Circle of Control

My girls have been “back”’to school for almost a month now and Lord, it hasn’t been easy. Between a week off with Covid, snow days, half-days and holidays, there’s been little consistency. The days are “too long”, school is “too weird” and they don’t understand “why they have to do this”.

Today, I drew them their “circle of control”- the things they should focus on- what they want to eat for breakfast, wear and play- how they decide to move their body. All of the other things- the weather, having to go to school, how other people live and behave- are not in their control.

I explained that every day, we have a choice on what we focus on. It’s easy to get lost in the things out of our control- best to leave those things to God and to live with a heart full of gratitude for the things in our immediate circle.

New Leaf Parenting. Every Day is a Fresh Start. Turn the page and try again.

Lessons

I knew it was hopeless before the meeting even began. 

Ms. Larrimore briskly explained to my perplexed mother that there was no amount of extra credit I could complete in the last few weeks of school to help me achieve a passing grade.

I had failed ninth grade English so badly, she told us, that I didn’t even need to attend the 7:10 A.M. class for the remainder of the year.  

To her, I was hopeless. 

I remember feeling a mixture of anger and relief. 

Relief that I wouldn’t have to bother attending her class anymore and anger for the entire disaster that was my freshman year of high school. 

Where had I gone so wrong?

Aside from second grade, I had attended private school.  Ninth grade public exposed me to a world I was wholly unprepared for.  I figured it out by fitting in with whoever would accept me- smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, drinking alcohol before and after school and failing the honors classes I had been assigned.  

Ms. Larrimore, one of the first African- American students to graduate Maury High School in 1964, saw right through my privilege and wasn’t going to give an inch.  This was a woman that assigned a few hundred word paper, in which we weren’t allowed to use the verb “to be”- is, was, am, going, will- all forms.  She was all business and I was taking my education for granted.

I took a summer school class the following summer to make up that failed English class.

And ultimately, I became an English Major with a Masters in Education and later, a writer.  

But the lessons Ms. Larrimore taught me that year will last a lifetime:

Action verbs illustrate.  

Effort, not privilege, counts.  

You Are Phenomenal.

“But I thought I was bad.” My seven year-old Harper remarked, when I recently shared an adorable video of her two-year-old self.

I looked right at her and said, “You are phenomenal. You always have been”

And she burst into tears.

I wrote this blog 5 years ago, but somewhere along the way, the message was lost.

My beautiful, seven-year old has been carrying the shame of being a difficult toddler, explaining why these last couple of years she has been our best listener and the most helpful.

She’s trying to right her “wrongs”.

Cue my broken heart.

I gently explained that we all experience times in our life that are more difficult than others but that doesn’t make us inherently “bad”. I’ve made it a point to share photo and video after video of her smiling and laughing, illustrating what a joyous child she has always been.

“It’s time we rewrite the story in your mind about the kind of kid you were.”

She smiled.

And we carry on.

New Leaf Parenting

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A few years ago, I returned to my elementary school and visited my art teacher, a woman I deeply admired then and still do, now.  I teased, “I know I was difficult.” She tilted her head and looked at me genuinely perplexed.  After a momentary pause, she responded, “Lauren, I never thought you were difficult.  I thought you were extraordinary.  Sweet, fun and smart.”  I returned the tilted-head, genuinely-perplexed-look because all I ever remembered hearing about my childhood was how “difficult” I was.  To be remembered for all positive attributes was truly astonishing and it forced me to rethink the way I had always described myself as a child: difficult,  prone to emotional outbursts and epic temper-tantrums.

It’s not as if these things weren’t true.  They were.  I was often-times angry as a child.  So angry that I would bite my arms to release the tension.  So angry, my mother…

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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. 

Never Forgotten

What about the ones who never were?

Who would they have been?

What if it feels like they were already here?

When we first learned of their existence.

Sure they never were born of this Earth, 

But for a time, they were alive.  

And for many, it will always be this way. 

Mourning the loss of what-if.  

Who would they have become?

Years pass, 

And yet, they are still there.  

Always with us. 

Never forgotten. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Lesson Learned

We are all a product of our collective experiences.  

It is easy for me to wish away the sad things that have happened in my life.  

But if it weren’t for those, I wouldn’t be who I am today. 

This, as Oprah says, I know for sure.  

But I’m-a-tell-y’all-what. 

Divorce is a terribly, sad thing.  

Particularly when children are involved.  

I was on my way to visit colleges with my step-dad, whom I had called “Dad” since I was two years-old when he announced, “Your mother and I are getting separated.”

Is it just me, or do you never ever forget that moment?

It’s like the world stops turning. 

Sure, maybe I had known it was coming in some sick and twisted way, but did I ever want it to truly be?  

No.

And yet, there it was.  

Worse, they were in business together and weren’t going to announce it to the very close-knit family company until January so now, I had a secret to keep. 

That Last Christmas, we rented a house in nearby Sandbridge Virginia Beach, Virginia, decorating the tree one last time, only to grab our individual boxes to keep the ornaments we each wanted when the week was over. 

It was the one of the saddest moments of my life. 

Fast forward 20 years later and now, who are we?

If you were my dad from age 2-18, does that mean you are my dad for life?

If we were step-sisters and brothers then, are we still?

Time passes, parents re-marry. 

Who are we now?

Collateral damage.  

Oh, but not me.  

Because I have my own future to tell. 

Divorce, my children will not know. 

Because we chose carefully. 

We waited until we met one another to make that kind of commitment. 

To be together until death do us part. 

To raise our babies with love and joy. 

To choose them. 

To choose us. 

Forever and ever.

Collateral Damage No More. 

Instead, lesson learned. 

This kind of love is forever.

The Reason

It’s been two years since I admitted this- but it’s still important. It’s always important. ❤

New Leaf Parenting

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POW!

It’s fascinating how authors of graphic novels have nailed that onomatopoeia.  Because, that’s exactly how it felt when he punched my face, breaking my jaw.

Thrown back into the closet from the force of the punch, I stood up and looked at him quizzically, as if to ask, “Really?”.

But truly, I had always known it would come to this and had been almost waiting for the inevitable.

The reason to leave.

He left for class, I headed, mouth bloodied and all, straight for the rental office, requesting a new apartment placement.

I packed my belongings in under an hour and called the police when he found my new residence and started to rip them from my car.

I lived my entire senior year of college in fear of seeing him, as I had the previous two years of dating him.

And wondered, as I received weekly ultrasound treatments…

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Mom

Imagine this. 

Your husband catches a fish- one of twenty safe foods your youngest can eat and yet the ONE food your third-borne is allergic to. 

You provide a substitute protein for her.   You serve it with rice- which your youngest can’t eat (FPIES) so you also offer cauliflower rice.  

There are two more children in this picture.  Two more children, 

(one of which has recently claimed she is a vegetarian) who also have needs and preferences, so you make sure to offer a variety of veggies and proteins on the table to satisfy all.

So goes the life of mom.

Honestly, my biggest fear is if something were to happen to me.  I have an emergency binder, but I worry how this show could go on.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day.  It’s just one day out of 365 but it is meaningful to moms all around the world.  

It’s a day to be seen for our service to our children, our families and our world.  

Please see us.  Thank us.  And send your love. 

-Mom

13

13 pills.

13 years old.  

I’m not sure how I managed to block this memory but once someone directly asked me if I had ever attempted suicide it all came flooding back. 

The tears as I swallowed each one. 

The shame I felt when I admitted what I had done to my stepdad. 

The disappointment in his face. 

The thickness of the charcoal I drank. 

The sharpness of the catheter.  

But most of all, the sadness. 

The overwhelming loneliness I felt, as a child. 

They always cornered me in the stairway- called me “mosquito bites” for my underdeveloped breasts, wrote LD (for learning disabled) on my shoes, and taunted me with the word “virgin” when I had no clue what it meant.  

When you are in a class with a total of 14 children, nine of which are boys, there are few places to hide.  

I was easy prey.  

Knowing what I know now, as a mother and a teacher, I no longer feel shame for that little girl. 

I feel so sorry for her.  

I wish someone had helped her before she felt like dying was better than living.  

And if by sharing my story, I prompt anyone reading to look someone in the eye and ask, “Are you ok?”, then the courage to put this into words was worth it, after all. 

If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts please reach out for help. You are worth it. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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