Little Things

We moved here seven years ago. 

And there she was with a smile and word of encouragement as she witnessed our family grow from two to three to four daughters, surpassing her own three. 

She reminded me to hold these babies because soon, they would be grown. 

She encouraged me, “You’re doing a great job.”

And when you are a stay-at-home-mom with limited outside exposure, those little words go a long way.  

Once a day, 5-6 days a week, Diane delivered our mail. 

Until today, when I received her handwritten note, announcing the end of an era. 

Her sobs told me she hadn’t expected me to call. 

And I realized maybe she wondered the same thing I did: 

Did I matter to you as much as you did to me?

It’s the little things. 

Human connection. 

That matter. 

Get Back Up

Ever feel like it’s too much?

Do you feel like you’re not enough

When you feel like it’s gonna take forever?

Yeah, I swear I know what it’s like

To feel alone at the end of the night

Maybe you don’t know it, but it gets better

It’s gonna be alright

I’m never gonna leave your side

It’s gonna be alright

Everybody falls down, all the way down

You just gotta hold on tight

You gotta get up, gotta get up

Gonna make it through this time

-“Falls” by Odesza

Recently, our family has faced some very trying challenges, leaving my husband and I to throw our hands up and wonder how we can possibly get back up and keep going. 

It’s been a minute since I’ve ridden my Peloton bike but today, motivated by a friend, I got back on.  When this song played, I burst into tears and rode through them, letting the music and lyrics wash over me and plant its wisdom deep within my soul. 

Feeling like an outsider? 

It’s gonna be alright.

Feeling overwhelmed?

You just gotta hold on tight. 

Feel like giving up?

You gotta get up because you’re going to make it through this time. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Back

Her name was Linda Houghten but I called her “Linda Hoe” because I hated her with a passion.

My mom was inherently a saver. As a child, we lived on bare minimums so that my mom could put enough away for a better future. She was the CEO of a software company- a black sheep in a male-dominated industry. She was inspirational. A badass. When business was struggling, she and my step-dad went without paychecks to keep the company afloat but her savings stayed put.

Her scrimping paid off- the business became extremely successful and so was she- a sought-after keynote speaker across the country. So, when she finally had saved enough to redecorate our 80K house, she hired the best.

Enter Linda Houghten.

The woman who wanted to change everything.

Generally, I’m not a vindictive or hateful person. I think carrying hate is more exhausting for the bearer than the target. But if I were to see Linda in person right now, I can’t say I’d give her a hug.

And it’s all because she made our house more beautiful.

My mom’s bedroom looked like a hotel room, so did our living room.

Patterns, slip-covers, window-treatments- the whole works.

I hated it all because it was change.

I’m the kid that cried when our area code changed from 804 to 757. I’m the kid that used to tape plastic containers over the ant hills when it rained because I couldn’t bear to witness their hard word ruined in a flash.

Consistency felt safe. Change felt terrifying.

So when it came to my piano bench? I stood my ground.

She wanted to cover it with a floral material.

Hell-to-the-no.

My mom could see the hair rising on my back and knew when to fold.

No, the piano that my father had gifted me would not be touched.

And I’mmatellyallwhat-

Victory was mine.

I’d lost the rest of the house, but I’d won what deeply mattered to me:

My mom had my back.

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

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

After

What happens after?

Do you remember when you tasted something for the first time?

The equal mixture of excitement and apprehension?

That’s how I am feeling these days. 

Just when I thought things with our youngest couldn’t get any harder, they hit (what I hope is) rock bottom back in December 2020.  My husband and I were surviving on fumes- every night wondering if we should take our daughter to the hospital to find some magical cure for her nightmare flaring skin.  I was in the bathtub with her nightly at 2 am to help calm the itch and waking up at 7 a.m. to homeschool her three big sisters, thanks to the pandemic.  We knew we could not survive much longer. 

So we prayed.  We asked everyone we knew to pray and add her to their prayer list and we searched.  I spent hours and days and weeks and months researching and meeting with specialists of every kind from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Michigan and California to find any possible relief as we all, particularly she, continued to endure a living hell.  

We changed her diet, we had her relentlessly tested for multiple issues and within the last month, she has improved.  

But what happens after?

What happens once you emerge from trauma?

I’ve been waking up with Elizabeth every night for three years and even my pregnancy with her was ridden with weekly appointments due to concerns with her growth. 

How do I adapt to “normal”? 

I’ve been changing diapers for over 9 years nonstop and now she is potty training.  

What happens when I’m not?

Who am I now?

What taste is this?

Camille Vaughan Photography

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.