“Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.”
– Fred Rogers
“This could be the end of a tradition”
“As third-generation Korean immigrants, it’s very possible that our children won’t speak Korean fluently. Will they do a dohl celebration for their children? Or are we the last ones?”
Jules spreads her hands across the smooth fabric of her hanbok, and muses out loud as she navigates through the guests of her son’s Dohljanchi, “This might be the last time I ever wear this!”
When I ask about her sixtieth birthday, she laughs,”Oh, right. When I’m sixty.”
I guess the wardrobe for her 60th birthday hasn’t been finalized yet.
Stability through uncertainty
“Just about every Korean has a picture of themselves dressed in HanBok at their first birthday, as if it’s our birth certificate.”
“There are so many heritages or traditions that we don’t embrace as Korean Americans because it feels irrelevant, or culturally contradicting. But a Dohlanchi feels like something everyone can enjoy and celebrate in a more serious manner than a mere cake smash.”
A Dohljanchi (Korean first-birthday event) is more than a celebration – it’s a ribbon that connects Jules and her children to the generations before them – the grandparents, great-grand parents, and beyond. The people who loved them even before they were born.
Bruce Feiler addresses the importance of family narratives in ‘The Stories That Bind Us” and how they influence our children’s ability to grow up emotionally healthy – happy and resilient.
Knowing the stories and traditions of their families gives children comfort and a sense of belonging. This is how our children understand that they are a part of something bigger, something stronger. It helps them realize that they are not alone, and never will be.
We made it through
A Dohljanchi is a big deal, Jules tells me.
“Traditionally, it’s one of two major milestones in a person’s life. The first birthday (for surviving despite the high infant-mortality rates of the past) and the 60th birthday (for longevity).”
“Of course, the 60th isn’t that big of a deal these days, but the first birthday is such a milestone that distant relatives will travel from far away to meet the child for the first time and celebrate. Koreans make it as big as a wedding. Korean Americans make it more of a mom’s DIY project”
“It’s something for us to enjoy and look forward to as a way of saying ‘I made it through one year. I survived the sleepless nights, and the nursing challenges, and the sibling jealousy, and the labor pains, etc. etc.'”
“I see it as a way of thanking the people who supported us during the child’s first year.”
As they rush to prepare the decorations that Jules has meticulously coordinated, Jules juggles her bouncing, squealing 1-year-old, Seth, arranges the custom-decorated cake, cookies, and macarons, and braids the hair of Clara, her 4-year-old.
“Of course, I want to be wise and mature and say that I’m above it, but one reason we do these things ‘publicly’ is because it gives us something to look forward to, that resembles beauty, order, and presentation, which happens so seldom during the baby’s first year, and I love executing beautiful things to come together.”
Like other moms coming of age in the social-media generation (and I’m no exception), Jules is conscious of her personal image. It’s more than just showing off though – Jules has a brand to protect. She’s a sought-after photographer in the Boston area.
Our styles are drastically different. While Jules crafts traditionally refined and posed portraits to bring out the beauty of the families she works with, I prefer chasing mud-caked kids while they bounce on the sofa.
Despite our contrasting styles, we get along well – the clients who are drawn to each of us are so dramatically different that when we’re not the right fit for a family, we have a trusted colleague to send them to.
“I strive to capture beauty, to preserve it, and sometimes, that involves enhancing beauty through directing and posing my clients. They know I’ll make them look good, and allow them to enjoy the process.”
“When I’m traveling or going on a nature walk and see something beautiful, a flower, clouds, sites, etc., I want to photograph it so that I can remember it and share it with others who care. Photographing my clients is similar. I want to capture their best sides so that they can remember this life stage, treasure it, share it, and pass it on through the generations.”
During the party, I try to keep my chaos to a minimum, this refrain beating through my head – Keep it gentle and calm, Ashia. GENTLE AND CALM!!!
The cake table was stunning, the hand-made hot-air balloon centerpieces were straight-up Martha, and every kid had enough goody-bag activities to keep them placated throughout the party. Jules thought of everything.
She makes it look so easy.
It’s not. Jules entertains guests, juggles Seth and Clara, arranges her father and in-laws for the posed traditional shots (posed shots have always made me hyperventilate a little), and takes a few shots of the cake for the baker. She doesn’t break a sweat.
Meanwhile, I keep glancing down to make sure my shoes match and see if my undershirt is covered – it’s covered in stains from when I kissed my sons goodbye that morning – they opened fire on me with a pint of blueberries.
I have no idea how she does it.
“I thought the experience of being a second-time mom would have more advantages than it did…but each child is sooo different. The way they sleep, nurse, explore, learn, eat, soothe, its all so different.”
“Clara’s world fell apart when she became a big sister. Though she loved Seth, she did not like the situation of sharing me. Clara was acting out, and I didn’t have the mental or physical capacity to care for her the way I did when she was an only child.”
“But I was still a perfectionist, so the challenging situations drove me further into irritability. On a day to day challenges, it was about coordinating schedules, and running a household. Thankfully, they are both healthy and like each other, but it’s still really draining and tiring to keep my mind in check, and spirit charged. My advice would be, get help, whether its cleaning service, or baby sitters, and don’t stress eat like I do… chocolate doesn’t actually make things better.”
Well, that makes me feel a little better. That, and nachos.
All that last
When I ask Jules what she’d like to remember from this day, she doesn’t hesitate to respond.
“One thing that’s always part of me is the loss of my mother to cancer 9 years ago, that if she was still living, how much she would have loved my children, and how much stronger I would have felt with her by my side.”
“It’s vital for me to capture this story for Seth, because his grandparents and great grandma won’t always be around, but they love him soooooooo much. His maternal grandfather flew across country to meet him for the first time at his 1st birthday.”
Jules and her husband were both wedding photographers before she became interested in family portraits. When her mother passed away on another coast, she tells me, “All I wanted to keep and bring back with me were her photographs.”
That’s when she realized what a gift it would be to families – helping them to record these moments.
“Photographs are all that last. No one will remember what that cake and cookie tasted like few days later, but these pictures will always keep the good memories alive about how much we loved him, how much joy he brings us, and how sweet and cute he was.”
“Weddings are fun and dramatic. But my heart is in capturing images that become family history.”
That feeling of loss, when she sits down at the family table with her mother absent, it aches. I want Jules to know that one day when her kids need them, these memories will be here for them. It’s something I remember when Clara looks at Jules, and I see the smile Clara reserves just for her mom. It’s something I remember as I watch Seth giggle in his mother’s arms.
Later, when I post a slideshow of my favorite shots, I find out just how much these momens mean to her.
“Ashia, I LOVE LOVE the images, and slideshow. Thank you for capturing the day with so much heart, and for doing wonders with big sister when she didn’t want to cooperate. We’ll love these images forever! The shot you captured with Seth playing with my necklace, is actually a necklace converted from my mom’s favorite jewelry. Details like that, you captured them so wonderfully, thank you so much!”
Just so you know – for us documentary photographers, catching moments like that is what drives us.
This is the good stuff that will outlast us all. It’s the stuff of family history.
Some reservations, and a change-of-heart
Before the session, Jules wasn’t so sure about hiring a documentary photographer for Seth’s dohl. Afterward, she was grateful to see the moments between them that might have been lost and forgotten.
“My biggest concern was that a documentary photographer wouldn’t photograph like me – straight-on compositions, detail shots of decorations, and directed family shots, etc.
“Some of it came true – and it was a good thing. I really enjoyed the cut-off limbs because it was just my hand holding my son’s leg, or my friend’s daughter’s hand peaking through my friend’s hair.”
“Our lives are worth being documented, and a good documentary photographer knows how to capture beautiful and precious moments that we’ll treasure as family history. Also, our children will want these, and when our children are grown, we will have these to remember these long days :)”
Start sharing your family stories with your kids.
To get started, here are ’20 Do-You-Know’ questions to discuss over dinner this week.
Love Jules? Me too! If you’re looking for gorgeous traditional portraits of your family, click here to book a session with Jules.
Or, if you prefer mud-pies and pillow-fights, click here to request my availability for your next documentary session. I’ve got two spots left in 2016.
“I felt like a light bulb went on when I heard about this type of photography.” – Danielle L.
Names and locations of minors may have been changed to protect privacy. Permission & quotes attributed to Jules K. unless otherwise specified.