I debated if I would write this because I keep my personal life really personal. But this is one of those things that has provided me with so much change and inspiration in such a short time that it would be inauthentic to brush past it.

I’m approaching 3 months of having my foster son in my home. December 18, 2019 is a date that will be forever etched in my mind and heart. It was the day that everything changed.

I became a licensed foster mother mid-December after a full year of going through the trainings, and got a call for my first placement less than a week later. From that first call, nothing happened how I expected it to.

First, I got a nearly-two-year-old. I’m licensed for up to two, but in my dreamscape of fostering, I thought I’d get a little baby to start out with – grow with the experience, work my way up to loud personalities.

I almost said no. I was so scared to say yes when the call came in.

I saw the number on my phone, an unidentified Arizona number, and I knew right away it was about to happen. He’s almost two, they said. He has emotional issues. He doesn’t self-regulate. He has twos siblings. He needs to be moved immediately. You have 10 minutes to answer yes or no.

That was all the information I was given. I hung up, talked to my husband, and I told him I was scared. He reminded me to let go of my expectations, because we aren’t in this for us, it is for them.

I called them back, said yes, and they told me that he would be dropped off that night. He wasn’t. We waited hours to hear anything and I finally gave in and called the state. They told me they couldn’t find anyone to drive him, and asked if we could make the 3.5 hour drive the next day to get him. We accepted, though now I know we were being manipulated so that the state worker didn’t have to do her job.

The next day was surreal. We drove the distance, stopped for our last meal before becoming parents, and then pulled up to the address we were given. It was an unofficial daycare; aka, someone’s house who had a bunch of kids running wild inside.

We entered the home and their caretaker pointed to a little boy in a high chair. “That’s him,” she said. And within minutes we pulled him out of the chair, walked him outside, gathered two tote bags of his things, and put him in our car.

There was no state worker, licensing worker, or anyone of any official capacity to oversee it. Just us and the daycare worker, both taking each other’s word that this little boy is the one we are supposed to take home with us.

I sat in the back seat, trying to entertain our little boy for 3+ hours in the car. I had no idea what to do or say, how to change a diaper, how to comfort him. I sat in the back seat shaking out of fear.

When we got home, nothing got better. I was so sick with anxiety that for a week straight I barely slept, barely ate, and visibly shook. I hadn’t experienced anxiety like that since working a job I hated over a decade ago. I didn’t expect it. I thought I would fall into the role of mother instantly.

I need to be honest about my experience, because I have the distinct feeling that, like much of the internet, people sugarcoat their real experiences.

I didn’t feel connected to our little boy at all. I had no idea what to do. It felt like someone else’s child had been dumped in my lap. And that was exactly what happened. He was violent toward me – biting, pinching, slapping, kicking me. The first week he was with us he threw a toy truck in my face and my nose started bleeding. I remember entirely breaking down.

That wasn’t the first time. I found myself screaming when I had no idea what else to do or say. I found myself crying without control. I found myself hiding in any moments I could, unable to will myself to do anything but sit on the floor.

That first week my husband and I both got the flu, and it was the worst we had ever experienced. I didn’t know how I would get myself off the sofa, or how I could make it to the doctors appointments we had lined up for him, or how I would feed myself, let alone a baby. For 10 days we existed in this newness, and I hated it.

You read online about how adoptive parents just fall in love with their kids right away, like they’ve always been together. I thought fostering would be the same. Like I would see him and know he’s “mine”. But that is an expectation that cannot happen in foster care. He will never be “mine”. And I knew that – subconsciously, despite trying to tell myself to love him like he’s mine, I didn’t. I wanted him gone, and I hate admitting that.

The new year came and we had just started recovering from the flu. We went through a lot of ups and downs those first two weeks, attempting to get his anger under control, while I attempted to understand my own. I wanted to be a parent for so long, and now that I was, I felt inadequate. I didn’t even like it.

People online kept emailing me to say what an inspiration I am for fostering – how they are just certain I’m an amazing mother. But that wasn’t true, and those emails only served to make me feel more guilty and upset.

I would talk to other parents about expectations of two-year-olds. When I would share about the excessive tantrums and the hitting, they would say it was normal. It made me feel crazy. It wasn’t until a behavior specialist came to our home and told us that his behavior is not at all normal that I started to feel a little bit better – validated, and understood.

With all of that heartache, I started to feel love. We saw little breakthroughs. I started changing his diaper standing up because he was less likely to hit me that way. I started finding places to take him to get his energy out. I started becoming more comfortable with being his mom – carrying him, putting him to sleep, singing to him.

And somewhere in there, I came to love him. It wasn’t instant, and that is important. It is important for the inspiration I’m taking into my art, and it is important because you might one day feel the same thing and feel LESS because of it. You are not. I am not.

After a month I felt like we had a good thing going. I started thinking about the day he would leave us (which, at the time, was going to be very soon, though that fell through) and I started to feel pangs of panic. I didn’t want to lose him. I wanted to see this through, watch him grow.

The state has said they are going to move him twice with no results. We haven’t had a court case yet and everything is up in the air. That’s the hardest part – not knowing. I may receive a call one day that he’s being moved that night – or in a week – or in a month. We just don’t know.

The mental tax that occurs when you constantly live in a state of unknowing – and with no ability to give weight to your opinions – is excruciating. I have no autonomy, though they try to make you feel like you do, at times.

Three months in, and I love him desperately. He also pains me, and is absurdly difficult, but mostly, he’s loving and funny and so, so cute. And he knows it. In the beginning he used to get angry when I brought a book out, and now we read for at least an hour every day. He’s learning to swim. He has some friends at the preschool he attends twice a week. He loves to climb stairs and pet the cats. He runs into his room and climbs up on his giant stuffed teddy bear and asks me to sing to him. Lately, he wants to be held all the time.

We’re still overcoming obstacles, like his food addiction issues – which is not uncommon for neglected children. But we’ve made so much progress the behavior specialist said she can’t believe he is the same child as when he arrived in our home.

And that is the silver lining, that’s why we do this. You can never know the impact you have on someone’s life, not fully. There will come a time that our boy leaves our home and we may never see or hear from him again. We may never know the impact we’ve had. But I don’t doubt that my presence is helping. Even when I fail. Even when I overreact. Even when I do everything wrong and wish I could try again. I’m giving this boy what he needs – safety, love, and a place to grow.

I’ve taken a thousand pictures of him, a hundred videos. Sometimes I wish I could show you his face and tell you more about him and his story, but I can’t, and I wouldn’t anyway. It’s difficult, though, living with this much of my life in secrecy. None of my family have met him yet, but we video chat everyday with my mom, who goes by “Lolly”, and his favorite thing to say is “I love you Lolly”. My family is so on board for this chapter of my life, and that has been heartwarming beyond belief.

The support of my friends has been immense. Boxes of toys and books and blankets and food have made all the difference.

I take him for photo shoots sometimes, and he loves the camera – both taking pictures (which is precarious, but I let him) and being in front of the camera. I wish I could use him in one of my creations, but the risks are too high. My time as a parent is becoming easier. Preschool has helped so I can work, and I’m finding my footing as a multi-passionate mother. I learned to ignore the far-too-many-people who told me that I should be his sole primary caregiver since I “work from home anyway”. I’ve learned how to bang out some amazing work in the span of a nap, or before he wakes up. I’m doing this. And certainly on pre-school days, like this one.

In fact, my naptime, pre-dawn, and preschool day work sessions have resulted in: planning my Promoting Passion convention, starting an inspiration deck of cards, making a fine art book, shipping work off to various galleries, and creating work for my new solo exhibition in May. I’ve managed to make and release 8 new images so far this year. I’ve managed to create 14 total. I thought my life would go on as it was, and largely it is, but with a lot more excellent planning and hard work. And sometimes guilt. And sometimes tears. And sometimes epic joy.

I don’t know how this will impact my art yet. It will – I know that. In a huge way. But I’ve never been someone to create from the chaos of my emotions. I wait until I process it, and one day I will. That day is not today, however, and for now, I hope this update will suffice.

Thank you for your love,
Brooke

  • March 12, 2020 - 8:55 am

    Dave - There’s no parenting manual. It seems like you’re doing your best. That’s all anyone can ask. I think a lot of your reactions are exactly normal and to be expected. Just be as kind to yourself as you would a friend in the same place. Don’t feel like you’re all alone and can’t ask for help. If you need help, ask for it. And do it sooner, rather than later!
    I believe in you. It’ll be ok.ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 9:18 am

    Sydney Paige Richardson - So much love to you. Thank you for sharing and being so honest about your journy.ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 9:48 am

    Laura B - I’m so moved by this essay, and proud of you for opening your heart to this little boy who has experienced immeasurable loss. As former foster parents I respect everything you’re going; including your commitment to both your own values and the privacy and well-being of your young dude. WTG Team Brooke Shaden!ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 9:50 am

    Kim standish - You know how to be compassionate. You know how to love. I’m a special education teacher of students with emotional disabilities. I teach middle school. There are many days without answers. They often don’t express themselves in a way that we are familiar with. Most of their behaviors are their way of filling a need. Many don’t have consistent routines or people they can count on. Loving someone and helping them understand that there is someone there to meet their needs is soooo much of their struggle. You know how to love. You are compassionate. He is blessed to have you in his life.ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 10:50 am

    Vincent - It’s a beautiful thing you’re doing!!ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 11:23 am

    Elizabeth Haen - Thank you for sharing what you can and so openly. I have been thinking of you so much these past few months, know that it’s a tough road to walk and knowing that you would find your way through it. Sending continued love as you figure out what the future looks like one day at a time ❤ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 12:23 pm

    Margherita Introna - You have been on my mind a lot the last few days as I have been wanting to send you an email. Something you said the other day really touched me and it has been in my heart ever since. But I know I will need some time before I can put my feelings into words… so until then, I just wanted to send you a hug, love and light <3 xxReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 4:09 pm

    Nick Cormier - My wife and I did fostering for a year. It was the hardest, yet, more rewarding year of our lives. I feel your words and they bring me back to that year. Sending you lots of love!ReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2020 - 8:07 pm

    Lucas - Brooke – As one of the people who expressed admiration to you, I feel terrible for adding to the anxiety. That said, I cannot help but respect and admire you more for persevering in the face of such circumstances. Parenthood under typical conditions (whatever that means) can be pretty rough. I can relate to many of the questions you raise about the impact you’re having but I cannot imagine the pain of uncertainty you describe nor the heartache brought on by the abstract yet imminent threat of your foster son’s departure.

    I’m convinced that no parent is always at their best, and mistakes/overreactions/tears/uncertainty are part of the experience, for better or worse. At least I rarely know what I’m doing. All of that said, the same things that made me express my confidence in your parenting abilities are on display in this post. There is no cliche, platitude, or silver-bullet-wisdom that covers the range of scenarios and emotions that come with the job. I’m sure that’s twice as true as a foster parent. For all of the challenges you describe, I can’t help but zoom out and observe that you’re figuring it all out… a day at a time, and that is praiseworthy parenting.

    Your fan,

    Lucas WReplyCancel

    • March 13, 2020 - 6:33 am

      brookeshaden - Lucas, your friendship and outreach have meant everything to me. I’m so grateful that kind and honest people like you are out there. My boy plays with his monkey everyday and your words have touched me beyond belief.ReplyCancel

  • March 13, 2020 - 1:09 pm

    Anna Bruce - Someday we’ll share a hot beverage and share stories involving guilt and children. My best friend was/is a foster mom. The grueling experiences she went through, I would not wish on anyone. However, what you are doing IS a wonderful thing (not saying this to make you feel guilty in anyway) but it is so hard and there are so many moments that suck and so much unfairness in having little power of say and not knowing when the child might leave. But as you said, you are making a difference in his life and no matter what, I pray that that impact will stay with him all throughout his life. This experience will only make you stronger as a person even if it breaks you first. Even though I am not a close friend, know that you really do have someone to talk to/ vent to/ be listened.ReplyCancel

  • March 13, 2020 - 5:20 pm

    Me Ra Koh - This was so vulnerable to share. And even though you are always so open and vulnerable with us…This is on a different level b/c it is about your ups and downs as a mom.

    When our kids are doing well, we feel so proud and able to conquer the world. When our kids are suffering, we second guess everything, pray with urgency, wonder what we missed, what we can do better, how we can love more…even if it means tough love.

    The heart of a mother tears you apart holds and holds you together at the same time. It is one of the strongest forces I’ve ever known. It will die for another. It will suffer for another. And it will never stop loving whether that love is returned or not.

    You are in this powerful space Brooke. The love of a mother is carving a path through your very soul. Like a slow forming canyon with endless layers of color and depth, it’s path is slowly changing you…for the better…and you will never be the same.

    Just like being a working artist, parenting needs community. Reach to the ones who speak life and wisdom to you. Find those who are prayer warriors (you’ve got me as one). And the moment you start feeling like you’re failing, pick up the phone. Over the last 20 years, I have found that is a trap. If darkness, not the good kind of darkness but the bad, can convince you to isolate as a parent, be ashamed, feel guilty, the darkness is winning. But the moment you pick up the phone, send a text that even says “Please pray” and that’s all, not only you but your whole family have a fighting chance again.

    Do you know how much I love you?
    xoxo
    mReplyCancel

  • March 16, 2020 - 2:09 pm

    Gallagher Green - I have had a lot going on, so I am a bit late to the fish fry on this one.
    This is why I knew you and your husband would be great parents, not in the TV Braidy Bunch (whom I dislike) or Sound of Music (also dislike) fake bull type of way. But that you two would fight for whatever child came to you two, that you would do anything in your power to help and heal the child.
    I knew you would be great parents for these forgotten children, not because you two are perfect (because no one is) but because you are both Warriors!ReplyCancel

Night is such an interesting challenge. To shoot at night takes enormous skill, so that in itself is difficult. To conceive of art in darkness, dark spaces, or at night is not as common, so this should automatically force our brains into a different headspace. There is so much we could do here! Landscapes, conceptual, collage…

No matter what you do, make sure you focus your efforts on the theme or visual of night, whatever that means to you. To me, it’s lots of stars.

I’ll pull some of the art that I see this week to feature!
Use the hashtag #PromotingPassionChallenge so I can find you!

Here is some food for thought. Enjoy the challenge, and remember to push yourself creatively!

One of my favorite images.
Looking for night.
Using moon imagery is my favorite!
I love to imagine what it would be like to float here in the quiet of the darkness.
One of my first “night” images, actually shot in a sewer and using a drawing of a moon my friend made for me.
  • March 10, 2020 - 12:08 pm

    Gallagher Green - I am trying Wednesday night for this one, lots of heavy clouds and rain, which kills shooting at night.
    I have a plan though and that is a start.ReplyCancel

I’ve been honored as a judge of photo competitions many times over in the past few years. I enter competitions from time to time myself, and have had my fair share of rejections, and a couple of successes. Through my years as both a contest entrant and a judge, I want to share some lessons on entering photo competitions – particularly from the fine art side of things.

  1. Don’t submit if you see flaws in your work. One of the quickest ways for a judge to pass you over is if there is an editing mistake. If you can see an inconsistency in your work, be it in matching light for a composite, cloning something out of the background, etc., simply don’t enter it. If you aren’t sure, ask friends. Specifically, ask a photo-related friend and a non-photo-related friend. This is important. Ask the photo friend if there are any technical mistakes, and ask someone else if anything simply feels “off”. My best critiques come from my friends who are not photographers.
  2. Don’t submit images that are too similar. I’ve judged plenty of competitions where the same photographer will submit a set of three images: One of a tree, another of that same tree but slightly closer, and…you guessed it…the third of the same tree slightly, slightly closer. This doesn’t work. Unless it is specifically a series, where you are intentionally saying something through the use of creating three nearly identical images, don’t do it.
  3. Which brings me to submitting a series. Make sure it is a series! A series can generally be categorized in two distinct ways. One, your images go together visually to show the viewer something that would be lost in a single image. Or two, the images go together thematically in a way that tells a greater story than a single image. Ideally, your series will do BOTH of these things. A series of images that look too similar is often not a series, but rather the photographer not being able to decide between a bunch of images of the same thing. Further, submitting general images in your portfolio as a series will only hurt you. There must be connection, otherwise keep them separate.
  4. Judges might not understand you. Please pay attention to this one over all others. I have been in rooms judging with people who are not even remotely on the same wavelength as us fine art photographers. I don’t really blame them. We’re WEIRD. But here is the problem with being a weirdo submitting to contests: you run the risk of being misunderstood. I was in a room with a judge where, nearly every time a more conceptual image would pop up, I would hear an audible sigh. This judge just couldn’t stand them. This judge did not, in any way, desire to understand them. This judge wanted them gone. I was very grateful to be in the room, to be a voice for these images. But, let’s face it: It’s hard to find a contest where someone who makes weird art is on the judging panel. It just isn’t as common. I’ve submitted work that I feel is very strong to contests and I’ve had that work rejected. And then, I look at who won, and low and behold, it’s all documentary style images, or portraits. Who the judge is will entirely direct who is going to win that competition, so pay attention to that part, and weigh your odds.
  5. Do something different. I cannot begin to describe how many images I see while judging a competition that look the same. There are certain subjects that are beautiful to photograph and that feel natural to photograph. This goes for any genre. Conceptual, documentary, portrait, sports, etc. Avoid submitting something that you’ve seen done before. The fastest way for a judge to forget about your work is if it reminds them of someone else’s work.
  6. Know the impact your image makes. Is your image emotional? Is it visually arresting? Is there a concept that’s really heady? Know your goal, and create work that takes that goal to the next level. The most frequently chosen images for awards are the ones that take an idea and magnify it.
  7. The 5-second rule. Okay, this isn’t actually a rule, just a guideline. When judges are viewing contest entries, we typically only look for about 5-seconds per image. Show your image to someone and ask them to look for only 5-seconds. Did it make enough of an impact in that time? There are images that we will look at and debate over for lengthy amounts of time. And there are images that we look at for less than 5 seconds. Here is the difference: images that look like lots of other images will get passed by in 2 seconds. Images that make you ask questions, look deeper, or impact you heartily will be kept up longer.

I hope this helps you gain some confidence in entering competitions! I always love when a judge gives insight into the judging process. Remember to take risks, learn as much as you can, and above all – do what you want.

From 1 to 100, put as many people or things in your images as you want! These are all manipulated so that each image features the same person, but yours doesn’t have to! Use multiples in your imagery and see how that can enhance the visuals (dramatically!) and the concept.

Perhaps challenge yourself to put more than one person in the same image, or see if you can get creative with a certain prop that you stock up on!

I’ll pull some of the art that I see this week to feature!
Use the hashtag #PromotingPassionChallenge so I can find you!

Here is some food for thought. Enjoy the challenge, and remember to push yourself creatively!

When I made this, I got so nauseous from rolling over so many times that I had to wait to drive home!
This was from the same shoot as above.
Sometimes it’s easier with just two!
This was a really difficult shoot because I had to try and make it look like I was overlapping my own body in this self-portrait!
My most recent image of multiples from my new series, Begin Again.
  • March 3, 2020 - 9:38 pm

    Gallagher Green - I think this one is going to be easier this week, I have an idea that I really like. I am going out on Wednesday to shoot and rather excited about it.ReplyCancel

Major breakthrough time.
Which means major letting go,
coming to terms,
etc.

Lindsay Adler must be my soulmate, because she has this freaky tendency to reach out to me at pivotal moments. I had just finished yoga and was sitting back down to write when I see a text from her. It simply said:

“How are you? Something made me think I should call you or text.”

I responded quickly, flippantly almost, saying that I’m good. And then, before pressing send, I added this:

“Just doing lots of writing and trying not to worry that I’m solidly not doing anything that makes money.”

Casual.

Writing those words opened up a can of worms in my brain. I hadn’t really said that out loud until that point. I knew I was making a big shift in my business/career, I had discussed pay decreases with my husband, but I hadn’t really acknowledged that the fear I feel with my new creative endeavors is rooted in money.

I know, I know. Money is just NOT COOL to talk about when you’re an “artist”.

Whatever.

It’s a fact and a stress and it is necessary. So be it.

Our ideas of success are wrapped up in it. Our confidence is wrapped up in it. Sometimes, even our reputations.

Let me be clear about some things. My business makes money in multifaceted ways, from teaching and motivational speaking to print sales and licensing, and more. I’ve always excelled at diversifying and branding. But, for the first time since starting photography, I mentally ditched that. Even though I still have revenue streams, even though I’m doing fine, I stopped associating with money.

The last time I did this was 9 years ago when I started photography. I was fresh out of college, 21 years old, and just starting photography. I knew I had to make money, but I never considered that photography would be the way to do that. It was fun and exciting and I didn’t put any expectation on that.

Photography grew to be my career, unexpectedly.

And now, 11 years later, and nearly 10 years after starting my business, and 7.5 years since learning to rely on it for money, I’m slowing it down. I’m pursuing writing, and it feels just like before – when I started photography…

…with one main difference. I make a living for myself now. Back then I was fresh out of college and had no house, no income expectations. This time I do. I’ve taught myself, as we do when we become adults, to rely on ourselves to make money. We learn to measure our success in our bank accounts.

I’m not trying to say that I have lost any joy in photography or teaching, or that I personally put my confidence and success in money, but that it is tied together even when we don’t realize it. I’m just ready for change.

I’m overjoyed about dissociating my passion from my income. It means that I’m back to passionate basics. I’m doing something because I HAVE TO. Because my soul is pushing me to do it. Because I feel a calling to write this book.

If I am ever to do it right, I can’t let money be a thought, or success, or reputation.

None of that matters in passion.

What matters is that I put aside my former expectations and learn a new way of living, one that does the deed no matter what. Just like I did with photography, and just like I will do with writing.

One day I will tell the story of how I put all else aside – my fears, insecurities, doubts, and expectation – to write the novel of my dreams. It will be a beautiful story to tell.

So, Lindsay, to answer your question…

I’m doing freaking fantastic. I really am. Thanks to you and your perfectly timed text, I’m finally feeling free.

  • February 28, 2020 - 3:09 pm

    ANNE PARSONS - For such a wee lass, you have an enormous spirit and a beautiful ancient soul. I cannot wait to read the novel written by a creative who never stops inspiring me.ReplyCancel

  • February 29, 2020 - 7:57 pm

    Gallagher Green - You gotta love good friends with such a connection that they know exactly when to see how you are even from thousands of miles away.
    The short story series I am writing now is odd, I already finished a trilogy of it. But now I am starting another trilogy in the same “world” something about this “World” keeps pulling me back I just love writing in it. Last night I was trying to finish a photo and after I was done it was 11:40 pm, but I really wanted to write a little on this story. So I thought that I would just get a few hundred words down, I ended up writing over a thousand words and not going to bed until almost 1:30 am! LOL This is when I realized, that the “World” this story is in has become a full-blown passion that I didn’t expect!
    I can’t wait for your story to make it out into the world, I know it will be grand. ReplyCancel

  • April 25, 2020 - 1:58 pm

    Hannah davis - I have followed you for many many years!

    I have created for the sake of creating for most of my teenage life until I graduate uni and a switch flicked- I had to make money. I stopped creating for passion . And took photos for money, this was my darkest scariest and loneliness period of my life .

    Until recently (covid 19) all my work dried up – I have finally managed to get back to my true self! And my god I am unstoppable!

    I’m coming to you to workout how to make this a way of life! Your content is super helpful. I hope your well in this uncertain time… loving your white wall wednesdays ReplyCancel