Every year, Corey's family makes the trek to the beautiful beaches of North Carolina.
They rent a few big beach houses, and everyone lounges around eating warm chicken sandwiches and, if you're a kid, drinking ginger ale; if you're a grown-up, something we call Sneaky Pete.
It's peaceful, cacophonic (many small cousins tearing around), and the ocean feels like a bath.
This year was special for us, since it meant introducing S jr to all those small cousins, and more extended family who haven't had a chance to welcome him.
Nowadays, so many of us have family scattered across the country and the globe...none of either of our families lives in LA, so seeing them is even more meaningful. And while family dynamics will forever be complicated, when there's a new human involved, the abundance of hands to help and arms to hold is a welcome gift.
And boy, was S jr held.
Here he is with Corey's sister, Kelly, who's raising four boys of her own and is an expert if I've ever seen one...
And with one of his cousins, who he loved...
C jr has always been a fantastic traveler. Even as a little kid - patient, funny, entertaining. I used to marvel at it, because for me as a kid, travel was exciting at first and then, after I realized I was going to be stuck in the car or plane for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, I would slowly and publicly lose my mind.
Now that we have a baby and C jr is 15 (!) I'm marveling at how wonderful it is to have a teenager who loves taking care of a little brother, and does it so well. Hats off to you, beautiful stepkid.
Time at the beach is always such an escape. We're literally and figuratively thousands of miles away from our usual lives. It's a time where we have the luxury of being with each other without the burden of the mundane, and we usually spend a lot of time laughing our asses off.
Corey and C jr are so much alike sometimes it staggers me. As someone who was adopted, seeing these genetic and hereditary similarities is fascinating. It's so innate they're not aware of it, of course, but it's been so much fun for me to watch them enjoy each other over the years.
For a teenager to be so close to her dad, to trust him emotionally and otherwise, will be something that will carry her through the rest of her life.
With so many eager helpers, Corey and I got a few day dates alone, even if it just meant a run to the store or a quick trip to get ice cream.
Maybe it's being in the sun and the sand and the waves, but there is definitely something a little magic about being with your favorite person in a beautiful setting, surrounded by loving faces.
Also, of course, loving each other's faces so much you want to eat them.
This is us. Grateful for each other. Happy to be a family and to be with family. We have hard times, dark times, cosmic frustrations and deep sadness. But we also make each other guffaw, enlighten each other, and witness beauty together.
My concept of family continues to evolve. The capacity to love is pushed and challenged and sometimes that expansion hurts a bit. But in the balance lies the reminder that there will be more room to care about the people who make it all worth it.
All photos taken with a Canon 6D/Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T prime lens. Thanks to Corey, C jr and Mary Nelle for helping take photos!