In honor of her daughter's first birthday, Erin Brundige and her little girl stopped by a JC Penney store to have professional photos taken. The proud mom made sure her child looked perfect — complete in a special pink and white dress — and noted that she was instantly impressed with the photographer's skills. However, despite her original intentions, Erin left that day with something even more meaningful than photos of her baby.
"I wasn't expecting to find an angel at a JC Penney photo studio, but it only makes sense that if I did, her name would be Penny," Erin explained on Love What Matters Facebook page. This wasn't Erin's first time having her baby's photos taken at this store, but she noticed something different about Penny: her ability to get amazing smiles out of her daughter and her eye for a good shot.
Toward the end of the session, Penny asked Erin if she wanted to be in any of the photos with her child and Erin couldn't help but laugh. "Haha, yeah right. I had worn a ratty t-shirt, a messy bun, and no makeup. I had zero plans to be in these photos," Erin wrote. "The truth was, I had had a rough year. My daughter's birth was traumatic and the emotional recovery was still ongoing. I struggled with shame over feeling like I had failed in having the perfect birth. I hadn't lost the baby weight and was struggling with my confidence."
After Erin declined the offer, Penny moved on and the pair looked over the shots. As Erin decided on which images to buy, her little one nestled into her shoulder, popped a thumb in her mouth, and started to get sleepy. "Penny looked at her and suddenly stopped with the photo selection," Erin recalled. "'Look at her eyes!' she murmured."
She took Erin by the arm and guided her back to the photography room. Despite Erin's protests over her "total lack of preparation" for being photographed, Penny ignored her, placed her under the lights, and whispered, "Close your eyes."
"So I did. I stood there with my eyes shut and held my daughter, who was still snuggled into me. In that moment I stopped worrying about how bad this picture was about to look and let my love for my little girl wash over me," Erin wrote. "I felt all the emotion of seeing her turn one and leave babyhood behind, and how incredibly blessed I was to be her mother."
After snapping some photos, Penny came back over to Erin, looked her directly in the eye, and said, "She doesn't care what you look like. Someday she's going to want pictures of you, and pictures of the two of you together. It doesn't matter if you have makeup on or if your hair is done. Take the pictures for her."
In that moment, Erin realized just how right this stranger was and the precious gift that she was being given. "I didn't want to always be the unseen person behind the camera and leave my daughter with no photos of me to keep my face from fading in her mind when I am gone," Erin wrote. "Whether that happened next year or in fifty years, she deserved my presence."
If it weren't for Penny's insistence on that day two years ago, there would be no photos of Erin and her daughter together at that age. "Thank you, Penny, for giving me the gift of perspective," Erin wrote. "Your perspective, as a photographer and a person, is truly exceptional."