Jump up from my star bed, make another day // Baraboo family photographer

I’ve held back on posting about our epic California roadtrip for so long, which is sort of silly, because these are some of my favorite images I’ve taken in my life.

But here’s the truth: These photos are really intimate.

Not in a way, as my 8-year-old would say, that’s “irreproriate.”

But in a way that shows my little family at what I think is our very best: Loving on each other. Drifting apart for little individual moments and mini adventures, then drawing back together by the common pull that makes us The Beams.

Building this family with my husband Erik is far and away my greatest accomplishment in life, and the truth in these images feels a little scary to share.

It’s not all pretty smiles and perfect poses. We’re unshaven, we’re scratched and dirty, we’re in unwashed clothes, but my God, are we happy.

When we told friends and family about our plans — fly to California, rent an ‘85 Volkswagen camper van in Orange County, and drive it up to Northern California and back along the Pacific Coast Highway — they always said, “Wow.”

“Wow,” as in, “That sounds amazing… I would love to do that with my family.”

And also, “Wow,” as in, “All five of you are going to be camping in that van for two weeks? You’re not staying in any hotels? And you have no reservations anywhere, you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re going to do?”

Yes. Wow.

It was important to Erik that if we did this that it be a true adventure. That we relent to the unknown. That we not only trust that we will be okay, but that if we leave room for the unexpected, we will be rewarded with beautiful, heart- and life-changing things.

And as always, Erik was right.

As we traveled from the succulent-spotted cliffs of Malibu to the sand dunes of the Central Coast to the rugged shore of Sonoma County, I realized I had greatly underestimated my son Jackson’s need for adventure. He rode every wave, ran over every sand dune to see what was on the other side, climbed every tree with low branches, scaled every cliff, stood at the edge, pushed himself more.

Then midway through the trip a surprising thing happened: Jack started reaching for my hand. He almost never lets me hold hands in our hometown, and I had forgotten what it felt like: The softness, the squishy pads of childhood right below the knuckle and on the top of his hand. I realized he wasn’t reaching for my hand because he was scared, it was more that he wanted to share this experience with me.

At home he was always pulling away to explore; on our trip he knew he could explore enough, and he came back to me as an anchor.

 

Our sleep cycles changed. We were in bed by 9:30, because it was dark and we were exhausted and there was nothing to do. We woke up with the sunrise or the seagulls, whichever came first.

Erik and I slept on the fold-out bed in the cabin of the van, and the boys slept in the tent that popped up from the roof.

Whoever woke first would dangle their feet — or better yet, their all-smiles upside-down head — from the loft above.

And on mornings after a cold night I would see the condensation from our collective breath on the windows, evidence that we had generated our own warmth, together, in our little temporary home.

We would cook a simple breakfast over the campfire or in our little kitchen in the van, and eat outside and drink opaque French-pressed coffee and smell the sea.

And then set off and see what we could find on that day’s adventure.

Trusting that things would work out let the universe open up to us.

We argued less when we lived in a van for two weeks than we did in our four-bedroom home, and I recognized what I think I had known for some time: There’s so little a family really needs.

A roof. Some beds. A little space to cook and eat food.

Most of all, each other. Charging into the world like a game of red rover, arms linked, a united front, looking for adventure.

 

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