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Dear Mom Friends

April 25, 2017

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Dear Mom Friends,

I miss you.  I miss huddling around the kitchen island while our kids play in the back yard.  I miss connecting at the park with our littles and catching up on life.  I miss meeting up for a drink or coffee by ourselves.  I miss double date nights with our hubbies.  I miss US. 

What happened??  Busy happened.  Those little ones whose schedules we managed now manage ours.  Babies who happily played on blankets and preschoolers who had nothing on their agendas but snack time became pre-teens and high schoolers with sports and dance and theater and homework and places to be.  

Now we’re lucky if we have friends whose kiddos are on the same team so we can actually see each other.  We spend every evening and weekend dropping kids off, picking them up, sitting on bleachers, cheering them on…this phase of parenthood is all consuming in a whole new way.  

For the past twelve years or so I’ve belonged to a book club.  I was the eighth and final member and we met religiously every month to discuss books (which most of us actually read) and more importantly, to discuss life.  Naturally with eight members, we weren’t always able to get everyone in one place at the same time, but we committed to trying.  And we did a pretty darn good job.  Through the years we laughed with each other, cried with each other, supported each other and counseled each other.  And it felt real and important to come together.

Nowadays we’re lucky if one of us even remembers what week we’re supposed to meet, much less what book we’re supposed to read.  If three of us manage to get together and one of us has at least opened the book, we call it a good month.  Between baseball games, volleyball tournaments, dance competitions, and gymnastics meets, our circle has been, at least temporarily, broken.  

I have dear, close friends who live in the same city, friends who I would take a bullet for…and who I haven’t seen in nearly a year.  Time seems to fold in on itself and suddenly it’s been six months and all we have to show for it are texts and Facebook messages.  And it makes me sad.

I miss you, my friends.  And I feel torn…on the one hand, I know this phase won’t last forever.  But I don’t want it to pass, either, because that will mean our babies have grown.  So I embrace the chaos.  I put on my mom pants (yoga, natch) and fill up my gas tank.  I’ve got lessons to drive to, recitals to attend, meets to cheerlead at.  I’ve got kids to support, just like you do.  

But it doesn’t mean I don’t wish for just an hour of conversation on the deck, wine in hand and words spilling out.  I promise, I’m saving you a spot.  

XOXO,

Ash

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Days Like These

March 28, 2017

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Today has been one of those days.  Maybe it was the culmination of too many recent reminders about mortality, combined with a few feverish days spent in bed, mixed with an abundance of clouds…and possibly some lingering basketball issues (don’t judge).  Whatever the reason, today I felt myself surrendering to the gray.

I woke up with the same tension headache I went to bed with.  I hadn’t slept well with my husband out of town, and all I wanted was one more hour of shut eye.  My mood edged precariously toward grumpy, but I was able to manhandle it temporarily and get both kiddos out the door with hugs and smiles (yay me).

Then on the way to drop off my daughter, it suddenly hit me that the school year was winding down.  I found myself tearing up at a stoplight thinking about how quickly the next two school years will pass.  You see, two school years is all that I have left before The Next Chapter.  Before my firstborn graduates high school and heads off to college.  Before my baby finishes grade school and moves up to middle school.  Two.  Years.  Given that the past two years have felt approximately 17 days long, I naturally have some concerns.

I managed to stuff that train of thought into one of the super handy boxes I keep in my brain for just that purpose.  (I’m exceedingly good at packing things away in those, sometimes even when I shouldn’t.  Scarlett O’Hara and I have way too much in common.)  The gym was calling but I couldn’t answer over the incredibly naughty words my neck and head were screaming at me, so I returned home and downed an ill advised number of ibuprofen chased by an unfortunate amount of coffee.

Next on my agenda was a visit to my dear friend, E.  E is a hospice patient I spend time with through a volunteer program, and she lives quite a ways out in the country.  During my drive, I found myself scanning through music until I hit on a song that fit my mindset.  Rather than fight it, I decided to dance with it.  But I was going to pick the tunes.

This wasn’t a full-blown black mood, the kind that knocks you down like a rogue wave.  This was rather one of those feelings made up equally of pain and pleasure, like teenage heartbreak.  It called for a healthy bit of wallowing, of embracing the gray.  This is always a delicate balance for me, as I can easily slip and find myself letting the darkness call the shots, but today I was in charge.  If I wanted to hear Bono wail about all he wanted, or sing along with The White Buffalo about ravens and kings, damnit, I would.

When I arrived at E’s, she welcomed me with a long hug and a warm smile.  Our conversation meandered through time as it always does, jumping back to her childhood and forward to the recent past and folding in on itself many times.  Our visits are always bittersweet given the nature of her age and diagnosis, but today felt especially so.  My thoughts turned yet again to the swift passage of time, and to the evolution of family.  The sweet is that there are people in our lives who make us wish we had more time; the bitter is that we never have enough.  When we said our goodbyes I held on a bit longer than usual.

When I think about it, maybe that’s what days like this are all about.  Perhaps we need the gray to make us grateful when the sunshine comes.  Perhaps we need to reflect on loss in order to appreciate what can be taken away.  Maybe knowing we’ll eventually have to let go makes us hold on a bit tighter while we can.  The human experience means loving people and losing them in a million different ways.  It means feeling lost and heartbroken and angry and confused, but it also means feeling joyful and understood and so very much alive.

So I’ll embrace this day, and any more the universe has to offer.  It may be gray but it’s mine to live, in all its exquisite melancholy and awesome grace.  And with a pretty kickass soundtrack if I have anything to say about it.

Yours In Grace,

Ashley

 

Now THIS is forty.

April 27, 2016

In a few days I turn 41.  I will officially be in my forties.  While I don’t love every aspect of getting older, I must say there are some definite perks.  And after all, the alternative seriously blows.

Being “middle aged” is freeing.  The shit that weighed down my 20’s and 30’s seems noticeably lighter. This stage of life brings with it some beautiful changes.  To name a few…

I care less about things that don’t matter and more about things that do.  People matter, things don’t.  Being true to myself matters, the status quo doesn’t.  Bringing Pinterest-worthy, hand baked treats to my child’s holiday party doesn’t matter, showing up does.

I’m now perfectly comfortable standing up for myself and voicing my opinion, even if it’s unpopular.  I don’t seek out conflict, but I no longer avoid it, either.  Honesty is freeing as f*ck.

I don’t need everyone to like me or agree with me.  I can’t please everyone.  I’m not pizza for Pete’s sake.

I’m less concerned with how my body, house, clothes, LIFE look on the outside.  I’m more concerned with being healthy, creating a welcoming place to spend time with people I care about, being comfortable, and doing what fulfills me.  On the inside.

I’m better now at multitasking but less worried about getting it all done.  I realize I won’t ever get it all done and I’m okay with that.  Really.

My friendships with other women are deeper, richer, more authentic.  I no longer care about impressing or competing with anyone. I care about building relationships that matter with people who like and accept the real me, flaws and all, and who aren’t afraid to show me their truth.

I laugh more and harder.  I’m not afraid to be goofy, not worried about looking stupid or uncool.  Frankly, I’m having too damn much fun to care.

I embrace my inner (and outer!) geek.  I embrace other people’s inner geeks.  I want my kids to be geeks.  Geeks rule.

I recognize the importance, the necessity of self care.  I know that sleeping well, reading good books, meditating, exercising, eating good food, and laughing with friends are all imperative for me.  I make time for them.  Regularly.

So for those of you who fear aging, who desperately try to stave off the passing of time, I say STOP.  Look around.  The view is pretty damn beautiful up here if you look past the crow’s feet and back pains.

With life experience comes appreciation for how very precious it all is.  Love yourselves fiercely.  Love the people in your life with abandon.  Love the gift of passing time on this great big spinning ball.  Some things just get better with age; life is one of them.  Salut, y’all!

 

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The Others

March 7, 2016

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20)

“The Sneetches got really quite smart on that day. The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches. And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the    beaches. That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars.”  (Dr. Seuss)

 

Jesus and Dr. Seuss, man.  They knew what was up.  They recognized that the majority of awful things humans do to each other stems from a sense of otherness.  (That is not a real word, don’t bother looking it up.  It’s my page and I can invent words if I want to.)

When we view our fellow humans as equal, when we see them as children of God, it makes it a lot harder to do things like enslave them.  It makes it tough to feel superior to them.  And it really puts a damper on hating them.
On the flip side, when we set ourselves apart from others because of our religion, our skin color, our bank accounts, our national origin…we begin to convince ourselves that The Others are a threat to us and our beliefs.  We start to think of them as something less than human, something different enough to be dangerous.
And that, my friends, is happening right now, right here.  There are leaders and people in positions of influence whose sole focus seems to be otherness.  They use words like “us” and “them” a lot.  They promote a sense of belonging with their followers; they offer an opportunity for those who feel adrift and scared to anchor themselves to a group of like-minded folks.  They promise safety and security by “protecting” their followers from the ones they claim are a threat.
But it’s a false promise.  These leaders are manipulative and weak.  The ground beneath them is shifting sand, so they build a platform of fear and invite their followers to climb aboard.  They invent an enemy so they can play rescuing hero to those who believe their fear-mongering.
“Gays are a threat to the sanctity of marriage!  Climb aboard!”
“Muslims are trying to overthrow Christianity!  Climb aboard!”
“‘Foreigners’ are taking over our country!  Climb aboard!”
And the ones who believe them clamber up, relieved at being saved.  Up on the platform, they feel safe.  They feel heard.  They feel a sense of superiority.  It’s intoxicating.
The only problem?  The Others are human.  Underneath it all, the followers, the leaders, the others…they’re exactly the same.  The Christ so many of these leaders and followers claim to believe in told us so.  Dr. Seuss backed him up.
History gives us so many horrific examples of what happens when we lose sight of our humanity and allow otherness to rule.  When we stop seeing others as fellow children of God, when we give judgment and fear and hate the upper hand, we lose a part of our own humanity.  We start to think it’s acceptable to treat others as if they were inferior.  We invite fear to drive our bus.  And fear is a terrible driver.
What if, for a moment, we saw our fellow humans through Jesus’ eyes?  Would we be so quick to judge?  Would we fear those who are different?  Or would we, instead, embrace them?  Would we look for what we have in common instead of what divides us?
I can only hope that the United States wakes up before it’s too late.  That the people of this great nation remember what made our country a superpower.  That we recognize we were founded on religious freedom and that most of us are the offspring of immigrants.  Diversity is not the enemy; hate is.  Fear born from ignorance is.  We are better than this, America.  This land is your land, this land is my land.
Home of the brave, or home of the blind?  The world is watching.

 

 

Swing Low

February 13, 2016

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Depression is just so fucking impolite.  Truly, no manners whatsoever.  It’s like an uninvited houseguest who shows up with ten suitcases demanding dinner and kicking you out of your own comfortable, familiar bed.

I mean, it could at least give a gal a little notice.  Maybe a quick text or phone call: “Pardon me, I realize you’re doing okay right now, but momentarily you will see a few candid photos of yourself that kick your self-esteem in the ass, followed by a bad-mommy-moment that sparks some serious self-loathing, and perhaps some cancelled plans with a  friend to make you question whether anyone actually likes you.  Then I will slip inside your head ever so quietly and make you want to crawl under the covers with a box of wine.  For a month.”

On a “normal” day (whatever that means), none of this would even faze me.  I know unflattering photos happen and shouldn’t measure my self-worth.  I realize parenthood can be hard and that all of us raise our voices from time to time or handle situations with less patience than we should.  I understand that cancelled plans are just cancelled plans, that life happens to us all and that it has nothing to do with me.  But when my old nemesis comes calling, every molehill becomes a mountain, and the smallest thing is enough to knock me down.

For me, depression has taken many forms over the years.  Social anxiety when I was younger, crippling postpartum darkness, low tides of self-destructive behavior and incredibly shitty self esteem…it seems to change masks in order to slip in undetected and bring me to my knees when I least expect it.  Sometimes it’s such a subtle shift in my emotions I don’t even recognize it at first.  Other times it knocks me down like a tidal wave and no matter how I struggle to come up for air, I keep getting tossed underwater where I can’t breathe.  It also causes me to mix metaphors, apparently.

Fortunately over the years I’ve learned what helps.  Medication is not optional for me.  I’ve tried life without it and I’m just a better human when I’m drugged.  This idea has been a real struggle for me as I lean towards a natural approach to healing.  I won’t take antibiotics unless I’m hospitalized with a life-threatening infection.  I would rather drink tea for a sore throat than take Tylenol.  But my brain is wonky and without chemical assistance I am a lousy mother and wife.  And that’s just unacceptable to me.

Eating clean and working out regularly are my other lifesavers, but when I get low they’re the first things to go.  I slip into self-destruct mode like I’m throwing on a comfy old sweater that I happen to be violently allergic to.  I know it’s bad for me, I know I should donate it, but man, it’s just so soft and warm.  Sure, my mood is way more level when I eat right.  Yes, alcohol is a depressant.  Of course, exercise is the ultimate upper.  But imma sit here on this couch and binge eat instead.  Because I’m not really worth the effort and I’ll just fail anyways and GOD I hate myself…*slugs wine and eats a bag of Cheetos*

I tried light therapy and it actually seemed to help quite a bit, but then my dog chewed through the cord to the light box and well, going out in public and buying a new one just seemed hard.  And maybe winter was right.  Maybe life just sucked and I should go back to bed.

Therapy has never appealed to me because I hate talking about my problems.  Probably that means I’m someone who really needs it, but writing this all down is as close as I’ve ever come to putting my personal shit out there.  I’m the one other people unload on, not the one who calls a friend to talk about her lousy day.  I would much rather listen than share.  (So posting this is rather like a relaxing swim with sharks or a casual walk across a 20,000 foot tightrope.  Whee!)

My poor husband is the exception to this rule.  He is my safe place, the one person I am completely vulnerable with.  For some reason he’s decided I’m worth keeping around and as a result he’s subject to my dark times and scary thoughts.  He struggles with wanting to fix me.  Having never experienced depression, he has a tough time understanding that there’s no reason for my feelings.  Over the years I’ve gotten better at handling it and so has he, but sometimes I’m sure he wants to give up on me.  Guess that’s real love, when you refuse to do that even when you wish you could.

Meditation helps.  Prayer helps.  Reading helps.  Cuddling with my kids helps.  Talking to my husband helps.  Petting my dog helps.  Hanging out with my parents and sister helps.  Being around people who are real and honest and messy helps.  Being outside helps.  This is my arsenal.  When depression attacks, I have many, many ways to combat it.  Sometimes it’s a long battle, sometimes it’s bloody, but always I win.  Do I question if I always will?  Maybe in my rawest, shakiest moments, yes.  But I’m not giving up without a fight.

I hope and pray I don’t pass this onto my children.  I want to shelter them from this (and all) pain.  But if, God forbid, either one of them ever suffers from it, I want to be there holding their hands and showing them my (metaphorical) scars and NOT LEAVING.  Because that’s the thing.  The not leaving is the best way to love someone with depression.  You don’t have to say the right thing or come up with the answer.  You just have to stay.

Here’s the other thing: spring is coming.  Dark times don’t last.  When you’re living them, they lie to you and tell you they’re sticking around, but they can’t.  Light wedges itself in there when you least expect it and drives out the dark.  Sometimes you just have to wait things out.  Under the covers.  With Cheetos.

 

Midlife Crossroad

January 30, 2016

I am officially in the midst of a midlife crisis.  But before you try to talk me out of buying a new convertible or having a fling with someone half my age, RELAX.  I don’t mean that kind of midlife crisis.  (I’m actually quite fond of my car and my husband, thank you.)

I’m talking about a different kind of midlife crisis, one that’s more of a whisper than a shout.  An internal whisper of nostalgia for things past and things yet to come.  Talking with friends the other night, I realized all of us were experiencing similar emotions.  Life is giving us all a lot to think about lately.  And thinking is hard, you guys.

Our children are growing up and becoming more independent, and we realize our time with them as “ours” is finite. They still need us, but not in the way they did as infants or preschoolers.  We now fully understand what all the seasoned veteran mamas meant when they told us as newbies, “It goes by so quickly.”  There’s a ticking clock counting down the time we have with these children as children, and it’s getting louder.  

On the other side of the coin, our parents are also getting older and we realize there will come a time when we will have to find our way in this world without them.  Some our age have already endured the loss of a parent, but what we once saw as an anomaly is growing into a reality.  We see the passing of time on their faces and hear about people their age dying and we want to put on earmuffs to drown out the sound of that stupid clock.

We have friends our age diagnosed with cancer and we rail against the unfairness of it all, shouting, “But we’re so young!”  We schedule mammograms and wear sunscreen and run 5ks.  We no longer take our health for granted.  We find ourselves making lifestyle changes for different reasons than we used to: eating clean to fight heart disease, not just to look good in a bikini.

Speaking of which, our mirrors have begun reflecting some surprises. “Has anyone seen my 20-year old metabolism?”  “When did those smile lines get so deep?”  “And can you really get gray hairs in your eyebrows??”  We have pains where we used to have sports injuries.  We can’t have more than two drinks or stay up past midnight or we feel it for three days after.  Our bodies are still capable of doing amazing things, but we’re beginning to realize that won’t always be the case.

All this realizing is both terrifying and freeing. It means life as we know it is changing.  It means that at some point in the not-so-distant future we will be more on our own than perhaps ever before.  Yes, life is tenuous and fragile and fleeting. But it’s also beautiful and precious and worth fighting for.  Be patient with us midlifers.  We still have a lot to learn.  But we’re getting there…

Let There Be Light

December 9, 2015

Tonight I ran across an article about postpartum depression.  This happens from time to time and my reaction is always the same: relief.  Relief that I survived, that there was a beautiful, blessed light at the end of that tunnel for me.  And, as always, my heart broke a little from the remembering.

It’s been nearly eight years now since I experienced PPD, but I can recall those feelings of loneliness and hopelessness like it was last week.  It was such a shock to me to recognize those feelings after having such a positive post-natal experience with our firstborn.  I had a long and difficult but ultimately incredible natural childbirth with our son.  While there was a scary post-delivery moment when my body struggled to deal with the reality of his birth, it was quickly replaced with the gift of parenting this beautiful baby boy we’d been blessed with.

He was a natural nurser, and while he would definitely rather have played than slept, he was a good-natured baby who seemed delighted at the world he’d been brought into.  My physical healing was difficult, but emotionally I was the happiest I’d ever been.  I truly felt like he was the reason I’d been placed on this earth, and mothering him was my calling.

Fast forward six years…we were anticipating the birth of our daughter and looked forward to another exciting and rewarding infancy.  While my doctor had vetoed natural childbirth and vehemently recommended a C-section because of my first delivery, I still felt I would have a similar experience and that I was prepared for motherhood this go-round.

*And the fates laughed hysterically.*

Our daughter was delivered in a very routine fashion, with no complications.  She was, however, quite tiny compared to her brother at birth.  And nursing?  She just didn’t get it.

Nor did she get the whole sleeping thing.  Or why anyone would want to leave that comfortable, quiet womb.  Because this world?  SUCKED.

She refused to eat, she lost weight, she screamed bloody murder, she slept in five minute increments and only when swaddled and held.  She cried around the clock, breaking only long enough to attempt nursing and get pissed off about it before resuming her regularly scheduled screaming.

“Colic,” they said.  “It will pass,” they said.

We swaddled.  We bounced.  I changed my diet.  I pumped.  I cried with her.  I fantasized about placing her in her crib and driving to California by myself.  I had vivid thoughts of sitting in my car in the garage with the engine on.  I fully believed my family would be better off without me.

I was a FAILURE.  I couldn’t feed my child.  I couldn’t calm my child.  I couldn’t attend to my other child because my second child NEVER. STOPPED. SCREAMING.

Friends and family came to visit.  They talked and smiled and held the baby while I wondered why they wouldn’t just LEAVE.  If she stopped crying when someone else held her, it just confirmed what I already knew:  I was a terrible mother, lacking even the most basic soothing skills.

“Give it three months,” they said.  I gave it three and a half and I called my doctor.  “I’m scared,” I said.  “I think I have a problem.”

“You are normal,” she said.  “There is help.”

So I took it.

At four months, our daughter was born.  She finally decided the world was an okay place.  She smiled, she cooed, she drank from a bottle (despite my efforts to work with a lactation specialist daily and pump, my supply had dried up), she grew.  She LIVED.

And suddenly, so did I.  I remembered this incredible thing called HOPE.  The chemicals in my brain made friends with the medication my doctor prescribed.  And I made friends with this beautiful little girl.

After four months of darkness, there was light.

Today, I can’t imagine a world without our daughter.  She brings so much love, laughter and light to our lives that I sometimes feel overwhelmed with pure joy just looking at her.

But that part of me, that terrified, hopeless, dark part of me…it never really goes away.  It remains there, a shadow of its former self.  A reminder of how miraculous the light is.  And a reason to share my story in the off chance it reaches someone whose light has been extinguished for a bit.

You there, wrapped in that smothering blanket of despair.  You’re not alone.  There is hope.  You just have to reach out your hand.

Here’s a good place to start:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/ppd-support-groups-in-the-u-s-canada

http://www.kansasppd.org

Your doctor can also be a good resource.  Reach out.  Get help.  You deserve to heal.  Your baby deserves to have a healthy mama.  Peace and love to you.  Be well.