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

Mother

Bone-tired.  So tired you can’t think clearly.  It’s been a long day.  You’ve been looking forward to getting the kids to bed so you can finally sit down and exhale or go to bed yourself.  But one of them just. won’t. go.

To add insult-to-injury, she skipped her nap and is overly-tired.  She won’t let your husband put her to bed.  She only wants you.  You, who has been with her for the last 12 hours.

You know what she needs to go to sleep but you resist because you have nothing else to give.

And yet, you are a mother.

So you dig deep, into the reserves.  Your tank is on empty, but just like your car, you know you can always push it a little further, to get there.

You hold her, rock her and lay her down in her bed.  She settles her cries almost immediately as you rub her back and sing that lullaby she loves.  You slow the song down, verse-by-verse, eventually removing your hand so that song is all that remains.

Then silence.

She’s still awake.  You are still present.  And that is all she needs.

To know that you are there, even when you are tired, with nothing left but your presence to give.  `

You dare not move your legs, tingling from sitting in that same position for so long, until her eyes get heavy.  Opening and closing, just enough to make sure of you.

You hear her quiet breathing, slowing to soft snores and you think,

I am a mother.

I always have enough for this.

Always.

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Danielle Ice Photography

‘Tis the Season

Pine straw.

That’s all it took to absorb our 20 month-old daughter’s attention for one whole hour.

We had a house full of the newest, brightest and loudest toys that occupied Aurora for a few minutes a piece, and yet here was my mother-in-law on our back porch, helping her slide pine straw through the cracks of our deck.

My husband and I watched from the window in disbelief and almost irritation.  How could it be so simple?

The holidays are here and with it, the catalogs in the mail and the ads on the internet and tv. “Hurry, before it’s too late!” they warn.  “Limited Edition”, “Hot Toys”, “Sale Ends Soon!”.

Buy, Buy, Buy.  More, More. More.

Some people are even going so far as to buy out entire stocks of a store, only to turn around weeks later and sell them at a profit to desperate parents.

Is this really what this season is about?

We are certainly pressured into thinking so.

We are programmed to believe we must have this item for our loved one to be happy.

Pardon me, but what a load of crap!

Ask a survivor of a terrible house fire, and they will tell you that if their family and pets survived, then, aside from heirlooms and keepsake memories, they feel “lucky”.

Ask someone on their deathbed what they would wish for if they could have anything at all.

The answer would be time.

Not the flashy gadget inside the house, instead, the time it takes to slowly weave pine straw through the cracks.

The personal connection, the conversation, the one thing that we we cannot store- time.

‘Tis the season of giving.

As you find yourself sucked into the rush of the holidays, take a moment to slow down and recognize that so long as we have those we cherish, we already have enough.

And when you go to the store and find that “hot item” sold out, replace it with the gift that cannot be bought or sold- time, spent with you.

 

 

Day Off

It’s 5 P.M. and I have decided I’m taking the day off, today.  Between the Kindergartener crying before school, the toddler’s epic battle at nap time and the almost 4 year-old locking us all out of the bathroom, I’m declaring myself done for the day.

My patience level is at a negative zero and I’m tired of expecting myself to somehow dig out another ounce.  Today, I just want to go back to being me before children.  It’s impossible I know, and not something I’m going to want once I see them all sleeping peacefully on the baby monitor later, but right now, I just want to pretend that I don’t have to always think about my actions all of the time.

I don’t want to set any more examples today of how to keep your cool when you really want to blow your lid.  I don’t want to care about many bites of healthy food they eat, how much screen time they are getting, or the size of their poop in the potty.

I’m dreaming of binge-watching my favorite TV shows, of long, uninterrupted phone conversations, and eating junk food without having to hide it.  I’m going to imagine myself sleeping until it gets boring, reading until I get a headache, and shopping in a speciality boutique store just because I can.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my coffee and get back on the parent horse- making sure my kids eat their protein for breakfast, clean up after themselves, and behave like good citizens.  But today, I’m giving myself a break.  I’ll go through the motions tonight to feed them and get them to bed, but if all hell breaks loose, I. don’t. care. because. I’m. done. today.  Join Me!

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Pre-Baby Days

My Children, My Teachers

“Honour thy father and thy mother.” One of the 10 Commandments. Most of us were raised to regard our parents as our superiors.  “Because I said so” is an oh-so familiar phrase in most households. We consider our children OURS. They belong to us. It is our job to guide them.

But what if we, instead, regard our children as our teachers?

I’ve been reading a great deal of parenting books this summer: The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family both by Dr. Shefali, The Whole Brain Child by Drs. Siegel and Bryson are just a few. Very honestly, I typically feel resistant to pick them up and read them. I fight a feeling of eye-rolling, as if to say “Don’t I do enough, already? I hardly have time to read as it is, do I really want to spend my time thinking more about my children?” And yet, I am left with a sense of clarity after every page. A tiny shift in perspective that feels like a fresh breath of air.

Instead of only focusing on the wisdom we have to bestow on our offspring, what if we opened our heart to the lessons they are teaching us every day? For instance, patience. Slowing down so they can keep up when we walk, slowing down our speech so they can understand, slowing down our schedules so that we have time to marvel at their magnificence. Slowing down when we rush them to get their shoes, jackets and seatbelt on. Witnessing them learn. Viewing the wonder of the world from their eyes.

Or how about our capacity to love? Our hearts have never experienced a love this fierce. We love them so much that when they disappoint us we feel it personally within our own hearts, as if it is a reflection of us. Perhaps it is. Perhaps rather than focusing our anger on them, we could open our hearts to the lesson it has taught us on how to be a better parent. Perhaps we could learn to love ourselves as much as we love them.

Forgiveness. Murderers have parents who still love them, in spite of their evildoings. Maybe we can learn to forgive others or even ourselves with the grace we give our own children.

When we start to witness our children as our teachers, we release the pressure of parenting perfectly. We wait, we watch, we consider and we enjoy.  We grow as they grow and love them not only for who they are, but also for all they have taught us.

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Nourish

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Songwriters often say they write their greatest music after a heartbreak.  Athletes play their best game after a significant loss.  In the midst of tragedy, artists and writers create their masterpieces.  It’s almost as if we need conflict to have depth and gain insight.

I wrote a lot last year.  I was surviving.  Consumed by my parental responsibilities, struggling to find my identity.

I was so focused on how much I felt my kids were draining me, that I neglected to recognize how much they have nourished my soul.

It’s hard to have perspective when you are physically exhausted, overwhelmed, and consumed.

But my heart has never known a love like this.  Without them, I never would have known its depths.  And I never would have understood God’s love for me as well as I do now.

My children have taught me patience, the joy in the simple things, and selflessness.  They challenge me to be the best version of myself, because they are watching every. single. thing. I. do. and. say.

They give me something to look forward to every morning and in all the years to come, watching them grow in character and personality.

I wrote a lot last year, when I was barely treading water.  But now, I’m simply enjoying making memories with them.  Hopefully that is something worth reading.

When Multitasking Hurts

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Emma Jane at 18 Months Old

Emma nearly died twice today before 11 a.m..  Both incidents were fully preventable.  Both incidents were caused because I was distracted.

The first was at 9 a.m.  I was getting the five and three year-old ready for swim lessons and needed to grab their goggles from inside the Protect-a-Child pool fence.  Emma followed me into the backyard and fussed at the fence, wanting to get into the pool.  I quickly told her we didn’t have time and heard the gate swing shut behind me as I walked back into the sun-room, fully expecting her to follow.

Some of the items I gathered from outside were still a little wet, so instead of bringing them inside, I dropped them on the sun-porch floor and thought to look for a bag.  I heard Emma continuing to fuss in the background, which is when I turned around to see her opening the pool gate.

It had closed, but had not latched.

Had I not seen her, she would have been in that pool, drowning in the next 5 seconds.

It scared me to death.

The next incident was right around 11 a.m.  We had returned from swim lessons and a grocery trip and I started carrying the bags inside the house.  Emma loves to play in the garage with all of her yard toys and was happily distracted with her tricycle and cars.  The big girls were setting up a large blanket for our picnic.

I took one more peek at Emma in the garage before organizing lunch for the four of us, leaving the kitchen door to the garage largely cracked so I could still see her.

That’s when I heard the scream.

I ran outside, to find Emma in the middle of the street, a car stopped just in front of her.  Her older sisters helplessly standing in the grass, witnessing Emma running in the road to get the ball that had rolled down the driveway.

We live on a half-acre lot but 30 seconds was all it took for Emma to make it from the garage to the middle of the road.

I had turned my back to dish out broccoli and chicken nuggets into the plates and my baby almost died.  Again.

I feel foolish.  I feel unqualified to be a mother.  I feel angry with myself.  I feel sad for my older daughters who experienced that terror and whose screams were the only reason I knew what had happened.  I feel gratitude for the mercy God bestowed TWICE on my child today.  I feel the need to share this story, to remind others how quickly distraction can kill.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I should have double checked the pool gate like I have 1,000 other times, but today, I was in a hurry and I didn’t.

I never should have left Emma alone in the garage, even if I could see her from the kitchen, because she is 18 MONTHS OLD.  But the thought of trying to prepare lunch for the four of us while she screamed and cried at the kitchen door versus her happily playing with her toys, propelled me to make that poor decision.

I tell my girls all of the time that it just takes once to break a bone, to fall, to drown, etc.  I don’t want them living in perpetual fear but I do want them to understand that just because we got lucky once, doesn’t mean we will again.

We live in a world that enables multi-tasking.  Bluetooth capabilities to talk while driving in our car and Apple watches on our wrist to alert us of a text as we jog.  It seems there are never enough hours in a day to finish everything we want accomplished, which is why we feel proud when we are able to “kill two birds with one stone”.  But at what cost?

Today, it almost cost me the life of my youngest child.

Yesterday, distraction surely caused someone else to lose theirs.

Just a week ago, I watched a chilling video that forced me to become a less-distracted driver.  I started putting my phone out-of-sight in the car, as a result of this video but gradually, my phone has made its way back onto the middle console.

It seems ridiculous that I could be so careless, when this entire video is about how “better-than-most” is not sufficient.  The pool fence is a step-up from no fence at all, but it’s worthless if it isn’t closed.  The cracked garage door is only helpful if I keep my eye on that crack the entire time, which is impossible.

None of us is perfect, but this video and what happened to my family this morning, has been a much-needed reminder of the importance of constant-vigilance when driving and caring for children.

I’m not waiting for God to grant me any more second-chances.  I’m so grateful I didn’t have to learn these lessons the most horrible, worst-way imaginable.  I’m taking His grace and slowing down.  I hope you will, too.

The Video that Changed My Life

Secret Garden

Waiting until the last sliver of light hits the horizon against the ocean. Sleeping in on Saturdays. Literally dancing in the moonlight on the dock of a bay.

Why on Earth would we give these things up to have children?

They don’t sleep, they cry, we lose ourselves.

We have them because they are our Secret Garden.

Sure, no one tells you how difficult nursing is when you are so focused on the birth. You tune out the laments of “teething”, “twos” and “teens”.

You focus on that tiny baby in your arms. Who grows and challenges you and rules your schedule.

Sometimes you daydream of life before children.

But then you remember your heart.

You’ve never known a love like this before.  It’s unlike any other.

And then you see your mother for the first time.

It’s like an awakening.

A Secret Garden.

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My husband, Emmett.