Celebrate

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It’s time to celebrate.

You had a rough day.  You’ve had a terrible few months.  You’ve experienced loss, exhaustion, and pain and at times, you’ve questioned whether you have the stamina to endure.

But then you read about those who have it worse and you recognize that . . .

The sun came up.

You survived the night.

Your heart is still beating.

And you’ve got a reason to celebrate.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

You

Happy 8th Anniversary to my sweetheart 💗

New Leaf Parenting

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This is you after spending hours cracked out in the tiny half-bath in our Nags Head home, replacing the flooring.  Breaking your back, sweating, and yet still smiling and proud of the work you completed.  This is you.  Hardworking.  Sincere.  Authentic.  My One. True. Love.

You.

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This is you with your very first harvest of tomatoes in 2012.  You were so proud and it shows in the picture.  So does your incredible body at 40 years old.  You work hard, Emmett, and I am so proud to call you my husband.

You.

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This is you with all three of our daughters.  Little do they realize, they hit the jackpot when it comes to daddies.   You were literally born to do this.  To be a model father.  You sacrifice on their behalf.  You spend quality time with them Every. Single. Day.  Picking the garden, swinging, building sand castles…

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Stolen Moments

15 minutes here, 5 minutes there. A survival technique, part of our evolution as a growing family, these stolen moments sustain and fulfill us.

It began with an infatuation.  Absorbing one another like the Vitamin D saturating our skin on those endless beach days.  The dust settled in my apartment as my toothbrush claimed precious real estate on his bathroom sink.  His place became ours.

Time passed, my belly grew.  Date nights peppered our calendar, gradually lessening in frequency as my belly grew, grew and grew again. We treasured time together on the couch if we managed to get all of them asleep before we turned in, ourselves. If not, a quick kiss or a lingering hug sufficed.

Time with mommy became time with sissies. Mommy & Me music class turned into a dance party after breakfast, time at the spa to painting nails on our bathroom floor. Time with mommy became precious.

Not as long, no.  Not what it used to be.

Instead, richer, full of more hearts, sharing the beat of the same bloodline.

Stolen moments layering the patchwork of our years.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

Seeker

I saw her.  A quick flash passing through the blinds. I knew I had to move fast.  No time for shoes.  I wrangled open the stubborn door from the kitchen to the garage, flew down the steps and threw open the door to our driveway.  She was almost to the corner of the street when I yelled, “Hey!  Hi!  My name is Lauren and we just moved here a few weeks ago!”  My target was hugely pregnant, which is precisely why I had marked her.  “We’ve got two little girls, ages 6 months and 2 years.  We can be friends!”

Since then, I introduced myself to a young family sitting on their front stoop at Halloween and, on bicycle, high-speed pursued another mother strolling her twins in the back of our neighborhood.  All three have become some of the very best friends I’ve ever had.

Having moved from a very close-knit community full of young families, my husband and I feared we had made a huge mistake by moving to an older, established neighborhood.  While the lack of sidewalks and larger lots added desirable privacy, they also secluded us.  We were an island, until I swam.

Seeker.

I spent the majority of my childhood as a loner.  I had friends here and there, but had never experienced the love and support of a group like others on sports teams and sororities.  I saw group photos on Facebook and longed for my own.

Perhaps all it took was my desperation as a stay-at-mother to force me to seek.  After meeting my new friends, I organized monthly socials to be held at each of our respective houses, providing an opportunity for us to familiarize our tastes, our stories.  It worked.

With the addition of a friend I used to teach with, I’ve finally found my group and it is everything I had ever hoped it would be.

When my husband and I had to leave for the hospital at 4 AM to deliver our fourth daughter, it was that first pregnant neighbor who rushed over to stay at home with our three girls.  It was my school friend who relieved her.  It was the mother I met at Halloween who took my kindergartner to school and the mother of the twins who watched our others while I labored on.  Together, they seamlessly took my place as we welcomed sweet Elizabeth into the world.

Matthew 7:7 reads “Seek and ye shall find.”

I was lonely until I overcame my insecurities and Ran. Pedaled. Tried.  And it was there that I smiled, laughed and exhaled for finding what I had been looking for all along. My friends.

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Choice

YR8A5052-cvaughan.jpgI checked the bag three times before I left: Extra diapers, wipes, water for me, a burp cloth and even a nursing cover.  I was ready to head to the doctor’s with my eldest and my newborn, or at least I thought I was.  That is, until I realized, too late, I had forgotten my nursing pads.  Milk saturated the right side of my shirt while the baby nursed in the waiting room.  I positioned her to burp but before I could get the burp cloth situated, she vomited an entire cup of spit-up on my stomach and lap.  Hot, sour milk saturated my shorts and coated the inside of my thighs.  It was then that she exploded from her other end and it was then that I laughed and laughed.

Because, seriously.  What the hell else are you going to do in a situation like that?

If I had a dollar for every time my mother preached about “choices” during my childhood, I’d be rich. Bottom line, no matter what life hands us, we all have a choice in how we respond. As a young girl, “She made me feel” was met with “You chose to feel” and “I can’t”, “You choose not to”.

It’s all about perspective.

So when I announced to my husband that I had shaved my legs for the first time in a month last night (my modern day attempt at foreplay) and he looked at me as if to say “Do we have to?” I laughed and announced, “You’re not hurting my feelings if you want to take a pass!”  He chuckled a sigh of relief.  We’ve had four children in 6 years.  We’re, understandably, exhausted.  Our energy focused on soaking up every moment with our children during the days and surviving the nights.

We will make time for one another again sometime soon, but the baby is only 8 weeks old and God willing, we’ve got a lifetime ahead of us.

Perspective.

I could have cried (rightfully so) in that waiting room and I could have been offended at my husband’s less-than eager reaction but instead, I listened to what my mom has been teaching me all along- I made the choice to make the best of it and I’m happier for it.

Camille Vaughan Photography

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