Rachel is the kind of human you just want to know more about. So when she agreed to answer a few questions for Annapolis Moms and let us peek into the way she dances through the waters of motherhood, I was naturally elated. I hope you take a moment for yourself with a cup of whatever you love and plop down with her words. She’s just a gift. Enjoy.
You’re a mama, of course! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
Five of ‘em. (15, 13, 7, 5 and 1)
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you first became a mother?
That I would grow to like it more and more. I became a mom young and unexpectedly. I never felt like a baby person. It would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would love the art/practice of mothering so deeply.
What’s your favorite activity with the whole family?
Days spent at/in the water. The source doesn’t matter too much. The bay is our go-to but we love the oceans, lakes, rivers. We’ll take a pool when we can’t do natural. I love how time works in new and beautiful ways at the beach. How sometimes an hour feels like lifetimes and sometimes a whole afternoon passes without announcing itself.
What are some resources that you’ve used to help guide the way you show up in motherhood?
My own mother who I lived next door to for the first 8 years of my motherhood. Especially because Tom and I were so young when we had Sena, I don’t know if our relationship could have stood the pressure of parenting if I hadn’t had someone to help me find my footing. I also read the book “Confessions of a Slacker Mom” after seeing the author, Muffy Mead-Ferro on Oprah. The book gave me permission to hold on to myself even while diving into motherhood. It was a pretty powerful message and one I am really grateful that I received. I’m a book nerd, so I could probably go on and one about books that have shaped and guided me, but the other one that comes to mind is “Last Child in the Woods” which was a perfect compliment to “Confessions.” I knew I wanted to keep room and space for myself but i didn’t know how to do it without feeling like I was failing my children. “Last Child in the Woods” provided the how-to.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t drink liquor when you’re on a low-carb diet? Stop chopping off your ponytail in the middle of the night?
You homeschool all of your children! Do you feel like that choice has impacted your family dynamic? Tell us!
We spend a lot of time together. We eat our meals around a wonky pine table, the same one we do lots of our “school” around. We talk to each other a lot (at least I think it’s a lot. Maybe it’s normal?) Tom (my husband) and I are both pretty curious, creative people. We always have projects and pursuits happening- things we’re thinking about, ideas we’re trying to work through. There are books piled everywhere. Half-filled notebooks. Musical instruments. Cameras. Our kids have spent their childhood watching us pursue those things, and I think that has had a pretty profound impact on their own curiosities and explorations. A lot of our family dynamic feels like people excitedly coming back to the table to talk about what they’ve been working on- maybe it’s the “Baby Wizard” comic book Arlo is working on, Gus’s latest fishing trip, or a new song Sena is writing on the guitar. The energy builds on each other.
Name one thing you hope your children look back and remember about their childhood and you as their mama?
I am pretty certain that they know without a doubt that I love them, but I hope that they felt like I saw them for who they wanted to be and not some version of them that I crafted in my own mind or tried to force them into.
Who/what would you say has influenced your approach to motherhood the most?
I’m a seven on the enneagram. And I think it shows. I am an enthusiast. I like doing things. I like kids…so I had a lot of them. I think I approach my mothering with excitement and the desire for it to be fun. And so it is.
Greatest gift about being a mom?
The way it pulls you into the moment and forces you to live each day. I don’t want to waste my kid’s childhood. I feel a responsibility towards making the most of it. That’s a powerful motivation. If there has been too much screen time for instance (for me AND them), I am way more likely to say “okay, let’s put it away and walk to the beach” because I feel like they need it. But I need it too.
Least favorite mom job? (i.e. packing lunches, dishes, bath time, etc.)
Laundry for sure.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am embarrassed to admit that I think there is very little people would be surprised about because I have done a bad job cultivating mystery or intrigue.
What’s something you love that’s just for you?
Oh so many things. I am a self proclaimed hedonist. I feel like women don’t really embrace pleasure without shame or guilt and that is nonsense. I love drinking coffee out of a coffee mug I *maybe* spent too much money on. I wear big earrings EVERY SINGLE DAY because those feel like me. Heck, I get dressed every day in something I find both beautiful and comfortable every day just for my darn self. (House dresses for the win).
Best advice for mom guilt?
I mean, I just want to say “don’t have it.” But maybe that is too simple and at the same time unachievable without some guidance? I think mom guilt comes with this sense that we as mothers are supposed to be people pleasers. We’re supposed to please our families most of all. But if you think about the people you are most attracted to, the people you want to spend time with, the ones you want to emulate, the ones who are living in their joy, they aren’t people pleasers. Sure, they are probably kind and compassionate and deeply loving people, but they make room for themselves. So don’t you want to be that person for your children? For your family and the ones that you love? The greatest gift most of us can give to our children is to give to ourselves because chances are we are starving for our own time and attention. And it shows.
Best mom hack that makes your life easier?
Teach your kids to be helpful from an early age. Get them to help with chores and with each other. I can only do all the things I can because we’re a team. My big kids help me a lot and I try really hard to return the favor by doing fun things with them/ for them. I don’t pay them, but I try to treat them to things and let them know it’s because I appreciate them.
You are a truly gifted photographer. I’ve been blessed to be able to work with you now, twice and both have been true gifts. Do you make an effort to find a motherhood/professional balance, or is that an illusion? What’s working and schooling out of your home look like?
First. Thank you. I know it’s sort of en vogue to say balance is an illusion, and I get where that sentiment comes from. But truthfully, I think I have some semblance of balance. (Maybe this is my libraness coming out?) And it comes from being totally okay with being mediocre in plenty of areas. And it comes with asking for help. And maintaining boundaries. And prioritizing my time and energy. Balance requires a lot of no’s. For me, I know that I can not give my kids my full attention 100% of the time. Hell, I can’t do it 50% of the time. What I can do is make sure that each day that they get it at least for a few moments. I try to make sure that I have actually seen and listened to each child every single day. We also have family dinner every night, and we give each other our undivided attention then. But that means that there are times when I am editing photos while kids are doing independent school work. It means I am often responding to emails when we’re watching a family movie. I could feel bad about that, but I would rather be sitting with them, getting work done stressing about the work I haven’t done. I try to make sure that I am all in with them at some point every day and I don’t waste energy feeling bad about the times that I can’t be. Also, from a practical point of view, I usually get up early to get work done while kids are sleeping. And I teach NOW, NOW while the baby naps (which coincides with my husband’s lunch break).
How does being a mom yourself impact your business or the way you show up professionally?
I feel like my imagery is sort of mother focused. I’m trying to make mothers (and women in general) see their beauty. And I’m also trying to shine a light on the beauty in their mothering/parenting so that maybe they bring that knowledge to their everyday living. I feel like as soon as we start to appreciate all the beauty around us we can decrease our stress. Because isn’t stress just a longing for things to be different in some way? But if you decide (and it’s a decision- nothing needs to change) “Hey this is beautiful and this is good enough” then the stress dissipates a little? Maybe? Hopefully? So that’s what I want the experience and the image to do. Both pieces feel important.
You also launched a virtual offering that I’ve never seen before! Tell us all about Now, Now, and JOYBOAT.
NOW, NOW is human school for all souls, soul school for all humans. It is a membership to a joyful, purposeful community to guide you back to your center through daily group conversation, mindfulness + embodiment practices, nature and arts-integrated exploration. Members have access to all classes, which typically run three weeks and are M-F, with a noon Zoom call. The classes also include a downloadable journal and access to our Facebook community which will maybe make you love Facebook again. JOYBOAT was the last class we ran, which was all about cultivating joy and using that joy to grow compassion and justice. Our next class is going to be SKYDANCER which is about dancing with intention and surrender in order to live a purposeful life. And we’re ending the year with SLOWBURN which is about stoking passion and creativity. If you’re looking for a community that dives right into the deep end, where we laugh as we work our way through life’s big questions, it might be the place for you.
Do you think establishing an identity outside of motherhood has impacted the way you parent?
I hope that its hasn’t taken some pressure off my kids. I think when a mother’s identity is totally wrapped up in her role as mother, the kids feel it. And it’s hard being someone’s everything. I think my kids know I think they are flipping cool humans and I enjoy being around them. But they also know that I have other cool humans in my life. They know I have other things I’m excited about. So they get to just be kids and not so worried about being my singular life purpose.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
I think if you are planning on pursuing a “creative” career, or really doing anything that involves a less well-established pattern, the most important first step is working on loving your darn self. Marketing yourself is hard. Stepping out a declaring yourself to *be* something is daunting. But when you love yourself and your self worth is not wrapped up in the success of your offer, well then, it takes some of the pressure off. And I think when that pressure is off (or at least dialed down) you are able to work through the hurdles (and there will be hurdles) without taking it so personally. Also, with regards to photography, if that is something you’re interested in, shoot pictures ALL the time. Keep shooting. Get those hours of dedicated practice in. And share your work. Share your process. Get people invested in you. They’re gonna want to see you succeed.
You can learn more about Rachel and her work on Instagram (here and here), Facebook, or book a session with her on her website. Follow along here for updates on all of her future NOW, NOW offerings.
This interview has been edited & condensed for clarity.