Leah O'Connell

Essays, favorites, personal

First kid, Second kid.

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

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*this essay was originally shared in my weekly newsletter. For more essays on family, creativity, and simple joys to your inbox every Wednesday night, sign up here.*

It’s after dinner and the big kids have been granted a cookie while we finish the dishes. 

I look over my shoulder to see my oldest alternating techniques between daintily licking the creme from the middle and nibbling the cookie around the edges like a bunny – she will take 20 minutes to eat a bowl of cereal if we let her and equally as long to nurse this cookie. 

I shift my gaze to our second child to find he has immediately shoved the entire cookie in his mouth. Our eyes meet. He serves me a wiley grin, sending cookie crumbles out of his lips like confetti from a canon. 

First kid vs. second kid. God help us – what will the third be like?

I am a second kid. On the outside, I went through a lot of my life playing the part of a rule follower – but a piece of me is always a little desperate to go wild. 

The inner rebel craves creativity and always asks questions like “why” and “what if?”

When assigned a greek mythology project in high school and a list of ways to present it (poster, essay, presentation, blah blah blah…) my best friend and I went rogue and wrote an entire parody script of Jason and the Argonauts, then spent the next several weeks filming scenes for it on my parents’ camcorder after schoolDon’t get excited, the production value was low. We utilized the garage door as a cave entrance and I played the part of a Minotaur by standing in an empty trash can with a scarf wrapped around my face. 

So when I say rebel, I don’t mean the cool kind. 

For my birthday one year, my mom got me this little wooden sign that I still keep on my desk. It’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that reads: do not go where the path may lead – go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. 

I think she saw in me then what it took another decade to understand and own. 

It’s okay to do things differently. That doesn’t have to mean you do them alone. 

On Friday I deleted Instagram. Whenever I feel resentment or boredom or annoyance about what’s coming into my brain or what I’m sending out from it – it’s a major red flag that I need to reevaluate.

I never want to create from a place of resentment or frustration. I also don’t want art, entertainment, information, or even just the happenings of my friends to feel like swimming in a noisy black hole. I realized I love using the app primarily for one purpose – connecting with other photographers. So early last week, I put out a call for family photographers who were feeling the same to hop off the content-creation-train and onto Voxer instead. 

For the past week, the 10 of us have been actually talking. And typing while babies nap on top of us. Sending thoughts while out for walks or sitting in a school pickup line. These creative and compassionate women are sharing in deeper conversation, sparking new friendships, pitching ideas and problems, sharing wins and struggles – going deep vs. wide. 

And we’re doing it in the dead of fall which also feels a little like… what?? Isn’t that the most popular time for family photographers? Yep. That’s exactly why it matters most. 

I purposely take on more photography work in the fall than any other season – the demand is highest and I’m okay with that. But I also know energy is a delicate scale. 

I’m lucky to live in a world with lots of choices, so I want to make sure mine are on purpose.

I don’t know how long I’ll be off the ‘gram- probably till I don’t feel the impulse to check it or the pressure to post when I don’t really have anything specific to say. 

The rebel in me is curious about just how creative I can be with things like marketing for winter and moving forward on other goals if I don’t have that crutch to waste time lean on. 

Where will I discover clarity, hobbies, relationships, momentum?

Where will I feel peace or strain? 

In the meantime, I’ll make a giant chocolate cake for my husbands birthday tonight that no one will see except us. 

I’ll do fun things with my kids and hold them humbly.

I’ll write a lot of words no one will read. 

And that feels exciting. I always want to go where it feels exciting. 

While some photographers are posting their editing cues and sharing their fall sessions like wildfire … that’s fine. 

I’ll be over here, quietly talking to a smaller group of peers and thinking and writing and photographing – maybe even making my best work yet for the amazing clients I have on the calendar this fall. 

And maybe standing in a trash can? Naaaah. Actually, I mean who really knows, probably. 

Would you like to make photos together that feel true and unraveled in all the best ways? Reach out about scheduling your family photos here.

Interested in mentoring with me? You find those details here.

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Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.