“Monday Mornings” aims to prove there is beauty in every mother’s morning, even if we need an outsider to see it. Thanks to a partnership with Allstate, I am flying lifestyle photographer Raquel Bianca across the US to document the morning routines of twelve mothers in five different cities. This is our only stop in Dallas, Texas.
Today’s Monday Morning features Kristen, who wanted to participate in this series for very different reasons than our previous featured mothers.
Kristen’s husband Byron passed away last March from a sudden heart attack, leaving her on her own with their three-year-old son Brayden and a new baby on the way.
Kristen said she wanted evidence they were still a family unit despite their unbelievable loss.
“I’m newly widowed so I’m still trying to figure out single parenting. I decided to enter on a whim… I want to see us in action and hopefully see that we’re still a family full of love even if a huge part of our life is gone. These pictures will be the first pictures of our new life together. I’m hoping to find some joy in what is usually a rough part of our day.”
On the evening before Raquel was scheduled for the shoot, Kristen started having contractions and had to go to the hospital. It was five weeks before her baby was due. We thought the shoot might not happen but Kristen was sent home later that night and said she still wanted Raquel to come in the morning.
Because Kristen was a high-risk pregnancy (her three-year-old son Brayden was born a 24 week-old micro preemie), her mother was already staying with her in case she went into early labor. Kristen’s mom requested she be left out of the photos, but Kristen wanted to convey how important she has been to her daily routine.
“My mom has been amazing. She’s basically moved in… to keep an eye on me while I am pregnant and to help me adjust to parenting two children by myself.”
Despite the late night visit to the hospital, Kristen woke up early as usual and went about her typical weekday morning.
She finds it easiest to get herself completely ready for work while Brayden is still sleeping.
Brayden has not wanted to sleep alone since his dad passed, so most nights Kristen and Brayden sleep together in her bed. The night of the shoot, since Kristen went to the hospital, Brayden slept with Grandma in the guest room.
“Brayden never co-slept until we lost Byron. He wants to know where I am all of the time. He’s gotten a lot better… but nights are still rough for him. I think with time he’ll continue to regain his footing.”
Kristen usually wakes Brayden at 7:30am.
Then she brings him back to his room to get dressed.
Once there, Brayden always makes a little game of hopping back into bed.
“He pulls the covers up and pretends to be asleep, which normally can be a little frustrating when I’m rushing. But I loved seeing the joy on his face in the pictures.”
Then Kristen helps Brayden go through each step of his routine— dressing in his school uniform, brushing his teeth, and washing his face.
Kristen talked openly about Byron and what it was like to go through the pregnancy without him.
“He was my heart… my son’s real life hero and best friend. When he passed away suddenly from heart disease our world was shattered. I’m doing my best to pick up the pieces and create a new life for us. It’s been very hard but I move forward everyday because by not giving up, I feel like I’m doing what he’d want and expect me to do.”
“Being pregnant without him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There were so many appointments and decisions we should have made together.”
Kristen has lived in Texas her whole life— she was born in Austin and went to college in Dallas where she met Byron. About a month before the shoot, her and Brayden moved to a new home, also in Dallas.
“The move is one of those things that sometimes happens when you lose a spouse. I made sure it was set up and unpacked ASAP because I wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible for Brayden. He was used to living in an organized place, so I wanted to make sure he continued to do so. Everything I do is to ensure that he’s ok. He’s always been our world.”
Kristen is a full-time accountant but started a blog shortly after Brayden was born called Fighting for My Sunshine.
“It was a blog about our journey having a micro preemie. I started it with the urging of Byron. He knew I always liked to write.”
Kristen hasn’t written on the blog since Byron passed.
“I feel like when I start writing again I’ll have to talk about losing Byron and I haven’t been able to write that post. One day I’ll build up the courage.”
At 8:30am, Kristen packs up to leave the house, including a to-go breakfast for Brayden to eat in the car.
She drops her son off at school, before heading to work.
Prior to the shoot, Kristen described her mornings as “tiring and routine”, but after seeing the pictures, she added the words “loving” and “normal”. Given everything that has happened, I believe “normal” is a very strong word for Kristen.
“We actually looked happy. I was so happy to see how happy Brayden looked! I am so glad we were chosen to do this. Our family dynamic has changed for the worst reason possible but through it all, there were still genuine smiles in the photos. It made my heart smile to see that.”
A week after our shoot, on September 8th, 2014, Kristen gave birth to an early but healthy 6.2 lb. baby boy named Bryson.
“I wasn’t prepared for the new set of emotions that would hit afterwards. Bryson is a beautiful little baby. He’s the last piece of Byron I have left and I’m blessed to have him.”
Congratulations, Kristen. I hope Bryson brings many more smiles to your morning.
This post is part of the “Monday Mornings” series sponsored by Allstate. Every family has a special morning routine, and as we continue this journey of documenting different mothers across the country, it’s clear that there is beauty in all of our mornings. As the nation’s largest publicly held insurance company, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most—but to guiding families to live the Good Life, every day.