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The Middle Ages

October 24, 2017

 

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Tonight I’m feeling my age.  My low back is hurting from yoga.  (Seriously.  Not from rock climbing or power lifting…from hanging out too long in pigeon pose.  LAME.)  My husband, who I first met when he was 18, is turning 45 tomorrow.  I got an email today about our firstborn applying to college.  My high school class is planning our 25th reunion next summer.  Somehow I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of middle age.

And yeah, that comes with its fair share of wrinkles and aches.  It’s a season when our parents are getting older and our kiddos are growing up too quickly.  We’re no longer youthful, virile, energetic beings.  There’s a reason the mid-life crisis cliché exists.

So how come I’m smiling as I write this?  Because middle age has its perks.  To name a few:

  1. I may not give ZERO fucks, but I give a whole lot less than I used to.  It’s freeing to realize that other people’s opinions of you mean nothing, that your self worth is determined by you and only you.  When I was 20, or even 30, I spent way too much time measuring myself against the invisible yardstick of public opinion.  I worried far too much about whether people liked me, not realizing that respecting myself was far more valuable.  True integrity only exists once you feel comfortable expressing yourself honestly and living a life of authenticity.  The freedom to be yourself completely is a gift given to us by age and experience.
  2. I love my body.  Does that mean I don’t want to improve it or that I don’t sometimes feel self conscious about it?  Of course not.  But I’ve come to appreciate it for what it has done (given birth, climbed mountains) rather than how it looks in a bikini.  Sure, I looked a hell of a lot better naked when I was twenty.  But I feel a whole lot more confident now, twenty pounds heavier but capable and strong.
  3. I am so, SO grateful.  Things I took for granted when I was younger I now cherish.  Age has a way of forcing you to appreciate the time we have with the people we love.  It reveals, in sometimes brutal fashion, the fragility of this life we’re so fortunate to be living.  We realize just how precious each day is, what a gift we’ve been given in these people and experiences that make up our lives.  Perhaps the bitter is what enhances the sweet.  To truly embrace the beauty we must first glimpse the darkness.  Only then can we fully appreciate all that is precious.
  4. I understand who I need walking beside me in this life.  I recognize now that I need real, loyal friends who accept me and lift me up.  The years have taught me lessons about the character of those who I want to spend time with and invest emotion in.  I’ve come to realize that friends with whom I’m my best self, who I can be unencumbered with, who challenge me and teach me and safeguard my heart are the ones I should value.  I’ve also come to realize that it’s okay to break ties with those who don’t, but that I should do so without judgment or anger, understanding that I may not be what they need, either.
  5. I’ve learned to be still.  I get now that busy is not a badge of honor.  Honoring the quiet inside and taking time to seek peace within it is valuable and important.  Listening, truly listening, to the small voice inside, trusting in my intuition, learning to be open to whatever lesson I’m meant to learn…these things are necessary if I want to become more.  More me.  More what I was intended to become.  I’ve become better at shutting down the outside noise and the inner voice that wants to shout above the truth.  I’m allowing room in my mind and my heart for what the universe is trying to share with me.

So yeah, my back hurts.  Yes, I now think naps are the best part of my afternoon.  Sure, gravity is impacting the kinds of face creams, bras, and jeans I buy.
But I’m okay with that.  Life is all about balance, and right now I think the scales are tipped in my favor.  Middle-age isn’t all that bad.  It’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative…and the company is fabulous.  

Kisses,

Ash

 

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We The People

October 3, 2017

 

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Words fail on a day like today.  They can’t make sense of the senseless.  They can’t bring back what was lost.  They can’t heal what’s been broken.  Yet I feel compelled to use them.  I realize they won’t do any of those things, but my hurting heart needs them all the same.

Today was a reminder of what man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man.  It was yet another example of random violence, of carefully orchestrated chaos and destruction.  Our collective response was a call to “pray for Vegas,” a sort of all-too-familiar shock, a feeling of sickening déjà vu given voice on social media.  We hashtag our grief and ask one another, “What is this world coming to?”

But deep down we know it will happen again.  Because we live in a country where a perceived threat to our rights takes precedence over actual human lives.  The lives of children, massacred in a classroom.  The lives of friends coming together to celebrate in a nightclub.  The lives of concert-goers cornered like fish in a barrel.  We make all the right noises, we send out “thoughts and prayers,” yet we’re offended by any discussion of how we might prevent such tragedies, saying it’s “too soon,” that “political opportunists” shouldn’t take advantage of these sorts of things to push their own agendas…even if those “agendas” would save lives.

We are a nation of hypocrites.  Of willfully ignorant citizens coddled into believing we can have it both ways: we can mourn the lives lost in such tragedies while maintaining our stance on gun control.  We’ve been sold a lie based in fear and it’s literally killing us.

Here are the facts.  75% of mass shootings are committed by gun owners who legally obtained their weapons.  No one wants to take hunters’ rifles away, or say that a person can’t own a handgun for protection (although statistically that gun is far more likely to cause harm than prevent it).  As much as 40% of all gun sales currently involve private sellers and do not require background checks, and 40% of surveyed prison inmates who used guns in their crimes said they obtained them this way.  Background checks, waiting periods, assault weapons bans…these are all reasonable, appropriate measures to take in order to limit the access of mass murder weapons to those who wish to do harm.

The time to talk about such measures is absolutely when something like this has happened.  The stakes are simply too high to postpone such discussions.  And with the regularity of mass shootings, waiting just isn’t feasible.  In any other scenario we would recognize the need to seek solutions when a serious problem arose; if a flight went down, we would want to figure out how to avoid other air disasters, and if a terrorist attack occurred we would immediately try to identify ways to prevent a reoccurrence.

I’m angry.  I’m terrified.  And I’m tired of feeling this way.  I grew up with guns, and I have a healthy respect for them.  I have no desire to take away anyone’s right to bear arms…despite the fact that our forefathers’ intentions have been warped and manipulated by the NRA.  What I do want is for our country to get its head out of its ass and move toward sensible regulations that (as shown in other countries) could limit the number of grieving family members whose lives were forever impacted by guns.

I want “thoughts and prayers” to be backed up with action.  I want the fear of losing loved ones to outweigh the fear of “losing” a right.  I want common sense and love to win.  I want CHANGE.  And I’m not willing to put a waiting period on saving lives.  I want it now. 

 

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Parenting: This Sh*t Is Hard

September 19, 2017

 

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Parenthood: the most rewarding, important, maddening, joyful, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, tedious, frenetic, terrifying job in the world.  And despite troves of parenting books and an abundance of (often unsolicited) advice, the truth is that when you’re in the thick of it, most of that goes out the window.  Parenting in person is a whole lot trickier than parenting on paper.

I should know.  After all, I am an “expert.”  I have a degree in child development, a career spent providing support and education for parents and running child care centers and preschools, and enough continuing education to justify a second degree.

And yet…sometimes I flat out suck at this parenting gig.  Not “forgot to pack a vegetable in my kid’s lunch” suck.  No, we’re talking “completely lost my mind and screamed at my teenager in the midst of a fight” suck.  Serious suckage.

Y’all, there ain’t no guilt like sucky parenting guilt.  It makes all other guilt feel wildly inferior.  That other guilt wants to be parenting guilt when it grows up.  It’s epic.  

So how could someone with my education, my experience, my expertise have moments when she completely fails as a mom?  I don’t have an excuse, but I do have an explanation: this shit is (in my professional opinion) hard.  It’s hard to have a job with no quitting time, no vacation days, no sick days, no lunch breaks, no training manual.  It’s hard to parent when you’re tired, or sick, or stressed, or sad, or distracted.  It’s hard to keep your cool when your child is testing limits, pushing buttons, acting out.  It’s hard to say and do the right thing ALL. THE DAMN. TIME.

The fact is, no one is going to parent perfectly.  We are imperfect people raising imperfect children in an imperfect world.  So how do we deal with those moments when we feel like we’re screwing everything up?  How do we live with the guilt of knowing we parented wrong? 

We own it.

Our children need us to.  They need to know that we make mistakes.  That we learn from them.  That we apologize for them.  They need to hear us say, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.”  They need us to listen when they tell us how it made them feel.  They need to know that we love them so fiercely and so completely that nothing could ever change that.  And hugs help.  A lot.

A few nights ago my teenage son and I got into an argument.  Honestly, this doesn’t happen very often and I know I’m lucky to have a teenager who makes parenting him pretty darn easy most of the time.  But this was a doozy.  It got heated, we both said things we shouldn’t have, our voices raised, our words barbed.  I lost control of my adult-ing and allowed myself to react like I was a teenager, too.  And (duh) that escalated the situation.

But in the middle of that unhealthy exchange, I suddenly saw through the veil of my son’s anger and realized what was in his eyes:  pain.  Pain that took my breath away and made me quiet my voice and soften my heart.  I paused and saw what he was feeling and realized that I was, in large part, the cause of it.  My heart broke, but in the breaking light found its way in and illuminated the core of my motherhood.

I took him in my arms and we both sobbed.  We sat down on his bed together and talked. We apologized.  We shared.  We sought to understand each other.  We worked it out…together.

It was horrible and wonderful and heartbreaking and healing.  It was parenthood in all its messy glory.  It was a low and a high all wrapped up in one opportunity to become a better parent.

Isn’t that the goal, after all?  To become better at this?  Parenting is complicated.  It’s challenging.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But isn’t that true of anything worth having?

I still feel guilt.  I still remember every instance over the past sixteen years when I could have handled a situation differently, when I could have shown more patience, been kinder.  I’m a work in progress as a human and as a mama.  But like I told my son the other night, there’s no one in this world who could love these kids harder.  Parenting them is a privilege and an honor, and the lessons they teach me are the toughest and most important ones I will ever learn.  It may require a lifetime of on-the-job continuing education, but I’ll keep taking notes in my heart and giving it my best shot.

And saving up for therapy, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Prepare For Your New Puppy: A Helpful Checklist

September 7, 2017

 

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  1. Set your alarm to go off every few hours around the clock.  Each time it goes off, head outside and stand in your yard whispering, “PLEASE go potty” every ten seconds for approximately ten minutes.  Head back inside and wait five minutes, then pour lemonade on the carpet and clean it up.  Repeat.
  2. Pile up all your favorite shoes, then randomly grab at least ten individual shoes and throw them in the trash.  Set fire to the rest.
  3. Take a metal chain to the legs of all your nice furniture.  Convince yourself you like the weathered look.
  4. Obtain a recording of high pitched yipping and whimpering.  Play at bedtime, set on repeat throughout the night.  Sleep well!
  5. Have a serious conversation with your children about shared family responsibilities, solemnly accepting their promises of how they will help out with the new puppy.  Now laugh and laugh, realizing this conversation is a joke and you will be doing EVERYTHING.
  6. Save up thousands of dollars.  Seal the money in an envelope and drop it off in your nearest veterinary office’s mailbox.  Repeat at least annually for the next fifteen or so years.

(Okay.  You’re almost ready.  But this next part is crucial, so pay attention!)

7.  Imagine the feeling you get from warm sunshine on your face, the softest cashmere blanket wrapped around you, hugs from your favorite person.  Prepare yourself for unconditional love and complete devotion.  Visualize coming home from a hard day and being welcomed with utter joy and relentless affection.  Think about silky fur, wet noses, puppy breath, sweet snuggles.  Realize that life is so much better when you share it with a furry friend, no matter how many rugs she ruins.

There.

NOW you’re ready.

Beyond the Birds and the Bees

August 30, 2017

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Let’s talk about sex.  Got your attention?  Good.  Because I guarantee it has your teenager’s attention.

I’m sure by now we’ve all had some semblance of The Talk with our pre-teen and teenage kids.  And many of us have also had the benefit of additional sex education for our children through schools, churches, or other institutions of learning to fall back on.  We probably feel fairly confident that they understand the basics of what their bodies go through and the mechanics of how those parts fit together in the appropriate context.

I remember asking our son who he wanted to have The Talk with, me or his dad.  His response?  “You, Mom.  Dad uses all these weird metaphors.”  And so I did.  In detail.  I explained everything he would likely be experiencing and feeling and eventually doing.  I wanted him to understand that all of it was perfectly natural and normal and that if he had questions we would be here to answer them.  We giggled a few times, but we got through it.

But that isn’t enough.  Because our kids are also learning from other sources, ones that may not view things the same way we would like our children to: friends, media, the internet.  Information and images our generations whispered about at sleepovers and sneaked peeks at from the pages of a stolen Playboy have evolved into a steady stream of graphic feedback available at the click of a search engine.

While researchers have been largely unable to identify a causal relationship because viewing online pornography and risky sexual behavior in teens, it stands to reason that children and teens who view online pornography during a time when their sexual identities are being formed may develop unhealthy, unrealistic expectations of sex as well as bogus ideas about gender roles and body image.  So how can we, as parents, counteract this?

The obvious answer is to restrict internet usage: limiting computer and phone usage to shared family areas in the home, installing parental controls, setting rules for how and when children can access the internet.  But relying solely on this approach fails to take into account the fact that homes our children visit may not have these same boundaries in place.  It doesn’t address the reality that children and teenagers will share information with one another and discuss things they’ve seen and heard.

Given these factors, experts recommend starting conversations early with children as young as four and five-years old about equality and respect.  Teaching children to honor personal space, to treat others with respect, and to respect their own bodies lays the foundation for a lifetime of positive interactions and healthy sexual attitudes.

When we begin to talk about sex and relationships with older children, we can expand beyond the physical actualities and discuss intimacy and the importance of mutual respect and consent.  By doing so we can help our children and teens filter information through a lens of understanding that allows them to differentiate between fiction and reality, to place what they see and hear in the context of what we’ve taught them about relationships.

We also need to have conversations about the “What Ifs.” The more we arm our kids with knowledge and give them opportunities to plan in advance for situations they may encounter, the more likely they are to make wise choices.  About how to avoid being in positions where they could end up harmed or falsely accused.  About how to handle it if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  About how to respond if they witness someone doing something unsafe or unkind to someone else.  About what is appropriate to text or Snapchat or photograph in general.

Perhaps most importantly, we can show them what healthy, loving relationships look like.  After all, we can talk until we’re blue in the face but what we do will always have more impact than what we say.  By demonstrating respect towards our partners and fostering a climate of open communication with our children, we are setting the tone for their future relationships.  The way we talk about and treat the opposite sex sets an example for how our children may do the same.  The manner in which we treat matters of consent and show respect towards our own bodies also guides them in how they interact with others and how they view themselves.

We have a responsibility as parents to foster healthy habits and attitudes in our children.   The world we now live in can make that incredibly challenging.  Raising children in a digital age of social media and easy access to information is often a daunting task.  But if we encourage our children from an early age to communicate with us without fear of judgement or recrimination, and if we model appropriate behavior and initiate dialogue that frames sex in the context of loving, mature relationships, we can help them navigate these choppy waters.

We just may need a bigger boat than previous generations.

 

For Better or For Worse

August 29, 2017

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In the car today I heard Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, because sometimes I’m fancy and listen to classical music.  Inevitably when I hear this song I’m transported back to our wedding day, and my walk down the aisle towards Brian.  Memories of that day nearly twenty years ago come rushing back.  .

Did I realize then what I was walking towards?  Sure, I knew I was walking towards my future, my soon-to-be husband.  But I didn’t truly understand what else I was walking towards.

I was walking towards the reality of “for better or for worse.”  Towards childish early fights that ended with Brian kicking a hole in a colander, me denting a wall with a remote control.  Towards nights of tears and heartbreak, of falling apart and gluing ourselves back together as a couple using nothing but the sticky residue of commitment.

I was walking towards the messy blending of families, the sometimes ugly compromising of holidays, the experimental creating of new traditions.  Towards a tiny duplex where we practiced this new act called “marriage”, where we cooked and cleaned and mowed and laundered together, feeling our way towards our new roles with nothing but our limited experience to guide us.  Towards strained times when we both wondered if we’d made a mistake, if we’d sown enough wild oats, if we’d be strong enough to survive temptations and pressures and each other.  

I was walking towards moments of frightening apathy, days of unrelenting resentment, seasons of missed connections and miscommunications.  Towards the weight of shared financial burdens, the shocking upheaval of parenthood, the union of differing opinions and passions.

But I was also walking towards joy.  I was walking towards the tender coming together of two souls in one crazy world.  Towards endless possibilities and rich discoveries.  Towards so.  Much.  Love.  

I was walking towards the reward of deep commitment, the highs that followed the lows, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that came from overcoming challenges together, as partners in life.  Towards gentle mornings that followed tumultuous nights, towards true appreciation of the gift we’d been given in each other.

I was walking towards family.  Towards the miracle of creating life together, the discovery of these tiny humans we were gifted with. Towards a life that would reward us with immeasurable blessings.

I was walking towards US.  So looking back, if I’d known then what I know now, would I have chosen to take that same walk down the aisle toward marriage, with all its flaws and failings?  No, honestly, I wouldn’t.

I would have kicked off my heels and ran toward it.  

 

For B: Peas and carrots, baby.  It’s been one hell of a ride.

Some Body To Love

June 20, 2017

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In the world of online fitness inspiration, there are endless memes and quotes designed to light your fitness fire and encourage you to crush your goals.  Do a quick search on Pinterest and you’ll be flooded with images of fitness models and words of encouragement like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  (BULLSHIT. Cake pops do.)

I tend to find most of these forgettable or even downright offensive, but one does stand out to me: “It’s hard to feel bad about a body you’re taking care of.”  This, to me, is the message we should all hear when we find ourselves comparing our abs to the ones on magazine covers.  It’s the message we should be modeling for (not just saying to) our daughters.

If we are truly caring for our bodies, treating them in ways that they deserve to be treated, how can we possibly feel bad about them?  If we are loving them enough to be good to them, we should love them enough to appreciate them.

I intentionally remind myself of this every time I take my daughter to the swimming pool.  Sure, I could look around at some of the (seemingly) flawless moms with their flat stomachs and cellulite-free skin and want to hide under my towel.  I could compare my body to what it was before kids, before forty, before I’d really lived.  

Or I can consciously choose to feel good about the fact that I’m doing the best I can to keep my body strong and healthy.  I can think about how hard I work at the gym, how I fuel my body with healthy foods, how I try to get good sleep and plenty of fresh air, how I always wear sunscreen and seatbelts, and how I continue to move my body in new and different ways to see what it’s capable of.

I can recognize that while I may not be 100% happy with the way my body looks, I can still be comfortable in my own skin and know that I’m on the right track to being the best me I can be.  I can focus on what it can do, not just on how it fits into a swimsuit.  This body of mine has done some pretty amazing things in its time.  It has grown two healthy children, given birth without pain meds, climbed mountains, danced with wild abandon, jumped in ocean waves, trekked through forests, bounced back from injuries, provided comfort to grieving loved ones in its arms…this body is a badass.

I want my daughter to remember me playing in the pool with her, not hiding in a cover-up on a chair.  I want my son to see that women can be confident in themselves, that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of.  I want my husband to feel that I’m doing my part to make sure we get to live a long, healthy life together.  Hell, I want those moms at the pool with the flat tummies to look at me and feel even better about themselves.  And I want the teenage girls at the pool, the ones who may feel self conscious next to their friends, to see this mama splashing around in a bikini that shows all her flaws and think, “If she can do it, so can I.”

So yeah, I could look back at photos of myself in my twenties, I could compare myself to the other moms at the pool, I could believe my eyes when I see the airbrushed beauties on magazine covers.  But I’d rather celebrate WITH those other moms, be triumphant in our shared accomplishments.  Sure, I could squint really hard in the mirror and pretend my stomach is harder, my skin is smoother, my thighs are thinner.  But instead I think I’ll just smile and fist bump that reflection (not too hard, though, because OUCH).

See the thing is, that body in the mirror?  The one with wrinkles and dimples and gravity working against her?  It’s mine.  It’s the only one I get.

Hate on it?  Hell no, I’m gonna worship it.