Personal

The Girls

For the better part of 2017 and early 2018, my 11 year old daughter, Casey suffered from migraine headaches. They caused her to vomit profusely. Even on herself in her classroom, on one occasion. The anxiety that accompanied that incident made getting to school very difficult, for awhile. There were days when she had to physically force herself, through tears, to simply get through the door. And I know on those days, her good friend, Anna, would walk beside her silently, an arm draped around her shoulders. Ensuring Casey knew she didn’t make that walk alone. The significance of that small gesture is not lost on me. Sometimes the very best thing a friend can do is simply show up and walk beside you. No words are necessary. Their presence speaks volumes. I know this, first hand, and seeing my daughter share that bond with her friends was the motivation behind this shoot. These young women are Casey’s tribe. Her ride or die. Her core. And I love them all like my own. 

Writing about this subject and these young women has had my mind all over the place. I have so many thoughts on it because I can’t think of them without thinking of my own girlfriends. My sisters, really. I don’t have a biological sister. I’ve never felt I needed one because that role has been filled by so many wonderful women over the years.  

As I’ve grown older and been through more life experiences, both good and challenging, many things have happened in my friendships. My relationships with some have deepened, while others have run their course. And that’s ok. I’ve got cores from all aspects of my life. Sometimes it seems like a lot to keep up with. But they’re all there for a reason and I wouldn’t trade any of them. There’s grade school/high school (yep, I said grade school). There’s college and there’s my adult life. And in what I believe to be a unique situation, pretty much all of them have met one another and some have become friends, as well.

The importance of these women is coming full circle as I’ve watched Casey grow relationships with the young women in these photos. Their parents are friends of ours, so they met as infants. Went to different schools, then the same school and then different schools, again. But nothing about their bond has changed. If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my post about Casey’s birthday. Every year, she wants nothing more than these three girls. And after their time together, she wants their families to join in, as well. She’s never needed the big hoopla party. She just wants time with her girls.

This is their “mess with one of us, mess with all of us” faces.

This is their “mess with one of us, mess with all of us” faces.

It was cute when they were little and they would play dress up (they still do sometimes) and make videos (still doing that too) under the watchful eyes of us parents. We’re still paying close attention, but as they are getting older, their freedom is expanding, and I know they are enjoying that. However, what also comes with getting older is a hell of a lot of changes. Relationships get more complicated, hormones kick in and the body reacts, schoolwork gets a little harder, drama is around every corner and no longer will everyone always make the team. In seeing all of this happen, I’ve really appreciated bearing witness to the solidity of this foursome.

What became glaringly obvious to me with the migraine situation is that these young friendships aren’t just giggles and dressing up anymore. They are morphing into strength and support when Mom and Dad can’t be there to provide it. When they have to be turned loose to handle tough situations without us, these friends will have each other. For that, I am so grateful and it is such a blessing to be able to watch, even if it has to be from afar.

But it also scares the hell out of me as it’s all happening so fast. Hence wanting to capture it in time, as best I know how. They’re still silly as hell. The eye rolling is at a minimum, for now. But, it’s coming. Henny and I just discussed with one of the girls parents last night, that soon, high school will come and we won’t see them from morning until evening, when after school practices are over. Then it’ll be dinner and homework. So all of what we get to witness now, will be happening where and when we can’t always see it. It frightens me and I often wonder who I will be when “all day mothering” isn’t as necessary. But that’s a subject for a completely different post.

For now, I wanted so badly to capture what I see as the purest form of beauty in these growing female friendships. Ride or die. Casey has some solid ladies in her life and I hope she always will. Try not to smile when looking through these photos. I dare you. 

Beautiful Side Effects

“Can we talk for a few minutes before we go to sleep?” Yes, Ryan. Everytime. Yes. This question represents one of the various reasons I wanted to do our time away this summer. Those two, sharing a bunk bed room, making forts, making up games, playing on their Ipads, either together or simply alongside one another, and pre-bedtime chats and giggles. Hopefully forming a bond, stronger than one they may not have had otherwise.

At home, we are so lucky to have lots of great friends and neighbors with whom we spend a significant amount of time. For some, I can’t say which came first, the adult friendships or the kids. Bottom line, Casey and Ryan always have buddies around. But I’ve noticed over the years that when my kids are forced to be with just each other, they often make their own fun together. I love it and I feel responsible to help foster it so that they will grow up having one another’s backs, feel they know each other well and regardless of the fights they will have, they’ll appreciate their relationship. So, hearing them ask if they can stay up and chat for a little before they sleep is music to my ears.

 

We are home now and we all miss it. I am so glad I chronicled it in words and imagery because I fear that I will somehow forget bits and pieces the farther away we get from it. I feel somehow desperate to remind the kids of all of the details so they won’t forget either. They’re 10 and 8. They won’t remember it all. But I’ll keep reminding them.

We spent lots of time, simply, on the beach. I went in the ocean almost everyday. It’s good for the soul and healing for the body. I read copious amounts of books and we all slept late. We also set out on adventures at the waterpark, surf camp and a tree climbing course. Many mornings and nights were spent walking the dog for donuts or other treats. And we rode bikes out to breakfast and downtown. I confess that I had not ridden a bike in years and now I can’t wait to keep doing it with them. My inner kid made an appearance a lot this summer and I hope she remains on the outside more often.

They both laughed on the car ride home about how before we headed off in late June, I told them to understand that we would be there for more than a month and they would not be getting ice cream from the Fudgy Wudgy guy everyday. Luckily, we weren’t on the beach everyday because contrary to what I said, everyday that we were, they got it. Not because I wanted to avoid whining or tantrums but because ice cream on the beach is one of the simplest of childhood joys and I wasn’t doing irreparable damage by saying yes. I was giving and getting joy.

We wrapped up our time at the shore with what we’ve long called our best week of the year. We’re going on year 13 of spending a week with a mix of family and friends in Sea Isle. The group changed here and there but a few have remained constant. And the current group is 8 years strong. The kids spend time altogether but also, perfectly, have a similar aged cohort or two that they pair off with, very nicely. The youngest, Ryan, is now 8. The oldest, Jake, is 14. Our lives at the beach have gotten easier. But the laughter that travels from coffee on the deck to the beach, and then to dinner and drinks on the deck, remains consistent. One friend spoke of sore stomach muscles one morning. And I assure you, we weren’t exercising. Just laughing until we couldn’t catch our breath.

I fought back tears as we drove off the island but kept reminding myself of a previous post. Don’t cry because it was over, smile because it happened. I am ever more grateful we made the decision that, at first, seemed impossible. It will go down as one of the best we’ve ever made.  I took the kids to the pool yesterday and they knew it was likely no other friends would be there. Happily, there were some, but as soon as those friends departed, Casey and Ryan simply went back to playing with each other. One of the many beautiful side effects of our summer away. 

 

 

Good

I have this t-shirt and I’ve worn in to bed the majority of the nights we’ve been away on our beach retreat. And it has one simple word on the front, “GOOD.” I bought it in honor and support of the doctor I credit with the fact that our two children are here. When I was struggling to get pregnant, he sent me on the path that made it happen and saw me through both of my pregnancies. From what I know, the word is something his son uses often and it’s about life’s obstacles and overcoming them. And how regardless of what life throws at you, the fact that you’re still breathing and can do something about it, is just GOOD. And during a tough time for Dr. Mellen’s family, it became more meaningful. Credited to @jockowillink 

That was a bit of a sidebar to where I’m headed (not unlike me) but I did want to give credit for why I have the shirt. It’s fitting. This time away was largely because of my kids and Dr. Mellen is a huge part of why we are lucky enough to have them. So it feels like it all fits somehow.

I came out to the deck for my morning coffee on what is technically our last day here, just us. Our place becomes my parent’s rental tomorrow. My mother liked the house as much as I did. So although we don’t have to leave, there is an ending of sorts. So I sat down kind of waiting for the sadness to arrive. But it hasn’t. Probably in large part because our time here isn’t ending just yet and we have much more to look forward to with friends and family. But I realized that the main reason why sadness wasn’t setting in is contained in the one word that is across my chest right now. GOOD. It was just so good.

This time here has been everything I wanted it to be and more. And for that, I’m just Good. I feel lucky, grateful and downright content about it. That’s very unlike me. I’m a big feeler, super emotional and I always get sad when something wonderful ends. But it’s time I take the advice I give my kids all the time. The same thing I said to Casey when she cried because surf camp was over. Don’t be sad because it ended, be happy because it happened.

And on this beautiful Friday morning on the deck, the kids still holed up in their bunk bed fort, awake but not yet ready to leave the comfort of it, I’m happy that Henny will be here this afternoon. We’ll get to enjoy this remaining time together. And because it happened, it will be GOOD. #Mellenstrong

Card Sharks

A rainy day at the shore and I’ve taken their iPads for idiotic behavior. The timing might not have been the best when up against rain at the beach. Maybe not though because what are they doing now? Playing cards in the fort they made from their bunk beds. For me, cards and the beach go together like peanut butter and jelly. 

I consider myself having somewhat “grown up” on Long Beach Island. Even though, we started coming to Sea Isle in my early teens. My earliest shore memories are of LBI. My parents met there when they were 14 and 16. Immediate and extensions of the Cahill (Dad) and McManimon (Mom) families had homes across the street from one another in Brant Beach. My Grandmom and Pop Cahill had a home on a big piece of land. The bedrooms had numbers on the doors like an old fashioned boarding house. You had to walk through half the bedrooms to get to others. It was super cool to grow up in. And Grandmom Cahill always had individual boxes of cereal for us for breakfast. Honey Smacks, Corn Pops, Apple Jacks, Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes. Like a little kid’s dream.

My Mom’s family evolved through the house across the street and eventually, my Mom Mom and Pop Pop (Mom’s parents) were spending a lot of time there. And my Mom and I visited them often. My brother definitely came, a bunch, too but the more prominent memories of that house, versus across the street, are just of me and my Mom visiting my Mom Mom and Pop Pop and Aunt Sis and Uncle Charlie, my grandparents favorite cohorts. And they played cards.  A LOT. So I, too, learned to play cards. Not Bridge or Pinochle, like they played together, but so many cool versions of solitaire. May sound depressing but it wasn’t. I was always in the same room with them and I was taught so many different cool ways to entertain myself with a deck of cards. I loved it. And I got to spend time with my grandparents and Sis and Charlie. I remember them like it was yesterday.

So here I am in the shore house with my 8 and 10 year olds and I’m imparting the same love of card games on them. Henny and I taught them Gin Rummy, Rummy 500, Golf and Spit at home. But it’s also really awesome to be able to play on your own when you’re bored or need a bit of time alone. So I’ve shown them traditional solitaire, clock solitaire and solitaire in your hand.  There are a few others I’m having a hard time pulling out of the coffers but it doesn’t really matter. They’re eating it all up.  Play on, card sharks.

Happy Noises Return

Week 3 has brought energy and liveliness to the house again. We loved (or at least, I did), the quiet of the 3 and 4 of us that was week 2. We had down time for puzzles, Rummikub, paddleball on the beach, bike rides and movies on the couch. I would have loved another weekend of just the four of us but Casey had a lacrosse tournament in Maryland so she and I left Saturday morning and returned Sunday night. However, I believe there was a purpose to that, as well. I got a lot of one-on-one time with my girl and Henny and Ryan had a true boys weekend filled with batting cages, trips to the arcade alone and with friends, beach time, a guys dinner out and a Jitney ride to meet friends, again. The time spent with just one child is really something rare and genuinely something wonderful. 

So upon our return, we were filled with a house of very wanted guests who had planned to stay until today but are extending a day to help me out while I shoot tonight. And we all couldn’t be happier. One of my dearest friends in the world and her three boys are here. She and I get through parenting together and have the pleasure of working together a fair amount now. She a wonderful photographer based out of Virginia and I’ve been blessed to work alongside her at events around the country doing headshot studios at corporate conferences. We have a great time. But we love nothing more than having our children together at the beach, drinking coffee on the porch while we chat the morning away and sucking up every little experience we are happy to add to our (and their) memory banks.

So the house is again filled with games of spit and blackjack, yelling strange and ridiculous commands at Alexa, big kid walks to Nickelbys for donuts and candy, Ryan becoming weight training for the 14 year old giant, Jake, and laughter about everything. As I always say, it’s not all roses. There are tired kids and sassiness and those who don’t want to do what everyone else wants to but I’d still take it over just about anything else in the world.  

I will most certainly look forward to another week of down time as a family in week 4 but I will not wish this time away for anything.