JDP senior Tad - jenniferdidio.com
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JDP senior Tad

Wow…where to begin (warning-this is going to be a big one!).  For years now, I’ve sat across from moms of seniors and watched them weep while I revealed portraits of their boys.  The same boys who avoided the camera in their constant busyness, all the days of their life,  much to their mother’s perpetual frustration.  These same boys were now locked down in ways that told a thousand stories for their mommas.  No forced uncomfortable ‘smiles’ that made them cringe. These same moms have often sent notes and gifts…I thought I got it…but really I didn’t…till now…now that my son Tad is a senior.

(homage to Tad’s Tough Mudder completions below)

No one can prepare you for this moment, even when you have a birds’ eye view of others as they walk through it.  My boys are just like yours.  They have no interest in being photographed (although they always love looking back on what I have captured of them).  But the realization began to sink heavily into me: this could be my last opportunity to really lock down all that is important to Tad.  I’ve been documenting it all along the way, but once we were neck deep in the teen years that became hard in a new way.  I was longing for the portraits I want to remember in my old age, as my memory begins to fade.  I pray a photograph will always brings it back to me.

Life was only going to get more complicated schedule wise and I started thinking of how many cool things Tad’s been into the last few years that I had very little photographic evidence of.  Over the last few years, I’ve shied away from documenting Tad and his friends nearly to the extent I did when they were little, because parenting teenagers is like walking a tight rope.  They want space (without you in it) and figuring out that balance is a never ending struggle with a lot of falls along the way.  The reality that Tad would be leaving for college soon, to be followed by internships, jobs, and girls, all with the potential to take him far from us…began weighing on me with a heaviness that only a momma knows.

So I began dialoging with Tad about his senior portraits over the last two years to get it on his radar.  We started making plans that intrigued him.  He’d seen me do it for his friends, so he knew I brought a ‘do or die’ mentality to portrait creation.  And ‘do or die’ we did–Tad’s portraits have spanned throughout his whole senior year, 4 different sessions, thanks partially to this Covid-19 quarantine!

The first portrait in this blog was one of those ideas we’d been ruminating on for almost 2 years.  The plan had been to create it in the spring, after Tad accumulated all his cross country and track and field medals for the year.  I was working on the post production training to bring this concept into reality, he was working on the athletic training necessary to accumulate the medals.  He was eyes on the prize, in typical Tad fashion.  What he first saw as a chore to please his mother, turned into sweet time between the two of us that is equally precious to me as the portraits we created.  I had so much fun with Tad, getting a glimpse inside the adult he’s growing into as we worked together on this massive project.  During out shoot time, he talked to me about the parabola shaped light modifiers I use and why that was such a good design (first time that’s ever been a point of discussion)…he asked me scientific questions about some of my lighting set ups that I couldn’t begin to answer…I just kept shaking my head in amazement, wondering where all that comes from in him.  We laughed in equal measure as well as his sense of humor keeps you on your toes for sure.  Inside family jokes provided more than enough material!  We talked about his future, but mostly we just laughed.  A client once told me, a portrait is only as good as the memory is brings back in creating it…for that I’m grateful as well.

However, in all our planning, what we didn’t see coming was an abrupt end to Tad’s much anticipated senior cross country season.  At the start of the season, after a grueling summer regimen, Tad’s shins were sore, but he was persevering through because athletes understand that there’s always some kind of pain attached to their victories.  However, after 2 weeks the pain became unbearable after just one stride.  We knew it was time to see a doctor, so we sought out Dr. Sedgley.  I’ll never forget Tad’s face when he saw the MRI results and we saw a significant stress fracture in his tibia.  All of our hearts sank knowing all the training and dreaming that had gone into preparing for his highly anticipated senior season.

Dr. Sedgely warned him if his tibia broke it would require surgery to mend it, so he was to be zero weight bearing and in a boot and crutches for months, potentially 6 months with the boot!  This kid, whose work ethic rivals the best I’ve ever seen in life, was sidelined.  I can’t tell you how many people over the years have said to me, “Oh my gosh, I saw Tad running again today and it’s 94 degrees/35 degrees and raining!  He just keeps going!”  Yup–he was a year round trainer and made no excuses for punting any of his training plans, even when we urged him to ease up on himself!  His all season training mentality was also the inspiration for the first fire and ice portrait in this blog and the portrait below.

Even after his diagnosis, Tad continued in his role as team captain so he could encourage his team mates and help them reach their goals.  He felt like his injury shouldn’t result in the team suffering more than it had to.  He balanced his PT while also attending daily practice with his team, all the while carrying an incredibly rigorous academic load that’s led to a top 10 standing in his class ranking.

Tad’s work ethic encouraged his team mates and he’s now beginning to see that his story is more than just about him and accomplishing his goals.  It’s about the impact he makes wherever he goes in life just by giving his best and honoring those around him.  At the cross country end of season banquet, I watched, beaming with pride as he received awards and team mate after team mate came up to thank him and ask to get his photo with Tad.  I heard things like, “Next year I’m going to be as good as you Tad!” “Thanks for pushing me towards my PR’s.”  Parents came up to thank me as well for Tad’s role in their child’s life…cue the tears. Seeing this kind of devotion compelled me to create in ways I never have, to make sure Tad knows that his extraordinary contributions are seen and valued.  I’m even grateful for the extra time this quarantine has given me to train to create in new ways for Tad.

When it came to projections for the spring track season, Tad was a realist and assessed his situation throughout his recuperation.  He was skeptical that once he was released from his boot he’d be able to compete at the level he’d been at prior to his injury, in as quick of time that would be necessary.  Great sadness accompanied that realization.  He felt his efforts to stay in shape as a runner, without being able to run, were not yielding what he hoped for.  He trained to try and keep up his endurance; however, it didn’t feel like anything was comparing to his 10 mile runs in terms of wearing him out.  Fortunately he had the college application process distracting him through a lot of this.

As his college acceptances began rolling in, it helped to assuage the sting of what he was losing.  He began to cast his eyes to the future, unsure which of his top three would be his number one choice: Clemson, Un. of MD or Virgina Tech to study engineering.

Tad’s an all or nothing kind of kid…not sure where he gets that (wink wink).  I tell him we share that ‘adorkable’ quality!  It’s one of the things I love most about him.  He grabs on to a passion and explores it for all it has to offer.  Several weeks into his recuperation, he decided to start working out to start focusing on putting on muscle that would have slowed him down as a runner.  He started in our basement and then joined Planet Fitness where he’d meet up with friends to work out.  After only a few weeks, he was hooked.  The closing of one door led to the opening of another.  He began researching fitness plans and blending the best of each to customize a plan for himself.  He was seeing results and was eyes on the prize again.

Then Covid-19 hit and derailed his plans with the closing of his gym.  However, by that point he had pulled his dad into working out as well so they transitioned back to the basement.  My husband jokes that Tad’s going to kill him with the plan he’s created for the two of them!  I join him for core sometimes, although my abs don’t exactly testify to the reality!

Tad’s plan entails working out 4-6 days a week, about 90 minutes a session and a multitude of shakes.  It’s enabled him to put on 15lbs. of muscle in 4 months.  He’s just hit his 6 month mark of working out and has no plans to stop.  When he was released to run again, he realized quickly soreness from the muscle imbalance was going to make competing at his former status nearly impossible.  Time was not on his side to train through the issues.  Just last week it was announced that the spring athletic season was definitely canceled as schools continue to be closed.  There were a lot of mixed emotions for Tad.  He’s just as bummed as the rest of the class of 2020 watching their senior year circle the drain. He wants to be back at school, with his friends and reveling in end of year senior rituals.  Rather than wallow in it though, he took the energy and devotion he had for running and has transferred it to fitness training.  His eyes are cast forward also having just made the decision to attend Virginia Tech this fall as an engineering student.

I’ve created strength portraits for senior clients for years and now to get to do it for my boy is a great joy!  I’ve watched these muscles be grown for 18 years of hard work and it brings me great joy as a mother.  It’s so cool to cheer him on while he works to achieve his next round of goals–most recently, a one armed chin up!

One of my greatest joys in Tad’s new love of fitness is seeing the sculptural element to this in portrait creation…his lean frame and a lifetime of picking up and carrying his little brothers, doing yard work, carrying laundry baskets, setting up for parties and carrying random heavy things on a regular basis have all primed the pump for these muscles to be built.

There’s so many more sides to Tad I wanted to capture in his portraits.  Since he was little, I’ve always encouraged him to have a product from the work of his hands.  When given the chance to consume or create…one is infinitely more satisfying to the soul and much to my delight, he  realized that from a young age.  He’s been building, creating and solving puzzles his whole life.  It started with elaborate train track designs, army camps, pirate ships, bow and arrows, puzzles, magic tricks, ramps, forts…and the list could go on for days.  Below is a project Tad and his good buddy Nate have been designing for a couple of years, a foundry.  Their plan was to melt metal and cast chess pieces.  This project has had many iterations and it’s been fascinating to watch (and slightly terrifying as I’d always call out “Don’t blow yourselves up!”

Tad’s put his designing/engineering mind to great use in the work world already as well.  He’s worked for Perrine Design and Micro-Tech Designs over the summer where he’s proven a great asset to both businesses.

When Tad was little we played a lot of card games.  He blew right past me when he developed a love of chess as just a little guy.  Below is a light up LED chess board he designed and built.  It’s almost done, but waiting on some parts from China to finish up!  Tad attended career tech for engineering and there he and his team mates designed crutches that could generate electricity to power a phone.

Tad’s been playing in the snow his whole life.  It was ice forts and sledding when he was little.  He actually really enjoys shoveling snow too!  I’ll never forget when he was little he told his dad, “come on hurry up Daddy, we have to get out there quick before the sun does our job for us!”   Tad discovered snowboarding a few years ago and loved it immediately.

When Tad was little his constant companion was our yellow lab, Murphy.  His twin brothers were constantly sick as babies and we struggled to manage their asthma.  It meant we had to find a new home for Murphy when Tad was just 3 and the twins were 1 1/2, fortunately our neighbors right across the street wanted her so we still got to see her.  This broke Tad’s heart and he would sit and watch Murphy from inside our house, wanting his dog back with all his might.  He finally understood she couldn’t come home so he started playing “kitty and puppy” with his brothers to try and fill the void.

 

The last 8 years William and Wyatt’s asthma has rarely been an issue, so after years of Tad’s begging, we decided to try again with a dog.  I was concerned about what we would do if it proved to be an issue again, but my studio manager Sara assured me she’d take the puppy if we couldn’t keep her! When one of his brothers asked what we would do if their asthma was an issue, Tad responded, “this time we’re getting rid of you!”

Well Macy Mae’s been a wonderful addition to our family for over a year now and Tad’s only regret is that he’ll be leaving her to go away to college soon!  We’ll be bringing her on visits though!  First year was definitely a little rough with this crazy puppy, but she’s grown into an awesome dog!

This treasured collection is dedicated to the little boy who stole my heart the first time he looked up at me, then when he ran to me with arms open wide and buried his face into my embrace, then when he brought me bundles of flowers he picked, then when he said he loved me and wanted to marry me, then when he couldn’t wait to show me each new thing he created and each new trick he’d mastered, then when he used his money to buy me a figurine instead of a toy for himself, then when he laid surprise flowers all over my bathroom for me to find…  It’s for that same little boy who has grown into a young man who is a valued and trusted friend to so many, is willing to take risks, is committed to excellence in all he does, is excited to compete in Tough Mudders, is full of wit and humor, is expectant for the best from people, not the worst, is an awesome cook, is a lover of the Lord and His plans, is settled into who he is and full of joy as a result, is confident in his abilities and is the young man who lays on the floor in my office and chats about life and cracks me up in a way that makes me so glad I can call him mine.

Click here to reach out about your own custom JDP senior portraits.

 

  1. Karen Cooper says:

    Tad has grown into a wonderful young man, and your descriptions of him are brought to life by these amazing pictures. You are such a great photographer, blessed with special gifts and special sons!!

  2. Mary Sue-Shaffer Feaster says:

    I’m not crying, your crying. What sweet and precious memories made with your son. It is obvious you and his Dad have set him on a path of successfulness. When we become Mother’s we think that is the hardest thing we will ever do. But we had no way of knowing that the hardest thing is to let them fly out of the nest. It is not the end. It is just different. The best is yet to come in watching them grow into the person you always dreamed. There will be new relationships, friends and family growth through marriages, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Best wishes for exciting tomes ahead.

    • Thank you Mary! Yes this is such a strange feeling although we’ve been preparing him for it his whole life! Thank you for the encouragement! 😉

    • Jennifer DiDio says:

      So many levels to parenting that you just can’t ever prepare yourself for–thank you for sharing your wisdom from the journey! 😉

  3. Judy Myers says:

    Oh momma, I couldn’t have described him and his 18 yrs any better. Of course you brought tears to my eyes remembering all these special moments. The one still strong in my mind and those I hadn’t thought of for so long, like “kitty and puppy”. A great Senior Portrait for a great Senior!

    • Jennifer DiDio says:

      Love that this became a walk down memory lane for so many precious memories you have helped to create Mimi!!xo

  4. Papu and Mimi says:

    You’ve captured him perfectly. What we all are is a combination of nature and nurture. Some are Blessed with advantage in one… and seldom is one Blessed with both. For many, things of nature come too easy, and the advantages of brain and brawn are relied upon to advantage rather than sharpening – resulting in deficient self-discipline – because it is so easy to get by without it. Even harder to deal with is nurture. Entitlement is often the result.
    Tad is Blessed with both nature and nurture. Yet, he hasn’t used his advantage to disadvantage others – he has used his advantages to expand and multiply his Blessings in others, thereby making others larger. Synergy results in everyone becoming more than the sum of the parts. Very few realize that life is not a zero-sum game. Tad knows and practices this – such a rarity in this time.
    As parents, you and Chris are the benefactors of nature and nurture… but Tad is responsible for leveraging both. As a grandparent, no one could ask for more. Judy and I recognize that great people become what they are by embracing good and eschewing bad. By imbuing virtue and rejecting selfishness – and then taking that developed life-force and passing it on. A masterpiece is not created in a vacuum. Love does not create itself – it comes from the Father who depends on us to grow it from a tiny flame into a blaze of glory. That blaze you and Chris have built shines brightly through Tad – visible to all…
    The pride and love your grandmother and I have for you is multiplied in Tad. We could not be prouder of all of you.
    Thank you for the homage to the house Jen and Chris have built.

    • Jennifer DiDio says:

      Papu–do you remember, “The man, the myth, the legend”? Tad is blessed in so many in our family building into him!xo

  5. Tricia says:

    I have rarely read something about another Mama’s child that so engaged my heart. You gave us all a glimpse into the miracle of a beautiful boy grown into a strong beautiful man. The wonder of Gods plan and gifts unveiling. Tad is His work of art and you captured this journey so beautifully that it made me stop and worship. Congratulations to both Tad and to his amazing Mama. What do they say about the Apple? ❤️

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