INDIANAPOLIS FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHER | catherine

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I have 4 kids: Patrick is 7. Leo is 5. William "Hatch"is 3. And Annemarie is 1.

Of course, I feel like my children are spectacular people. Who doesn't? What is best about them is what they bring to the family. Each one is so unique and so gifted in ways so purely their own that I find their differences to be absolutely beautiful. Patrick is analytical and creative and confident. Leo is soft and golden-hearted and loving. Hatch is a bulldog, tough and scrappy and adorable, and Annie is sneaky, affectionate, and funny. They really are the best parts of both of us, with some extra good stuff thrown in. I have so many stories about the kids that it would be hard to pick one. As I am typing this (very late on a Thursday), Annie woke up crying. She's now sitting on my lap, eating a cheese stick ... because, why not? Every so often, she'll hug me and whisper, "Mommy. Love you." These are the moments I crave. The ones I hope stay with me forever. Good timing on her part.

I always, always, always wanted to be a mom. I knew, in my core, that becoming a mom would be what would make me the person I was supposed to be, and I was right. Of course, there was an adjustment period and a stage when I really worried how everyone perceived the job I was doing, but anymore, I am absolutely confident in my efforts. I give the kids the very best of me. (Not always, of course, but a good percentage of the time.) They have given us so much, and I try to make our home a happy place to be, their safe haven, the place they can come and just be who they are. I try to be fair to them in their upbringing, remembering that I'm raising growing adults, not managing little children. And they seem to understand that (or I hope they do, anyway.)

I almost feel guilty saying I haven't gone through any struggles to have our family. It's something my husband and I have always taken for granted. We wanted this crew of kids and then (seemingly overnight), it happened. Our struggle now is knowing when enough is enough. Do we have more kids? Or do we accept that four is enough? We're both struggling with the answer to that...which may actually give great clues to what we think the answer is.

For the last six years, Adam has traveled for work, Monday through Friday most weeks. As a nurse, I worked weekends. We had Friday nights together, but aside from that, we single-parented on our "on" days. It's been a struggle all its own, but I am honestly thankful for the relationship I've grown with the kids because of it. We're intensely close, always within feet of each other, sharing quite literally everything we have (food, toothbrushes, shampoo, ideas, arguments.) As difficult as it's been sometimes, being on my own when everyone else I knew was a team, I don't think I would trade it. In major ways, it's shaped our family, forming us into this tightly-woven gang of misfits. I like it that way.

Oh my goodness, each and every time, the "finding out" was such a lovely happening. I felt a little bit of disbelief with each positive test (so made sure I tested again ... and again ... and again). I would wake up every morning and immediately place my hand over my belly, as if to somehow communicate, "Good morning. I know you're there. I'm really happy to have you."

I had a feeling what each of them would be. I was wrong every time. After the three boys, I was convinced we'd have a fourth. Why would we not? But here she is, a little surprise all her own. Each one of the kids is this perfect little puzzle piece, exactly what we needed. As excited as I was to hear, "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!," learning who they were was always the most amazing part. I'm always taken away with how their little personalities are exactly what we never knew we needed. Every time. Never fails.

Each pregnancy was a little harder than the one before. With my first, I wore stilettos to the hospital on the day I gave birth. With my last, the boys got so used to me getting sick, they would fight over who could flush the toilet after I was done throwing up. Is that too much?

Each delivery was different, and strangely suiting for each of the children's personalities. Patrick's was methodical and textbook, Leo's was easy and effortless. Hatch was hard. His was the only delivery without pain medication and he was not in an ideal position for delivery. (But his perfect little face made it completely worthwhile.) We really worked to get him out. Annie's was bright, joyous, with lots of laughter.

I'm euphoric when I come home with a new baby. Truly, I don't recall another time in my life during which I was happier. You could tell me the house was burning to the ground during those first weeks, and I wouldn't even flinch. The falling in love in intense. It's powerful. There isn't anything else in the whole world like it. I promise you.

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I'm better as a mom than I was before I had children. I think anyone who knows me would agree. As with anyone, I was intensely selfish before children. It was probably sometime after Leo was born that I was finally able to get past that. Since having the kids, I am the happiest I have been. I sometimes wake up in the morning or watch them sleeping and cannot wrap my head around how this is my life. How did I get here? And how did I get so lucky? Somewhere along the way, I must have done something right. I got everything I ever wanted in these four children.

The hugs. The kisses. The victorious yells from a child learning to ride his bike or swim for the first time. I couldn't tell you the best part. It's all good. Even when the house is torn apart and I feel at my wits end and there is a list a mile long of nasty to-do's, one of the kids will hug my legs or bring me a dandelion from the backyard, and my heart smiles back. It's a good life we have together. That isn't lost on me.

It's challenging to admit my mistakes. I have terrible days, we all do, and sometimes I do things I regret. I yell, I take things away, I make them feel guilty. And then I feel worse. After those days, I try to explain to the kids that I had a bad day and that I'm sorry. I want them to know that I'm human, too. I make mistakes. It doesn't make me a bad mother just like it doesn't make them bad kids when it's their turn. And do you know what? They are the quickest to forgive. They always take me back.

My husband is the best person I have met. I love that his qualities are so obviously present in our children. I bounce everything off him. He always tells me, "you learn more from listening than you do from talking." I'm still working on that.

What has taken me by surprise about motherhood? I can barely wear heels anymore. Isn't that silly? Except, I really loved to wear heels! I loved to dress up (still do), but you'll mostly find me in tank tops and running shorts or yoga pants and tshirts. In public. I'd never imagined that would be me, but after getting four kids ready to get out the door, I really don't care much what I look like. That's a big change for me. Maybe it's good for me, but don't think for a second I won't replenish my shoe supply once the kids are all old enough to get around on their own.

I wish I could save their smell forever. They all have a particular scent about them. I'm constantly smelling their sweet little necks and it's intoxicating. Even the smell of little boys who have been playing outside all day is one of the best things I have experienced. I wish I could save that forever.

I worry that their confidence will fade. They were all born with such charm and wit and confidence, and I want them to hold on to that. I worry someone will come along who will crush that in them and that terrifies me. Right now, I am trying to instill a solid belief system so when that person comes along, their roots are so deep, they can't be destroyed.

I want them to know there aren't limits. There are big jobs and somebody has to fill them. There are places outside of Indiana. I want them to learn to work for what they want. If there is anything Adam and I do well, it's work hard. I hope the kids learn from that and work to be whatever it is they want to be wherever it is they land. I hope they know that.

I like to wing it. That probably sounds like lazy parenting, but I purposefully try to maintain a sense of team with my children. I like to refer to them as The Walden Man Clan (just the boys) or The Walden Quartet (for all four of them.) I want them to know that they have each other, that they are all a part of something bigger. And, though I'm clearly running the show, I want them to know I'm part of that team, too. I rely on them for things, just like they do me and their father. We're in this together. We all make mistakes. We all do wrong. We all learn from it, pick ourselves back up, and move on. Together.

Do what you do. You do it best. It doesn't matter if you can't abide by every parenting guideline or if you're less prepared than the woman sitting across from you; you're doing the best job for the children you have. Nobody else matters. Trust your instinct. It's there. It's always there.

We're all changing the world. Maybe not in obvious ways or in ways that are going to win us any awards, but we're literally forming the next generation. We have the ability to fix the wrongs in ourselves by raising our children this way or that. We have the ability to give them a family, to give them happiness, to give them the chance to pass that along.

to my beautiful children,

What a joy it is to be your mother! When you're grown and have left, you probably won't remember these days as clearly as I will, and though I'd like to think there will be moments that are imprinted in your minds (the good ones, of course), all of the small occurrences, all of the falls and scrapes, the rocking-to-sleeps, the late night talks--those will probably be my memories alone. And I'll keep them, like my own little treasures to pore over when you're grown.

From the moment each of you were born, I knew we were going to be great together. And I was right. My heart has grown four times over since you each joined our family, and the individual qualities you bring with you, each blessed trait or habit or way of thinking, has in some way changed us, always for the better. We're a team, the six of us. We're the best team we can be, always laughing, discovering, teasing, wrestling, snuggling, learning from each other. Each of you has been a gift to your father and I, and even more important than that is the gift you are to each other. Stick together. Be each other's allies. Practice kindness to one another so often that it becomes your daily habit (trust me on this one.) Embrace your differences, celebrate each other's successes and don't forget where it is you came from. Your dad and I will be here at home when you need us. And, until then, be who you are...unapologetically, fearlessly, hopefully, honestly yourselves. There are not four better people suited for that job.

I love you. Your dad loves you. Thank you for making our lives whole. Thank you for the privilege of being your mother, of being your parents. Our life is good, no...great, because of each of you.

With my whole heart, Your Mother

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Ashlee also provides magical and delightful services for: newborn photography, cake smash photography, baby's first year plans, maternity photography, family photography, and Newborn mentoring for photographers.

If you have a milestone or special moment you want to remember forever, let's chat! Ashlee loves to photograph in the woodlands and around downtown Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, and Greenwood. She also has a professional studio space available for sessions.

EMAIL: ashlee@alaurenphoto.com