Sisterhood

Let me tell you about this fragile relationship. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

And in this house, it’s on Level 4. 

Competition.  Jealousy.  Friendship. Equality. 

The themes of this family.

When I say it’s all gravy one minute and WWIII the next, I mean it.  

That’s how fast things can change, in a house full of sisters. 

Tonight, a battle erupted over who gets to watch a show with mommy. 

Let’s be clear, people:  

I watch a total of 2- that is T-W-O- shows a week. 

They are Survivor and The Amazing Race. 

That is 100% completely it.  My total list. 

My husband sits down nightly and watches PTI on ESPN, a show about North Carolina fishing, Bob Ross painting, and bluegrass music without issue. 

As soon as I attempt to sit down, however, whether on the couch or toilet, I apparently have invited my audience to request things of me (I am, shockingly, sitting down, after all).  

So, I’ve given up!   I just don’t even bother trying to watch television because it’s too disappointing to try and claim that time. 

I’d rather hide in my bed and read or stay up way too late to write.  

Pre-children, I watched these two shows alone but since our second daughter, Harper,  has always been our night-owl, I started watching them with her a few years ago and, in addition to me reading Harry Potter aloud to her, it’s become “our thing”.  

It’s never really been an issue because my eldest, Aurora, has always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise child but she’s growing and changing into a tween and tonight, she wanted to stay and watch. 

Cue WWIII.  

Harper wanted Aurora to leave but Aurora, not causing an issue, had every right to be there. 

I found myself in the midst of a mommy battle and quickly realized, this was a turning point.  

I could defend Harper, my second daughter whom I’ve always protected- perpetually considering her feeling inferior to her big sister.  They are only twenty months apart and her big sister is an awesome human.  It’s tough shoes to fill! 

Or I could stand by my eldest, who can’t help that she came first or that I chose to have three more children.

Ultimately, I stood my ground and my husband backed me up.

I am a mother of FOUR.  Not one. 

My time is shared as equally as possible (not equal at the same time, equal over time!).

Harper’s argument was that Survivor was “our thing”. 

I explained that before her, it was “mine”.  

But I chose to share it with her. 

And now, I choose to share it with her sister, too.  

At one point, Aurora apologized (for even trying) and attempted to give up. 

No.

We do not apologize for existing.  

As the illegitimate child of a love affair, this hits particularly hard for me. 

We do not apologize for existing. 

She had every right to be there as her little sister, whose feelings have always been considered.

All’s well that ends well. 

And that’s how things wrapped up tonight. 

Harper was put in her place.  

Desperate as she is to claim her spot, she learned that she is part of a family and no more important than each piece of the puzzle. 

Aurora learned that I would defend her.  When she snuck a note under Harper’s door stating, ‘I’m sorry”, I returned it, explaining that:

We do not apologize for existing. 

I hugged Harper, as I tucked her in, and reminded her that she is loved. 

I hugged Aurora, as I tucked her in, and reminded her the same. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

It’s a fragile relationship. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Shine

Recently, I was told that I am “overwhelming” and “exhausting”. 

And the thing is:  it’s not untrue. 

I am 100% both of those things. 

I live life fast and furiously, never wanting to miss a moment or waste a day- including days with zero plans because those often offer the best unplanned fun.  

And I document them!  

Boy, do I document them. 

Because I never want to forget.

But in my hard-life-living, I’ve also experienced personal casualties and wondered, 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

“Am I too much?”

“Am I not enough?”

The doubt creeps in and for a minute I think, “Yes, I should be smaller.”

Then, I remember a poem read to me by a speaker at a conference:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

I *remember* hearing this poem for the first time and the fire that it ignited in me. 

And as a mother of four daughters, 

I’ll be damned if anyone tries to put that out. 

Our girls will not accept mediocrity, if I have anything to do with it. 

They will strive for their best and nothing less.  

And you know why?

Because they are worth it!

Because we all are all worth it!

And because, as the poem says, we are all better when we let our light shine. 

Giving permission for others to shine, too.  

I considered shrinking 

And then I thought better of it.  

Instead, I shine. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Value

“What do you love about me?” I asked him, directly. 

And I don’t mean my mothering or wifely duties. 

Or because I love you, for that matter.

Do you see me?

Do you value me?

Anybody can sweep this under the rug.

But not me. 

And guess what?

That’s what makes me, me. 

I’ve been through enough that 

I’m not afraid.

To ask the hard questions. 

To have the difficult conversations.

Instead of filling the awkward silence,

I allow it to marinate. 

And then I remind you of who I am and how I became that person.  

How lucky we are to have one another, individually speaking.

It’s easy to get lost in a family dynamic.

But we are worth the work.

20 years go by and couples can’t remember who they married.

Well, I’ll be damned.

I’m going to tell you what I love about you. 

And I’m going to insist that you remember not only why you married me

But also my value. 

Because I am.

Valuable. Fearless.  Courageous. 

All the things that make me that great wife and mother. 

And don’t you ever forget it. 

The Inevitable

Camille Vaughan Photography

They keep calling and I keep putting it off. 

The inevitable. 

It took so long for us to get to this point- 

Photo by Amara Minnis

A place where, although still heavily restricted, we at least know what we are dealing with. 

For three years, feeding Elizabeth was a game of Russian roulette.  

Try a new food and wait 2-4 hours to see if she begins to vomit. Sometimes until her body goes into shock. 

Repeat for the next fourteen days because she could pass the first few trials and fail the seventh attempt.  

Such is the life of a child with FPIES- Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis, a nightmare of an intestinal allergy with no formal testing other than eating the food and seeing what happens.  

Pair that with IgE mediated allergies to dairy, eggs and peanuts, throw a gluten intolerance that triggers severe eczema on top of it and you have our fourth baby girl.

Our little warrior, who in her first few years, endured misery. 

The ocean water burned Elizabeth’s skin so badly during our family photo shoot, we had to stop. Camille Vaughan Photography

No wonder she was growth restricted in the womb!  No wonder she didn’t just spit up but vomited after each nursing session!  No wonder she never slept and always cried.  The foods I was eating were her triggers and I had. No. Idea. 

I eliminated all major allergens and lost twenty pounds in my attempts to continue to nurse her only years later to find out that the avocado I was surviving on was one of her triggers.  

It took batteries of tests, UV light therapy and trial-and-error with her diet to realize her horrific head-to-toe eczema was caused by wheat.  Steroid creams, nightly wet-wraps, and baths with me at 2 o’clock in the morning in desperate attempts to provide relief, even if temporary.  

Yes, I keep putting it off because if I’m being honest, I don’t want to go back there. 

I am running away as fast as I can from those awful memories, from the trauma that was raising baby Elizabeth.  

But without risk we become stagnant.  

Her diet never evolves and we never know, unless we try . . . 

And so I finally take the call. 

I set the date. 

And I wait. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

This is the first of many in-office food challenges for Elizabeth because she has so many FPIES fails: rice, sweet potato, beef, avocado, peanuts, and quinoa just to name a few.  

But in a few weeks we begin with rice. 

The first challenge: getting her to agree to eat a cup of the food. 

A child with food allergies learns to become wary of any new food not previously deemed “safe” so I’ve had to start having conversations with her about trying this new food further adding to my guilt. 

What if she fails?

What if I convince her to eat it all and she begins to vomit?

What will that do to her trust in me?

How will I stand myself?

I’ve held her limp, near lifeless body in my arms after an FPIES fail.  I’ve helped load her onto a stretcher and into an ambulance at just 9 months-old.  I’ve witnessed my husband and babysitter administer an Epipen three times while on the phone with 911.  

I don’t want to go back there. 

And yet, here we are. 

Facing the trauma.  

Looking beyond the wave of fear with the hope of passing and swimming in the deep richness of food variety with her sisters.  

Hold my hand, baby girl.  

Here we go!

Camille Vaughan Photography

Clear

I met him and it was clear, he wasn’t over somebody else. 

I handed him a Dr. Phil book and explained, if you want to be with me, then:

Read and do this. 

It took him a journal and a year, but damn if he didn’t do it.

Afterwards he looked at me and said, “I’ve learned more about myself while I’ve been with you than my entire life.”

Then, years later, I met the girl.

And I fell in love with her, too.

After all, we loved the same man. 

So, it makes sense. 

We started riding the Peloton together- two different states- texting every week to keep each other accountable.  

And in the midst, an unlikely friendship grew.  

Me and my husband’s ex-love.  

Riding, motivating each other to be our very best self.  

After all, we loved the same man.

So, it makes sense. 

I met her and it was clear. 

Present

It was so nonchalant. 

And as it was happening, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it coming. 

She caught me completely off guard and surprised me with a single question: 

“What are you doing for yourself?”

There I was, sitting proudly for three straight hours to cheer my three eldest daughters on for their “fun run”.  I even brought a cow bell!

The first grader at 9 AM, the third grader at 10 AM, and the fifth grader at 11 AM. 

Look at me, the Best. Parent. Ever. 

Filling in all of the holes my own mother could not.  

And yet, there it was: 

“What are you doing for yourself?”  

It was the first time I had been home alone in over ten years, after all. 

I’m always ready, but this time, I wasn’t. 

‘What am I doing for myself?’ I scrambled to think . . . . 

I eventually answered “Reading!”  which is true but if I could do it all over again, I would have said: 

“This.”

I am doing THIS for myself. 

I am HERE for my children.  

They see me, cheering them on, lap after lap. 

I was that child that was the last to be picked up from elementary school; despite the fact that my mother worked a mile away. 

And I’ve never forgotten it.

I vowed that when I became a mom, my kids would SEE how much I loved them. 

By my presence. 

That’s what I’m doing for myself. 

I’m present. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Stay

She called and she said, “I don’t know what to do.”

And I said, “Here’s XY and Z.”  

All the places someone else can help.

“But here’s the truth.  

There’s no one more qualified than you.”

Listen, I have those kids.  

They need professional help.  

They need accommodations, counseling, services and meds. 

And we utilize them!

But at the end of the day, 

What do they need most?  Above all?  Since birth? In addition to God?

Me.

They need me to show up. 

Me not to punt them and their struggles for someone else to solve. 

They need me to hold their hand. 

When it’s ugly and neither of us know what the hell to do. 

They need me to just walk alongside them through it. 

I fill blanks with the qualified but I also remain steady. 

No matter what they are going through, 

I am here.

“And that’s what you do.  

You stay.”

I stay.

Camille Vaughan Photography

Brave Girl

“But the other kids are going to know I’m leaving.” She lamented. 

I could have lied.  I could have lost her trust by trying to convince her that, no, they wouldn’t. 

But I met her where she was. 

“Yes.  Yes, they will.  And this is a choice you have to make.”  I said, instead. 

“Either you endure a read-aloud that sends you into a full-blown panic-attack or you make accommodations for yourself, like anyone else with a disability does and you excuse yourself to the library. In other words, you own it.” 

For me, it’s environmental allergies.  When I pet a dog, I immediately wash my hands.  I’ve owned dogs.  I love dogs, I take allergy shots for dogs, but I am, alas, allergic to dogs.  I make accommodations. 

For her sister, it’s food allergies.  I make separate meals three times a day to accommodate.  

My daughter suffers from anxiety.  We treat with professionals and we do the best we can do avoid triggers, when we can. 

“What will I say, when they ask why I’m reading a different book?”

“You tell them the truth.”  I explain. “You own it, you brave, girl.  And you give others the chance to know that they are not alone, if they, too, feel the same way.”  

We are Carawans. 

We don’t run.  

We face, own and conquer.  

Here’s your chance to shine. 

You brave girl. 

[Posted with her permission]

Camille Vaughan Photography

Jump In

“Why do you look so mad?  Come on, it’s a beautiful day.”  He said to me, fuming on the one beach towel I had thrown in at the last second.   

Ugh.  I hate it when he is right, which is so very often. 

I was mad because I was trying to be spontaneous with four young children. 

I was mad because for once, I was trying not to help get swimsuits on, pack snacks and lunches and apply sunscreen.

I was mad because it, of course, backfired. 

All four of my children were in the ocean, fully clothed. 

And now, my husband, too.  

Today was supposed to be about our kids accompanying me and my husband to ECSC- an annual surfing and volleyball competition in our hometown of Virginia Beach.  

This was our stomping ground- the way we first met- the way we spent our sun-filled days. 

We had a truck-full of bicycles.  

We brought water. 

But we were there to watch volleyball so we left the rest. 

And here they were. 

In the ocean. 

Laughing, begging me to join them. 

What is one to do?

There was no other reasonable answer other than to jump in. 

So, of course, I did. 

When in doubt, 

Jump in.