Life Speaks

Studio City, CA.

A job as a scriptwriter with Dreamworks Entertainment. 

That is where I was headed the Summer of 2005. 

I had the roommate, the apartment and the moving van ready to go. 

And then I pulled the plug two weeks before I was due to leave. 

Was it the boy from Jersey that I was in love with?

Was it cold feet?

Or was it intuition?

They say hindsight is 20/20. 

But here’s what I know. 

I ended up moving in with a family of four children. 

I enjoyed helping the first grader learn how to read and after moving back to my hometown, decided to shadow a teacher to see if it would be a good fit for me. 

I ended up getting a Masters in Elementary Education Pk-6 and later, using it to homeschool my own children. 

And lookie-here.  

I’m still writing. 

Maybe not moving to Cali was a mistake. 

Maybe I’d be rich and famous! 

But I’d like to think that I’ve always had a keen sense of self. 

The ability to get quiet and listen. 

And what I heard back then was, “Don’t go.”

As a result, I met my husband.  I had these four beautiful daughters.  I became a teacher and remained a writer. 

Perhaps the best stories in life aren’t fiction, but our very own.  

Life speaks. 

Me as “Sissy” in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean , 2000

A Story for the Ages

Did I tell you about that time I was robbed in Italy?

This morning my second daughter asked if Olive Oil tasted gross, since it is the only oil I use to cook our fourth daughter’s meals. 

And with reverence I exuded my enduring love for olive oil, ever since visiting my family’s olive tree farm in Calabria, Italy.  

I wish I had words to describe the experience of existing amongst an olive oil tree farm, being in the presence of literal tanks of fresh olive oil.  Olive trees as far as the eye could see.  

When I took my first taste, life, as I knew it, would never be the same. 

Think, eating a fresh tuna off the boat versus tuna fish in the can. 

There is no comparison. 

I was 18 and for my graduation, I had asked my biological father to take me to his homeland. 

I had never lived with him, we had shared a roof only one weekend before but it was important to me to know my roots. 

He was first generation American and I had never known my grandparents. 

So, he agreed. 

Our first hotel in Rome was a closet.  Talk about zero to one hundred.  We had rarely spent a night together, nonetheless nearly touching!

I love yous had never been said, instead, as a child, he would grab my ear lobe and look at me with endearment. Like he loved me so much he couldn’t even believe I was real.  

But there we were.  Father, Daughter. 

We traveled to Naples and Pompeii and then on to the olive tree farms in Calabria, meeting my grandfather’s relatives.  

They, speaking only Italian, welcomed me like they had known me my entire life and served me a lasagna for a table of 15 that I will never forget.  

My cousins threw me on the back of their motorbikes and whipped me around the mountainous roads as I learned to scream, “ay-aya-aya-ay!!!!!”.   

We left in our rented, bright-blue Mercedes for my grandmother’s homeland of Licodia Eubea, Sicily with only a few days of our trip to go. 

I stood in the room my grandmother was born.  

I am 38.  My dad is 90 this year.  My grandmother was born in the 1800s. 

This was major. 

And then we were robbed. 

We were lost in an alley in Sicily when a motorbike blocked our rental car’s way, while a thief on foot opened our back car doors and stole our backpacks containing nothing but nine rolls of film, my journal and a legal pad with the names and contact information of all the relatives we had met along the way. 

In other words, our memories. 

We left Italy with one roll of film. 

And a story for the ages. 

Never Forgotten

What about the ones who never were?

Who would they have been?

What if it feels like they were already here?

When we first learned of their existence.

Sure they never were born of this Earth, 

But for a time, they were alive.  

And for many, it will always be this way. 

Mourning the loss of what-if.  

Who would they have become?

Years pass, 

And yet, they are still there.  

Always with us. 

Never forgotten. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Lesson Learned

We are all a product of our collective experiences.  

It is easy for me to wish away the sad things that have happened in my life.  

But if it weren’t for those, I wouldn’t be who I am today. 

This, as Oprah says, I know for sure.  

But I’m-a-tell-y’all-what. 

Divorce is a terribly, sad thing.  

Particularly when children are involved.  

I was on my way to visit colleges with my step-dad, whom I had called “Dad” since I was two years-old when he announced, “Your mother and I are getting separated.”

Is it just me, or do you never ever forget that moment?

It’s like the world stops turning. 

Sure, maybe I had known it was coming in some sick and twisted way, but did I ever want it to truly be?  

No.

And yet, there it was.  

Worse, they were in business together and weren’t going to announce it to the very close-knit family company until January so now, I had a secret to keep. 

That Last Christmas, we rented a house in nearby Sandbridge Virginia Beach, Virginia, decorating the tree one last time, only to grab our individual boxes to keep the ornaments we each wanted when the week was over. 

It was the one of the saddest moments of my life. 

Fast forward 20 years later and now, who are we?

If you were my dad from age 2-18, does that mean you are my dad for life?

If we were step-sisters and brothers then, are we still?

Time passes, parents re-marry. 

Who are we now?

Collateral damage.  

Oh, but not me.  

Because I have my own future to tell. 

Divorce, my children will not know. 

Because we chose carefully. 

We waited until we met one another to make that kind of commitment. 

To be together until death do us part. 

To raise our babies with love and joy. 

To choose them. 

To choose us. 

Forever and ever.

Collateral Damage No More. 

Instead, lesson learned. 

This kind of love is forever.

Carry

“Carry me.”

I remember. 

I distinctly remember my thinking,

“This is it.  This is the last time.”

The heaviness of her footsteps.  

Her arms wrapped tightly around my back, my legs around her waist.

She struggled but she persevered.

“Mom, I can walk.”

“No, honey, I’ve got you.” 

We ascended the stairs to my bedroom, something she had done for a decade, but this time was different because now 

It was the last time. 

I was getting too heavy. 

I took note of the banister, wanting to remember its rich, brown, smoothness.  

The way I had always slid down it on my way to school. 

The security I felt in grasping it. 

I was outgrowing clothes and shoe sizes but until that moment I hadn’t realized, 

I’d outgrown my mother. 

“Carry me.” 

A cry for help I would continue until I carried my own.  

“Carry me,” my nine-year-old pleaded tonight. 

I wondered, 

Does she know?

It’s time she carried herself?

Camille Vaughan Photography

The Reason

It’s been two years since I admitted this- but it’s still important. It’s always important. ❤

New Leaf Parenting

YR8A7009-cvaughan.jpg

POW!

It’s fascinating how authors of graphic novels have nailed that onomatopoeia.  Because, that’s exactly how it felt when he punched my face, breaking my jaw.

Thrown back into the closet from the force of the punch, I stood up and looked at him quizzically, as if to ask, “Really?”.

But truly, I had always known it would come to this and had been almost waiting for the inevitable.

The reason to leave.

He left for class, I headed, mouth bloodied and all, straight for the rental office, requesting a new apartment placement.

I packed my belongings in under an hour and called the police when he found my new residence and started to rip them from my car.

I lived my entire senior year of college in fear of seeing him, as I had the previous two years of dating him.

And wondered, as I received weekly ultrasound treatments…

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That Time We Homeschooled

Today was our last day of homeschooling.  

And I feel a mixture of relief and heartache.  

A year ago, I tossed and turned at night, wondering what to do about the upcoming school year.  

My children were breaking down over their zoom meetings- unable to come to the computer, overwhelmed with tears over the strangeness of virtual learning.

I knew Covid was only going to get worse in the winter months and feared what the school year would bring.  But I also feared how we would cope and adapt to homeschooling.  Would my children miss their friends?  Would they become hermits?  Would I lose my mind?

Ultimately, I went with my gut and in September, we dove right in.  Pre-K, 1st and 3rd grade.

In the course of this past school year, I’ve taught my daughter in Pre-K how to read, helped my first grader graduate from a beginning reader to fluently reading chapter books and taught my third grader multiplication, division, and through rich literature, discussed real-world issues like racism and poverty. 

In other words, I killed it!  We nailed it.  We had the absolute BEST time homeschooling, usually in our pajamas, ending by noon every day to spend the afternoon outside swimming, biking and playing.  Better yet, my husband was working from home so we had lunch together almost every day.  In so many ways, I want to freeze time and keep on, keepin’ on.  

But time continues to pass.  My children are growing older.  Our babysitter is off to college in the fall (for real this time after deferring her first year because of Covid) and my husband will likely return to the office soon.  

I struggled over the decision as to whether to continue homeschooling next year or to return them to our beloved public school in the back of our neighborhood.  But as amazing as this past year was, continuing to homeschool next year felt like holding onto a relationship that had passed its prime.  It was good while it lasted but my gut tells me it is time to move on. 

Life is a work in progress.  A series of never-ending surprises.  Having four children has taught me to roll with whatever comes my way and in the midst of it all, revel every moment. And this past year, we did just that.  That time we homeschooled.  A year we’ll never forget.  

Freedom!

NINE-AND-A-HALF YEARS.

I have been changing diapers for 9 and 1/2 years straight.

Until now. 

My fourth and final daughter is fully potty trained. 

For the first time in 9.5 years, I cancelled my diaper order. 

For the first time in 9.5 years, I did not reorder the baby wipes. 

And I’m-a-tell-y’all-what. 

It is a LIBERATING feeling. 

Nine-and-a-half years, no breaks. 

One adorable baby butt after another. 

But the time has come to say SEE YA!

Time to pass the buck on to other adorable baby butts- just not mine!

We made it!  

Freedom!

Lucky

Here’s a funny thing about being a piano player. 

Whenever you rest your hands, they are perpetually “in position”. 

I started to play when I was three, got my first piano at nine years old and still play to this day, as do my four daughters. 

I’ll never forget the moment I asked my piano teacher, Ms. Brooks, “How did you get those veins?”. 

She laughed but the truth was, I wanted those veins.  I wanted those wrinkles.  

They represented age and experience, two things I, the youngest of eight children, yearned for. 

This weekend I will turn 38 years young. 

I look down at my hands and notice the telltale signs of aging and honest-to-God, I feel so lucky.

I’ve lived this many years and if I’m lucky enough, I’ll live just as many more!

To me, wrinkles are beautiful and should be worn as a badge of honor. 

Not everyone is so lucky. 

And at 38, more than anything else, that is what I feel: lucky. 

How did she get those wrinkles?

By living that long. 

If only we could all be so lucky.

Mom

Imagine this. 

Your husband catches a fish- one of twenty safe foods your youngest can eat and yet the ONE food your third-borne is allergic to. 

You provide a substitute protein for her.   You serve it with rice- which your youngest can’t eat (FPIES) so you also offer cauliflower rice.  

There are two more children in this picture.  Two more children, 

(one of which has recently claimed she is a vegetarian) who also have needs and preferences, so you make sure to offer a variety of veggies and proteins on the table to satisfy all.

So goes the life of mom.

Honestly, my biggest fear is if something were to happen to me.  I have an emergency binder, but I worry how this show could go on.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day.  It’s just one day out of 365 but it is meaningful to moms all around the world.  

It’s a day to be seen for our service to our children, our families and our world.  

Please see us.  Thank us.  And send your love. 

-Mom