When Your Youngest Leaves Home – Dallas Frisco Family Photographer – Me Ra Koh
It’s 6:30am. My home is quiet. Everyone is still sleeping. Both of my kids are home for at least two more nights. My heart has learned I’m happiest when the family is all under one roof (or the mosquito net). In a couple days, we’ll move Blaze into his dorm at University of Arkansas. I have never wanted to slow time down more than I do this week. When your youngest leaves home, day-to-day life dramatically changes.
This is a longer post, as I wanted to take my time celebrating Blaze graduating, heading to college, and reflecting on all that comes with your youngest leaving home. I hope this gives to you. No matter what stage of parenting you are in.
Words of Wisdom an Older Mom Shared
I remember when our kids were five and eight years old. An older mom came over with her kids for a play date. Barefoot in the backyard, their little voices called out, “Red rover, red rover, send Pascaline right over!”
Brian and I were managing homeschool, our photography business, and travel for speaking. To say I felt overwhelmed was an understatement. I’ll never forget what this mom told me. “When your kids are little the days feel like years. But when they get older, the years feel like days.” How true those words are then and now.
How Does a Parent Wrap Their Heart Around It?
In my head I know my youngest leaving home is part of life. Our kids have to grow up and move on. But don’t say that to my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked God, “How am I supposed to feel okay with not seeing my baby every day?”
My heart wishes things never had to change. Somehow Blaze will still come in my office, plop down in my overstuffed chair, and tell me about his day. That even as an eighteen year old away at college, somehow I’d still be able to get his hugs throughout the day because his heart has always been that tender. And how we laugh together. We share the same humor. It’s so effortless to joke about anything with Blaze. Laughing together has always been like sunshine in my day.
Motherhood is both Celebrating and Grieving
That same mom I spoke of told me that motherhood is a constant journey of both celebrating and grieving. You celebrate every new step your child makes while your heart grieves the stage left behind. I’ve never felt it more.
My heart is so excited for Blaze. I’m so proud of the young man he has become. And I know this next chapter is going to be an amazing adventure that will be both exciting and challenging. But I’m also grieving. Missing those days when we’d go camping and have the whole morning to talk under the canopy of trees alongside the river, as squirrels scurried around eyeing our pancakes.
Brian is grieving too. Oh my goodness, those two are buds. They have become so close, especially in the last two years. It has been amazing to watch their relationship change from dad being the mix of authoritative and playful parent…
to more of a trusted mentor and friend.
We Did It for Ourselves
Before Blaze left for college, we decided to give ourselves the same FIORIA Senior Portrait Experience we give other families. I’m so glad we did. It was so life giving to all of us as a family. Jenny did calls with each of us individually about Blaze. And then she did a special call with Blaze, asking him the questions we ask our graduating seniors. As well as I know my son, I was still so surprised by his words.
Sometimes a mama needs to hear her son’s words to know he’s taking a piece of her into this next chapter. A piece of dad. His sister. And all that we worked so hard to cultivate as a family. When your youngest leaves home, I think your heart yearns for this most of all.
What Blaze said about Brian
The question was “What are three things you love most about your dad?”
There are so many ways Blaze could have answered this. My heart was overwhelmed when we heard his answer. “I love how my dad is a devoted Christian- always chasing after God- He always has that amazing faith – like when he feels restless at night he will get up and pray for about 2 hours sometimes. How he is as a husband too. My dad also knows how to fix anything and do anything. And I love his outlook on life. It’s always different than mine and knows how to make my mind scramble a little bit.”
Brian’s Words for His Son
Jenny asked Brian what three attributes he loves most about Blaze. (I love that we both had our own call with Jenny, the opportunity to reflect on just Blaze and how we’ve seen him grow.)
“Blaze cares – he cares about his mom, dad, sister and he’s not afraid to show that he cares. It’s admirable. He’s also an easy person to be friends with and I don’t want the word ‘easy’ to diminish how rare this is. For example, Blaze is willing to talk about what I want to talk about (which may not necessarily be something he is into). He is a great person to spend time with. From when he was really little, I knew that he was a person I would definitely love to be friends with. I don’t think he has experienced this gift to the fullest – I want to be more like him.
I also love how Blaze is curious—interested in so many things. He is intellectually thoughtful.
How much he makes me laugh – let’s just say I wouldn’t want to have a funny competition with him.”
“Here’s a small every day example. One day we were trying to figure out things on our iphone and the ear buds. When we were done and I was about to go downstairs, Blaze starts talking about this new tech…indicating the stairs and said for me to be careful trying out that new tech with going down the stairs. I love how my son teases me. He doesn’t do it in a mean way. Instead, I feel known.”
What Blaze said about His Older Sister
“Before Pascaline went to college our relationship began to change from bickering siblings to friends. Over the past two years we’ve been able to grow that friendship. We have all the inside jokes from when we were younger, and we have built an even stronger understanding for each other which I think is really important.
When we are together I feel comfortable and open, knowing whatever I share is just between us – there is trust. It reminds me of our time in Thailand when we would sit and talk with each other in our beds at night under the mosquito nets, and we just trusted each other.”
Jenny also did a call with Pascaline. It meant a lot for Blaze to hear what his older sister loves most about him.
“Blaze is always easy going. He is thoughtful. With me being away at school, Blaze sends me music that he thinks I will like.”
“And his humor; he can always make us laugh. Some of my favorite memories was our times in Thailand when we were little. I always like to think about when we would play on the beach and splash or joke around in the water. There was always this one game that we would play when we would get tired of swimming. We would go to the more shallow areas where the waves would break on the surface and basically be rolling around trying to not let the water completely get all up our nose and stuff. Or we would try to body surf the wave in and then crash on beach.”
“We still laugh a lot together which is fun. It’s like we have an inside language with each other, and we just kind of get each other without having to say too much.”
“When he goes to college, I hope he knows I will always be there for him; I’m just a call away. And even though he’s my younger brother, he has definitely and still does give a lot to me; whether it’s being someone that is there to listen or just laugh with.”
Healing Balm for Mom
When your kids are little, you see or hear most their interactions. You know right away if they’re getting along or not. Expectations are they will play together and be kind, and you monitor this constantly. But when one of them goes away to college, and most of their interactions are on their own, you hope they are still connecting.
There is nothing a mom wants more than for her kids to stay close, especially when the youngest leaves home. To hear Blaze sends his sister songs and that Pascaline likes to remember their times together in Thailand…
my heart felt like I could let go a little more with a little more peace. They are building their own friendship outside of mom and dad, and it’s only going to get better.
What Blaze likes about Himself
As a parent, you have guesses about how your teenager might answer this question. And even if your guess is close, there is nothing like hearing them articulate in their own words what they like about who they are. Every parent, including myself, we talk with is always pleasantly surprised by their child’s answers. It’s hard to express how settling it is for your heart to hear your young adult child share what they like about themselves.
“How I am able to always joke around with my friends,” said Blaze. “And serving and volunteering would be the other thing. It’s always great to be able to serve. For example, at church I play bass.”
“In middle school, I would show up three hours before youth group to help set, etc. I would get a chance to talk with people. It was really my first social interaction outside of family since I was homeschooled and we traveled a lot. I learned that when you give to others it gives back to you.”
What Blaze Said about His Mom
Jenny asked Blaze what three things he loves most about me. You just don’t know how your kids will answer this question either. You hope and wonder, but hearing their own words is one of the greatest gifts a parent can receive. After doing this experience with Blaze, my heart is more aware than ever of the powerful gift we give to our clients when we do these calls. I will always keep Blaze’s words close.
“I love how understanding my mom is. She’s my #1 supporter, always has my back encouraging and empowering me.”
As a mom, I can’t even express how much these words meant because there is so much push and pull in those teenage years. There is new freedom with having a driver’s license, later curfews, and working on top of school. Sometimes the boundaries feel messy as you both try to navigate what the expectations are. To know that despite how messy it has been, this is what Blaze loves most about his mom means everything. I think as a mom you’re worried your kids will only remember the messy moments. His words put all those worries to rest.
“And caring—that is what I like about my mom so much. She cares so much about random things. Just asking me silly questions about what I want my future dorm roommate to be like. At first I was like, “Why are you asking me all these questions?” But I have started to appreciate them and it just shows how much she cares. And it opens up more questions for me to think about. Sometimes when I have something that I don’t think is that big of a deal like I feel like she cares more than I do about it.”
What are You Taking with You?
This is one of my favorite questions we ask graduating seniors. “What are you taking with you in this next chapter of life that your mom cultivated in you?” Isn’t that what our hearts as parents want to know? Of all the things we’ve tried to teach our child throughout their life, what ended up sticking most in the end? When our youngest leaves home, what will they take with them?
That’s why we ask. Not just for them to have a chance to reflect but to give that healing balm to the parent who is wondering if they did enough.
“Compassion,” Blaze said. “My mom has compassion for other people that she shows to everyone (even when she has had a rough day). I struggle with that sometimes like I’m not wanting to be a nice person to someone or everyone on a rough day. But I try to do like she does and at then end of the day I feel better that I did show compassion to people.”
“Even when my mom may have had a really hard day at work, she turns off her computer and comes downstairs. It’s kinda like the workday wasn’t really there, it didn’t even happen. We’re just joking around and having a good time and talking about what happened in my day.”
One of My Biggest Fears
As a small business owner and parent, one of my biggest fears was my kids would remember us being stressed all the time. LOL There is always something more to do when you own your own business. Whether it’s responding to clients, launching a new marketing campaign, putting out a fire, the list is never ending. It’s so difficult to leave the job at work especially when you work from home.
I wanted to be the parent who was present for my kids. Especially in their adolescent years, when they need you more emotionally than ever before. But you know how we can be our own worst critic?
To hear this is one of the MAIN things Blaze is taking with him…that has been his experience… ‘Oh, be still my heart,’ my spirit whispers. ‘You did a good job. Despite all the ways you felt like you were either failing as a mom or failing at work, you did a good job.’
What I Love Most about Blaze
“Blaze has a superpower and it’s being able to be in the middle of conflict and bring everyone to a place of peace,” I told Jenny. “He disarms them; and it’s seems so rare. Blaze can stay calm when it’s heated; and then bring it to laughter at the end.
Funny Everyday Example
“Recently, Brian was on the second day of his fast and was cutting lemons to make his drink. Out of nowhere, he whipped around and barked, “Hey Blaze, I need you to work on not eating with your mouth open!” Blaze was shocked at first because he wasn’t eating with his mouth open! (I was there! I can testify! LOL).
Any teenager could have fired back, but he replied, “Dad okay, okay.” A moment later he looked at me and said, “I love how we will be watching a movie with Dad, eating popcorn, and his head will whip around, those eyes glaring at you.” We all started laughing. Blaze completely diffused the moment.
Blaze doesn’t internalize the conflict. I see him make a choice. At first it’s shock because dad barked out of nowhere. Then he will often look down, nod his head – and I feel like he’s making a choice in that moment. He makes that choice over and over again.
He chooses to disarm it (like he’s evaluating what he knows to be true about this person).
Then after, he lifts his head and there is a playfulness in his eyes. When that happens…it’s like his eyes are saying “This is family, it’s not worth getting stressed out about it.”
“I also love Blaze’s joy and kindness. He is so kind to everyone. And his humor is the BEST! We have a similar humor. LOL! Laughing with Blaze is one of my favorite things in the world!”
“When I was pregnant, I always prayed over Blaze that he would have a worshiper’s heart. Sometimes I’ll hear him practicing bass upstairs. I’ll peak my head around his bedroom door, and he’ll give me that kind smile inviting me to come in. He has a couple camp chairs in his room, so I’ll sit in one of those and listen to him play the bass to a beautiful worship song. I can’t help but feel so full in that moment. There is nowhere I’d rather be.”
“When we’re at church together, and he lifts his hands, closing his eyes to sing, I see his whole heart so open to the Lord. My heart is overflowing as I think back to when I was pregnant and God was prompting me to pray over his worshiper’s heart back then. He will always have that personal connection to God. Blaze is like his dad that way, and I know someday he will be a great husband and dad.”
“I will miss his hugs – hugs all day long. When he was a little boy, Blaze would wake up so groggy at 10 am. And then he’d lift his arms and say, “Good morning hug first, mama.” He’s eighteen now and still gives me hugs several times a day. It’s a gift every time. He wraps his arms around me in a gentle way and says, “I love you, mom.”
Where We Wanted to See These Words and Why
With our youngest leaving home, our home is about to get really quiet. At unexpected moments, tears come remembering those days when they were little and the days felt like years.
Brian and I decided we wanted to walk out of our master bedroom every morning and FEEL all these powerful words about Blaze. We wanted to hear Blaze playing his bass upstairs and see the joy it brings. What I didn’t realize until after Brian installed it is how relieved I’d feel because all the things we love most about Blaze and what he loves about us will always live in this artwork. Even when it feels like forever since we were all together, seeing this every morning reminds me that our hearts are still close.
The world is constantly marketing to us ways to escape or things to be afraid of. Brian and I choose to market to our hearts what is true and will never change about Blaze and our family.
Blaze’s Favorite Photo Shoot
We shared all these calls and words with Blaze and each other as we did his Senior Portrait Experience. We never had to say “stand this way or do this”. The words being spoken out loud brought the energy, the closeness, the laughter.
Having been photographed all his life, Blaze said this was his favorite photo shoot. That it was both easy and meaningful. “I think it’s really cool that you do this for other families,” he said. “Thanks mom and dad for giving me this experience too.” And then he hugged us both. Tears.
Our family did this back in April. One of Blaze’s goals is to become an attorney.
Since then, I’ve watched Blaze walk a little taller. He’s come home from work and told us how he helped disarm a stressful situation. His superpower at work. I wonder how it will come out in his career someday.
Most of all, we have all felt closer having been given the chance to share what we love most about Blaze and him with us.
As a mom, this experience has helped me feel closure to one of the most sacred, cherished seasons of my life–raising kids. I’m so thankful for what we do at FIORIA. Our family needed this unique senior portrait experience as much as every other family that has come.
(Love you so much, Blaze. Being your mom is one of the greatest gifts I could ever imagine. So thankful for all those years of homeschool, especially mornings in pjs with the fall candle burning while it rained outside. You were always about being cozy, and I loved it! What a gift to have also made the world your classroom. Even though you were so young, it shaped your kindness and empathy in such amazing ways. I’m so proud of you and always, always here for you. You’re the Best Son Ever! :))
To Those Who Have Read My Blog for 16+ Years
While we were in Arkansas this last weekend, a beautiful woman approached us at a coffee shop. She asked me if I was Me Ra Koh and told me how much this blog had meant to her over the years. Heather started reading my blog in 2008, did all the photo tips with her kids, and now has a dream job in marketing that uses both her photography and writing. She has no idea how much it meant to meet her in the midst of a huge weekend and especially read her Facebook post this week. (Thank you Heather xo)
Can you believe I wrote my first blog post in June 2006? Blaze had just turned two. There was this new thing on the internet called “blogs” and I thought I’d give it a try.
Well, 1,755 blog posts later… 🙂
For over a decade, I shared all the wonderful and challenging things I was learning about being a mom while also being a photographer. I shared over a thousand blog posts with photo tips for you to try. And try you did, often blowing me away with your inspiring results! Every year, for ten years, we took you with us on our adventures into Thailand’s jungle–and then eventually filming, Adventure Family, around the world.
Before social media was a thing, 50K of us moms would meet on this blog every morning at 9am. We’d have conversations for days in the comments! Remember those days? So good.
In many ways, we’ve raised our kids together through the community of these blog posts. As our youngest leaves home, I want to pause and thank you for adding so much joy to my years of raising little ones. It has been such a gift to share these many years with all all of you.
I’m not going anywhere. As you’ve noticed, my focus has shifted to sharing other people’s stories, especially our Rising Phoenixes, Senior Portrait and Family Experiences. But a chapter has ended with having kids at home. And what a rich, rewarding, asked everything of me, amazing chapter.
One Piece of Advice for Moms
If there is one piece of advice I can share with any younger moms reading, it would be this. It’s going to be okay. There will be mountain top moments, valleys and storms that break your heart, and a lot of mundane days in between that leave you exhausted at the end of the day.
When those voices come and try to scare you with thoughts of all the ways you’re failing as a mom, career woman, homeschooling, volunteer, the list goes on…take a deep breath and know it’s going to be okay. Just like me and all the parents and seniors we do calls with, someday your heart will be pleasantly surprised by what your eighteen year old says they’re taking with them into this next chapter.
And with celebration in one hand and grief in another, we go forward as moms, holding space for both.
One More Last Bit of Wisdom Gained
Pascaline and Blaze are off to have their own adventures and build their own dreams. They’ve had a front row seat to the ups and downs of building a dream. Now it’s their turn to explore, risk, and learn to fly. I’m so thankful for all the trips we did as a family. Whether it was a two hour drive to go camping in the mountains or a twenty hour flight to live in Thailand’s jungle for six weeks without electricity. The adventures we shared are more meaningful than ever.
I guess that would be one more bit of wisdom Brian and I learned. Take time off to have meaningful adventures together, even if you’re not certain how to pay for it all. Think outside of the box to make it work financially. It could be traveling abroad, camping, or a FIORIA Experience with us. So many families say their FIORIA Experience was like a mini-getaway that brought them all closer. That’s the true measure of a meaningful adventure.
Model for your kids that it’s important to unplug and play together, despite all the things you need to do. Take time to learn new things together. It’s so important for your kids to see you as a willing beginner too. Rock climbing was a big one for us since mom has always been afraid of heights!
Work will always be waiting, but the kids won’t always be little.
The adventures are worth the investment, even when they don’t go as planned (because they rarely do). It’s still worth it.
If you’d like to read more about different things I’ve learned over the years with being a mom, check out the blog category Advice for Moms. Your heart will love it.
Wish I Would Have Known…
There is a wonderful nationwide organization called Young Men’s Service League. It’s for moms and teenage sons to do volunteer service work together during high school years. I recently found out about them. I’m giving an inspirational talk to their moms this September at the Frisco, TX chapter. I wish I would have known about YMSL when Blaze was in high school. So I pass it on to you! What a great, meaningful way to bond with your teenage son!
Begin Your FIORIA Senior Portrait Experience
Are you looking for a meaningful way to celebrate your graduating senior as a family? When they go to college, what do you want them to never forget about who they are? What challenges has your senior overcome? What resilience lives within them and your family? That is what FIORIA captures–the Rising Phoenix within. This experience is unlike any other type of senior portraits you’ve heard of. This is a sacred, meaningful experience that starts with a Discovery Call.
Schedule Your First Discovery Call by Filling Out Our Contact Form. We are so excited to take you and your graduating senior on an unforgettable journey.
still we rise, Me Ra
*CLICK HERE to see another inspiring Senior Portrait Experience with FIORIA!
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When Your Youngest Leaves Home by Me Ra Koh, Sony Artisan and Disney’s Photo Mom
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