot of time on photo shoots, and I’ve learned a enough about lighting and composition to get a great family holiday photo in a single take. I’ve picked up enough about editing and filters to make backyard snapshots look like something that might go in a magazine. I’m not claiming expertise, just practice and a basic understanding of what it takes to take a good picture.
What’s freed me up to gain some level of skill and confidence is the room to fail. I’m no longer limited to the 24 shots on a roll of 35 millimeter film or the wait time to get them developed before knowing what I’ve got. Gratification, like iteration, is instant.
It isn’t fair to say I got the holiday shot in a single take. There were actually several, with my son and sister as stand-ins on the spiral staircase. I adjusted curtains, scooted the Christmas tree, raised and lowered my iPhone tripod and set the timer at just enough time for me to get back to my spot but not too long that my family couldn’t hold their smiles.
When we were kids, my dad never said, ” Say cheese.” He said, “Say bartsfarkle,” which made us laugh instead of smile. He also seemed to never break out the camera except on Christmas morning, when I was barely awake and none of us had brushed our hair. It’s funny to look through photo albums and see the same pictures over and over again: us surrounded by wrapping paper, curled up in a big green chair or holding a gift up to the camera from the living room floor.
My dad took decent pictures, but whether they were birthday parties or Easter morning, there’s the quality of occasion to all of them. Dressed up or still in our pjs, on vacation or at a piano recital, there was something about the moments that were photographed then that was apart from the rest of our lives, frozen even as they were happening.
We rarely print pictures these days, but there are some photo albums from my post-college era that have captured my daughter’s imagination lately. “Who’s that, Mama?” she asks, pointing at friends and former students whose names I can’t always recall.
She was “Star of the Week” a few weeks back and we were asked to bring photos to put up on the bulletin board of her. I chose pictures of her doing favorite her favorite everyday things: riding a horse at Van Saun Park, hugging our cat, playing in the sprinkler, reading a book. I also chose the classic hands-in-the-birthday cake shot from when she turned one, a moment conceived and constructed for her, as it had been for me, solely for the purpose of taking that photograph.
As I was choosing which images to print and share, I scrolled through more than 3,000 of her and my son, images we’d taken since she was making my belly the size of the pumpkin on the table next to me at the pick-your-own farm. So many of them had been shared with friends on Facebook that I was able to print the ones we needed by logging in to my account from a kiosk at my local CVS. I put them all in an album yesterday, and tonight we sat in the orange chair while she explained to me what each of them was.
I wondered what the ability to document everything in images has done. Are we more likely to capture the everyday? Or have we curated all of our moments into miniature occasions? Are our pictures more reflective of what we experience since we know better how to make the photos in our phones match the snapshots of our memories? Are photos now proxy for memories, or have they always been?
I’m not sure, but tonight I read an article about how shelter pets who have been waiting for forever families for months are getting adopted within hours of a good photo of them being taken and posted online.
It is the same sort of curated authenticity and instant intimacy that is perfected in Instagram feeds and that make us feel like we know the kids of our high school friends, people we haven’t actually seen since graduation. The simple tricks of perspective, backgrounds, tonality – and the freedom to take as many shots as needed to get it right – hold promise beyond perfecting the holiday portrait or portraying the perfect family, and they’re saving animals lives.
As I was putting Nacine to sleep tonight, I told her the story of Rascal, the stray cat we brought in to our basement who had kittens in a laundry basket. Rascal nursed and weaned them and they opened their tiny kitten eyes in a refrigerator box filled with our old sheets and towels and then promptly left our lives the way she’d entered through a screened door. I wondered if I remembered the story itself so vividly or if it was the photos we’d taken of baby Tit-Tat and her brothers and sisters that cemented the memory there so I could share it tonight.
Either way, I think, pictures hold power: to turn moments to memory and memories into moments again.
Last week I heard about Getty’s new Lean in Collection on my local NPR station, WNYC. I listened to the story about pictures with my communications person hat on, thinking how frustrating it is to try and find good stock images of anything but especially of real people – women, diverse ethnic groups, humans that don’t appear to be androids. Today I saw the story again, this time on Buzzfeed, and perhaps because I was seeing a sampling of the photos themselves, the story resonated with me on multiple levels. Not just as a mom in her thirties with biracial children. And not just as someone who often tries to represent a brand and communicate a message through photography. But also as a person concerned about social issues like women’s rights and how brands and companies address them intentionally and also through their business activities. Here are a few of my takeaways of why this initiative is so great:
- The images are visually stunning and fill a void in the marketplace.
- The pictures reflect the world as it is, and don’t make a preachy fuss about social change.
- The pictures cut across generations, and depending on yours you either see your normal finally depicted or stereotypes you’ve long fought being broken down.
- It’s not positioned as an announcement about a partnership or grant funding, but the end product shared with the world as a useful thing.
- The publicity isn’t just about promised collaboration but instead informs both the niche of potential users but also manages to matter to everyday women.
- It is dead center of what Getty does as a business and addresses a globally relevant social issue.
- It is going to make people think AND it will undoubtedly sell more images for Getty.
My boss used the term “servant leadership” the other day to describe the style he aimed for in leading our team. It’s a phrase I last heard from a pulpit in South Georgia more than a decade ago and never expected to encounter in corporate America, much less on Wall Street where I now work.
He said servant leadership, to him, meant that his whole job is to give us what we need to be the best at what we do. I see him do this, both intentionally and automatically, all the time: always saying “Come in” when I linger at his door, never giving me a solution but instead asking questions until I find one on my own. His style is refreshing, and it motivates me because I know he has my back when I need it, but he also gives me the space I need to do my job well.
A side effect of working for him for the last 8 months is that I’m starting to be more conscious of my own leadership style, and I’m gaining the confidence — in the teams I work with, and critically in myself — to begin to let go and lead.
One of the reasons is a piece of feedback he gave me a couple of months ago that might be the most important I’ve ever gotten. “Sometimes you approach things like you’ve got it all figured out, almost like you believe it would all work much better if there were 20 little Angies running around.” He said it gently, but it is a hard truth. I do.
Instead of leading, I’ve been managing – designing a plan, assigning roles, staying on top of deadlines, ensuring deliverables. The results are good, but they’re exhausting, and more than that, they don’t benefit from the diverse perspectives or full capacity of everyone I’m working with.
What happens when you manage, if you work really hard, is that you end up getting what you expected. But what I’ve been thinking about is what could happen if instead, I started to lead. If I were to know my colleagues’ strengths, build teams and trust, pose problems and ask questions until a solution emerges, then let people own the pieces they’re best at and come up with ideas and results I could never have dreamed.
Last week our team shared an exercise in discovering our styles of influence, taking and examining a diagnostic to evaluate how we orient our thinking and approach our work. I learned a lot about myself, including that I am by nature a delegator (a huge surprise), and even more about the people on our team. The facilitator talked about the energy that is wasted when we have to use “five fingers of effort.” I felt myself unclench my fist and wonder what it would be like to unleash the one finger of effort of all of us instead.
The understanding I gained about how our strengths might be combined to great effect led me to make a conscious shift from managing to leading a project the very next day. The results were dramatic.
When a logistical challenge arose, I asked some colleagues to help. I could have figured out the details of what to do and done it on my own, but it would have put me into overdrive, compromising other projects and creating tension in relationships with others on the team. Instead, I gave capable people a problem to solve that they had the skills and connections to make happen in much less time and more effectively than I ever could have.
A few days later, a small team needed to work together to create and share information and ideas quickly. A process that normally takes days was achieved in minutes because we trusted each other and shared a goal and vision for success. Each of us understood our role clearly, including me – and like my boss I realized that my most important job was to make sure they each had everything they needed to succeed.
This view of leadership seems obvious, and in some ways it is. But only if I stop focusing on myself and look around to see how I can help others. It works, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to slow down and really ask what everyone else needs. It isn’t easy to swap my own agenda and ideas for a shared goal and trust that everyone else is doing the same.
But the results are incredible when you do, and you can transform not just the what, but the how of achieving them.
Serving others before self is a lesson I heard often growing up, and one I’m well served to recall. With guidance from my boss, accountability from my peers, and feedback from my team, I am beginning to return to service. And, as I do, I hope to move from getting things done to building things together, and from trying to manage to learning to lead.
Sometimes, it is hard for her to sleep. I’m awakened by the loneliest sound: the name she calls me, Mama. I wait a while, hoping she will turn over on her pillow and close her eyes again, then drift off to sleep. Sometimes it works, but this time, no, it won’t.
I roll out of the sheets-tangle and out of bed. As I take the railing and start walking down the stairs, her “Mama” gets louder. The motion-sensor light pops on, and with the confidence of being able to see where my feet are landing, I tiptoe toward her faster than before.
“Shhh,” I say as I walk in her door. “Shhh, sweetie. Mama’s here.”
In the shadows coming from the skylight over her crib, I see her stand up. She raises her arms toward me and says “Mama” again. All the loneliness is gone from the word, and it’s become the hope and happiness of what she believed would happen all along: I’ve come for her. I wonder if I’ve waited upstairs to give time for this relief to build.
Now I have to decide: do I take her upstairs, which is what she’s asking for — “I want to go with you,” she says, and “you” is a pout that lingers on her lips as she nestles into the crook of my shoulder — or do I sit with her here in her room?
The recliner is there next to her crib for this. But I just got up from it a few hours before. It was just 8:30 (now it’s 1:00) when I sat there trying to accommodate a space for her against me that is mostly no longer there. Her legs wrapped around my waist and into the crevices of the chair. I leaned my neck to either side to make room for her head because her body is now too long.
She fit here before. First she was a little bundle, perfect in the crook of my elbow, nuzzling and nursing until her breathing changed to sleep. The she leaned against me, my chin on her head. The lavender of her wet hair then is the smell of her to me, ever and always.
I decide to sit, knowing getting up will be noisy and lurching. I have to push down on the footrest with my heels and on the arms of the chair with the palms of my hands. It is not a smooth descent and the last bit is likely to wake her.
“Mama?” she says, this time a question. It is a plea like the night I flew out to London and she cried, “Mama, don’t leave me!” as soon as the road to the airport revealed the planes. But I can’t stay here in this chair with her all night any more than I could have stayed in that car.
“Shhh,” I say again. I pat her back through the blanket and footed pajamas that warm her. She settles a bit and I stand. I rock side to side and there is a pang again because she doesn’t quite fit here either and it makes my forearms and my heart both ache. Getting her over the edge of the crib and down onto the mattress on her stomach is the thing I’m not sure I can do without waking her and her “Mama” denouncing my betrayal.
I consider sleepless hours ahead if I bring her up to our bedroom: her head hitting the railroad-tie headboard and her “Mama” ringing with surprise and pain, her foot in my stomach, her arm flung across my husband’s face.
I know it wouldn’t be snuggles and lavender hair all night so I slowly put her down. I tread like a soldier backing out of her room, watching for movement, listening for “Mama” again. I manage to make my way out, miss the creaky floorboard, turn the door handle and pull the door to lightly enough to be silent. Then I realize the cat’s in there under the dust ruffle up against the baseboard where there’s heat.
“Dozy!” I whisper, “Pstpstpst. C’mon.” She does, slinking her narrow black and white body through the crack I’ve made for her and hobbling away on her three legs into the den.
I close the door again and listen on the stairs for my sweet girl. I half regret I didn’t bring her with me; I miss her warm chest against my chest already, and the sound of her breathing is faint from this far away.
“Mama!” I hear her demanding with expectation first thing in the morning. “Come get me, Mama!” The daylight must be coming down through the glass and tree branches above her again.
“Mama’s coming baby,” I call down the hallway to her. “Mama will be right there.
Luz and I have been friends for a decade now, since before we were married, before we were moms, before I left Miami, twice. We had lunch today because she is in town on a business trip, and I smiled as the two of us perched at the bar at Eataly with our coats on the backs of our chairs and our bags at our feet.
Over crudo, sea urchin and pulpo, we caught up on love, work and motherhood and how each of us reconciles them all: watching the men we fell in love with fall in love with our little girls, being that mom who has her son tested by an outside psychologist to make sure he gets into the gifted program, both loving and feeling guilty for traveling the country and even the world for our jobs and leaving the husband alone to take care of the kids. I’m fairly certain that when my husband introduced Luz and I ten years ago he never imagined she and I would be eating in a trendy New York restaurant talking about what it means to be what the New York Times calls a “Wall Street Mother” — and I’d actually be one.
Two of the women interviewed for that story are senior colleagues of mine. They are women I know and admire for their tenacity, intelligence and skill who are a generation ahead of Luz and I and have navigated an industry and a world that is changing. The women before them broke barriers. These women laid groundwork. And that means Luz and I have footing to make choices not just about what we want from our careers but how we organize our working lives.
These women make it work in part by their husbands not working. Luz and her husband have a nanny who has been with them since their first-grader was born and who now cares for their daughter in their house while Luz works from home. I’m remote one day a week, when I can be, and rely on my husband, a professor, to drop off and pick up the kids and most nights make dinner before I get home.
When we met in our twenties, Luz and I were looking ahead at our lives, not yet the wives, mothers, executives, consultants we are today. We were thinking about where we wanted to live, who we hoped to be. We chose our husbands, bought our homes, built our resumes right alongside one another, even when the life I was making took me away from the city where we’d met. Now we’re finishing up our thirties and right in the middle of achieving all we’d dreamed.
As we crept through traffic today I was struck by the comfort I found in sharing stories of our nows with Luz: the glamorous, the meaningful and the mundane. I imagined us a decade from now perched owllike in our forties: looking around at our own careers at their pinnacles, looking ahead more for our children than ourselves, and glancing behind at the amazing women we’ve managed to become.
Close the book quietly. Slide it in the wood pocket on the back of the seat in front of you, the pew. You stand. You sing. You sit. A plate is passed and a child looks up at his father, who reaches for his wallet, pulls out a dollar. It all happens just in time for the boy to be the one to drop it on the velvet bottom of the plate and pass it to the next person, small fingers gripping the metal that holds his offering in both hands.
You look on with the person standing next to you: sometimes because there are more people there than hymnals, sometimes because you are together, here, impossibly. It is the only time he’s really heard you sing, so you wonder how your voice sounds to him, though he hears your voice every day. He is not singing along, but you see his lips moving, his eyes searching for what comes next. None of this is as familiar as it is to you. You point. You run your finger under the third line of text on each stanza of the song as you sing. You look up and know he’s seeing for the first time words you know by heart.
You are 15 and yours is the only white face among a hundred shades of brown. You have found a way to sing that comes not from your mouth, your lips, your teeth or even your throat, your lungs, your diaphragm. You have become the song. All of the notes are pieces of you that you give to the room. There is no hymnal. Notes are the height of a hand and the length of an arm extended. Held. The song is all of you and you resonate with the echoes of every woman around you who is swaying with you and holding up the woman in front of you. She is the offering, her clear lines piercing through the words you have all become and making you one.
She is more than one, less than two. Your daughter: discovering melody, words, rhythm, all of it, and tonight she doesn’t want to sleep. She is in your arms, outside of you this bright girl who began within you, and for a moment once again she is not apart. Her body is long against yours, and her ear is on your shoulder. Her eyes are locked on yours when they can stay open, and both of you are singing the alphabet; it makes up the words that make meaning of everything.
For a while you lost your sense of the sacred. But now it is an offering rushing back on you like a wave. It is as if the water that is outside of you is remembering that you are water, too.
* Written in May 2012.
Many companies are making it easier than ever to integrate career and family by offering options to parents who want (or need) to bring young children along on business travel. When I recently realized I was facing back-to-back trips for work, I decided to explore my options.
And, following a six-day business trip with my infant daughter, here are some tips for other moms who might be considering giving this a try:
1) Explore a variety of childcare options: With a little exploring on our company intranet, I learned that the backup childcare program I’d used near my office when the kids’ schools were closed also granted access to a nationwide network of providers. That meant that for most of my trip, I didn’t have to worry about finding a reliable place for her to stay, and her care was covered by an affordable copay. There was one day I knew I would be working too late to get back and pick her up before the center closed, so I reached out to an old friend who lived in the city I was traveling to. She offered to do a nanny share for the day, which worked out great for everyone: our kids got to play together, her nanny got an unexpected bonus, and I knew my daughter was in good hands.
2) Arrange for a car seat in advance: With my clothes, my work gear and the baby’s things, bringing along my own car seat was just too much of a hassle. I simply let the corporate travel agent know I’d be traveling with an infant, and she not only made the call to the airline to add her to my flight, she arranged for a car seat in the rental car I’d be picking up and reminded me to make sure the car service I was using to get to and from the airport had a car seat as well. The only downside is that the rental car company does charge a daily fee, and depending on the length of your trip, it can add up.
3) Catch up on work while the baby catches some zz’s: One of the advantages of bringing along a baby is that their early bedtime means you’re more likely to be back in the hotel early and have plenty of time to catch up on emails after they turn in. I found my evening hours to be incredibly productive during this trip, and I was able to stay up to speed with projects back at the office and even get in extra time to prep for meetings, too.
4) Make room in the minibar: My usual routine includes preparing the kids’ lunches, including my daughter’s bottles, the evening before. On this trip I stocked up on fruit at breakfast and baby food at the nearby pharmacy and stored those along with the next day’s bottles in the minibar fridge. I just put all the nonperishable beverages on top of the dresser and returned them to their rightful place on the shelves before I checked out.
5) Don’t forget to request a crib: As nice as it may be to cuddle up with your kiddo, you need your beauty rest, especially when you’re on the road. Most hotels will provide a crib and bedding at no additional cost. Mine even threw in a cute little box of travel-sized baby supplies including shampoo, powder, lotion and diaper cream.
While I did get a few funny looks in the airport — wearing a suit and heels and pulling a roller board behind me with a baby strapped into a carrier on front — all in all, I’d say the experiment was a success. If you’ve got work travel coming up and can’t bear the thought of leaving your little one behind, consider bringing the baby along. It won’t work for every trip, or everyone, but with a little planning it just might work for you.