There She Is

4 A.M.

And the moment I’d been dreading for 39 weeks.

No movement.

I sat on the side of my bed, sobbing.  Begging my husband to get the baby to move, knowing I had waited one day too long to induce.

See, the day before had been my daughter’s spring concert and I figured delaying a day wouldn’t make much difference.

But in this moment, I regretted it all.

In a panic, I called our doula and midwife first and next, our neighbor.

She arrived within seconds. I folded into her arms, scared of what we would find when we arrived.  She steadied me, reassuring that our three daughters at home were safe and off we went to find that baby Elizabeth was indeed alive and well.

Fast forward 18 months.

Same kitchen, same neighbor.

Our friends left and she stayed to ask the simple direct question: “Are you OK?”

“No.”

No, I wasn’t and all it took was for someone to ask.

I unfolded right in front of her, releasing the floodgates and once again, she took it.  She held it.  She steadied, reassured and stood me upright.

She looked me in the eye and said, “You are going to be OK.”  And then she followed through.

She called to check on me.  She invited me to run with her.

She held my hand.

And because of her, I made it.

There she is.

My superwoman.  My angel.  My friend.

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Reach

I was screaming.

Lying on the dance studio floor, lights out, next to a dozen other students, screaming as loud as my lungs would allow for my lost mother, father, sister and brother.

It was my sophomore year of high school and my best friend Harper had talked me into my first-ever audition for the Fall dramatic play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”, based on a little girl’s experience at the concentration camp in Terezin.  To the surprise of many, and yet mostly myself, I landed the lead role:  Raja Englanderova.

It became a defining moment in my life.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a hypersensitive heart.

Long ago, when it rained, I used to tape plastic containers over the top of the ant hills that formed along the walkway to our house.  I didn’t want them to drown.

And when another experienced a loss, it felt like my own.  I mourned, as if I had known them well, too.

I felt deeply but was mocked, shamed and criticized for it.

They thought I wanted attention, when all I ever really wanted was to lend my oversized heart.

To reach.

I ended up leading two more plays in high school and when it came time to graduate, I asked my drama teacher to write me a parting note.

And what he said has never left me:

“Give to the world your deeply felt heart.”

Well, World, here it is!

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Do. The. Things.

OMG y’all.

Is it just me or are you also wondering what in the world has happened in the last 2 months?

Like, wait. . . what??

Life, as we knew it stopped. Dead.  In its tracks.

Forced to adapt and left to wonder, what have we left undone?

I spend half of my parenting life wondering if I am doing too much to entertain my children and the other half anxious for them to age enough to take them to the big places  I really want us all to go- National parks, once-in-a-lifetime shows, international landmarks, etc.

I revel in the tender moments of playing matchbox cars on the IKEA shag bath mat that has become my 4 year-old’s holy grail.  Seriously, there is no other place she’d rather wrap herself up in and/or park her 50 hot wheels inside the folds.  Weird and yet still, oddly endearing.

10 minutes later, I’m dreaming of our entire crew camping, mountainside. Ready to hike, ready to roast, ready to inhale that incomparable fresh air.

As I reflect on life before Covid-19, I realize, I don’t have much to regret.  The family adventures I dragged my homebound husband on that our kids still talk about.  The garden at home he’s helped them to cultivate.  They are all part of our story up until this point.

I suppose Covid-19 is our wakeup call.

How do we really want to spend our unspecified time?

When are we going to stop waiting to do-the-things?

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Stories

101.

The age of my Aunt Mary who passed away just yesterday.

She was the first-born child of my grandmother, born in 1897 in the town of Licodia Eubia, a part of Catalia, Sicily.

In 2001, I stood in the house my grandmother was born and remember how my dad and I found the very spot: word-of-mouth.

I had just graduated high school and wanted more than anything else to know where I had come from.

We arrived in Rome, traveled through Naples and over east to Calabria where we feasted on my grandfather’s olive tree farms.  He was born in 1884.

There, I experienced authentic, homemade lasagna laid upon a table set for over a dozen relatives who spoke nothing but Italian.  The roads elevated and bumpy so much so that when a cousin took me on a fast-paced moped ride, I learned to scream “Ayyyy-ya!!!”

My dad, who spoke broken Italian at the time, did his best to gather contact information and on we went to Sicily.

It was there that we were robbed.

We had read about the risk, ahead of time, and our blue Mercedes Benz rental (an economic option there) didn’t help our cause.

We were lost in an alley in Sicily when a man on a moped jackknifed in front of our car, stopping us dead while a man on foot opened our back doors and grabbed my book bag and my father’s brief case.

They gained nothing aside from my diary, my camera (and nine rolls of film), and the notebook of my family’s contact information, as my passport and my dad’s wallet were safely in the front seats with us.

In other words, they stole our recorded history.

But on we ventured.

We spoke to locals in Catalia, sharing names and dates until finally, we had arrived:  The room my grandmother who later would give birth to my aunt entered this world.

I don’t have photographs but I have stories.

Stories that should be told.

And don’t we all?

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Comfort

Could you get any closer?

That is what I wonder aloud to my almost 2 year-old.

We have been home for 30 days straight.

No gym. No school. No dance. No book club.

So why, when I walk out of the room, does she run after me like I’m leaving for Africa?

As much as I’ve wanted to, I haven’t left!

Today, I heard her calling, “Where are you, Mommy?”

“In my bedroom!” I replied.

She arrived face forlorn, until she saw me.

And then, she came running, a broad grin enveloping her face.

 

Who knew you could ever be so loved?

Who knew you could be the calm amidst the storm ?

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Ain’t it Funny

I should be losing. my. mind.

Homeschooling four kids ages 2, 4, 6 and 8 with governor stay-at-home orders.  No access to outside enrichment including the aquarium, playgrounds, or museums.  No playdates.

But ain’t it funny?

I lost my mind a long time ago!

Ha!

Take that coronavirus!

I gave up on the illusion of control back when I had my second.

I surrendered to the life-unexpected when my third arrived.

And I hit rock bottom when our fourth surprised us with a chronic, rare syndrome.

I should be losing. my. mind.

But ain’t it funny?

I embraced chaos a long way back.

And thanks to that,

I’m having the time. of. my. life.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

These Days

I do not have a plan.
 
Let’s let that sink in for a minute.
 
Tomorrow is Monday.  I am a previous elementary school teacher with a Masters in Pk-6 education and a doctorate in perfection and I have no idea what I am doing tomorrow.
 
I do not have a beautiful color-coded schedule from 8-5 of what the heck my kids will be doing tomorrow.
 
In fact, as I type, my 1 year-old is completing losing her mind on the baby monitor because she is smack-dab in the middle of a nap and overall-sleep-for-the-greater-good-of-human-kind strike.
 
I’ve vaguely discussed the lack of school for the next month with my kids. I entertained the idea of me becoming “Mrs. Carawan” to the point that they want me to dress the part.
 
Yes, I know from experience that kids thrive on schedules.
 
But life with 4 kids?
 
Is anything but.
 
If I am being completely honest, schedules and expectations let me down these days.
 
Best to make loose plans and adjust as needed.
 
In fact, isn’t that what the world needs most now?
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Camille Vaughan Photography

New Waters

Oh, my.

New waters.

And yet haven’t we been here before?

I see it in my youngest as her brain explodes with new information.  New vocabulary.  New abilities.  New resolve to not ever do once she once did.

Our desire to be in control is ever fervent.

And yet ever not fully ours to control.

We are humbled,

as much as we allow ourselves to be.

As. Much. As. We. Allow. Ourselves. To. Be.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

Identity

Around the circle we went.

Name, address, kids’ names and ages and finally, career.

I was anxious and excited for my friends to share with one another what I already knew about each of them.

And yet felt wholly unprepared when asked to answer the question myself.

Career?

I spent the first part of my childhood dreaming of becoming a teacher.  It evolved to aspirations of becoming a National Geographic Photographer and later, a writer.  But all along, the desire of becoming a mother and staying at home to tend to them was as constant as the ocean currents.

I taught fourth grade throughout my pregnancy and am writing now.  I’ve never become a National Geographic Photographer, but I’ve taken some pretty striking photos over the years.

So why do I feel embarrassed to report my dream status?  Stay-at-home-mother.

I suppose it all comes down to identity.

How do we define ourself?

What are we proud to report and what do we have left to achieve?

Who are you or perhaps more importantly,

who do you have yet to become?

It’s your identity.

And it’s yours to create.

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Chapters

Today, I discovered a college friend of mine passed away, suddenly, of complications from the flu.

I am shocked.

Death from flu is supposed to happen to newborns, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, not a healthy mom of two young boys.

Or, so I thought.

She and her husband, whom she had dated since her early teens, were my college neighbors.  I took a cruise with her, and two other girlfriends, to Mexico in our senior year.  It was a momentous occasion for me.  The time after an abusive relationship.  A new beginning.  A rebirth.  And she was a part of it.

I haven’t spoken to her in years and yet, it feels like yesterday.

Why is that?

I searched through old photos and realized,

our lifetime is one big story.

And you cannot possibly have the same ending without each and every chapter.

So often, others have wondered why I hang on to letters, photos, and contacts.

And the answer is, because I never want to forget.

Without it, my story would never be the same.

Pam, thank you for the memories. You were an important chapter in my life and you will never be forgotten.

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In Loving Memory of Pamela Leon