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The Messy Middle

The Beauty of Capturing Childhood Moments in the Messy Middle of Parenthood

The bedroom my husband and I share is currently covered in tins of paint and half cleaned brushes in plastic pots. There’s masking tape on the windows and walls ensuring the carefully chosen colour of the woodwork doesn’t splatter where it shouldn’t. It is not an uncommon scene in homes around the country - a suspended state of DIY.

There’s still many more coats of paint required (why does the promised one coat never work?) so our bedroom sanctuary will be looking like this a while longer. My husband asks before he turns out the light, ‘You are going to do some more painting tomorrow aren’t you?’

He’s not checking up on me (well not much anyway), more he’s hoping for some kind of reassurance that I haven’t grown bored of the current project on my to do list. about to find some other more interesting task to concentrate on.

It is true that I am an excellent starter of projects. I get very excited with ideas, pinning to all the Pinterest boards, shopping for supplies and hunting on Facebook Marketplace. Because of this, I understand his wariness for how long our bedroom will look like a half built set, however his need to get things finalized isn’t just that. It’s also because of his unease with what I call the ‘messy middle’. The ‘gets worse before it gets better’ part of a project.

I don’t think I coined that phrase. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it before and even if I haven’t I don’t think the discomfort of the messy middle is unusual at all. It’s what lead to shows like ’60 Second Makeover’ or the click you finger transformations on Instagram. Fast forwarding the mess of the middle is something we all wish we could do isn’t it?

While continuing with my painting the next day, I was thinking about the idea of the messy middle some more. I realized that we are also right bang in the messy middle of parenthood. That bit missing in the before and after pictures – no longer raising babies, surrounded by nappies and bottles – nor are we crying as we drop gawky eighteen year olds off at university. With two almost nine year old’s I am most definitely in the trenches of the messy middle.

I’m at that bit of parenthood where my boys yell that they hate me in a fit of frustration, and then ask if I can cuddle them to sleep. Where they instinctively reach for my hand as we cross over the road but are quick to drop it just before we reach the school gate and their friends. Those precious evenings to myself are almost gone as bedtimes have been pushed later and yet I am still likely to be woken in the night by a bad dream or monsters under the bed. There’s the constant monitoring of screen time and playground politics and academic struggles to think about. Oh yes, the messy middle is as hard and rewarding as any other part of parenthood.

So why then do I know as a photographer and a mother, that the messy middle doesn’t often get documented? I have plenty of clients wanting to capture every hair on their newborn’s head or the cute squidges of toddlerhood or the beautiful innocence of the pre school years but the ages of about 7 to 12 are often overlooked - I’m even guilty of it sometimes.

Well the answer I believe is in the name- much like our bedroom currently, this bit of parenthood just looks messy…

Middle aged children's bodies don’t really fit them; impossibly long willowy limbs and too big feet. The last pudginess of their cheeks disappearing more every day. Not to mention the cute clothes and neutral knits from Zara are out in favour of Minecraft t-shirts and Pokémon.

Looking around my kitchen at the school letters sent home in book bags now stuck on the fridge, PE kit on the floor of the bathroom, lego under my feet, posters of their favourite cartoon characters stuck on bedroom walls

Worse still, I’ve witnessed the creep of a self-conscious mind in my middle aged children’s eyes. They are no longer free to feel and behave and laugh and smile without a thought, learning that other people’s opinions matter to them.

But there is beauty in the mess if we look hard enough - the treasures kept in boxes under their beds, the collection of sticks by the front door brought back after a walk, books read by torch light past bedtime.

All of this I want to remember too and it deserves to be captured! This bit of parenthood is as hard and rewarding and crazy and it will disappear in a whirl of after school clubs, school runs, playdates and homework if we’re not careful - so join me in vowing to capture these moments because one day our house will be clean and quiet and we will wish for one more day of sibling arguments over the remote or a full schedule of after school clubs and homework.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B Yeats
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