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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.

 

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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.

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

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.