I have been a parent for 20 years; 21 if you count the time during my first pregnancy.
During my oldest kid's early years, I took loads of pictures with a disposable camera. They were as awesome as you are imagining them to be.
My second kid's childhood was documented almost solely via a giant camcorder that I inherited along with my husband.
The third kid...well, there are a few photos I have that I could put into an album.
The fourth, fifth and the early years of the sixth have all their memories held hostage on my computer's hard drive (if that is where photos are stored on a computer).
But to be honest, there isn't an abundance of photographic evidence of any of my kids after the year 2010.
And we've never, ever, had our pictures taken by a trained, honest-to-God professional. Heck, even my wedding was photographed by the husband of a friend, and he wasn't good. He was really nice. But he wasn't good.
But last month, something amazing happened. I mean, it's really amazing. Just when you think you know all the amazing things about it, another amazing thing pops up and then you're mind is blown.
I have a friend - a best friend - named Melanie and she and her husband are photographers. But for real, they are. They own Fresh Photography out of North Carolina, and they take the kind of pictures that regularly make me tear up. I've known Melanie since my almost 12-year-old wasn't even a 1-year-old. I've known Melanie since the time she used to describe herself as a "wacky mom". Seeing her now is - I'll just say it - it's inspiring. She's amazing and accomplished and a great wife, mom and a great friend as well.
Anyway, Melanie has a photographer friend (probably more than one) and she mentioned he'd be coming through my area in March and said I should see how much he would charge to do a shoot here in Santa Rosa, where I live. I checked it out, and while I knew it was a very fair price and I knew the photographs would be priceless and timeless memories, I also knew that I would not be able to scrape together the money for them. Boo.
Imagine my surprise - well, you can't. You can't imagine my surprise. I was so surprised to find an email in my inbox from Zalmy Berkowitz, offering me his services for free and asking if I was still interested. For such a smart man, this may have been the dumbest thing ever asked.
I did two things: Literally squealed, even though I was alone in the room. The other thing I did was resolve to not eat until the shoot almost a week later, because wow - I've packed on the pounds. (I ate. When it comes to crash diets - I'm all talk.)
Oh, I did a third thing: I began to obsess over things. Things like my stained carpets, the fact that I have no curtains up right now, the dusty TV screen and the broken laundry basket in the hallway. And then there was the fact that we don't have any really awesome clothes and my hair could use some color. Possibly the biggest stress was the fact that a stranger was going to be in my house. Taking pictures of all the things that I wish were different. But even just the fact that there would be a stranger in my house - camera or no camera.
But it turns out I was stressing over nothing. After a couple calls from Zalmy (my youngest called him "Zombie". Not cool, Frank. Not cool), I was put more at ease. And then, within five minutes of his arrival, it was as if he'd been at my house a million times. By the end of the shoot, he felt a lot like family. His mannerism, personality - everything about him, really, just put us all right at ease.
He's a funny, easy-going, kind-hearted, highly-skilled and talented photographer who also happens to be a Rabbi. Which is neither here nor there, but how cool is that? If you were to hire him to take pictures at your wedding, then this conversation could happen:
You: I had the best photographer for my wedding.
Your friend: Your pictures were amazing, but so were mine.
You: Yes, we both had great photos, but was your photographer also a teacher, a person sufficiently educated in halakhah (Jewish law) and tradition to instruct the community and to answer questions and resolve disputes regarding halakhah? No? Mine was.
And let's be honest, your pictures were way better.
Here's what I want to shout from the rooftops to anyone who would pass up an awesome documentary-style shoot because they may think they have to have a perfect house or a perfect family in order to "qualify" for this phenomenal method of photo-documentation:
YOU ARE RIDICULOUS.
We didn't buy new clothes or even have our kids dress up. We didn't have matching outfits (don't have matching outfits). I never did buy curtains (still haven't). I did clean up the house a bit, because mama didn't raise no fool. My carpets are still stained. We aren't exciting people and there was a fear that we'd be so dry and dull that it would, in fact, be the most boring set of photos ever taken. But it turns out Zalmy is a professional photographer who is incredibly talented and - as Melanie assured me - makes dry and dull look great.
If you live in Southern California, look him up. Zalmy Berkowitz Photography. If you live in another part of California, still look him up. I hear he comes through this area on his way up to Oregon several times a year and - as I've learned - makes stops along the way to take amazing pictures. Heck, maybe he makes stops in other states as well. Of course, if you get too far south, may as well just call Melanie and Jeff at Fresh Photography... I mean, she's already over there and it just makes sense.
I know you're dying to see the pictures. Or at least dying to see Zalmy's beard. I haven't bought any of the photos yet, and I'd feel weird about stealing his stuff off his Facebook, but if you have the good sense G-d (hat tip to Jews) gave you, then you'll follow this link:
And okay, it turns out I'm not so squeaky clean. I did use an image he took that I have not yet purchased, but I am going to purchase it, so I think that means it's okay that I used it.