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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roger's Christmas Story - Maris Ehlers Photography

When you see him with the whole family, you'd never guess that he hadn't been there since birth. You'd never think that he was once a child who had been through so much, who had spent day after day waiting for a family to call his, a place to call home.

Wait. That's not entirely true. Maybe you would think something was different. Why? Because I've never seen a nineteen year old "guy" before who is so joyful, so at ease, and so HAPPY to be spending the afternoon with 13 of his family members getting portraits taken. It's like he's making up for lost time. I've seen my fair share, and trust me on this. Even the polite ones are usually off texting in a corner, quietly waiting for the torture to be over. Sure, they endure it well because at that age they know bad manners are in bad taste, but that doesn't mean they want to be there. It usually goes well enough until mom tries to fix their hair with a little spit on her finger and then you see some unrestrained impatience with the whole affair. Not Roger, though. You would think that this was all just another fun experience in the world of family life. It is, actually - family portraits are treasured by most and important to many, but the enjoyment usually comes later in the form of photos or an album - not during the session itself.

I always try to learn a little bit about my clients before I meet them. Sometimes I know them through their work, activities, kids, etc., so I can tailor a session to their personality and style. If I don't know them, I often turn to the internet to get a glimpse. More often than not, I find at least a nugget or two. This session was a little different - it was an extended family session with grandparents, aunts, uncles and grandchildren, and I was a little nervous about it. I know one of the family units in the group, The Lunds (Dave and Lindi) very well, and have photographed them a couple of times. Their oldest, Alyssa, sometimes serves as my second photographer on wedding shoots, and Kaelie is a favorite model of mine (in fact, you'll see both of them in the Best of 2009 Contest). I've met the grandparents once, and knew that Lindi has a sister and a brother. Her sister, Jen, is a CEO for a non-profit called Ampersand Families, an organization that recruits and supports permanent families for older youth (i.e. teenaged adoption). What I hadn't known however, is that Jen and her partner Joanie had adopted one of the teenagers that Jen worked with. His name is Roger and he's now 19 years old. I found a link online to a written article telling the story of his adoption a couple of years ago. I was touched and intrigued.

Fast forward to the session. It was going to be too cold to shoot outside as originally planned, so Jen suggested her office building in NE Minneapolis. It's an old warehouse type building that used to be a casket factory, of all things. That definitely sounded interesting, but walking into an unknown space to photograph people I don't know (and a whole lot of them) can be a little intimidating to say the least!

We ended up having a great time. It is always so fun for me to watch families interact and to see the different people and personalities that come from one loving couple. Reflecting that in pictures is always exciting. Each member of the family contributes to the total dynamic in their own unique and special way, and this family was no different, except that one child in it is a child of choice. Imagine; his parents, Jen and Joanie, chose him!

Jen and Joanie beg to differ, in a big way. In an email today from Jen, here is what she says. "The thing about us choosing Roger: I suppose that's true. But the thing is, he chose us, too. And to me, that's more important. A couple of years ago, American RadioWorks did a documentary on teen adoption and I wrote a companion piece for the web. I wrote then that the gift has been to us, to me and to Joanie, and that’s still true. For him to have faith in humanity, after all that he went through, is simply remarkable to me. The fact that he chose us and the fact that he loves life, trusts people and is such a nice, good kid --- what a gift, hey? I've never met anyone who is so happy, every single day. Seriously. What you saw yesterday - being helpful, having fun - that's him."

So our choosing him? That's true. But his choosing us? That's the miracle.

It wasn't until this morning, the day after the shoot, that I actually listened to the American RadioWorks podcast on Roger's story that aired right before Christmas (2009). Having met him, their family, and having seen for myself how this young man has found the perfect family for him, well... I invite you to listen to Roger's wonderful story through his own words, along with Jen and Joanie's, and I bet you'll have the same reaction I did.

Roger's Christmas Story

Audio: American RadioWorks - Roger's Christmas Story

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Whenever I look at pictures from a session, I often think "Oh, I should have done this or that...", and this session is no different. I wish I would have taken a picture of Roger with his entire family behind him, because that's where they all are and will be for the rest of his life.

For more information about Ampersand Families and teen adoption, please visit their website here.

For another great adoption story that involves the Community Outreach Coordinator at Ampersand Families that was posted on a few days ago, click here.

Please pass this post along, or share it on your profile. You may just share it with the right person at the right time, and end up finding another teenager a new home in time for next Christmas!


Shayna said...

wow what an amazing story! Its so cool to see people who have gone through something so hard and still love and trust people. LOVE LOVE LOVE this story!!

Maris Ehlers Photography said...

Thank you, Shayna. What a happy ending!

Digital Flower Pictures said...

Maris, what a beautiful story and group of pictures. I am surprised to see you say it is too cold outside to take pictures. You would probably think Connecticut feels like Florida.

PS. Your comment section doesn't work with Firefox on a Mac. I have to switch to Safari to leave a comment.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

How about an update over here. :)