Solidarity

“We should have stopped at three.”

I stood motionless.  Awestruck at what this mother had just admitted, so honestly,  to me.

It was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear when I asked the question, “What’s it like to have four?”

But like spinach stuck in teeth, there it was.

The ugly truth.

I wanted to hear how much better it was to have an even number of children; how life seemed incomplete until the fourth arrived.

I wasn’t seeking her truth- I was seeking validation for my relentless desire.

Until I had my fourth.

After which, I understood how much easier it is to reflect and regret, instead of look forward and wonder.

This mother wasn’t a monster.  Of course, she loved her fourth, she explained.  But life with three was busy enough.  Four felt unsustainable.

Horrified then, I now feel gratitude for her veracity.

Solidarity.

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The Hand of Time

I saw it, long ago.

Those hands.

Withered and wrinkled.

I asked her, then, if my veins would look the same as hers when I was her age.

She laughed, apologetically, but I was serious.

I wanted those hands.

And I’m beginning to see them, now.

Ever so slightly.

The pronounced blue protrusions.

The fragile cells in-between.

The soft cover of a life, well-lived.

Piano hands.

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Captured by Katie McCracken

Unapologetically

Foreseeable a mile away.

The awe is understandable.

Four beautiful daughters, so close in age, is bound to attract attention.

The first line, predictable:

“All girls?”

Almost as predictable as one of the second lines:

“Wow. You’ve got your hands full.”

“Just wait until they’re teenagers!”

But the worst, the absolute worst is when they say, in front of our daughters,

“I’m sorry.”

“Were you trying for the boy?”

The look on my 6 year-old’s face: confusion.

The feeling in my heart: pain.

Sadness that she should feel the need to apologize for her gender. Disappointment that this adult is too ignorant to realize children, too, have ears and feelings. 

So instead, I strike back.

“We hit the JACKPOT.”

Four sisters. One loving mother. One adoring father. 6 hearts. One family.

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Promise

It’s been six-and-a-half years since he passed away in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by his wife of over 50 years and three of his children.  On hospice, we knew death was imminent and arrived in town with our five-month-old Aurora in tow, just days before.

It was the first time I’d seen him not awake or talking and thus, the first time he hadn’t said the words to me he’d always said right before we parted ways. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, as if he had a secret he’d been anxious to share with me, he’d call me over and whisper into my ear:  “Take care of my boy.”

In the same way my father gave me away to Emmett on our wedding day, Emmett’s dad entrusted his son to me.  For rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, until death parted us, as it did for him that May day.

So, before the nurses took him away for good, I held his hand, leaned over his face one last time and whispered, “Don’t worry, Bill.  I’ll take care of your boy.”

I always will.

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Where We Belong

I’m the youngest of eight children.

Let’s allow that to sink in for a bit before I explain that I am from a “blended” family.

I’ll never forget, at 6 years-old, when my teacher asked me to draw a family tree.  I looked at her with a blank stare and no idea of where to begin.

How do you explain that you are the illegitimate, love-child of an affair?  Of a mother that already had one and a father that had four?  How do you draw the two-step siblings you later acquired when you were just three-years old?

It was tough to draw but never tough for me to explain.  I always knew my step-dad was my “dad” and my real dad was my “father”.

But not once, not ever, did I know where I belonged.

My childhood was all about trying to find my place.

Where did I fit in?

In elementary school, I attended the meeting for children of divorced parents- but mine had not yet separated.

At home, I found solace in our nucleus of  2+2, until my mom and step-dad divorced when I turned 18 and off to college I went.

My mom sold the house. My step-dad remarried into a family with two new sons and ceased contact with me.

I felt completely lost.

Thanksgiving was no longer spent with the two step-siblings I had called my brother and sister.  Christmas with my half-sister was shared with her father.  And holidays spent with my father’s four children had never been done.

Where did I belong?

I searched.  For many years, I looked for his face, his warmth and the security of his embrace.

And finally, I found him.

My husband.

And together, we created where I’ve belonged, all along.

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Lost & Found

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It was immediate.

The blast of cold air enveloping my lungs.  The explosion of color delighting my eyes.  The symphony of rustling, crunching leaves.  And the sensation of elevation.

I was home.

I had packed their coats and forgotten my own.  I had books for them and none for me.

It took 6.5 hours to make a 3.5 hour trip with four children, but I didn’t care.

I was lost, until I arrived in the fall mountains, and was found.

Kicking and Screaming

A fourth labor didn’t do it.

Nor did staying-at-home with a newborn, two, four and six year old.

A gallbladder surgery 9 weeks postpartum made a dent, but not a fatal one.

An infant with a multitude of health issues and doctors appointments slowed the gears but not to a stop.

Instead, it took a crippling back injury to force me to sit-the-hell-down.

Like a derby car sustaining repeated blows, I kept going.

Like an elephant attacked by a pride of lions, I kept walking.

Until the day I couldn’t.

Until I sustained an injury that rendered me unable to use the restroom on my own.

I couldn’t believe we were facing yet another hardship when we had already endured so much.  How were we supposed to carry on when the leader of the litter was down?

10 days into my forced rest, I realized my body had given up on waiting for me to take care of myself.

It had given me a clue five weeks earlier- a little pinch in my lower back talking to me, reminding me it was there and needed attention.  But like everything else, I ignored it in the face of so many other things to do and be for my family.

Forced to sit, I watched and witnessed the circus that is my daily life and finally agreed, it was time to hire some help.

As I explained my “daily schedule” in my job posting for a nanny, I couldn’t believe I had been doing everything on my own for so long.

And I wondered, why do we often live in denial of the help we need?

Why does it take a major setback to ignite a major awakening?

What would our life look like if we made self-care a priority?

I went out kicking and screaming but I am returning, with help, full of gratitude and the hope for a more sustainable life.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

Ask and ye shall Receive

“My nose is running.”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m cold.”

“I can’t open this.”

A helpless victim.

“May I have a tissue, please?”

“May I have a snack, please?

“Mom, can you pass me a blanket?”

“Will you help me open this?

An assertive problem-solver.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with my second daughter on asking for what she needs, rather than stating the problem aloud with the hopes that someone will hear and fix the issue for her.

I’m lucky to raise my daughters during a time when women are encouraged to use their voice.  If I don’t teach them early to speak up for what they need, how can I expect them to innately learn this later?

“I wish I got paid more.”  becomes “Boss, here are the reasons I deserve a raise.”

“I wish my spouse paid more attention to me.” becomes  “We need to talk.”

“I don’t know how to ______ (change a tire, write a resume, etc.) becomes “Will you teach me?”

“I wish I had more time for ____.” becomes “If it’s important enough, I will find a way.”

And oh, will she ever.

Happy 5th Birthday Harper Reese.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

 

 

Grace

This is my word of the moment:  Grace.

I am currently treading water during one of the most exhausting times of my life (so far) and when I reached my limit last week, I realized something had to give.

Since passing off the kids wasn’t an option, I considered what else I could shed.  And it was there that I found it had nothing to do with what I needed to surrender and everything to do with what I needed to give myself: grace.

In the past 7 years, I have gained and lost 35 pounds FOUR times.

I have carried and nursed four babies for more than 75 months.

I am currently parenting a 5 month, 2, 4 and 6 year-old, while sorting all of that laundry, making meals, potty-training, attending doctor’s appointments, playing taxi for piano, soccer, music class and ballet, exercising, maintaining friendships and working to keep my marriage healthy and strong.

I keep adding more and more and expecting myself to continue keeping on as if nothing has changed.

What was I thinking?

Eventually, something has to give.  If not my sanity, then my expectations of myself.

I step outside of this time and look at my life as a whole, recognizing this as one of the most challenging phases.

I pat myself on the back for the monumental accomplishment of growing, birthing and rearing four children.

I congratulate myself for partnering with an involved and fantastic husband and father.

I hug myself as I would a friend enduring a tough time and say,

“You are awesome.”

Don’t ever forget that.

You are amazing.

Grace.

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Camille Vaughan Photography