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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Recognition

“I just want you to know, I see how hard you’re working.  I appreciate you, babe.  We need you.”  He said to me as I plopped down on the couch, after a second failed attempt to put the baby to bed.

And it occurred to me, that’s all anyone ever needs.

To be seen.  To be heard.  To be understood.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve never once exchanged a gift on our wedding anniversary.  It doesn’t matter that we haven’t been on a date in many months.

What matters is that we recognize one another.  Through words. Through a quick rub of the shoulders during dinner preparations.  With a brief glance and smile in acknowledgment.

It’s a simple thing, really.  With the huge payout of an everlasting love.

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Dee Akright Photography

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 salon 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

 

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

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 

Wanted

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  It’s impossible not to know this Hallmark holiday is nearing, since we are assaulted on a daily basis with ads for flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and heart-shaped cookies.  In stores, Christmas decor was immediately replaced with Valentine’s, reminding customers not to forget anyone they love.

My husband and I have been together for over a decade now and although our marriage is far from perfect, we have managed to keep our love and desire for one another alive.

I don’t mind setting aside a day to celebrate the ones we love, so long as it is not the only day we do so.  Because I believe, deep down, we all share one thing in common- we want to be wanted.

We want to feel desirable.  It feels good to be needed.

As a parent, I sometimes gripe about all three of my daughters sitting on my lap for bedtime stories, but secretly, it fills my heart.

Pet owners, school teachers, nurses, service members, fire fighters, librarians, custodians, florists, writers, gravediggers- they all are needed and likely serve best when they are reminded frequently of how necessary and appreciated they are.

In times of stress, when our marriage has been challenged with sleep deprivation, moves, or careers, my first instinct is to feel defensive.  I wish my husband would do more of XYZ and panic when I sense distance between us.  Over the years, I’ve realized that the more I complain about what I am not getting and ask for more, the greater the distance increases.  Now, instead, I reach.

I thank him for all that he is doing.  I recognize his sacrifices.  I ensure he knows how much he is needed and appreciated and in return, instinctually, he does the same.

Isn’t it ironic that during some of the more stressful times of our life, when we need each other most, we feel distant from the ones we love?  Illnesses, death, child-rearing, job-changes, moves- it’s easy to ask our loved ones for more than they have to give and feel angry at them when they are unable to fill our void.

If instead, we can reach out to grasp one another’s hand- to verbally acknowledge all that the person is already doing to contribute- we then find ourselves stronger together.

We all want to be wanted.  And the more we let others know just how much we need and appreciate them, the more they will want our love and recognition and return it.  If only we can reach.  ❤

Dee Akright Photography

Romance Redefined

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Dee Akright Photography 2009

Long gone are the box of chocolates and roses.  That was a decade ago.  In its place are emptied dishwashers and trashcans.  This is now.  Romance Redefined.

I quit teaching fourth graders as soon as I had my first born, but I continued teaching, women, shortly thereafter when I became a Pure Romance Consultant.  It was a job I wasn’t looking for but that I was surprisingly successful at for the next four years.  The parties were loads of fun, but the most rewarding part of my job was getting to chat with women one-on-one about their very personal, intimate lives- things they hadn’t shared with anyone else.  These women had questions and looked to me for answers.

Many had questions about the products I was promoting but more had questions about how to keep the romance alive in their marriage.  My answer changed depending on who I was talking to.  I asked questions about the status of their relationship and the preferences of each individual.  More often than not, my recommendation was not to purchase half of the items on their wishlist, rather it was to communicate with their other half.  It was the encouragement I gave the woman to tell her partner what she wanted and to be open to reciprocation.

Often, women teased that my husband must “love” my job, assuming we had a passionate intimate life.  I didn’t want to burst their bubble, but I tried to explain that although they were certainly perks to my profession, there are also “seasons” in life.  Marriage is intended for a lifetime and with that comes the changing seasons.  So when a sleep-deprived, first-time mother looked to me with hopeful eyes of how to get the romance back, I placed my hand on hers and gave her the permission she needed to know that it didn’t have to happen immediately.  I explained, romance evolves.

So often, we cling to our previous lives.  We move cities, change jobs, or have children and suddenly, we want back what we used to have.  For romance, that may mean less post-it notes on the steering wheel, candle-lit baths, and late-night dates.  Instead, the peace of your partner’s hand resting on yours after a long day, knowing that is the same hand you to hope to be lucky enough to continue to hold for the rest of your life.  It’s when your wife or your husband rubs your shoulders unexpectedly because they know you could use a little TLC after a long day.

And although the time between passionate moments lengthens over the years, the fire still burns; a reminder of how it all began.  It’s not how it was.  It never will be because now is not then.  As we grow and change, so does the romance. It’s still there, it’s just redefined.

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Camille Vaughan Photography 2016

Finding Your Lobster

That kind of love doesn’t really exist.  It’s all a dream, a movie, a flash in the pan.  It won’t last, you’ll see.

Heartache and heartbreaks.  They teach us disbelief.  We’ve been let down before so best not to get our hopes up again.

And yet, somehow, even in the midst of grief, there’s a tiny part of us that still believes.  We are scared and guarded, but still hopeful.

When you grow up with divorced parents or parents who have been physically but not emotionally together; When you have witnessed or been a victim of physical or emotional abuse, it’s hard to still believe.

And when you’ve seen another couple work and have yet to find your own lobster, you wonder if that couple was just “one-in-a-million”.  Like winning the lottery.  Possible, but not probable.

I remember waiting on his roommate’s couch for him to return from a wedding.  We had only been dating a week but had yet to spend a day apart.  It was a whirlwind romance and I was excited but scared.  His roommate hid my car keys as a way to encourage me to wait and I was secretly grateful to use that as an excuse.  The truth was, I wanted to wait.  I wanted to believe that what we had was what I had been waiting my whole life for.

But since we had both recently ended serious relationships, neither of us felt ready to jump into another.

He walked in the door and I hid my face in the pillows.  Embarrassed I had made myself so vulnerable.  Now he knew.

He pulled me towards him and explained he had been counting down the minutes to get back to me.  I cracked a smile and so did he.  We hugged, we kissed and 10 years later, here we still are.

My valentine.  My real-life romance.  The champion of my heart.  The one who brings out the best in me.  The one I will never doubt.  The one I will grow old with.  Everything I had ever hoped for.  My husband.  My lobster.  My Emmett.

Happy Valentine’s My Love.

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First photo by Dee Akright Photography

The Danger of Resentment

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The holidays are here, bringing decorations, gatherings and emotions.  We are faced with many decisions: from what to eat to where to go and with whom to visit and when.  Many of these reunions bring joy and solid conversation but sometimes they also uncover old wounds or create new ones.  Feelings we buried months or years ago resurface and we are no longer able to hide.  The time has come to choose how we will handle ourselves.

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