Hide

“Are you going to hide them?” My friend asked. 

Well, shit.  

That hadn’t even occurred to me.  

Top of the closet?  Under the bed?

Um, actually, no. 

I have nothing to hide. 

The bottom drawer of my bedside table is full of awesome adult toys and if one or more of my four daughters has the audacity to peek, well then. . . . be careful of what you search for. 

“That’s private.”  I explained to my daughter. 

Case closed. 

But much like when my eldest was no longer content with the minimal basics of procreation, I will never choose to keep my children in the dark. 

We are a home that uses correct terminology. 

Penis.  Vagina.  Breasts.

NOT- wee-wee, hoo-ha, or boobies.

There’s nothing shameful about our anatomy. 

And the sooner we embrace that, the sooner we set ourselves free. 

Fun fact:

After teaching elementary school, I was a Pure Romance Consultant for four years. 

My company’s motto was:  Empower, Educate, Entertain.

And I thrived. 

I walked into a room full of women and quickly thawed the tension with humor. 

I enlightened them with facts I had learned from professors at conferences at Indiana University, the leader in Sexual Health. 

And then I empowered them to own their bodies.  

To ask me questions when we were just one-on-one

And release their fear and shame.

I won’t stop now. 

My daughters will be well-informed.  

Empowered.  Educated.  Entertained (later). 

Nothing to hide.  

Shine

Recently, I was told that I am “overwhelming” and “exhausting”. 

And the thing is:  it’s not untrue. 

I am 100% both of those things. 

I live life fast and furiously, never wanting to miss a moment or waste a day- including days with zero plans because those often offer the best unplanned fun.  

And I document them!  

Boy, do I document them. 

Because I never want to forget.

But in my hard-life-living, I’ve also experienced personal casualties and wondered, 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

“Am I too much?”

“Am I not enough?”

The doubt creeps in and for a minute I think, “Yes, I should be smaller.”

Then, I remember a poem read to me by a speaker at a conference:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

I *remember* hearing this poem for the first time and the fire that it ignited in me. 

And as a mother of four daughters, 

I’ll be damned if anyone tries to put that out. 

Our girls will not accept mediocrity, if I have anything to do with it. 

They will strive for their best and nothing less.  

And you know why?

Because they are worth it!

Because we all are all worth it!

And because, as the poem says, we are all better when we let our light shine. 

Giving permission for others to shine, too.  

I considered shrinking 

And then I thought better of it.  

Instead, I shine. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Value

“What do you love about me?” I asked him, directly. 

And I don’t mean my mothering or wifely duties. 

Or because I love you, for that matter.

Do you see me?

Do you value me?

Anybody can sweep this under the rug.

But not me. 

And guess what?

That’s what makes me, me. 

I’ve been through enough that 

I’m not afraid.

To ask the hard questions. 

To have the difficult conversations.

Instead of filling the awkward silence,

I allow it to marinate. 

And then I remind you of who I am and how I became that person.  

How lucky we are to have one another, individually speaking.

It’s easy to get lost in a family dynamic.

But we are worth the work.

20 years go by and couples can’t remember who they married.

Well, I’ll be damned.

I’m going to tell you what I love about you. 

And I’m going to insist that you remember not only why you married me

But also my value. 

Because I am.

Valuable. Fearless.  Courageous. 

All the things that make me that great wife and mother. 

And don’t you ever forget it. 

The Inevitable

Camille Vaughan Photography

They keep calling and I keep putting it off. 

The inevitable. 

It took so long for us to get to this point- 

Photo by Amara Minnis

A place where, although still heavily restricted, we at least know what we are dealing with. 

For three years, feeding Elizabeth was a game of Russian roulette.  

Try a new food and wait 2-4 hours to see if she begins to vomit. Sometimes until her body goes into shock. 

Repeat for the next fourteen days because she could pass the first few trials and fail the seventh attempt.  

Such is the life of a child with FPIES- Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis, a nightmare of an intestinal allergy with no formal testing other than eating the food and seeing what happens.  

Pair that with IgE mediated allergies to dairy, eggs and peanuts, throw a gluten intolerance that triggers severe eczema on top of it and you have our fourth baby girl.

Our little warrior, who in her first few years, endured misery. 

The ocean water burned Elizabeth’s skin so badly during our family photo shoot, we had to stop. Camille Vaughan Photography

No wonder she was growth restricted in the womb!  No wonder she didn’t just spit up but vomited after each nursing session!  No wonder she never slept and always cried.  The foods I was eating were her triggers and I had. No. Idea. 

I eliminated all major allergens and lost twenty pounds in my attempts to continue to nurse her only years later to find out that the avocado I was surviving on was one of her triggers.  

It took batteries of tests, UV light therapy and trial-and-error with her diet to realize her horrific head-to-toe eczema was caused by wheat.  Steroid creams, nightly wet-wraps, and baths with me at 2 o’clock in the morning in desperate attempts to provide relief, even if temporary.  

Yes, I keep putting it off because if I’m being honest, I don’t want to go back there. 

I am running away as fast as I can from those awful memories, from the trauma that was raising baby Elizabeth.  

But without risk we become stagnant.  

Her diet never evolves and we never know, unless we try . . . 

And so I finally take the call. 

I set the date. 

And I wait. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

This is the first of many in-office food challenges for Elizabeth because she has so many FPIES fails: rice, sweet potato, beef, avocado, peanuts, and quinoa just to name a few.  

But in a few weeks we begin with rice. 

The first challenge: getting her to agree to eat a cup of the food. 

A child with food allergies learns to become wary of any new food not previously deemed “safe” so I’ve had to start having conversations with her about trying this new food further adding to my guilt. 

What if she fails?

What if I convince her to eat it all and she begins to vomit?

What will that do to her trust in me?

How will I stand myself?

I’ve held her limp, near lifeless body in my arms after an FPIES fail.  I’ve helped load her onto a stretcher and into an ambulance at just 9 months-old.  I’ve witnessed my husband and babysitter administer an Epipen three times while on the phone with 911.  

I don’t want to go back there. 

And yet, here we are. 

Facing the trauma.  

Looking beyond the wave of fear with the hope of passing and swimming in the deep richness of food variety with her sisters.  

Hold my hand, baby girl.  

Here we go!

Camille Vaughan Photography

Stronger

Hold. My. Hand.

Let’s do this together. 

Lord knows, in these days we are ready to assign the responsibility. 

It’s somebody else’s. 

And yet, it so. isn’t. 

It’s still ours.

So, hold my hand. 

Walk with me. 

To your back bedroom, with the scary closet. 

To your government, with the problem. 

Let us not wait for somebody else to address it. 

Let us, instead, hold hands and walk together. 

For, always, we are stronger, together. 

https://www.everytown.org

Camille Vaughan Photography

Listener

Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

We spent K-12 in school learning the basics; 

Yet, somehow they missed informing humans that

They. Are. Not. Done. Growing.

We set a magic number: 

18. 

As if then, we are released to the world, ready to tackle it on our own!

What in the actual world??

Some of us go on to college, graduate or doctorate school. . . .

And some don’t.

Then, what?

We magically become parents who know it all?

No, no, no. 

The trickiest part of parenting for me is the revelation that I am growing right alongside with them. 

Who knew?

We are never done learning. 

There is no final exam. 

Just as they have their epiphanies, I have mine- only wishing I had mine first so that I could have led my children all the wiser.

Is this what they meant when they said ‘Life is not a destination, but a journey.”?

Oh. 

Perhaps, I should have been a better listener. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Tiny

Lately, bedtime at our house has been a scene of chaos.  

Commands of “Brush your teeth!  Get your jammies on!  Go potty!” are blatantly ignored, while my and my husband’s patience are next to nil.  

The littles go on the offense:  running around the house, slamming their legs down repeatedly on their beds as if they are mermaid tails or tossing stuffed animals back and forth all while incessantly giggling. 

This would be funny if it weren’t 9 PM and their parents weren’t desperate for a moment of peace and quiet. 

But it is and we are.  

Threats of no treats are empty, worthless ammo, so last week, I spent an hour reading articles about bedtime routines.  

I have to admit, since this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I felt a little foolish having to research something I feel I should have nailed down.  For a time, I did but with the addition of each daughter, the loss of control has humbled me.  

Upon reflection, I recognized that if I want my children to be calm, I, too, must model the same behavior. 

Like most things, when it comes to solving problems, the change begins with me.

My days are spent in constant motion.  Even when they are at school, I am cramming in chores, particularly those which are easier without their presence like grocery shopping and laundry.  Throw in after-school activities, dinner-time and homework and next thing you know, it’s time to get the kids ready for bed. 

There’s very little time to wind down, for all of us.  

So, I asked myself: “How can I make them look forward to bedtime?”  Instead of this battle of wills, how can I get them to buy in?

Enter this article by Nurture and Thrive and this one by Picklebums.  Their suggestions include lullabies and massages, something I used to do when they were babies but have since stopped.  

I approached that same evening with a zen-like calmness rivaled only by Buddha himself.  

Instead of yelling at her to brush her teeth, I grabbed her hand and gently led her to the bathroom to begin the process.  Instead of picking up her room as fast as possible while tossing her the jammies, I sat down on the floor and helped her put them on.  I read her books, as usual, and stayed on the edge of the bed to sing a lullaby while scratching her back.  I then repeated this to some degree for three more children. . . . 

It seems like it would take longer but in actuality, my children were left calm and relaxed and thus, for the love of all that is holy, stayed put.  

Thank you Jesus and internet blogs.  

Slower motions.  Lower frequencies.  Tiny changes make the biggest difference.  

I approached that same evening with a zen-like calmness rivaled only by Buddha himself.
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. 

Here I am

“I’ll always love you but some days, I don’t like you.”  

I remember my mother saying this to me, as a child.  

It has never resonated with me more.

It sounds harsh, but as a parent myself now, I understand what she meant. 

One of our daughters has been having a really tough time lately and I’m going to be honest; spending time with her feels like work.

She’s struggling and her way of coping is to act out. 

This week my mom said, “They need the most love when they are the most unlovable.”

Ugh.  The ugly truth. 

She knows this from her experience of parenting me.

I was NOT an easy child.  Strong-willed, relentless, exhausting. 

But she kept on loving me.

Despite my outbursts and her exasperation, she held. 

I pushed, she stayed.

And here I am.

Exhausted and exasperated with my daughter. 

But I stay. 

I love. 

I hold. 

Like her behavior or not, here I am.

Camille Vaughan Photography

Let Them Fly

I can see her now. 

Sitting on a landing, just outside her window; her legs folded closely to her chest, her arms wrapped securely around them.  Her forehead pressed against her knees.  

She is so very lonely.  

*********************

I can see them now.  

Four little girls, each creative, unique and beautiful soul looking to me, their mama, for guidance. 

When the pandemic hit, I cradled those babies in my arms, protecting them from the dangers that lie outside our loving nest.  

But life, ever-changing, continues.  

And lately, I’ve come to the stark realization that in my desire to protect my children, I am, instead, preventing their growth.  

How will they learn to adjust, when they are always accommodated?

I thought quitting homeschooling mid-year was the equivalent of failure. 

Now, I know that doing the same thing over and over, when it isn’t working, is the definition of insanity.  

In this case, quitting isn’t failing. 

It’s adapting. 

The course we are on is no longer what is best for my children and while making that pivotal turn towards something new is scary, it is also necessary for their continued growth.

*********************

I approach that little girl on the landing, placing the palm of my hand on top of her head, whispering, 

“One day, you’re going to be a mommy to four little girls and as much as you are going to want to shelter them, you don’t have to worry.  They will never be lonely.  Because they will have you.”

New Leaf Parenting. 

Every Day is a Fresh Start.

Turn the page. 

Start a new chapter. 

Let them fly.  

Camille Vaughan Photography