Joy of Childhood. Surber Family. Empire, Michigan.

Every year I have been amazingly lucky to capture this gregarious and kind family on the shores of Lake MIchigan in Empire. Every year, I leave these sessions secretly (not so secret now!) wishing I were part of this group--they are so much fun with so much energy and joy and clear love for each other. Here are some of the shots of the kids that really drew me in this year.


Why I don't have kids. And won't.


“Well, just wait--you’ll want them eventually!”--Nope.

“Awww, you’re just saying that now, but soon you’ll change your mind!”--Nope.

“Haven’t you always wanted them?”--Nope.

“I hate to ask, but is there, you know….a reason you aren’t having them?”--You hate to ask? But yet you did.  Nope.

Here it is--the blog post you’ve all been waiting for--the blog post where I lay it all out there and answer the burning question that I know so many of you have wanted to ask (and some of you have)--Why don’t Emily and Ian have kids?

Here’s the extremely true, simple, and totally honest answer: We don’t want them.

That’s it, guys, it’s not some cosmic mystery--there’s no medical issue or childhood trauma or secret plan or anything at all, except the simple fact that we just do not want to have kids...and never have...and most likely never will.

Living in West Michigan and growing up in West Michigan, the question is pretty normal and it almost never is meant to offend: “Well, when are you guys going to have kids?” The fact of West Michigan is that people here have kids--sometimes multiple kids--pretty young. There is nothing wrong with that and this is not intended to be judgmental, it’s just the fact. This area of the country tends to create young families and for many that works.  For me and for Ian, though, it was never in any way a priority.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 10 years getting to the point where I’ve felt comfortable answering the questions people pose regarding having kids. I’ve read a lot of books about the decision not to have children and come to understand that it is a pretty big cultural issue, enough so that there is a lot of literature out there about even the semantics of the decision and the language used (“child free” vs. “child less” is an entire section of one of the books I read).  

There’s a fine line here-for some, the choice not to have children might seem almost selfish. Particularly for those who do want children or who are struggling to conceive, watching others who willingly choose not to have kids can feel like “Really? Are you serious?”.  For others, who have children, those of us without kids can come across as smug--trust me, I know I’m a total asshole a lot of the time when it comes to my judgement of kids. Just watch me in a Mejier while a kid is breaking the H down in the dairy aisle and you’ve seen about all there is to see with my judgement--it’s eye rolling city over here.  I own that--it doesn’t make it right, but it’s true. I know that more than a few of my friends have likely had back room conversations about what jerks Emily and Ian are because they don’t have kids--if you haven’t had that conversation, I’m sure you’ve thought it.  Good on you--I hold no resentment towards that and I own my asshole-ish ways.

On the flip side, though, there is some struggle in not having kids. It’s also a fine line of being confident in saying, as a woman, “I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids, and I’m never having kids.” Immediately there are these societal expectations and cultural norms that you are violating in this decision. Women are expected to want the joys of motherhood, to want to birth a child and when a woman doesn’t want that and chooses not to engage in that, it can seem threatening, strange, odd and even offensive to some. I’ve had many women ask me, in a roundabout, Midwestern way, “But, as a woman….don’t you just yearn for a child?” No. The only thing I’ve ever truly yearned for is a Jet’s Pizza at 10:30 at night on a Sunday.  Yearning to birth a child has legitimately never been a thing for me.

I would love to say that my decision to be child free (that’s my chosen language) is in a greater good sort of way--that we decided not to have children because of the population explosion (which is real) or that I wanted to adopt before birthing my own--while these are definitely reasons now for me, they weren’t the initial reason I decided years ago not to pursue motherhood. The initial reason we didn’t want to have kids is so simple and so boring. And so selfish.

The initial reason was (and is): I’m selfish.

I want to take care of myself. I want to be able to go for a 10 mile run in the morning and out for drinks in the afternoon. I want to be able to read on a beach for 4 hours on a Saturday and to travel to Spain in the summertime.  I have no desire to schedule my life around naps or sitters or feedings.  I get that children bring joy and love and it’s amazing--I’m SURE if I ever had a child I would be like, “This is seriously tits,” but I also don’t really care enough to find that out and I certainly am not going to birth one just to birth one and hope that feeling happens. 

Now, as I've aged, started to be more cognizant of huge issues like population explosion and global warming (real facts, guys, not liberal media myth), and also been a classroom teacher for more than 13 years, I have come to understand even more that child rearing is not for me. To me there are way too many humans in this world already, and for me to have one just to fulfill some sort of cultural expectation that as a woman I should have a kid would be the ULTIMATE selfish thing.  

Let me clarify--for ME it is selfish, not for others--Here's why--For those who want kids and it makes sense to their lives, then in no way is the decision to have them selfish--that is not what I am saying at all.  What I am saying is, that for me, as a person who is only lukewarm to the idea of desire to have a child (lukewarm at best...lukewarm is actually about 14 degrees warmer than my desire to have kids), then having a child would be selfish. I hope that makes sense. I'll read it out loud to see......yeah, to me it makes sense. I hope it comes across the way I am intending. 

Truthfully, I probably am still "selfish" and that is an often used word to describe folks who choose not to have children. It's something that I have come to accept that I might portray to others and while that is sort of a frustrating word, perhaps that is how the decision comes across. 

Thus, the long and short of it is, we aren’t having kids and I think that by writing it here, it’s my way of saying that finally, after about 10 years of grappling with it, I’m totally 100% ok with that.  Sure it is scary to think about who is going to care for me when I’m 99 years old and living like a total queen bee in a state subsidized nursing home, but I also have a couple nieces and nephews who will be signing care contracts too (little do they know...).  Of course sharing my life with a little one sounds appealing at times, or there are moments when I see families on vacation or playing together at a photo shoot and I think, “Awww, what could be…”, but those moments are also super fleeting.  Kids just aren’t for me. For us. That’s ok.  I’m good.

But here is the real meat and potatoes of this entry--why is writing about NOT having kids so scary whereas writing on and on and on and on about the choice TO have kids is normal and accepted? It's true--a simple Google search for "trying to have kids" will bring no less than millions of advice articles and real life stories of people who did just that--tried and had them.

I wonder about is if our society will ever change to a place where women feel more comfortable writing things like this or having conversations about their desire NOT to birth kids.  Goodness knows we are comfortable talking about all the details of wanting kids ("we're trying", IVF details, miscarriage stories are seriously the #1 fodder of lifestyle bloggers), but why are we so uncomfortable hitting POST on something like this--an honest reflection of why being child free is the right decision for us as a family? It's a frustrating double standard and one I hope changes eventually, but for now, I'm taking the leap and saying that thing that I'm sure many women would love to say--Choosing not to have children is a completely legitimate life decision and it in no way makes you less of a woman, more of a bitch, or in any other way inadequate.  

Cheers and Happy Friday,


Leelanau Sessions.

I've been shooting away up here in Leelanau this summer.  I have a few spots available still for family, vacation, couples and kids sessions. Would love to fit you in and capture a bit of this glorious space for you! Shoot me a contact form today!

Marriage. 9 Years. 1 Farmhouse. 2 Dogs. Life.

Happy 9 year wedding anniversary to me and Ian today on this July 12, 2017.  9 years ago we stood on a beach in Ferrysburg, Michigan, said our vows, and made it legal in front of about 120 friends and family.  The cottage we used for the wedding was tiny and in no way set up to host a wedding--but it pretty much kicked all sorts of wedding ass and we had a great time.

Now we are 9 years into this thing and I have to say, it's not that bad.  I mean, sure, there are days when I think both of us find ourselves thinking, "Realllly? Really?", but for the most part, it's a pretty smooth trip.

We had been dating for 7 years before we got married--I like to say it was because we wanted to wait until same-sex marriage was legalized before we tied the knot (I have a feeling this is something Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie might have one said now I don't say that anymore), but it also was because just really didn't need a paper to feel it was legal. We had lived together for 5 of those years, traveled around the country and the world together, and in the end, what ultimately pushed us towards the altar was the imperative need for health insurance--really. After Ian's near death in Thailand (he hates when I tell this story, so just know that if you want to hear it, we can tell it over drinks sometime--it's a good story and one that really should be featured on The Moth because I tell it like a total boss), we got back to the US and realized that in order for us to both have adequate health insurance, we would need to be married--and as the teacher in the family, my insurance was the best.  

People always groan at this part, Ian included, and say, "But that's so unromantic? You got married for health insurance?" 

NO. We did not get married FOR health insurance, but gosh, guys, it really was a pretty big deal. When you are presented with a bill for over $24,000 USD and realize that if this medical emergency had happened in the US, you'd be all shades of bankrupt, you count your lucky stars it happened in Thailand and the total is only $2400 Thai Baht. 

We didn't get married for health insurance, but it sweetened the deal. Really sweetened it.  We knew we would eventually get married--this just pushed us to have the party. 

Getting off subject here--the deal with marriage, from my 9 years of expertise, is that is can go a few ways. For some, it goes really dramatic and there is a ton of fighting and passion and insanity--a continuation, in some ways, of the dating phase. For others, it gets super boring, and all meals are enjoyed in front of cell phones while you secretly reconnect with your high school boyfriend via Facebook.  For others, and I think we fall into this category, marriage is just sort of...normal. Not boring, but not dramatic. Not intense, but not uninteresting. It's just day to day.

Marriage is  trusting each other to take out the garbage when one is traveling and hoping that the dogs were let out in a timely fashion.  It's pretty big laughs at jokes that no one else would think are funny (mostly about dogs and the cars they would drive if they were human) and ordering Chinese food when the only remaining fridge food is a rotten onion.  

It's working on an old ass farmhouse for 5 years and trying to convince most of your family and friends you aren't crazy.  Marriage is early mornings where no one looks good and phrases like "I under-slept" as you get back into the bed with a coffee cup in hand, while your spouse heads out the door to work.  

Marriage is constant trips to the Humane Society looking for the 3rd dog to adopt, or endless Craigslist searches for Land Cruisers from the mid-90s.  Marriage is telling your spouse that he is your second photographer now and then booking a 4 month road trip around the US in a vintage Airstream trailer.  Marriage is swimming in Lake Michigan at night and using each others legs to warm up cold feet in the trailer.  

Marriage is saying every SINGLE winter, "THIS is the last winter we spend in Michigan," as you cold shuffle into Meijer at 8am on a Sunday in January.  Marriage is knowing that your spouse takes an ice cube in his coffee or that the half and half needs to turn to the most delicate shade of tan.  Marriage is agreeing to watch just one more episode of the People Vs. OJ Simpson and then it's 1am and you've watched 9 episodes and you're like, "HOW DID THE GLOVE NOT FIT?!!! COME ON!"

Marriage is arguing with the man who walks by your house who yells "Polish Lives Matter" and having your spouse advocates for you and your profession in the cold while you're at Parent Teacher Conferences. Marriage is accepting that the left side of the garage will always be filled with vintage furniture that may or may not be for sale.

Marriage is understanding that having 131 houseplants is normal. Marriage is having an entire room filled with young adult books because your spouse quit her job (and then quit her new job) and now you're just kind of waiting.

Marriage is believing relentlessly in the other and in the power of pizza. Marriage is quitting drinking for 30 days and talking about it a LOT with each other. Marriage is walking to the trail beach, washing off all the insulation from an old house, and then watching the sunset.

So, obviously, this is my marriage.  It's not perfect, but it works. I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful for this life and this man and the many, many, many, many laughs.

Happy Marriage, Ian. You are cool.

All photos are by Amy Carroll during our Anniversary Session last year in Empire.  She is basically the cat's PJs in all the patterns. 

All photos are by Amy Carroll during our Anniversary Session last year in Empire.  She is basically the cat's PJs in all the patterns. 

Justine & Garrett's Lake Michigan Elopement. Laketown, MI.

"Hey, it's supposed to rain on Friday, any chance you want to move your elopement to Thursday night instead?"
"Sure! No problem!"

That was basically the email exchange between myself and Justine and Garett the week of their elopement planed for Laketown Beach near Holland, MI. They were the MOST laid back I have ever seen when it came to eloping and it was an absolute dream to work with them from start to finish. Justine and Garett simply wanted to be married with some cool pictures and a great story--they wanted to ensure Justine's daughter Lily and their family dog could be part of it, and they wanted it to be small and intimate with just their parents in attendance.  Check, check, check, and check--we accomplished that. Eloping on a beautiful June evening overlooking Lake Michigan and then running full speed down a dune to the shore is sort of a dream come true--I can't say enough about this couple and this family except that I truly, honestly and passionately believe in their love and their story.

Thank you so much, Justine, Garrett and Lily--you were all such a joy.  We wish you all the best, good cider, beautiful flower crowns and amazing rescue pups.


Em, Beanie and Ian

Photography: Watassa Wedding Photography (Emily and Beanie)

Officiant: Ian of Watassa Wedding Photography

Flowers: Beanie of Watassa Wedding Photography

Senior Session: Hannah at Provin Trails. Grand Rapids, MI

I'm not a parent, but I have some nieces and nephews, and this one is going to be a SENIOR this year. Taking Hannah's Senior photos was not only a huge honor, but also extremely enjoyable and emotional for me.  She wanted a session that reflected her laid back, natural style--no formal black backgrounds for this girl, and I LOVED that.  Hanging in the woods with this chick is maybe my favorite thing ever--thanks so much, Hannah, for such a great session that celebrates YOU and the amazing, unique, passionate, artistic, thoughtful person you are.