Today is National Sibling Day! I don't know about you but my instagram feed is full of Flashback Friday photos of friends with their siblings on camping trips, in Halloween costumes, and in all sorts of merrymaking and mischief. For you, dear readers, I present my own special look back to October 2nd, 1990 when I went to the hospital to visit my sister, just days after she was born. The jury is still out on whether or not Caroline is crying or shouting with joy about being in my arms here. I think she's shouting with excitement to have such an amazing sister with such an amazing bowl haircut. That's totally what she's shouting about.
Here is a more recent photograph of my sister & I that was taken at my first wedding in June, 2012. You can see my sister, Caroline on the far left of this picture. In between us are Naomi, Toby (my wife), and Heidi. Naomi and Heidi are my two sister-in-laws and siblings of Toby. Toby and her two sisters all grew up and were very close. I am so very lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful women who are all so supportive and talented in their own ways. (From left to right: Caroline, Naomi, Toby, Heidi, and me).
My sister and I are five years apart so it's been a struggle to stay close over the years. When I'm on one place she's usually somewhere else. I went to college in New York City and she in San Diego. Only recently have we been able to really get to know each other as adults and embrace our similarities and differences. In honor of National Sibling Day and the magic of large families with lots and lots of sibs I present to you a remarkable family.
Judith & Susan's Family, aka The Lesbian Brady Bunch
On March 8th I met Judith & Susan’s family. Judith and Susan have six kids. That’s right, six kids! They range from age 10 to age 16. In her initial email Judith wrote,
“We have four teens and two younger kids.
Our two oldest are trans boys, and we have two other boys and two girls.
So it's kind of a lesbian Brady Bunch.”
I had to reread her email twice before I fully understood the family I would be photographing. I got out my yellow, legal notepad and wrote down: “2 trans boys, 2 cisgender boys, and 2 girls.”
I looked at what I wrote down and took a minute to appreciate this tremendous kaleidoscope of a family. Although Judith & Susan don’t have a housekeeper named Alice, this really was the living, breathing, 21st century, Lesbian Brady Bunch.
I wrote back an enthusiastic email to Judith as fast and as thoughtfully as I could. It felt like I was uncovering a treasure. A million questions filled my mind and Judith and I began dialoguing long emails back and forth to plan their photoshoot. Would the boys be open to talking about their transition? I wrote. Would the kids be interested in sitting for individual portraits for me? I wondered. “Do they all get along?” I wrote inquisitively to Judith, my fingers flying over the keyboard.
“The kids all get along great, particularly the oldest four, who are basically inseparable,” she replied. “The two youngest are sweet and dedicated to their Moms”.
Soon we had a date set. Their family portraits would have to wait until Sunday, March 8th. Until then both our schedules were packed. It was the only time Judith & Susan could find that they would be able to wrangle all six kids together in one place at the same time with their work life, activities, and plans.
The morning of the photoshoot I woke up early to make sure my gear was ready to go. I charged all my batteries, cleared all the images off my memory cards, and drove over to Susan’s house in Berkeley. Right now Susan and Judith’s family split up their time in two houses. Ideally they would love to own and live in a single home that would fit all eight of them comfortably but it’s hard to find. Judith was the first to answer the door. I gave Judith & Susan a huge hug upon entering and immediately saw all six kids mulling about the house.
Three of the kids were slumping casually over different corners of the sectional couch, their eyes glued to their tablets. Two of the kids were running up and down the stairs with a rat whose name I later learned was Misty…or it may have been Krisa (which is Russian for “rat”). This is another area where they digress from the original Brady family. Instead of Alice and her freshly starched white apron we have two rats being passed around frantically while the boys begin to play Hungry, Hungry Hipsters upstairs.
I sit down with Judith & Susan to talk about how they met. Meanwhile the kids continue to bustle around us. I setup Susan and Judith side by side on the sectional couch, snap one frame, when all of a sudden we hear, “Mom!!! Come quick! Mom! Someone come here!”
In the span of 30 seconds one of the older boys had thrown up.
Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps it was an upset tummy, or perhaps it was a combination of excitement and that bowl of ice cream he had just inhaled. Either way, when he emerged just minutes after, I asked if he was okay to continue. “Oh totally. I’m fine, no problem”.
I had forgotten about how resilient kids were. Oh I threw up, no big deal. Oh I fell off my skateboard, I’ll just go again. Most of the families I had photographed so far had infants, toddlers, and kids around age 8 - 10. Judith and Susan’s pack of teenagers and pre-teens are truly a force of nature. After a few minutes went by things settled down and I asked all of them to come and sit on the couch so we could talk together before I started taking pictures. The kids listened carefully and then dispersed back to their games & adventures upstairs.
I decided to photograph Susan and Judith alone first and then invite the kids to get involved after. Here are a few shots from our time outside in the backyard. I always try to set aside time for just the mothers of all the families that participate. This helps create a starting point for their photographic story as if I’m saying, “this is where our story begins”.
To quote the opening theme song of the Brady Bunch, "Here's the story of a lovely lady..." Except our version includes not one but two, lovely ladies bringing up six very lovely kids.
Here we have Susan with her half of the kids, Evan, Clementine, and Greta.
Judith's three kids are: Raphael, Solomon, and Sasha. They are an inquisitive bunch of boys with very active personalities. All six of the kids are also incredibly musical. They play piano, clarinet, cello, violin, and one of them sings. Perhaps they are a hybrid between the Von Trapps and The Bradys?
All six kids are adventurous, independent, thoughtful, and kind. The youngest of them all, Greta, rounding in at age 10, has an old soul and determined demeanor in all that she does. She adores her older sister Clementine and has no problem holding her own with four boisterous older brothers.
I was blown away by the intricate closeness of their family. Everyone spun around the home with ease, hopping from one activity to the next. It felt like a beehive of activity, excitement, and learning. At one point Evan and Sasha went off on their own to continue studying and working on independent projects. The four oldest kids Sasha, Evan, Clementine, and Raphael are especially close (pictured below).
Once I felt like we had taken enough combinations of portraits I hung out with the group as they wrapped up their game of Hungry, Hungry Hipsters. In case you haven't heard of this fabulous, oh-so-Berkeley card game you can check it out here: Hungry, Hungry, Hipsters Official Website.
Judith & Susan have created a beautifully intertwined family of boys and girls that embrace each other fully, love with open hearts and minds, and experience each day with vigor and enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing this family grow and change as time goes by.
Many of us have siblings we love and cherish. Many of us have siblings we are not close with or have no relationship to at all. Many of us are the only child our parents had. The ways in which we find ourselves sisters or brothers can be very different from one family to the next. Siblings can be those you have in your life by birth, biology, step-siblings, or adoption. Siblings can also be very special people that you choose to build a space for in your own life and in your own way.
When Toby and I first met each other, she introduced me to her best friend Shannon. Shannon and Toby have known each other since kindergarten and are like sisters. Over the past six years I've developed such a deep bond with Shannon that I too feel like she is a sister to me. Today I am grateful for my biological sister, Caroline and my life-sister/sister-from another mister, Shannon. Here's to both of you & to the siblings all over!
For more photos of our adventure together click here: Judith + Susan's Gallery
Enjoy your weekend everyone,
For some of you, cisgender may be a new word. If so, have no fear – cisgender is here! (Sorry, had to – it was too good to pass up). Cisgender, as described by Gender Wiki is as follows:
cisgender and cissexual are a closely related class of gender identities where an individual's gender identity matches the behavior or role considered appropriate for one's sex. There are a number of derivatives of the terms in use, including "cis male" for a male with a masculine gender identity, "cis female" for a female with a feminine gender identity, and "cissexism".
There are also variations that include, cisboy/cisgirl, cismale/cisfemale. The prefix cis- specifically dates back to Latin which means, “to/this the near side” which is antonymous with the Latin-derived prefix "trans." In reference to people and gender it is related to how a person identifies with their gender and gender identity.
For more resources on gender identity, language, and topics check out:
- Welcoming Schools (Links to organizations, websites, articles, etc).
- Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity (via The Human Rights Campaign).
- Gender Spectrum (Fantastic website & organization for parents, educators, and allies).
If anyone has any links or resources you would like to see included on this list please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org