Never a victim, forever a fighter

I try to keep my writing light and upbeat for the most part, but I also want my writing to be honest and real. I can’t very well do that if I’m constantly sugar coating with “I’m fines” and “I’m stronger than this storm” and rainbows and butterflies and yada, yadas and blah blahs.

I’m going to address a topic that I don’t like to talk about for all the classic reasons, but it’s important and whether it’s just helping me get it out or even if it helps someone else by reading it, I can be satisfied with that either way.

Depression is real. It’s ugly and awful and excruciatingly painful and I hate it. It affects so many people, for so many reasons, and it can even hit a person without any reason at all.

Mine stems from change. A change that I never asked for or wanted but is nevertheless part of my daily life. A huge overwhelming part of my life that I am learning and failing miserably most days in coping with.

Please don’t misunderstand this. I am in no way stating I don’t want to live anymore. That is not the case at all. If anything I have fought harder to live this life in the last couple of years than I have my entire known existence. But that’s just it, some days I don’t want to exist. Not die, but just not exist. Disappear for a time. Just until the thoughts are gone and until my head is clear and I don’t have to face anyone or anything or answer any more questions or have lack of privacy. I want to hide until I can breathe again and not feel so angry or afraid or bitter about my circumstances.

I go from not wanting to face anything else to growing so angry I want to scream and cry at the top of my lungs until I get all the bitter poison out and I can feel like myself again.

There are times I go days without brushing my hair until it’s a matted mess of knots and tangles because I just don’t care or get out of bed just to go to the bathroom and come back to sleep another eight hours. That’s all I can manage. Between my chronic pain and the pain of heartache during all of this, I feel like a broken mess.

I have a deep faith in God, but I still battle depression. I pray without ceasing, but I still battle depression. I cast all my burdens at his feet and I still battle depression. I practice gratefulness and praise and positivity…I still battle depression.

And that’s okay.

I know that he understands my depression and my anger and my resentment. He also knows I’m working on it.

I am imperfect. I am scarred. I am terrified.

And I’m mad as hell about it.

I’ve started feeling a lot less guilty admitting all of these things to myself and others once I accepted it and put it all out there.

After all, what on earth do I have to be depressed about? I am so blessed!

And this couldn’t be more true. I am blessed, blessed beyond measure, grateful to wake up and live another day . But it’s still there and it’s still real. I get told “don’t be so negative”, “you’re still alive”, “youre back home you’re better now right”? “You’re not in the hospital, so you’re not that sick anymore are you”? Hahahahaha…..it’s not their fault really. At one time that was me. I was that person. You never really “get it” until it happens to you. Well I most definitely “get it” now. You learn to laugh it off and move on and ignore the blissful ignorance of the unscathed and healthy.

Im learning though, there are days when my anger is needed to push me further than I want to go. Because some days walking is too painful and I want to give up and go back to bed. The anger fuels me through the hurt and gets me through the daily tasks that I have to get done.

My depression is needed to grieve the loss of who I once was and all that I have endured. I’ve earned the right to be sad and cry my guts out on those days. No matter how ugly it gets, I just have to.

I need my resentment to show me where I want to be in the future and why I absolutely can’t stop trying.

I need my fear to keep me alive.

I am in no way playing the part of a victim. I’ve never been one of those. I will never be held hostage by my circumstances. I will always prove my own humanity to myself by facing down the darkest inner parts of my story.

I have always been a fighter, that will never change.

But, just know that I’m still human and there will be dark days that I just can’t answer questions anymore, and I can’t give the “I’m fines” anymore, or any of the other polite responses that are considered good manners or what is expected. There will be days that sneaky depression will be there, rearing its ugly head and I might give a quick tempered, impatient, answer. Please understand that’s a day I’m fighting my hardest. Say a prayer for me, forgive me, and we can readdress it on another day. Chances are I’ll feel terrible and apologize soon after anyway.

I have people that reach out to me and that I can reach out to on these days. But to those of you that feel as though you’re all alone. You’re not. You never have to be polite and say “I’m fine” if you’re not.

Check on your friends and loved ones. They won’t always reach out to you. Expect the possibility of them biting your head off when you do, or some days you may not get a response at all. I’m guilty of both.

Check on them anyway.

It will never go unnoticed or unappreciated.

“You don’t have to stay strong. You are allowed to break. But you’re never ever allowed to stop fighting”

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Just winging it

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you’ll know that I’ve been dealing with some health issues for roughly two years. I’m constantly in the doctors office or having surgeries or recovering. It takes up a lot of my time and energy. Which being a wife and mother first makes these issues even less than ideal.

Before my last surgery (a few weeks ago) I had an eventful summer planned. The excitement of the kids being out on summer break was almost too much anticipation for me to withstand. I think I was worse than the kids about it. I think a lot of parents thought I was crazy for being thrilled about the idea of summer break, but considering everything going on in my life, piling school on top of it made it even more difficult. There was no real bonding time with them. It’s always survival mode around here. Prepping and preparing and planning around getting them fed, bathed, homework done, extra curricular activities, among other things. There was just never enough time. I blink and time has flown by.

I feel as though I’m missing everything. I can’t make it to many of their school functions or ball games and it kills my soul. So I was determined that the Summer would be different.

That was before I got the news of another surgery, followed by multiple procedures bi-weekly after. You can’t even begin to imagine my disappointment. However, my tenacity wouldn’t allow me to give up completely. I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve and I’m not throwing in the towel just yet.

We may not be able to go all the places we had planned but there’s no reason why we can’t wing it. “Winging it” has always worked best for me anyway, long before my illness and surgeries. Usually I surprise myself in how much better it works out than having an actual plan. As an adult I have no problems admitting I have no idea what I’m doing. In fact I’m truly flattered when others think that I do. I guess I’m a fairly good actress.

My surgery was a pretty rough one. It was much more painful than anticipated and the recovery has been much more difficult for me than I had planned. You would think by now with my “just wing it” mentality that I would be used to the unexpected. I felt the need to spend time with my kids even more at this point and wanted to do whatever I could to have them near me without them being bored to tears or just stuck watching me sleep.

The weekend after my surgery had arrived and my husband was working and had army stuff that took up a lot of the following Saturday. It would be just me and the kids (and my mom who was still sitting with me so I wouldn’t overdo it) until he made it back and could spend that evening and Sunday with us. The day before I designed and made invitations for all the kids. They all received “movie tickets” for movie night in mamas room. They had to play together sweet all day to keep their tickets to be able to attend the movie. They received a family invitation for that Saturday for a day crammed full of events. Painting, water play, picnic, and game night. The girls received their own “super secret, extra girly, no boys allowed” invitation from me and the boys received a “boys rule, girls drool, super secret, no girls allowed” invitation from my husband. These invitations were booking that Sunday for a mother/daughter spa day and a father/son manly man day.

The kids seemed truly overjoyed and excited about the weekend plans and by Friday night they were just bursting for movie night. The day before I went on my first outing after surgery for a quick trip to our local dollar store to pick up a few things for our weekend ahead. We planned an entire weekend of fun for super cheap. I’m all about being thrifty with such a large family.

Friday night was Movie Night. The movie was a double feature we picked up for 5 bucks and we had a night at the movies concession style dinner. Nachos, popcorn, and of course candy.

They loved keeping up with their tickets all day and thought it was hilarious that their grandma even had to have one to get in. They made their pallets on the floor while mom and I were piled up in the bed with full view of the movie and the kids. This was pretty exciting for them as my room is off limits usually. Just being near them hearing them giggle brought my morale up tremendously.

Saturday Morning started off with Art

They each painted pictures on cheap canvases I picked up. I keep paint stocked because it’s still one of my favorite things to do when Im feeling up to it. They haven’t had a chance to really explore their artistic side here lately so this was an unexpected treat for them. They couldn’t believe I was just handing it all over and letting them go with it.

After art it was outside time. They were each surprised with a new beach towel for their day in the water.

They loved their towels. Their big sister did too as you can tell from the photo, she took them over. Classic older sibling behavior.

We brought a quilt out for me to lay on and if that got too uncomfortable I would head to my room and lay down and open the window to look through and watch them from my bed. Hearing them play and laugh always brings me so much joy. I took as many pictures as I could and just lived in the moment, taking it all in. They thought they were just having summer fun, they didn’t realize they were actually helping their mother heal.

After water games we had a picnic and they experimented with a solar oven.

They finished out the afternoon exhausted and ready to rest in the A/C and wait on Brent (dad) to get home for family game night.

He was a good sport about it when he came in, even after having army dental work done. He played with us without complaint. We even roasted what was left of the marshmallows over the gas stove burner for a snack before bed.

Sunday was the day they had been most excited about. Something about sharing secrets with parents and keeping it from your siblings is obviously the greatest thing to ever happen. Despite being exhausted the day before their feet hit the floor around 6am rip roaring and ready to go. The suspense was killing them. You could hear the girls arguing with the boys about who’s super secret Day would be better. After a huge breakfast, we got started.

The boys were ecstatic when they found out their boys day was to be held in Brent’s man cave. A place no children were ever allowed to go. He cleaned it up especially for them and set everything up for them to watch as much Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and every classic 80s action movie he could think of. Among other things they refused to let their mom know about, because after all, I am a girl.

Complete with root beer for them and “man snacks”….whatever that is. I don’t ask questions anymore.

The girls opted for the living room and wanted to binge on Sabrina the teenage witch episodes. We started our girls only spa day by making the girls their own kid friendly facial masks out of yogurt, oatmeal, and honey. They had no idea what they were making and then got hysterical when it started getting spread all over their little faces.

We had facials, manicures, pedicures, hot tea, snacks and makeovers. They even gave me my own mommy makeover since I’d had such a hard week. They couldn’t believe they were getting to play in the “good makeup”

They didn’t do too shabby…

We finished out the day together and eventually they couldn’t stand being apart from the boys any longer. They all had to get together and tell each other all about their fun day. They ended up getting another treat when their cousins came to play that evening.

I’m sharing this not because I feel I deserve a mom of the year award or any kind of special recognition for the things we planned. I wanted to share this because life gets hard sometimes. Parents beat themselves up a lot. Especially when things outside of our control happen and change everything. Whether it’s health or finances or even exhaustion. If you’re an adult, especially an adult with kids, chances are you get it or you’ve been there. I wanted to show you that you can still enjoy your time and have fun even when things may fall through. Chances are you have more fun and make the most memories that way. I didn’t have to take the kids on vacation or even spend a lot of money. We were together, they had our undivided attention, and we showed them that staying home can be an adventure too.

If you blink, you miss it.

Cherish every second.

Insight

Looking back on life, I realize every day has been important. There hasn’t been a single experience wasted.

Every moment has taught me something. Even the moments that are cringeworthy. I regret nothing now, even though it took me years to feel that way.

I needed those moments to learn. I needed them to grow. I’m 32 years old and I still learn new things about myself and about life everyday.

I have so many stories to tell. Some funny, some not so funny, but all very real.  Writing a blog is a new step in my journey. I hope to help others through it and maybe even help myself along the way.

So, here’s to stepping out of comfort zones, facing fears, and taking risks. Thank you for taking the time to join me on my newest endeavor.

Bribing the bus driver

To anyone that has children, I think we can all agree that kids really do say the darndest things.

They will most likely blurt out anything that comes into their precious little minds. No matter how uncomfortable or mortifying it may make the parents. These kinds of genuine, non filtered, brutally honest statements are usually brought up at the most inopportune times. Most likely in front of a crowd, or in church, or in the grocery store.

With five kids I try to stay prepared at all times but I’m outnumbered in the children vs adult ratio. They tend to “get me” quite regularly. My six year old son Travis usually “gets me” the most.

Last year, around this time, school was coming to an end and everyone was excited about Summer vacation. He showed his enthusiasm by acting out on the school bus. I received a call from his bus driver. I knew it must have been pretty bad because she never called me and she hates getting any of the kids in trouble.

He had been up and trying to run around the bus, just generally wild and not listening to her. I offered my apologies and assured her I would take care of it and he would behave better or I would start driving him myself. This would have been the ultimate punishment for him because he LOVED riding on the school bus.

After the call I tracked him down to have the talk. As soon as the words “your bus driver called” escaped my lips, his eyes grew wide with shock. He didn’t give me a chance to say anything else before he started pleading his case.”You mean she really called you”? “You’ve gotta be kidding me”! “Mama, I gave her 12 cents not to call you, A WHOLE Dime and TWO WHOLE pennies”! “I can’t believe she really called you when I gave her all my money and asked her not to”! You could hear his heartbreak and You could see the betrayal he felt all over his face. What a life lesson at such a young age.

It was probably wrong for me to laugh. It was probably even more wrong to laugh until I cried but in my defense I was able to hold it together long enough to walk into another room to regain my composure and find my serious mom face again before continuing his lecture.

Before having kids you would have never convinced me that I would have to explain the legalities of bribery to a five year old. Now, nothing surprises me. It’s keeping a straight face through it all that is most challenging.

*side note

Travis did apologize to his bus driver about his behavior and hasn’t had a minutes trouble since then.

Well, no trouble being a bus rider that is.

I would like to give a shout out to his bus drivers loyalty because she never once ratted him out about the bribe. Even after his apology she just grinned and winked and never said a word.

None of us ever figured out where the 12 cents actually came from…this is still our longest running mystery…

Tough as a Mother…

I’ve lived in the South my entire life and there’s definitely something to be said about the women here. Southern mamas are in a category all their own. Don’t get me wrong, I believe ALL women were made strong, especially mothers, but there’s no mother quite like a Southern Mama.

Call me biased but it’s all I know.

My grandmothers both passed away when I was really too young to remember much about either of them. So, I thrive on the stories I’ve been told about them and the few memories I do have. I am fascinated by my family heritage and learning about my genetics. So anytime there are family gatherings I’m right in the middle of it all, listening and soaking it all in.

My Grandma Vaughan was my dads mother. I have no memory of her at all but I know I’ve met her because there are pictures of me with her. I think the last time I was ever around her I must have only been around three or four.

I wish I could have known her. I hear she was a firecracker. A tiny, petite woman that raised not only her nine children, but many others as well. I’ve been told none of the children were as worried about crossing their dad as they were their mother. As tiny as she was she was feared and respected greatly by them all. It’s funny to hear the stories especially the ones told by my dad and uncles. These big burly men that still to this day admit how much tougher she was than all of them. She didn’t take any nonsense and she was never afraid to stand up for what she believed in. She was fearless.

My Grandma Bethea was my mother’s mother. I was able to spend a little more time with her and I do recollect a few things about her.

I know that her favorite color was green (mine is too) she had a big beautiful smile and eyes that seemed to have a little sparkle to them when she was laughing. She always let me sneak chocolate chips out of her refrigerator and she kept velveeta cheese and green grapes stocked every time I was over. She let me watch the Disney channel (when it was actually good) and she collected books for me, many I still have and passed down to my own children.

She went through her own share of tragedies, many I can’t begin to imagine how she made it through, but she did. She was strong.

Tammie Bethea Vaughan is my mother

I have watched her my entire life. She is a unique soul that many don’t understand and I love her for it. She wasn’t the Southern mama that put giant bows in my hair or pushed me into pageants. She didn’t teach me the southern belle mentality about how to sit pretty and keep my mouth shut. On the contrary. She taught me how to explore and use my imagination. She let me run and play and get as dirty as I wanted. She took me hunting and fishing and showed me how to field dress a deer and clean fish. My dad did this as well, but it was my mom that showed me that women could do it too. She taught me manners but also taught me that it was ok to stand up for myself and use my voice. “You have to be respectful, but you never have to be a doormat”. I think of these words everyday. She showed me that individuality in a cookie cutter world is beautiful. She is creative and selfless.

As a mother myself now I find myself appreciating them more each day. I am proud to come from such a long line of incredible women. I aspire to be like them while finding my own way through parenthood.

I wonder sometimes if I have any of their traits and then I hear my kids fighting in another room say “shhhh, don’t tell mama, PLEASE, don’t tell mama”!

I laugh and think to myself “yep, there she is”…

Wherever you come from, may you all know your strengths, admit your weaknesses, Embrace the imperfections, and love the chaos that comes with Motherhood. It is a beautiful journey.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all!

You Go Girl

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching I have found myself reminiscing more than usual.

My children are growing so fast and through their growth comes much wisdom. They are curious about everything. They tend to be wise beyond their years about many things already. They are also hilarious without even trying. Usually because they speak with honesty and in their innocence they don’t catch why it’s so funny.

With time flying by so fast I’m determined to have some kind of documentation of their words so that I won’t forget and share it with them later in life when they have their own children. I can’t wait to watch them during parenthood with the same amusement my parents have had the joy of sharing with me.

Today’s humorous short is about my 6 year old Arianna.

I’ve had the pleasure of having this beautiful little soul in my life for nearly three years now. The moment she came into my life she taught me even more about what I thought I knew about parenthood. She thinks very deeply about everything and is one of the most tender hearted creatures I have ever come across. She and my son Travis are the same age and complete opposites of one another personality wise, despite that they are extremely close and they tell everyone that they are twins. In fact they are convinced that they are because they share the same Birthday month (less than a week apart) they are the same age and they are both in the same grade. They almost had the same teacher this year, but we decided for the good of the teacher it would probably be more helpful to separate them into different classes. You cannot change their minds about being twins because the facts that grown ups have don’t count or matter to them. It doesn’t matter to them that they have different biological parents, the term step or half siblings doesn’t exist to them. They have brothers and sisters and they love one another like they have known each other their entire lives.

Not only is Arianna wise beyond her years at six years old, but she is also very quick witted. She doesn’t miss a thing. She calls it like she sees it and when she does, you will laugh. Guaranteed.

Our kids are very adamant about prayer. They learned the prayer I was taught as a child to bless the food before we eat and Arianna is the first to fuss at anyone that does not say the blessing before taking a bite of food (even adults) she keeps everyone in line. The same rule applies at bedtime. Everyone better pray before they go to sleep and she better hear them saying it or she will call them out on it.

One particular evening, all the kids were at the dinner table and I was still in the kitchen getting plates made and I heard Arianna leading them in prayer.

“God is Great, God is Good, let us thank him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread”

Followed by “Amen’s” and a very loud “AWOMAN”! Shouted loud and proud from Arianna.

The kids erupted with giggles. I asked Arianna why she said “Awoman” instead of “Amen”. This was the first time she had ever said it at the end of prayer. Considering she was so serious about praying I was genuinely curious and a little surprised by her outburst.

“Nat-Nat (her name for me) I am a woman not a man. It just makes sense to say that instead. I bet Jesus thinks so too. I’m proud to be a woman”.

She’s a quick one for sure.

She has ended her prayers the same way ever since, just as loud and proud as the first time.

Best friends by blackmail

Most childhood friendships begin with sweet moments. Such as finding your soul sister on the first day of kindergarten or moving to a new school and being all alone until that one kid sees you sitting by yourself and decides to sit and share their lunch with you, sparking a lifelong bond. At least that’s how it usually happens in movies or in books.

That’s not the case with me or my best friend of now 20 + years.

I was 12 and had recently joined a new church with my family. It was a small church in a small town. We didn’t live in the area and I didn’t go to school there, so I really didn’t know anyone. The congregation had maybe a little over 100 members on a good day and the youth group had about 4 of us in it.

My first Sunday in Sunday school there was one other girl in the class other than me. The rest were boys. She had blonde hair and brown eyes and I thought she had to be at least three years older than me (I found out later that she was only a year older and our birthdays were three days apart).

I was determined to make her my friend.

At 12 years old I was painfully awkward and most likely extremely obnoxious. I was in public school but we didn’t live in town. We lived pretty far away from everyone and everything and the only real friends I actually had were the siblings I lived with and they were much younger than me. So, as far as maturity went, I was pretty behind.

With that being said, my attempts at making her my new best friend border lined desperate stalker. Wherever she went, I went. Wherever she sat, I sat. She didn’t talk to me much, so naturally I assumed she was just shy. So to ease what I thought was her shyness, I talked twice as much for the both of us. When she glared at me, I would smile bigger and talk more.

It went this way for several Sundays. She tried to avoid me, I wouldn’t let her. She did everything she could to ignore the pesky immature 12 year old that mercilessly stayed right on her heals, while I chattered on about everything I could think of.

Finally, I got my lucky break. Her mom asked my dad if I could come to their house after church and swim at their house. While she was glaring at her mom over the request, I was praying my parents would say yes.

They did and I was over the moon excited! The ride to their house was a quiet one (or it would have been if I had ever shut up). Finally, after what seemed like an eternity in the car (in all actuality it was about 3 minutes) we arrived at my new best friends house. The excitement and suspense were killing me. I had arrived. I had the coolest new “best friend” and I was going to swim with her. She just didn’t know she loved me yet, but I was going to wear her down.

The blonde, much more mature, new “best friend” of mine couldn’t jump out of the car fast enough. She fled from the truck like a swarm of bees were chasing her. “Oh, she wants me to chase her” the less mature 12 year old thought with glee. I jumped out too and was right on her heels. I chased her into the house, into a room that was pitch black. I heard a door slam inside the house. “Oh, we’re playing hide and seek”, I thought. Not knowing anything about the house I was in or what direction I was supposed to go, I ran full speed ahead anyway. Not knowing the door that I had heard slam would be the very thing that would literally stop me in my tracks. I hit the door full force and then bounced off, then slid a few feet across the room.

I heard hysterical laughter as the light came on. My “best friends” mom was standing there nearly in tears, from laughing so hard. The door I had run into slowly opened and I saw blonde hair and brown eyes peeking around it at me. The face was smiling. The first smile I had ever seen from the girl. I pushed away my embarrassment and the pain and smiled back. She held the door open for me and she was about to show me around the house. I got my second wind and bounced around behind her like a chihuahua nipping excitedly at someone’s ankles. I was in. She smiled at me. We were going to be life long friends. I just knew it. I didn’t see the massive antique trunk sitting on the floor through all of my bouncing, but I found it after I hit the floor for the second time in less than 10 minutes. I’m not sure how long I laid on the floor holding my shin before the blonde “best friend” fell out on the floor beside me laughing so hard she was curled into a ball holding her sides. It was contagious. I began to laugh too. Her mom and dad came in and looked at us like we were crazy. Little did her parents know (or any of us know) that they would be basically adopting another kid after that.

Later that day and several bruises later I would find out that the girl and I had a lot of common interests and she and I were closer in age than I thought. After that day we became Thelma and Louise. Known to everyone else in the area as Haley and Natalie.

Not long after that Haley informed me that she couldn’t stand me when she first met me. I got on her nerves and she was so mad at her mom for inviting me over, but as soon as she saw me hit the floor twice in one day she knew she had to keep me around for entertainment.

There hasn’t been a Birthday that we haven’t celebrated together since. There hasn’t been a crisis that we haven’t hit head on together. There hasn’t been a divorce we’ve gone through that there wasn’t a rumor that we left our husbands for each other. We’ve lived together, laughed together, cried together, and fought together. There isn’t a good story in my life that I have that doesn’t involve her in some way. One day we will get brave and write a book about our stories.

We know too much about each other now to strictly stay soul sisters with love alone. Now we blackmail each other into sticking around, because you’re not true friends unless you can hold each other hostage by cringeworthy stories.