Management

A solution is what we seek.  Diagnose the condition, and prescribe the cure. Black and white. Case closed.  A temporary disturbance, a minor annoyance in the grand scheme but please, not this.  Not a problem that has no “fix”.  Continue reading

Lean In

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Welcome to the world, Elizabeth Joy!  Our fourth daughter arrived two weeks ago, abruptly ending months of anticipation and successfully shifting the dynamics of our new “norm”.

We’ve experienced this change before.  Beginning with the dance of labor, the rocking, lunging, swaying back and forth.  The sensation of extreme heat immediately followed by chilling tremors of apparent sub-zero temperatures.  The digging-in, the roaring-out.  My arms, wrapped around my husband’s neck.  My doula’s steady hands, applying counter pressure to my spine; propping me up, when all I want to do is fall.

Yes, we’ve journeyed along this road many times.  When one is too weak to stand, the other is there to hold.  And yet, what do we do when we are both weary, unable to withstand the weight of another in addition to the weight of the things we already carry?

My husband and I found ourselves in that position just a few weeks before Elizabeth’s birth.  I, carrying an extra 30 pounds on my front-side, preparing for our fourth child’s arrival while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for our 2, 4 and 6 year-old daughters.  My husband, juggling pressure from work and the sense of urgency to complete any and all major house projects before the arrival of our newborn.

Our tempers were short, our stress, high.  We refrained from burdening the other with our concerns, afraid that our additional weight would throw the other over the edge.

Withered and worried, along we trudged until we simultaneously erupted, hurling accusations and proclaiming “I’m doing the best I can!”  Our molten lava seeped from our mouths until there was nothing left to say except, “I know.”

Too weak to stand alone, not strong enough to carry another, we leaned-in.  And it was there, forehead to forehead, hands to hands, we discovered that together, we were strong enough to hold.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

First image Captured by Katie McCracken 

Discovering Your Voice

It amazes me how much we take for granted on a daily basis.  It isn’t until we injure our toe that we recognize how much we failed to appreciate it fully-functioning.  The same could be said for a heater in winter or a dependable car.  But perhaps the thing we take for granted most is our voice.

Recently, my girls and I visited a children’s play place.  I typically only frequent these madhouses during “off” times- anyone interested in a 3 PM dinner?  See you at Chick-Fil-A.  My strategy is part small-talk avoidance combined with reduced noise level and chaos for my 2, 4 and 6 year-old girls to navigate.  Nonetheless, there’s no way to totally avoid socialization unless we stay home and since I’m not trying to raise my daughters in a bubble, I embrace these encounters for what they are: learning opportunities.

So when an 18 month-old recently took particular interest in my social-anxiety-ridden 4-year-old, I prepared my lesson.  To any outsider, it was adorable.  A little blue-eyed, towheaded boy recognized himself in our Harper’s similar features and grabbed a hold of her hand.  To her credit, Harper attempted to roll with it until he refused to let go and followed her no matter how far she ran.  With pleading eyes, she looked to me for help.

A few weeks later, in a different establishment, I was alarmed to hear my two-year old crying for the third time in twenty minutes.  Since the play place was three stories tall with covered tube slides too small for my 9 month-pregnant butt to crawl into, I couldn’t figure out what had happened during the first two instances, but at the third outburst, the sibling of a child explained her sister had pinched my little Emma, for no apparent reason.  Later, in the car, after discussing it with my older two girls, it was revealed that this same child had hit my four and six year old on the head at the bottom of the slide.

I asked what they did in response and they said they ignored her and kept on playing.

Although I’m proud my girls aren’t tattle-tales who cry over the smallest infraction, I immediately thought of the #metoo movement and recognized how imperative it was for me to ensure my girls knew that it is OK and IMPORTANT for them to use their voice.

I could see it in Harper’s face- she didn’t want to hurt the little boy’s feelings by asking him to stop holding her hand.  And I knew my eldest didn’t want to disrupt the balance of play by complaining about the head-hitting but isn’t this what the #metoo movement is all about?  Women afraid to speak up because of the potential repercussions?

I recognized right then and there that being encouraged to use their voice was something that had to be explicitly taught at a very young age.  I was struck at the realization that I had assumed my girls would know what to do in those situations and cringed at the thought of ever telling them to “ignore” or “get over it” and keep playing.

I looked at my girls square in the face and explained, “Your body is YOUR body.  It belongs to you.  If someone ever hits you or touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you must use your VOICE to tell that person to stop.”

I continued with an example.

“When that little girl hit you, you had every right to say, ‘That hurt me.  Do not do that again.  If you do, I will not play with you.'”

Simple. And yet why does it feel so hard to stand up for ourselves?  I explained that if the girl or hand-holding little boy continued, then my girls should find an adult to help, just as a woman in a workplace should seek the assistance of her boss.

These things we take for granted must not be overlooked any longer.  I feel so fortunate that my daughters are growing up in the midst of the #metoo movement, when women are empowered to come forward after years of silence.  The fact of the matter is, though, many of these women did go to their bosses and were punished as a result, taught to remain silent.

No more.  No longer.  We will teach our children to use their voice so that silent acquiescence becomes the thing of generations past.

“Another thing,” I told them.  “We are a family and we stick together.  If you ever see your sister in trouble, you stand by her and help.  You are not alone.”  With this, my 6 year-old’s precious lips turned upward into a knowing smile.  Empowered.

We have a voice.  And together, we will stand.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

 

 

 

Herding Cats

Previously a fourth-grade teacher, I once considered myself a master at classroom management.  It was both a blessing and a curse:  a blessing because my students were well-behaved even with substitutes and a curse because I was assigned the most behaviorally-challenged students, since I could handle it.

Then I had my own children.

I’m currently 9 months pregnant and managing a classroom of 20 behaviorally-challenged students seems like a cake-walk compared to the daily task of getting a 2, 4 and 6 year-old fed, dressed, and out-the door.  I might as well be herding cats.

As my due date draws near, I find myself more-easily exhausted and while I appreciate the offer of help from friends and family to help out with meals and running errands, I don’t think there is a perfect solution to the daily challenge of managing three small children.

I’ve created morning checklists combined with incentive-charts to help the two eldest manage their routines but I still find myself saying things like, “We don’t talk about poopy-heads at the table” or “She doesn’t want to be picked up” and “brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth”.

The more frazzled I become, the more braxton-hicks contractions I have, but how does one “let go” and still get out the door?

It’s not just a daily struggle, it’s a minute-to-minute battle to SURRENDER ALL.  As soon as I claim victory for getting socks and shoes on the four year-old, the two-year old has replaced hers with rain boots, complete with an umbrella opened inside of the house.  Bad luck?  Oh, well.

Last night, I described, to my husband, the beginning of each day as a full water balloon. By the time he comes home, a thousand pin holes have been pricked in that balloon and I’m drained.  Attempts to plug and patch the leaks are fruitless, a waste of precious energy.

Instead, after Kindergarten drop-off this morning, when the two-year old dashed out of the mini-van to bask in the rain with her umbrella and boots, I grabbed mine and joined her.  Dishes?  They’ll still be there.  Sanity?  It’ll be gone anyway.

I like to think of this early-childhood phase as practice for what is to come in the adventure of child-rearing.  We can prepare our children with access to support and resources and still watch them struggle to take responsibility to make something of it.

At some point, there is only so much we can do before we have to let go, surrender all and have faith that we are all doing the best we can in that very moment.

In the meantime, we can grab our boots and umbrellas, lift our faces to the sky, and dance in the rain.

Daddy

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It took me just 24 years to find you. I knew what I was looking for: Someone steadfastly loyal, fun, athletic, adventurous, hard-working, handy, handsome, sincere, and loving.  Someone who would make an incredible father.

Fast-forward ten years.  Just weeks away from expecting our fourth child, everyone is rooting for you to have a son.  And, of course, in many ways, I am, too.  After experiencing The Nutcracker with our eldest daughter, I wanted you to have solo-outings fishing and camping with your son, just like that.

But God knew what he was doing when he blessed three daughters with you as their father and a fourth would be just as fortunate. When our middle daughter asked if she could marry you, my heart burst with pride.  I explained that you were “taken” but that someone like you would be perfect.

In my life, I’ve been hurt with words and fists, with absence and distance, with broken promises and a broken heart, but never by you.

If I have done anything right in my life, it is in finding and choosing you.  It has been bearing your children and witnessing you teach and encourage them.

Yes, they will remember gardening and fixing things with you, but what they may not even realize is that they will continue to look for you in the face of every partner they choose.

Someone who supports her unique passions and feelings.  Someone who challenges her.  Someone who holds her hand.  Someone who loves her through and through.

So while I do not know whether this child is our son or daughter, I do know that they will know what it is to be loved by an incredible man, by the best father. By you.

 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Homebody

1 year later with a fourth baby on the way, and this still rings true.

New Leaf Parenting

“Take a day, babe.  Get out of the house because I can’t do anything with them when you’re around.  They only want you when they see you.”

My husband was right but where would I go?  After a week of very little sleep, I’m exhausted.   And to be honest, all I really want to do is stay home.

But with a high of 40 degrees and a 1, 3 and 5 year-old in tow, kicking my husband out of the house left him with limited options.

“I’ve got some errands to run- I’ll take them with me.”

Music to my ears, but how long would I have?  I didn’t care.  I parked my rear on the recliner and watched a tv show for 30 minutes before starting dinner and calling my mom.

She lives only five minutes away and comes over to play with the kids twice a week…

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Love

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Love.

The all- encompassing kind.  Pumping like electricity through your veins.  Consuming your every thought and action.  Making it hard to breathe.

The forbidden kind that taunts and teases you.

The joyous kind that beams like warm sunshine.

The dangerous kind that hurts.

The sweet kind captured by tiny moments of tenderness and thoughtfulness.

The tragic kind that breaks your heart.

The Godly kind that makes all love possible.

Love.

Receive it.  Feel it.  Give it.

Love.

Camille Vaughan Photography

Wanted

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  It’s impossible not to know this Hallmark holiday is nearing, since we are assaulted on a daily basis with ads for flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and heart-shaped cookies.  In stores, Christmas decor was immediately replaced with Valentine’s, reminding customers not to forget anyone they love.

My husband and I have been together for over a decade now and although our marriage is far from perfect, we have managed to keep our love and desire for one another alive.

I don’t mind setting aside a day to celebrate the ones we love, so long as it is not the only day we do so.  Because I believe, deep down, we all share one thing in common- we want to be wanted.

We want to feel desirable.  It feels good to be needed.

As a parent, I sometimes gripe about all three of my daughters sitting on my lap for bedtime stories, but secretly, it fills my heart.

Pet owners, school teachers, nurses, service members, fire fighters, librarians, custodians, florists, writers, gravediggers- they all are needed and likely serve best when they are reminded frequently of how necessary and appreciated they are.

In times of stress, when our marriage has been challenged with sleep deprivation, moves, or careers, my first instinct is to feel defensive.  I wish my husband would do more of XYZ and panic when I sense distance between us.  Over the years, I’ve realized that the more I complain about what I am not getting and ask for more, the greater the distance increases.  Now, instead, I reach.

I thank him for all that he is doing.  I recognize his sacrifices.  I ensure he knows how much he is needed and appreciated and in return, instinctually, he does the same.

Isn’t it ironic that during some of the more stressful times of our life, when we need each other most, we feel distant from the ones we love?  Illnesses, death, child-rearing, job-changes, moves- it’s easy to ask our loved ones for more than they have to give and feel angry at them when they are unable to fill our void.

If instead, we can reach out to grasp one another’s hand- to verbally acknowledge all that the person is already doing to contribute- we then find ourselves stronger together.

We all want to be wanted.  And the more we let others know just how much we need and appreciate them, the more they will want our love and recognition and return it.  If only we can reach.  ❤

Dee Akright Photography

A Man Misunderstood: Part II

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The water is wide
I cannot cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly
build me a boat that can carry two
and both shall row my child and I

I’ve been singing this lullaby, from the “Triangle Collection” by Music Together, to my two-year-old for weeks now.  It’s a beautiful tune, but the meaning of the words didn’t resonate with me until I sang it to my middle daughter last week, consoling her over the loss of her beloved pacifier.

She’s four, two years older than I swore I would ever allow a child of mine to use a pacifier.  We’ve gradually diminished its presence – from the stroller, car, and now only to be used at night.  She desperately wanted to nap this past week, but found herself unable to without it.  I, currently 7 months pregnant, wanted to sleep, too and yet found myself lain beside her in her twin bed singing the song over and over.

The wide water represents sleep without her comfort object.  I, acting as her boat, was helping her to cross.  I reminded her that she was not alone in her journey, that I would walk beside her to overcome her attachment.

And that reminded me of the poem, Footprints in the Sand, in which author Mary Stevenson suggests that Jesus carries us through our most difficult times.

Last year, I would have been resistant to such a notion- allowing Jesus Christ to carry me.  Always questioning, suspicious and doubtful, never fully trusting his intentions or the doctrines describing his life and purpose.  Skepticism and all, I trudged forward, watching sermons from Trinity Church online and reading books such as Jesus CallingRelax, It’s Just GodThe God Girl Journey, and Mere Christianity.

The Sicilian, Taurean, stubborn part-of-me constantly challenges every word I read or hear, but the more I learn, the more I find myself reconsidering my staunch resistance.  Whereas “softening” used to be synonymous with “weakening”, I now feel the strength that comes from opening my heart and mind to allowing Jesus to lead.

I was always searching for someone to explain to me how to get there.  Surrounded by believers, church was too intimidating.  The bible, too overwhelming.  It seemed you were either a believer or you weren’t and I felt lost in the middle.

Randy Singer’s sermons and these books became my boat, leading me across the great distance that separated me from Christianity.  Like most things in life, they did not fall into my lap.  Amidst all of my doubt, I continued to search and seek, gaining courage along the way.

I realize now that this journey will last my lifetime but oh, how much richer my life already feels.  I have so much more truth to uncover and to expose my children to but finally, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” Philippians 4:7 is mine to behold.

Jesus once was a man I misunderstood, but has gradually become the man I seek to carry me across the great divide.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Camille Vaughan Photography

See Also A Man Misunderstood: Part I

 

 

Lemonade

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You know the saying, “When life hands you lemons . . . ”  It’s a saying that was branded into every fiber of my body at a very young age; a side effect of having a mother who traveled the country as a motivational speaker.  Growing up, no setback was too high for me to overcome.  “No one can make you feel a certain way.  You choose how you allow others to impact you.”

It’s great advice, most of the time.  But sometimes . .  sometimes. . . life hands you lemons and they are sour and bitter and no amount of sugar can turn them into lemonade.

As someone who has been raised to always find the silver linings, this realization doesn’t sit well with me.  I constantly search for the good in any crappy situation, even if it takes years to discover it.

But what do you do when you are rendered helpless in situations that are completely out of your control?  Cancer. Car accidents. Infidelity. Violent crimes. Natural disasters. Infertility. PTSD. Abandonment. Mean people. Death.

As much as you try to focus on all of the good that you have to be thankful for in your life, sometimes, a terrible situation is just that and there’s no pot of gold to be found.

It’s a tough pill to swallow- this notion that it’s not going to get better.  That it’s not going to work out the way you thought it would.  And that this bad thing is not going to politely go away so you can drink your lemonade and move on with your life.

Instead, it becomes one of “the things we carry”.  Unable to place it in a box and set it on the top shelf of our closet, it is with us wherever we go, like a meddlesome pebble caught in our shoe.

If we focused on it all of the time, we literally would be rendered helpless.  So we trudge onward, painfully recognizing it when something triggers a reminder.

I used to believe my mother, that nothing was beyond our capacity to overcome.  But now, I realize that some things are not made to be good.  Like the bad spot on a banana, you can eat around it, but it’s not going to make it go away.  A bad spot is a bad spot is a bad spot.

And it’s good and healthy to call it what it is as opposed to forcing yourself to drink lemonade when you fucking hate lemonade.

It’s a lemon. It’s sour. And bitter. And sad.  And we carry them wherever we go.