40

I started and stopped. 

Some things are just too complicated to try and explain. 

But he looked at me and said, “Talk to me.” 

So, I told him. 

I explained how I had spent a lifetime trying to make sense of who I am today, based on my upbringing. 

I grew up dead-center-middle of a fractured family and as a result, I had built a life of trying to prove myself.  

I did this by being whatever the other person needed me to be. 

In other words, I had never found myself because I was too busy trying to be what anyone else needed. 

And this carried on through adulthood. Through friendships.  Through motherhood.  Through marriage. 

Oh, how easy it is to get lost in being whatever your children need.  Why else would there be an “empty nest syndrome”? 

But it was the marriage that had me, at the current moment. 

“What do you love about me?” I point-blank asked him. “Aside from the fact that we have similar interests and I don’t complain about you fishing . . . “

I asked him not to respond right away because I wanted a genuine answer. 

Do you love me because I am who you need me to be?

Or do you love me because of who I am?

In other words, do you see me?

Even when I can’t?

I’m soon celebrating the Eve of 40- an age I cannot *wait* to reach because finally, you just don’t give a damn anymore.  

And I. am. so. ready. 

To stop trying and to start just being. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Forever Learning

I remember thinking, “No one taught me this.”

It began with the simplicity of taking notes.

I was a brand-new student at a Maryland boarding school.

We’d been asked to “take notes” on a couple of chapters. 

I looked like a fish-out-of-water when an experienced junior came to my rescue and offered to teach me.  

Her name was Pauli and she taught me how to highlight and write. 

Fast-forward to meeting my future-husband and his mother, Betty. 

She’d made a career as a homemaker. 

I’d never known one.

I started taking notes. 

How to cook, how to make a home feel like home. 

Four children later, I’m still taking notes. 

How to listen, how to heal. 

No one taught me this.

But I’m forever learning.  

Camille Vaughan Photography

Feet First

Life in our home has been extremely stressful, lately. 

And that’s saying a lot, considering the last four years with our youngest’s health issues.

When our Big Three returned to public school in January, we knew there would be a transition.

But I don’t think anyone could have fully prepared us for: 

The sickness: after living in a bubble for two years, this was inevitable but Lord, it has been relentless. 

The overwhelm:  “7 hours?!” They lament.  They are tired by day’s end and dreading the next. 

The pressure: to perform, to make friends, to survive. 

And yet, here we are.  Just beyond the Ides of March.  We are halfway there and I know we are going to make it after-all.  

These have been trying months. 

As much as I thought I would have “free time”, I have spent the last 2 months playing catch-up to all that I neglected while they were home the last two years.  

My husband and I look at each other and realize, 

There’s so much more to come.  

So, we hold hands. 

And jump in, 

Feet first. 

Choose Well

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, a holiday dedicated to declaring love. 

And what I want my girls to know

Is that love doesn’t come easy. 

Their father and I make it look like it does, 

But that is because we chose well.  

We both had opportunities to choose otherwise; 

But we waited. 

We waited to find one another. 

And they are the product of our love. 

What I want my girls to know 

Is that love SHOULD feel easy

Because when you choose well 

It is.  

Choose well. 

Minutes after he proposed at Tahoe!

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.

Appreciate

He said, “I appreciate you, babe. I see you, and I appreciate you.”

After a long day, hell, a long 8 years, there’s nothing that man could have said that would have felt better to hear than that.

It was just the right thing to say.

He wants to be able to take more of the load off of me, but the fact of the matter is, I’m the momma.

I’m the teacher.

I’m the one they want in the middle of the night and, honestly, all day.

No, he can’t be me.

But he sure as hell can see and appreciate me.

And that’s all I need.

Dee Akright Photography

Lucky Us

In my dreams, I saw him all along.

He was kind and funny.

Simple and interesting.

He wasn’t intimidated by me; he could hold his own.

He was cultured but open.

Athletically competitive, but not to a fault.

He would make the best daddy ever and I knew it immediately.

His name was Emmett Carawan and he’s who I had been looking for all along.

Someone who would love me wholly.

Someone whom I could adore.

Someone I could live forever with and for.

His name is Emmett Carawan and today, we celebrate just 10 years of a lifetime of marriage together.

Lucky us.

Lucky them.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

I am Worthy

In my lifetime, I have been abandoned four times.

The first, by my stepfather after he and my mother divorced.

The second, in my early twenties by a best friend.

The third in my thirties by another close friend.

And recently by another lifelong friend.

Each time I racked my brain for answers.  What had I done?  How was I responsible?

If you know me at all, you know that I love learning.  I am an open book and daily, I shine the light on myself and all of my imperfections.

As a sought-after keynote speaker, my mother frequently listened to motivational leaders on our family road trips, long before TVs or phones in a car.  So, I listened to them too.

And what was drilled into me then has never left me:  Only I am responsible for my actions.  In each and every decision, I have a choice on how I will respond.  If I am wrong, when I make a mistake, it is up to me to figure out what happened and how I can learn from it so that I can grow into the best version of myself.  Growth cannot happen without mistakes and mistakes aren’t mistakes unless I didn’t learn from them.  They are lessons!

I remember so clearly the pain I felt the first three times.  I felt misunderstood and desperately wanted to defend myself.

After this last time, I asked my husband and other friends, “Please, tell me.  What is wrong with me?  If this has happened this many times in twenty years, surely this is on me.  What do I need to do to fix myself?  To be a better daughter, friend or version of myself?”

And then, without them saying, I knew.

I knew exactly what was wrong with me.

I realized how wrong I had been to take responsibility for something and someone I was not. responsible. for.

That these people are human, too.  That they make mistakes and it is their responsibility to learn from their own, not mine to try and fix the damage of the abandonment by proving myself worthy.

My mistake is my lack of self-confidence in knowing that I am already worthy.  I am loved by God, my husband, my children and the rest of my family and friends.

And for those who choose to inexplicably check out of our relationship, well, they can keep on walking.

Because I am worthy.

And it’s their. damn. loss.

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Dee Akright Photography