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. 

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

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.  

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.

Today

Want to hear the best thing ever?

There’s no right way. 

That’s it!

That’s all!

We are all going to die. 

Some of us sooner than others, 

So you know what?

Let’s LIVE IT. 

Let’s stop waiting for then. 

The right time. 

Because for some of us, 

It’s never going to come. 

Instead, here we are, so why wait?

There’s no time to lose. 

There’s no time to wait. 

Carpe Diem! 

There’s no right way. 

But there is today. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Love

“Do you know how much I love you?” She pleaded every night before bed.

What was I supposed to say?

No?

No, love doesn’t feel like the look on the teacher’s faces when they tell me to go inside since I’m the last one waiting to be picked up, every week?

No, love doesn’t feel like babysitters during business trips.

No, love doesn’t feel like the bottom of a beer can. 

So, I said yes.  

Yes, love feels like when you rock me to sleep on the edge of my bed. 

Yes, love feels like you carrying me up to bed when I know I’m already too heavy.

Yes, love feels like I know you are doing the best you can in. spite. of. 

Yes, mom, I know you love me.  

Because now that I am a mom, I know how much it took for you to single-parent me and my sister.

Now that I am a mom, I know just how deep that love runs.

And now that I am a mom, I know how important it is for you to know that I know you’ve always loved me.

Happiness

I bought this for myself a few years ago, when I was particularly down in the dumps about circumstances that were entirely out of my control.

Upon discovering it, I realized that no matter what what was going on, happiness was a choice. 

Sure I could take time to lament and mourn my very real losses; but even those that were suffering and gone before me would never have wanted me to continue living in that state of loss. 

It was my job to live the life they could not.  

I realized that it was my job to CHOOSE happiness.  

In the face of adversity, to overcome and make the best of what may be.

In the prospect of opportunity, to claim. 

To own this life they could not.  

It is ours to behold. 

If only we could just be happy today.  

Here We Go

She said, “I don’t want to grow up!”

And for the first time, she really meant it. 

Feeling the weight of the added responsibilities of being nine, she has decided that this whole aging thing: it’s not for her.  

I can’t say I blame her.  

I paused to behold her face; to mourn the loss of her rapidly-ending childhood innocence; simultaneously wondering just who this grown girl is going to become. 

“No one understands what it’s like to be me!” she lamented.  

Girlfriend, join the club.  

Welcome to the real world. 

It’s not for the faint of heart. 

And as much as I want to protect and shield her from it, I’m honored that I have the privilege to walk beside her as she learns to grapple with the truth of it all. 

Hold my hand, here we go!

Camille Vaughan Photography