The Island of Wild Horses

Horses have been a part of me since as long as I have memories. At one point, my entire world was centered around them - I spent every moment I could at the barn and when I wasn't there I was drawing horses, running up and down the halls like I was riding a horse, reading about horses, running my hands across my desk at school like it was a horse, and when I finally slept - well, I don't think I have to tell you what my dreams were saturated with every night. My horse was my life, and he and I were unstoppable in the show ring. When I left him behind to head to college, I joined the equestrian team.

And then, this funny thing happened. What life couldn't accomplish in the previous 20 years of my life, it finally did - it got in the way. All the sudden, I did some growing up and life got really busy. All the sudden, I was no longer on the equestrian team. All the sudden, I wasn't rushing home whenever I could to get some time in with my best four-hooved friend. All the sudden, horses no longer ran with me in my dreams.

Fifteen years later, I still don't know what to think about that loss. I miss the feel of a horse's back more than I miss most things that have eventually left my life. Just typing this brings a painful pang to my heart. I guess those horses are still in me somewhere. But no matter how much they kick and stomp and whinny, I know (and they know) my life still doesn't hold enough free time for them.

But then, there was this past Saturday. I've literally been waiting ten years for this moment, since the first time I drove through Beaufort, NC, on my way to the Outer Banks. Back then, I passed a sign for Shackleford Banks which advertised a ferry ride to an island rich with long beaches, seashells and the descendants of Spanish horses shipwrecked there centuries ago. Even back then, I didn't have the time. But now, I live an hour from Beaufort, and I finally found the time and caught that ferry ride.

My daughter, husband and I all climbed aboard this small "ferry," and we rode out of the sound and toward the nine mile-long strip of sand, sea grass, brush and seashells. I have no doubt in my mind I was the most excited person on this little craft. Georgia loved the boat ride. She giggled as the boat picked up speed and bounced from wave to wave and the sea spray flung up against us. The little boy across from us, who was exactly Georgia's age, cried and cried with every bounce - but not my little one. The boat driver delighted in her glee.

And then, it was over and we were at the island's shore. Sunscreen-covered tourists and locals worshipped the sun and fermented hops on the beach, and we set out picking our way through them. We walked at the water's edge, picking up shiny shells as they caught our eye, and I quickly lost my flip-flops to the bag on my shoulder. Who wears shoes on the beach? My feet were screaming to feel the sand and the waves.

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But all the while, I knew these shells and waves and sand were just window-dressings - my real purpose for being here grazed somewhere in the island's belly.

So we trekked inland, me still barefoot and Georgia perched high upon her daddy's shoulders.

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We found hoof prints, we found dried piles of horse manure, we found lizards, we found thick brush to block our way, we found more sea shells and then, we found THEM.

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Off in the distance, heads down and scattered among the sand dunes were all the colors of my childhood - bays, sorrels, palominos, blacks, grays - all there and all absolutely breath-taking to me.

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We moved in closer, and Georgia could finally see the shapes of these hearty equines. She looked and watched, I pointed and noted, but I'll be honest - at some point - she and my husband blended into the background. At some point, they were no more distinct to me than the sea grass and the sea shells. I was caught up in a dream.

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With my camera in hand, I clicked and I watched and I clicked and I crept closer and I watched some more. I had almost forgotten the hold these simple animals have on my very soul. At one point, three of them took up a game of chase, galloping at full speed with hooves deep in the sand. It wasn't an innocent game, and it wasn't sweet. It was about territory and power and life - but it was beautiful.

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Kneeling there atop a small sand dune about five feet high, watching these wild horses truly live life at its fullest and at its rawest and at its most simplistic element - I cried. I can't tell you exactly what brought the tears. My lost childhood dreams, the life I let get away from me, my best four-hooved friend who died a few years back, the fact that the smell of alfalfa and manure no longer fill my nostrils on warm summer days or perhaps the lack of thundering hooves in my dreams these days.

For a moment, I remembered what it felt like to fly through pastures astride my sorrel steed, bareback with my knees dug deep into his sides, leaning forward into his mane and urging him to go faster and faster. I have NEVER felt freer in my life, and I probably never will again. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed my husband and daughter coming towards me, waving me back to them. Reality snapped me back from my memory. They were ready to go, our ferry would be back soon to pick us up.

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But typing this now, I still feel the swell in my heart and the slight taste of flying free on my lips. My time on the island of wild horses is not yet done...

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She's Three-Wheeling!!

There's almost nothing that says time-worn toddler accomplishment like a first solo spin on a tricycle. Georgia has mastered her trike.

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She's been close for some time, but always still needed a little help from mommy or daddy. Just something about getting the pedaling thing... and the steering thing... and then getting them both at the same time.
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But look at her now!
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Love this girl!


When Moms Have Their Day

Mother's Day. I can't let the day completely escape me without saying something about this day.

It's a day for husbands to venture into the kitchen and try their hand at breakfast (mine made his first over-easy egg this morning), for daddies and daughters (or sons) to wrap gifts they walked the store aisles to find, for mommies to be presented colorful cards from the hands of a little bearing bright, excited eyes, glowing smiles and a sing-songy "Happy Mofer's Day!" Yes, it is that kind of wonderful day.

And this year, I got an extra-special treat. Georgia actually posed for a picture with me. Last year, the attempt ended (and started) with tears on her part, and me eventually just giving up.


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But this year, I have a beautiful picture of my perfect little family to remind me of this day. What more can I ask for?


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Of course, a Mother's Day post from me would not be complete without mentioning my own mother. I tried to stay numb about the subject matter today, and honestly, did my best to not think about her at all. Did I? Of course, I allowed my mind to wander a few times, and wish to God heaven had phones. Did I still get choked up when my husband called his own mom? Of course, and then felt the tears sting my eyes as my daughter took the phone and talked to her. Did I wonder what my mother would have sent me this year? Of course I did, but not because I want the gift, but because she always had this amazing way of surprising me with the perfect gift that I didn't even know I needed or wanted until she gave it to me... and then I would think, "now isn't this just perfect?" It's because she always listened to me and she KNEW me like no one has ever known me or will ever know me again. (but my sister sent me a wonderful gift and made me smile. she's turning out to be just like mom)

Do I miss all those things - HELL YES I DO. But the best way I know to honor her on this Mother's Day since I can't send her a gift or call her on the phone is to strive every day to be more like her. I know I will never be the same kind of mother she was: 1.) I have too much of my father in me, 2.) I'm the mother I AM, just as I should be. But I try to channel many of the lessons she taught me whenever I can.

I try to have her patience. She had patience like none other I've ever seen. You could not rattle her. Because I lack in the patience department, I think that's one of the things I admire most about her. When my daughter is screaming "NO" back in my face and throwing things in frustration, it is so easy to yell right back at her. But I try to stop and remember my mom's voice - a voice that always seemed to stay calm, even-toned and soothing. I try really, really hard.

I try to listen to my daughter whenever she's talking to me. Not the half-hearing while I'm doing something else kind of listening - although that kind certainly exists in this house - but the kind of listening where I hear every word and she KNOWS I'm hearing every word. I always knew my mom was listening. If I didn't realize right at the moment, I did when she let me know with a simple gesture or comment - maybe that perfect gift she got out of one of our conversations. I hope my daughter always know I hear her.

I try to teach my daughter the way my mother taught me. Again, I think part of this comes back to that patience thing. My mom could go over and over and over and over something with me and never lose hope. But I also think it was that she always made time for me. She was never too busy. OK, never might be a slight exaggeration, but if she was at that exact moment, she made sure to remember what I needed help with and find time as soon as she could. She made me feel important.

I try to love the way my mother loved. Simply put, I want my daughter to always know I love her - no matter what. I knew that with my mother, and I definitely tested it on more than one occasion. I gave her a few reasons to write me off, and I pushed her away a few times the best I could. But every time I turned around, she was right there with open arms and loving words. Georgia will ALWAYS have that.

I will make sure she always knows she is believed in, she is strong, she is smart, she is beautiful and she is loved, loved, loved. That is the only gift I can give my mom on this Mother's Day.

I hope you all had a wonderful day and that you kissed and hugged your mom if you could. Trust me, do it every chance you get.


I Failed My 365 Project...

... but I succeeded in building a new website!

If you read this blog with any kind of frequency, you might be wondering where the heck I've been. I haven't posted since the end of April, even though I was attempting another 365 project - a photo a day for the year. OK, so I've definitely missed quite a few days... but this is what I accomplished in the last couple of weeks:

Jaime Otero Photography

I finally decided to see what I could do with my camera at the next level. I'm curious to see where it will take me - after all - I currently work in a VERY family-unfriendly career field, and I'm not sure when (or if) I will feel I need a change. Right now spending the mornings with my daughter and working afternoons and nights is great - she only goes to daycare three hours a day. But what happens when she starts kindergarten?

So I'm doing a little pre-planning if you will. I just did my first-ever newborn shoot. Here's a little taste:

Bennett_Mandy Jo 306 sharp

It's the top post on the website above. I loved it, and if I have a remote chance of making a career of that, well, then I believe I have found a passion.


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