When I met Julia Rivera and her five children last month, I was incredibly touched by her story of strength. She was raising these five amazing kids, on her own for the past seven months, in addition to homeschooling...until yesterday.
I was incredibly nervous on my drive to the airport. Normally, I don't get nervous before a shoot. Lately, I have had a couple of shoots that have filled me with mixed emotions, excitement and stress. I cannot wait to see Julia's face, to see those children, to meet Sean, to share in this moment. But, I didn't want to miss a single smile or a single tear. I arrived about fifteen minutes early (I am usually early to my shoots), but the airport had completely changed since my last visit, even adding a parking garage. I was literally driving around in circles for about seven minutes...yelling at myself. "No, no, no. I cannot be late for this! Where the heck do I go in???" I called Erica to tell her that I felt like I was going to be sick from nerves, and it reminded me that I had skipped breakfast. Good one, Amanda! Maybe I would feel less light-headed with a muffin in my belly. I chowed down some old chips from my bridal consultation at Panera the previous day....you know the kind that you cannot tell if they are stale or not...the kettle kind. I whipped into the newly constructed parking garage, zoomed to the upper level, and fastened my stupid rental van (can you tell I hate driving it) into a parking space close to the elevators. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that this shoot was going to be hard for me. I am quite an emotional woman, and I informed Julia that I would probably cry. I cry when I shoot weddings. I cried when I shot a funeral (yes, I did), and I knew I would cry here, too. Luckily, she appreciates my emotional instability, and may even see it as warmth. :-) I hope so.
Inside the airport, I felt as excited and as nervous as the children. Every time that Julia flipped her hair, or held her hands together with her fingers crossed around each other, I felt excited for her. I closed my eyes, just for a moment, and imagined how my children would feel if they had not hugged their dad in half a year. I appreciated my husband and thought about how bad I would miss him, and worry, about him. I pictured waking up every single morning with all my kids, teaching them, staying positive for them, playing with them, as well as caring for them, all by myself...morning until night, all day long. It overwhelmed me, and it humbled me. The moment that those children saw their father, they couldn't run fast enough to him, and he to them. I was trying to keep up, running far behind, crying, with my camera bouncing. I felt like I had joined the race to Sean's arms.
He scooped up each of his five gorgeous children, one by one...even holding his ten year old daughter like he would a toddler. She probably weighed next to nothing to him, comparing her weight to that of military bags and gear. He spent precious moments loving on each son and daughter and examining their faces.
I followed Sean as he hugged each of his friends from his unit, and shared the happiness that he felt with this reunion. I admired him as he shook hands and greeted each friend, family member, and, even his pastor, who came to see him arrive home safe, to be with his wife and children.
I giggled when his kids asked if he was staying the night with them, and told Sean that he got to pick where they went out for lunch! After everyone began to come down from this incredible "high", Julia introduces Sean to the weird woman who keeps taking his picture. Haha! Honestly, I am not sure if he even noticed me. Although, for much of the shoot, I was within ten feet of him and his family. He was too preoccupied with his overwhelming glee to notice the clicking of the shutter in the distance. As the group began to calm, the pastor requested them all to hold hands and pray to God, thanking Him for Sean's safe arrival home.
I was overjoyed that I got to have this experience. And, I kept reminding myself that I was so lucky to meet Julia. Days, such as this, are why I chose this profession. And, as I pulled out of the airport garage, I wiped my face, and felt pure joy.
Thank you, so much, Julia, for having me with you and your children for this homecoming. I was humbled to be a part of this experience. Sean, welcome home.