I’ve often joked about how if you told me years ago, I’d be a successful photographer and even considered a somewhat“leader” in the senior photography industry, I would have laughed and had you committed. I didn’t go to college for photography and never even owned a DSLR (fancy camera) until my son was a few weeks old. Things grew very quickly and my love for photography was born out of the love for my son. In 2011, we decided to make photography my full time career as it had grown to the point where I had to make a decision. I have a degree in Criminal Justice and another in Psychology, and I traded it all in for photography. That never made since to me. But, I trusted God as he kept opening door after door after door in the photography world.
In the winter of 2011, my husband and I noticed that our son was having some pretty serious behavioral issues at school. He was biting a lot and would become extremely violent when frustrated. I remember one day being called to the school to “observe” him during story time. My heart broke as I watched my son literally running circles for 10 minutes as the other children sat and listened to the story. I kept thinking, “What is going on? Why is he just running circle after circle?” That was the very moment that I knew that something just wasn’t “right” with Web. I cried right there in the hallway at his school. This wasn’t my son. This wasn’t Web. My son is the sweet baby boy who pats my head when I’m tucking him in at night and whispers, “Momma… you’re my favorite girl. I love you a big much!” Shortly after that day, Web was expelled from his daycare and was not to return until his behavior was better.
Immediately after he was expelled from that school, we tried to put him in a smaller class at another school only to have him last about two weeks there before being expelled again. My husband and I decided to hire a Nanny to help him through this time as we weren’t sure what exactly was going on. We thought that maybe he was just bored at school and acted out. Maybe he was just over stimulated? For about 7 months, he worked on a daily basis with his Nanny who had her Masters Degree in education, specializing in special education. I locked myself in my room and worked as I was a HUGE distraction to him. When he would fight or get a temper tantrum, I would come out and help his Nanny gain back control over him. I was able to be there when he needed immediately and hang out and have movie days. We saw him change leaps and bounds in his academics but continued to see major issues with his behavior and social skills. We even removed red dye from his diet, which we thought helped a lot. He seemed to be a lot more calm, less violent and defiant. So much so that we thought he could go back to school.
In August of last year, he started back to school. I remember running out to the driveway as my husband pulled up from Web’s first day. I knew by the look on his face that it did not go well. Web bit his teacher on the very first day back to school. The second day I was called to retrieve Web from school early because he had been defiant and violent to the other children in class. I remember not even being mad but crying the whole way home while he sat in the back and asked me, “Momma? Why are you crying? Don’t be sad.” For the next two weeks the school called me every single day requesting that I come and pick him up early due to his behavior. Each phone call and each day, my heart broke for my son more and more. Deep down, I knew this behavior didn’t reflect my son. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. What made me even more sad was Web’s reaction to his new school. He would cry in the mornings and ask if he could stay home. I thought he just had to learn to adjust but when I asked him why he didn’t want to go to school, he told me, “I don’t have any friends there. They won’t play with me. They don’t like me.” I dropped to my knees and hugged him while muffling my cries. I was devastated. We also noticed that he would get much more angry a lot faster than usual and he was even having more temper tantrums. I got very concerned when his teacher at school told me that he was hitting himself very hard in his stomach when he got frustrated. And then I was devastated when she confirmed his earlier reports about not having any friends. The other children refused to play with him. They knew he was different and didn’t want anything to do with him. Heartbroken and distressed, my husband and I had a meeting with his teacher and principal.
When the words came out of my mouth, it was like it wasn’t even me. “So… are you telling me that you think my son is on the Autism spectrum?” And then I heard nothing. I know she answered “Yes.” but I just couldn’t hear anything anymore. I kept tracing the letters on my notepad over and over and over again that spelled out AUTISM. The words “evaluation” and “therapy” were talked about and I don’t remember much after that. I just remember getting in my car and driving home while sobbing. AUTISM. AUTISM? For a week after that, I spoke to several friends and family members about what was going on. I was given so much support that it was almost overwhelming. We called an evaluation and therapy center in Houston and were on the list for an initial evaluation. I didn’t know if my son had Autism, but I was hopeful for any answer. When you’re at that point, you hope for ANY solution. After a year of questions, we were ready for answers.
Immediately after that meeting, my husband and I decided to pull him out of class and keep him at home until we figured all of this out. He was having a very dangerous reaction to his school due to the lack of ability to transition easily. He was having nightmares in addition to the self-abuse and we just couldn’t watch him self-destruct. We hired his Nanny back (thank God – she’s been amazing) and prepared for a “new” way of life.
Soon after that, Web had his evaluation and couldn’t even make it through the testing. He got frustrated at the incessant questions and overturned a chair then kicked me at the table. He was ready to go home… I was too. We waited for two weeks and then my husband and I walked hand in hand into the therapy room to hear our answers. It felt like we had waited so long to finally come to this point. What we heard was not what we wanted to hear. “Disruptive Behavioral Disorder.” That was it. Under that wide term umbrella were Autism, ADHD, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Due to Web’s age and testing, they just weren’t sure if it was any of the above, if any at all. We walked out of the meeting with even more questions than we had walked in with. The biggest question we had was, “What now?”
I was on turbo mode after that. We were going to do everything we could to get Web in a progressive environment. I had him on wait lists for speech and occupational therapy evaluations and had him signed up for an evaluation at the local special education department of our school district. We worked closely with his old teacher (who was an honest God send in this entire situation) as she advocated for him through reports and phone calls to help us out. Since his evaluation and results meeting, we have enrolled Web in 4 occupational therapy sessions per week as he proved eligible and in need for each one. We met with the district’s special education department and found that through the evaluation he had in Houston, he was eligible for immediate admission into the special education program. I remember speaking with the department head and crying from joy. I kept asking questions like, “What happens if he bites someone? If he hits someone? If he gets violent with a teacher?” I was so used to being prepared with those questions and trying to stay ahead of the game with Plan B that I just burst out into tears when he kept replying, “Nothing. He cannot be expelled. We have teachers that specialize in kids like Web and he will be in a wonderful environment that will help him. We just want to help him.” I just kept saying, “Oh my God.” like a crazy person. I just couldn’t believe it. Yesterday was Web’s first day at his new school. He is on the road to getting better and we’ve already seen HUGE differences since he started his occupational therapy sessions. We can’t wait to see Web progress more and more each day! We’re still having little battles (we just found out our insurance refuses to cover his occupational therapy sessions), but we know that God has a plan for Web. He is such a special little boy and the complete and utter joy of our lives.
I’ve asked God time and time again in the past two years why he gave me photography…. what for? I never studied it in college and it literally came out of nowhere. I never understood it until this year. Through all of this struggle for this past year, he answered me. Photography was never mine. He did not give it to me… he gave it to my son, Web. All this time He knew exactly what He was doing while I was just following along and claiming all the knowledge and talent. Because of photography, I was able to quit my job at a critical time and be with my son. Because of photography, we were able to afford an expensive Nanny who specialized in helping kids like Web. Because of photography, I could take all the time I needed to help him when he needed me. Because of photography, I was able to wage war on our struggles and take the time to search for answers. God gave the gift of photography because he knew the trials our family would go through. It was never mine… God never gave ME photography… it was never meant for me… it was Web’s all along.
FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND
“Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” -Author Unknown
Some of you may not know this, but in addition to photographing fashion inspired senior portraits, I also teach workshops to other photographers from all across the country! I am very blessed to have one of the most sought after senior photography workshops in the industry and even more blessed to have an amazing alumni (photographers who have attended the “Kitchen Sink Workshop”) group of some pretty amazing photographers with even more amazing hearts!
This blog post is about this past January’s workshop! In January, I introduced my NEW Kitchen Sink Workshop books! The KSW book is 384 pages of EVERYTHING (and more) that I teach in my workshop! I’ve always offered a workbook for my alumni at my workshops, but a lot has changed in my business since I wrote my last book, so I felt the need to update it! I also now include an 8 GB media drive full of video tutorials, templates, etc for my photographers who attend! A lot of photographers give out swag at workshops, but I feel that giving my workshop attendees the utmost education to take home with them is MUCH better!
I had so so so much fun with this group of photographers! It was like we had all been besties since childhood! We had so much fun in fact, that we almost got kicked out of Olive Garden for laughing too much and too loud. Oops! Feel free to check out all the behind the scenes from this super fun workshop and the resulting images!If you’d like to see ALL of the behind the scenes from past Kitchen Sink Workshops, follow us at #kitchensinkworkshop on Instagram!
(BEHIND THE SCENES IMAGES FROM CHRISTY SCHMID PHOTOGRAPHY)
(Follow the #KitchenSinkWorkshop on Instagram!)