You Are Phenomenal.

YR8A4989-cvaughan.jpg

A few years ago, I returned to my elementary school and visited my art teacher, a woman I deeply admired then and still do, now.  I teased, “I know I was difficult.” She tilted her head and looked at me genuinely perplexed.  After a momentary pause, she responded, “Lauren, I never thought you were difficult.  I thought you were extraordinary.  Sweet, fun and smart.”  I returned the tilted-head, genuinely-perplexed-look because all I ever remembered hearing about my childhood was how “difficult” I was.  To be remembered for all positive attributes was truly astonishing and it forced me to rethink the way I had always described myself as a child: difficult,  prone to emotional outbursts and epic temper-tantrums.

It’s not as if these things weren’t true.  They were.  I was often-times angry as a child.  So angry that I would bite my arms to release the tension.  So angry, my mother would lock herself in her bedroom to avoid the miscellaneous items I would throw across the room.  It took me years of therapy, in my adult years, to recognize that my anger was a cry for attention.  As much as my mother and I argued, I wanted her.  I needed her.  My mother loved me but she traveled often and worked full-time and I wanted more.  So I responded with anger and when I finally left for boarding school at 15, I carried this sadness with me and firmly placed it as my go-to memory when asked of my childhood.

Extraordinary.  Sweet, fun and smart.  Oh yes, I do remember this Lauren, now.  I had simply remembered the negative over the positive and don’t we all tend to do this, so often?

These things we tell ourselves- they have power.  They are not merely a reflection of our past; they become a manifestation of our present identity.   In his book, Self Matters, Dr. Phil refers to this internal dialogue as “tapes” or the things we consistently and subconsciously tell ourselves resulting in a label that may not be wholly true, now or then.

There are two ways to combat these “tapes”.  The first is a commitment to self-realization, whether through counseling, prayer or working through a few self-help books to redefine your “authentic self” .  The second is to become aware of our tendency to label ourselves and others.  This is what I am currently working on.

The other day, when someone asked “How’s it going?”, which really meant, “How are you surviving a newborn, 2 & 3 year-old?” I explained in clear ear-shot of Harper, “The baby is fine.  It’s the older two that are driving me crazy.”  It’s certainly true, but did it need to be said in front of my two-year-old who may or may not have understood?  No, it didn’t.

I have a tendency to be highly critical of myself; I’m sure a lot of us do.  My awareness of this situation isn’t a symptom of self-mutilation, rather, I started to realize just how many things I have said about Harper in front of her, as if she wasn’t there.  Let’s be real:  She’s no piece-of-cake when it comes to parenting.  It’s easy to label a child who refuses to go to sleep or still wakes multiple times at night, exhausting.  This is indisputable; however, I CAN be more aware of talking about her in her presence, as well as labeling the behavior and not the child.  The fact that she would rather throw herself at her door than sleep is exhausting, but she herself is likely refusing sleep not to be exhausting but to get the point across that she, our middle child, needs and wants more attention.

IMG_0766.jpg
Burning Off Energy

Our self-esteems are fragile, particularly a child’s.  It is my responsibility to ensure my children, more often than not, hear me describe them as the creative, loving, phenomenal children that they are.  And when appropriate, I can lament to my friends about their exhausting ways, when they are not around to hear it.

I do believe there’s a fine-line between appropriate praise and raising a narcissist and my intent is not to achieve the latter.  So when my children are out-of-line, I will still call them out; however, I will work on criticizing the behavior, not the child.  “Harper, owls stay up all night, not phenomenal little girls. ”  And when my children are 20 years old and ask, “What was I like as a child?” I will remind them that, although those early years were difficult at times, they were thoughtful, beautiful, and yes, phenomenal.

YR8A5181-cvaughan.jpg
Camille Vaughan Photography

 

 

I Wasn’t Expecting This . . .

10460131_10101794494575359_804549739625353078_n.jpg

My husband and I were married in 2010.  We bought our first house that same year and got pregnant in 2011.  Aurora was born in 2012 and Harper just 20 months later in 2013.  In 2014 we moved once again and in 2015 we had our third daughter, Emma Jane.  Needless to say, we squeezed a whole-lotta-livin’ in a very short amount of time.

I’m 32 and my husband is 42, so we have felt the proverbial clock ticking as he creeps towards his mid forties.  Emmett’s father was 45 when Emmett was born and sadly, Bill passed away when Aurora was just three months old.  Emmett realizes he is getting a late start and wants as much time with his children as possible, so here we are.

12375227_10102731846314959_485883039770433567_o.jpg

We’ve gained so much by adding these three beautiful babies to our family and yet, lost so much, too.  I can still feel the wind in my hair as we sailed down the boardwalk on our beach cruisers, nearly every night, years ago from May- September.  I can taste the salt air and feel the joy in my bones as we grooved to sweet reggae music each Wednesday night.  We were madly in love and we knew what we had was special.

I am so attracted to my husband when I watch him swing in our hammock with our two and three-year old, singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs.  Or when he includes them in everything he does- handing him a tool, helping him dig a hole for his garden, carrying the wood that he chops.  He is an A+ father- I have never witnessed anything like it.

But it has taken its toll.  Friendly competition in a game of beach volleyball has been replaced with weekly bargaining of “free time”.  “Is it ok if I go to book club this week since you are playing a pick-up game on Monday?” Or  “Do you mind if I fish on Saturday?  I’ll let you sleep in on Sunday and will take the kids the rest of the day.”  Both of us fully-recognizing the sacrifice of the other on our behalf.  Taking care of 3 kids three-and-under is no easy feat, particularly when solo.  Moreover, our children are still so dependent, and since I am a stay-at-home-mom, they haven’t had anyone else put them down for nap or bedtime, so we are reluctant to leave them for “date nights”.  Date nights aren’t much fun when you are hauling a newborn or worrying about whether the two-year old has caused the babysitter to scream “mercy” yet.

Not much time has passed, and yet those early years feel like a lifetime ago.  We are still in love, we are steadfastly committed to one another and our family, but we are sad at the loss of who we used to be- of our freedom to spend 14 hours straight on the beach, leaving only after watching that last sliver of sun hide behind the horizon.  We long for more time hiking in the woods or fishing from a canoe down a slow-moving river, fully recognizing that none of those things will ever come as easily as they once did.  Even if we were to secure a sitter, our children would never be far from our minds.  We would miss them just as much as we would be relieved to have a break.

Life has changed.  Our lives and our hearts are full- full of healthy, glowing, young daughters; but we are still processing this great change.    We know things will get easier (and harder!) in some ways as the girls grow and that this time is precious and fleeting.  So for now, we immerse ourselves into being fully-present parents and take little moments here and there to encourage one another and give each other a break when we need it the most.

We hold onto this dream of taking our girls with us camping and canoeing- of watching them play beach volleyball and dancing with us to sweet reggae music.  And in the back of our minds, we grin at the thought of us once-again cruising down the boardwalk, ALONE, with the wind in our faces, the salt air on our tongues, and our hearts over-flowing with the life we have created together.

YR8A5061-cvaughan.jpg

 

*In order of photos included, special thanks to Dee Akright, Danielle Ice and Camille Vaughan photography. *

Epiphany

I just had an epiphany.  One I wish I had had 4 years ago, before my first daughter was born.

This all started months ago, when I recognized how out-of-control  meal-time was in our household.  Our two and three year-olds were dictating where, what and when they ate and I knew it was our fault.  A friend recommended the book “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen  LeBillon and it changed our lives for the better.   Reading that book led me to another book:  “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman but by the time I picked it up from the library, our third daughter, Emma Jane was soon to arrive and I honestly didn’t have the energy to read another parenting book.  I read dozens before the births of our first two daughters and came to the conclusion that we just needed to use our instincts with Baby # 3.  So Druckerman’s book collected dust on my nightstand for 10 weeks.  I continued to renew it, in case I decided to pick it up one day, and that day was today.  Oh, how I wish I had read this book before Baby # 3.

41kBIssTqlL

One of the most common questions the parent of a newborn is asked is, “How are you/the baby sleeping?”  This is an insulting question.  Everybody knows newborns don’t sleep and as a result, neither does the parent(s).  At least, I thought that was true until I read just one chapter of Druckerman’s book.

Druckerman is an American who births her baby in France and quickly realizes the French have a very different way of parenting.  True to impulsive form, I skipped right to the chapter about sleep, as I bounced my 6 week-old in my arms, in an attempt to get her tired little body to nap.  By the end of the chapter, I put Emma in her crib to fall asleep on her own- and she did.

As Druckerman explains, the majority of French babies are “doing their nights” or as we call it “sleeping through the night”, around their second month.  A baby who has not slept through the night by six months is rare and Druckerman found out why.  Although she asked multiple Parisian neighbors and friends what exactly they were doing, none of them could particularly articulate how they were managing it.  It wasn’t until she discovered a French pediatrician, Michel Cohen, on a trip to New York City that she learned of “the pause”.  Cohen explains that ” . . . when your baby is born, just don’t jump on your kid at night.  Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don’t automatically respond, even from birth.”  Druckerman goes on to distinguish the difference between “the pause” and “crying-it-out”.  The pause is just a few minutes when the parent is observing their baby.  She explains that, ” . . . young babies make a lot of movements and noise while they’re sleeping.” When well-intending parents rush in at the first sign of a waking, they sometimes inadvertently wake the sleeping baby, who may have just been in-between one of their two-hour sleep cycles.  In time, the baby comes to require the parent soothing or feeding them in order to fall asleep- it is a learned response.    When parents instead pause and give the infant a chance to fall back asleep, the baby quickly learns how to connect their sleep cycles and will have an easier time falling asleep after subsequent wakings.  If the baby’s cry is persistent, the French check to make sure the baby isn’t hungry or in need a fresh diaper, etc.  The key is to take a few moments to determine what the need is before rushing to their aid.  If it is a natural sleep cycle, you are doing your child a favor by allowing her to fall back asleep on her own.  She eventually won’t wake and you both will be sleeping longer.

All this time, I thought I was being a good parent by rushing to Emma’s aid at first peep, when in reality, I wasn’t trusting my baby’s body.  Instead, I have been intervening and teaching her to depend on me in order to fall back sleep.

Good thing every day is a fresh start and my Emma is still only 6 weeks old.   Now if I could just apply this technique to my 2 year old . . .