Moms

“You’re such a good mom.”

They say to me with awe and pity.  

And I wonder, 

If you were me, would you do anything differently?

I’d like to think not. 

My child, with food allergies, gets invited to a birthday party.

Of course I bring her own cupcake- dairy, egg, peanut and wheat-free. 

This is our normal.

And yes, it’s hard. 

But if it were you . . . 

You’d do it, too. 

We’re Moms. 

It’s what we do.   

Camille Vaughan Photography

Hide

“Are you going to hide them?” My friend asked. 

Well, shit.  

That hadn’t even occurred to me.  

Top of the closet?  Under the bed?

Um, actually, no. 

I have nothing to hide. 

The bottom drawer of my bedside table is full of awesome adult toys and if one or more of my four daughters has the audacity to peek, well then. . . . be careful of what you search for. 

“That’s private.”  I explained to my daughter. 

Case closed. 

But much like when my eldest was no longer content with the minimal basics of procreation, I will never choose to keep my children in the dark. 

We are a home that uses correct terminology. 

Penis.  Vagina.  Breasts.

NOT- wee-wee, hoo-ha, or boobies.

There’s nothing shameful about our anatomy. 

And the sooner we embrace that, the sooner we set ourselves free. 

Fun fact:

After teaching elementary school, I was a Pure Romance Consultant for four years. 

My company’s motto was:  Empower, Educate, Entertain.

And I thrived. 

I walked into a room full of women and quickly thawed the tension with humor. 

I enlightened them with facts I had learned from professors at conferences at Indiana University, the leader in Sexual Health. 

And then I empowered them to own their bodies.  

To ask me questions when we were just one-on-one

And release their fear and shame.

I won’t stop now. 

My daughters will be well-informed.  

Empowered.  Educated.  Entertained (later). 

Nothing to hide.  

Grief

She called it what it is:  

Grief. 

I had never associated that word with what I had been feeling but it all clicked into place. 

Grief can be due to a loss of any kind: a loved one, job, marriage, friendship or a major life change.

What I had been feeling was grief!

I described how desperate I had been to make sense of it all and store it neatly in its box. 

I’m a writer:  I like a good ending.  

And this . . . this just carried on.

I described it as spilled slime.  

Here I was, frantically trying to return the contents to its original container and no matter how hard I tried, it lingered.  

Grief has no blueprint, no timeline.

It’s messy and ugly and nonsensical.

It does not wield to your plans or box. 

It takes its time and you are merely a companion to it.  

Many try to escape its grasp- be it denial, alcohol or busyness.  

Others drown in it. 

And then there’s me- failing to recognize it for what it is. 

Well, hello grief. 

I relinquish my need to control.

I let you take your time. 

I identify you. 

I respect your process. 

And I walk with you 

Until you move along.  

 It is what it is. 

Grief. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

The First Step

Have you ever had moments in your life when you feel like time stops?

It’s remarkable. 

It happened once when I was eleven.

And it happened again today when I read a line from an advice column:

“Children of alcoholics are often on high alert trying to anticipate other people’s feelings, so they can try to head off problems or incidents before they become overwhelming.”

The camera of my life came into focus. 

The dots connected. 

And for a moment, time stopped

As my mind rewinded

To the friendships I had ruined by suffocating them with my need to control

And the relationships I had endured because I expected no better.  

My desperate need for security. 

My present-day Type A personality. 

I am a child of an alcoholic. 

And it shows, still today. 

It’s not an excuse. 

But it does help to explain how I came to be. 

And for me, that’s the first step.

Time starts again.

New Leaf Parenting.

Every Day is a Fresh Start.

Original Article: https://www.pilotonline.com/advice/ct-aud-ask-amy-20221215-mgo2iskwwfehneze7tiqqapi6y-story.html

Life is Short

“Life is short.  Get a divorce.”

I audibly chuckled when I saw this highway billboard on the way home from South Carolina today.

I mean, if only it were so simple.

Things get tough?  Quit. 

Life is short, after all. 

As a child of divorce, I can honestly say that when my mom and step-dad “announced’ their separation, I was relieved. 

No more pretending.  No more arguing. 

Maybe they could be happy, after all?

I didn’t realize that it would lead to him deserting me forever.  

Or that I would find it impossible to spend another holiday with my step-siblings I had known since I was two.   

We were now split three ways.  Who could blame us?

Instead,  I take a hard look at my own marriage and give grace and ask for the same in return. 

We were madly in love. 

And then we had four children.

And that is really hard.  

But we are committed to remembering who we once were and who we are becoming. 

No need to pretend. 

No need to argue. 

We can be happy.

Things get tough.

Nothing is simple.

Life is short, after all. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Sisterhood

Let me tell you about this fragile relationship. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

And in this house, it’s on Level 4. 

Competition.  Jealousy.  Friendship. Equality. 

The themes of this family.

When I say it’s all gravy one minute and WWIII the next, I mean it.  

That’s how fast things can change, in a house full of sisters. 

Tonight, a battle erupted over who gets to watch a show with mommy. 

Let’s be clear, people:  

I watch a total of 2- that is T-W-O- shows a week. 

They are Survivor and The Amazing Race. 

That is 100% completely it.  My total list. 

My husband sits down nightly and watches PTI on ESPN, a show about North Carolina fishing, Bob Ross painting, and bluegrass music without issue. 

As soon as I attempt to sit down, however, whether on the couch or toilet, I apparently have invited my audience to request things of me (I am, shockingly, sitting down, after all).  

So, I’ve given up!   I just don’t even bother trying to watch television because it’s too disappointing to try and claim that time. 

I’d rather hide in my bed and read or stay up way too late to write.  

Pre-children, I watched these two shows alone but since our second daughter, Harper,  has always been our night-owl, I started watching them with her a few years ago and, in addition to me reading Harry Potter aloud to her, it’s become “our thing”.  

It’s never really been an issue because my eldest, Aurora, has always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise child but she’s growing and changing into a tween and tonight, she wanted to stay and watch. 

Cue WWIII.  

Harper wanted Aurora to leave but Aurora, not causing an issue, had every right to be there. 

I found myself in the midst of a mommy battle and quickly realized, this was a turning point.  

I could defend Harper, my second daughter whom I’ve always protected- perpetually considering her feeling inferior to her big sister.  They are only twenty months apart and her big sister is an awesome human.  It’s tough shoes to fill! 

Or I could stand by my eldest, who can’t help that she came first or that I chose to have three more children.

Ultimately, I stood my ground and my husband backed me up.

I am a mother of FOUR.  Not one. 

My time is shared as equally as possible (not equal at the same time, equal over time!).

Harper’s argument was that Survivor was “our thing”. 

I explained that before her, it was “mine”.  

But I chose to share it with her. 

And now, I choose to share it with her sister, too.  

At one point, Aurora apologized (for even trying) and attempted to give up. 

No.

We do not apologize for existing.  

As the illegitimate child of a love affair, this hits particularly hard for me. 

We do not apologize for existing. 

She had every right to be there as her little sister, whose feelings have always been considered.

All’s well that ends well. 

And that’s how things wrapped up tonight. 

Harper was put in her place.  

Desperate as she is to claim her spot, she learned that she is part of a family and no more important than each piece of the puzzle. 

Aurora learned that I would defend her.  When she snuck a note under Harper’s door stating, ‘I’m sorry”, I returned it, explaining that:

We do not apologize for existing. 

I hugged Harper, as I tucked her in, and reminded her that she is loved. 

I hugged Aurora, as I tucked her in, and reminded her the same. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

It’s a fragile relationship. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Shine

Recently, I was told that I am “overwhelming” and “exhausting”. 

And the thing is:  it’s not untrue. 

I am 100% both of those things. 

I live life fast and furiously, never wanting to miss a moment or waste a day- including days with zero plans because those often offer the best unplanned fun.  

And I document them!  

Boy, do I document them. 

Because I never want to forget.

But in my hard-life-living, I’ve also experienced personal casualties and wondered, 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

“Am I too much?”

“Am I not enough?”

The doubt creeps in and for a minute I think, “Yes, I should be smaller.”

Then, I remember a poem read to me by a speaker at a conference:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

I *remember* hearing this poem for the first time and the fire that it ignited in me. 

And as a mother of four daughters, 

I’ll be damned if anyone tries to put that out. 

Our girls will not accept mediocrity, if I have anything to do with it. 

They will strive for their best and nothing less.  

And you know why?

Because they are worth it!

Because we all are all worth it!

And because, as the poem says, we are all better when we let our light shine. 

Giving permission for others to shine, too.  

I considered shrinking 

And then I thought better of it.  

Instead, I shine. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Value

“What do you love about me?” I asked him, directly. 

And I don’t mean my mothering or wifely duties. 

Or because I love you, for that matter.

Do you see me?

Do you value me?

Anybody can sweep this under the rug.

But not me. 

And guess what?

That’s what makes me, me. 

I’ve been through enough that 

I’m not afraid.

To ask the hard questions. 

To have the difficult conversations.

Instead of filling the awkward silence,

I allow it to marinate. 

And then I remind you of who I am and how I became that person.  

How lucky we are to have one another, individually speaking.

It’s easy to get lost in a family dynamic.

But we are worth the work.

20 years go by and couples can’t remember who they married.

Well, I’ll be damned.

I’m going to tell you what I love about you. 

And I’m going to insist that you remember not only why you married me

But also my value. 

Because I am.

Valuable. Fearless.  Courageous. 

All the things that make me that great wife and mother. 

And don’t you ever forget it. 

The Inevitable

Camille Vaughan Photography

They keep calling and I keep putting it off. 

The inevitable. 

It took so long for us to get to this point- 

Photo by Amara Minnis

A place where, although still heavily restricted, we at least know what we are dealing with. 

For three years, feeding Elizabeth was a game of Russian roulette.  

Try a new food and wait 2-4 hours to see if she begins to vomit. Sometimes until her body goes into shock. 

Repeat for the next fourteen days because she could pass the first few trials and fail the seventh attempt.  

Such is the life of a child with FPIES- Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis, a nightmare of an intestinal allergy with no formal testing other than eating the food and seeing what happens.  

Pair that with IgE mediated allergies to dairy, eggs and peanuts, throw a gluten intolerance that triggers severe eczema on top of it and you have our fourth baby girl.

Our little warrior, who in her first few years, endured misery. 

The ocean water burned Elizabeth’s skin so badly during our family photo shoot, we had to stop. Camille Vaughan Photography

No wonder she was growth restricted in the womb!  No wonder she didn’t just spit up but vomited after each nursing session!  No wonder she never slept and always cried.  The foods I was eating were her triggers and I had. No. Idea. 

I eliminated all major allergens and lost twenty pounds in my attempts to continue to nurse her only years later to find out that the avocado I was surviving on was one of her triggers.  

It took batteries of tests, UV light therapy and trial-and-error with her diet to realize her horrific head-to-toe eczema was caused by wheat.  Steroid creams, nightly wet-wraps, and baths with me at 2 o’clock in the morning in desperate attempts to provide relief, even if temporary.  

Yes, I keep putting it off because if I’m being honest, I don’t want to go back there. 

I am running away as fast as I can from those awful memories, from the trauma that was raising baby Elizabeth.  

But without risk we become stagnant.  

Her diet never evolves and we never know, unless we try . . . 

And so I finally take the call. 

I set the date. 

And I wait. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

This is the first of many in-office food challenges for Elizabeth because she has so many FPIES fails: rice, sweet potato, beef, avocado, peanuts, and quinoa just to name a few.  

But in a few weeks we begin with rice. 

The first challenge: getting her to agree to eat a cup of the food. 

A child with food allergies learns to become wary of any new food not previously deemed “safe” so I’ve had to start having conversations with her about trying this new food further adding to my guilt. 

What if she fails?

What if I convince her to eat it all and she begins to vomit?

What will that do to her trust in me?

How will I stand myself?

I’ve held her limp, near lifeless body in my arms after an FPIES fail.  I’ve helped load her onto a stretcher and into an ambulance at just 9 months-old.  I’ve witnessed my husband and babysitter administer an Epipen three times while on the phone with 911.  

I don’t want to go back there. 

And yet, here we are. 

Facing the trauma.  

Looking beyond the wave of fear with the hope of passing and swimming in the deep richness of food variety with her sisters.  

Hold my hand, baby girl.  

Here we go!

Camille Vaughan Photography