Tag Archives: aging

Keep the Change

Maybe I wasn’t the only woman buying a pregnancy test at Kroger at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning–this is a college town after all–but I’m pretty sure I was the only one with gray hair and an itemized tax return.

So…yeah. I had been feeling anxious and snappish for a few days but when I couldn’t sleep that night becasue the waves of anxiety were washing over me and my heart rate was in the triple digits while lying down–it hit me. My period was late. Several days late. And in 35 YEARS, that has only happened twice. I remember those two times clearly because their names are Vivi and Carlos.

Pregnancy tests are super accurate and fast these days. They’re digital too, so instead of that cryptic blue line that I had to search for with Vivi, this time the digital readout window said:


I was so relieved that I woke G up to tell him the good news. He got things a little muddled what with being asleepish and it being 2 a.m. and me starting with, “I’m having an anxiety attack. Can you keep me company? My period is late and I just took a pregnancy test.” (This was the moment when he truly woke up and yelled “OH SHIT!”) It took him a few moments to hear the “IT WAS NEGATIVE!!!”

Finally got to sleep at 4 a.m., only to wake up a few hours later convinced that the test had to be wrong. Seriously–twice in 35 years. And those two times were already awake and getting jelly on the Roku remote. The anxiety rushed back over me in a flush.

I made an appointment with Dr. Web MD and started searching specific things like “am I old enough for menopause even if I have a child in preK?” I found the results somewhat unclear because there is NO WAY I AM OLD ENOUGH FOR THIS:

  • Average age of onset for perimenopause: 47. HA! I am 47 and a half, so that can’t be it.
  • Low sex drive. I wouldn’t call it “low.” More like “riddled with fatigue and resentment.”
  • Mood swings. Oh, fuck you, Web MD. I’m still in my prime. (sobbing)
  • Trouble sleeping. I can sleep FINE. In hotels. And during the day. As long as the ceiling fan is set to warp speed. And 50 mg of Benadryl doesn’t hurt.
  • Hot flashes. I don’t have “hot flashes.” I have anxiety that rushes over me in a flush. Totally different.

I called my sister, because she has both a medical degree and a uterus. Her diagnosis was, “Duh. At least you save money on tampons, right?”

I called my friend who’s a few years older and she said, “Yeah, you’re going to want to kill everyone but it gets better. Try yoga. And drinking.”

I called Big Gay and, after a lot of commiserating, she said, “Well, I will say that I feel more comfortable in my own skin at this point in my life.”

So there’s that, I guess. I’m going to be the sweatiest most self-actualized mom at kindergarten registration.


I wrote this a week ago but I’ve been too afraid to publish it. We’re not supposed to talk about “lady parts” and what they do, right? I’m tired of the sense of shame I have about the way my body works. I have periods and I am grateful for them because they made it possible for me to create two people from scratch. (Well, it started out as more of a back rub than a scratch.)

Our girls deserve to know that the way our bodies work is miraculous and normal. When Vivi and I were in the Wesleyan bookstore last month, she hollered, “WHAT ARE TAMPONS?” across the store and I knew it was time to start The Talk. I didn’t get a talk–my education about what my body could and would and SHOULD do came from the teeny folded up square of paper with the diagrams and instructions inside the tampon box. Periods were something we whispered about and worried about, not something we straight up discussed.

When I googled menopause, I felt like I should erase my browser history, like it was something embarrassing or uncouth. Like I was failing in some way, admitting defeat. When I called my friends and family to ask questions, it made me nervous, like I was asking them how much they paid in taxes this year or whether they ever bit their own toenails.

Hell, I’m nervous about putting this out there but I thought it was funny and true. And I want other women to know that I’m in the same boat. My therapist assures me that there are a lot of positives about moving past periods and into the next phase. Let’s talk about those! How sex is more fun when you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant. How you can buy ALL the white pants and ride a white horse down the beach at daybreak.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

It’s strange–knowing that I’m going to be different from what I have been for 35 years. The most of my life that I remember. What’s ahead?

I had all this on my mind when I went to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend. At the luncheon for the class celebrating its 50th reunion, I looked around at the other women at our table and realized that they are all about 20 years older than me. Every single one of them has gone through menopause and come out the other side. They’re lawyers and teachers and writers and designers and community activists. They are moms and grandmoms and dog moms and aunts and great aunts and daughters. They are smart and kind and funny and compassionate. They are beautiful and glamorous and genuine. They’re my sisters.

As in every other phase of my life, I can’t wait to grow up a little more and be just like them.

Then I went back to my hotel to take an afternoon nap with the fan on High. This video popped up in my Facebook feed and I HOWLED with laughter!


Your Voice

This is one of my favorite quotes about speaking up for yourself:  

Maggie Hahn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

Maggie Kuhn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

I had heard it as “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”  Then in the course of researching who said it, I found the full context of the message–Stand before the people you fear.  Insist on being seen.  Insist on being heard.  Use your voice even if it shakes.  

When’s the last time your voice shook?  


Today’s writing prompt was “If you had a time machine and you could return to one point in your life, where would you go and why?”

My first reaction to this game is always, “What’s the POINT?”  It’s silly to think that I could go back and change a major event in my life.  The whole skein unravels if I tug on one thread and I like where I am now.  Even with sadness that I’ve known, how could I push it away without pushing away the gladness?  Would I go back to that day in grad school when I first laid eyes on Fartbuster?  Or to the day I found out he was cheating?  Why?  If I weren’t that broken-hearted person I became because of loving him, I wouldn’t have been on the side of the highway that morning that I met Richard.  And he wouldn’t have had me beside him when he died.  I can’t have one without the other.  It’s all one life.

Maybe I could revisit a time in my life when I had a clean house and nine hours of sleep a night, but I would undo the tired joys of having two people who light up when they say “Mama!”

As I was pondering this, my friend Robin sent me a Wendell Berry poem:

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(The Sabbath Poems, 1993, I)

“Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”  So where would I go in my time machine?  I don’t want to undo anything, but there is one time I wish I had said Yes instead of No.  When I held myself close instead of being open.  A small sadness but one that has stuck with me.  Here’s when I would go now that I have less reason not to give myself away:

Paris.  December 28, 2005.  A chilly gray morning in a small park by the Eiffel Tower.  It was the third day of my solo trip to Paris and I had my feet under me.  I’d seen the view from the top of the Tour back when I was 21 and in Paris for the first time.  So that morning, as a widow waking up to the world again, I avoided the crowds and barkers near the base of the attraction and walked farther away.  To get some perspective.

My hands were jammed into the pockets of my black cashmere coat, the one I bought just for that trip so I could look more French and less American.  A red and yellow crushed velvet scarf warmed my throat.  Just a woman, walking in Paris.  On her own.

Boule.kugelI stopped to watch a group of elderly men playing petanque.  It’s like bocce or lawn bowling, but French.  There’s one small ball in the middle of the sandy court and each player throws larger metal balls at it in the hopes of tapping the “jack.”

They chided each other after bad throws.  Their laughter billowed in clouds in the frozen air.  Their heads were covered with black wool berets.  They rubbed their hands together to keep them warm and blew hot air into them while they waited turns.  They whooped like little boys and clapped at a masterful toss.  They argued among themselves over the close calls.  

They were busy enjoying each other and didn’t seem to mind that I was watching them.  I watched them for several minutes as my still feet grew colder and colder.  It was time to get back to walking before I froze in place.  I pulled my camera from my messenger bag and took a few snapshots of their game.

Then, in the way of French men who love all kinds of women, even the sad and dark, one of them signaled to me to come over.  I smiled broadly but didn’t come any closer.  Another grandpere turned to me with a friendly wave and invited me to join the game.  I laughed out a “Non, merci!”  

Then I continued my walk.  

That’s the moment I would return to.  I would say “Oui, s’il vous plait!  Merci!”  I would let myself be welcomed.  I would let myself be awkward and silly.  

I would give myself away.  Un petit cadeau.  

Here’s a gift for you to share with someone today.  

wendell berry tree with poem

 If you’d like to read other “time travel” stories, check them out over at My So-Called Glamorous Life.

The Sorrows of Your Changing Face

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

In 11th grade, our class studied British Literature, but we didn’t study it fast enough to suit me.  We dawdled through Chaucer (even in translation!).  We slogged through nasally BBC Radio records of “Macbeth” for a week straight.  Even the murders were boring.  I flipped ahead in the book to get to the more modern writers, the ones who had actually seen a telephone and motor cars.  The ones we wouldn’t have time to get to by the end of the year.  It was infuriating to me–how we always ran out of time in the school year and never got all the way through the end of the text book.  With every chalk dust diagram of sonnet rhyme schemes or droning exegesis of Wordsworth, I felt the chances of studying William Butler Yeats, Wilfred Owen, and Ted Hughes slipping into nothingness.  So I read ahead.

One poem by Yeats never left me.  I committed it to memory, or more rightly “learned it by heart” while sitting there in the windowless classroom filled with rows of desks and bored teenagers.

When You Are Old


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


I was sixteen years old, and I yearned for a day when I could look back on my moments of glad grace, when someone–anyone!–would have seen the soft look my eyes had and their shadows deep.  Even the last stanza, the sadness of a Love that has fled and hid his face among the stars–I even wanted that.  Something to miss at the end of my life.  I hadn’t had anything yet, so I couldn’t wait to have something to miss.

Yesterday was Richard’s birthday.  He would have been 47.  I meant to write this post for August 5th, and I’ve been feeling sad about that since I didn’t.  Like the English teacher who had good intentions of getting through the whole text book, but the year just ran out.

It’s fitting, because Richard hated his birthday and refused any fuss.  His mother making a Julia Child’s chocolate cake was the only ceremony he actually enjoyed.  He was happiest as a kid when camp coincided with his birthday because he wouldn’t tell anyone.  No cake from home, no cards, no nothing.  It befuddled me, but I did my best to honor his wishes.  For the four years we had together, we mostly did the anti-birthday party party.  We made a POINT of ignoring his birthday.  But yesterday was busy with packing up my family of five, leaving the beach and driving back home in time to make it to the “Meet the Teacher” night at elementary school then unpacking and laundry and sandwiches from the grocery for dinner.

On Sunday night, right at sunset, G kept the kids entertained at the pool while I took a walk down to the ocean with my glass of wine.  I walked out into the lapping waves of low tide and floated there.  Pelicans sailed over the flat water, headed towards the red lights of buoys on the sandbar.  I had the beach to myself and if I looked straight ahead, I could pretend that I was the only soul between here and everywhere.  I wished Richard a Happy Birthday then rolled my eyes at how he would have snorted at that.  I told him how I missed him.  How sorry I was that he missed out on getting to have kids.  I told him how hard it can be, with the training wheels and bloody noses and the why why why of it all.  I couldn’t even speak the words for how joyful it can be.  What it feels like to see my son say “Fee-two-un….BADASH!” and pretend to be a rocket.  How my heart swells when Vivi and I pedal a bike together and she tells me stories about lions as we ride.  The peace that comes when we are sleeping in a room all together.  


Then a light blinking off in the distance reminded me of a star and this poem came to mind.  I stood in the waves and recited the words that I learned by heart almost thirty years ago.  

He taught me how to travel and how to feel like I had the right to an adventurous life.  He loved the pilgrim soul in me.  But he has paced among the mountains overhead and hid his face amid a cloud of stars.  

Looking back over my life, I feel like my first husband, Fartbuster, got to love my beauty with love false or true.  Then Richard came along to love my pilgrim soul.  G gets the sorrows of my changing face.  This is how weird it gets when you’re three husbands in–they all can start talking in your head at the same time.  

As I walked back up to the dunes and to my family and to the life I love, I took an inventory of the person I have become since I learned that poem and dreamed of being loved and having lost.  I am so different now–a grown woman, divorced, widowed, a mother–finding her way.  Would Richard even recognize the woman that I’ve become because of what I went through with watching him die?  Could we have made it with happy hearts through the skinned knees and training wheels and rocket rides?  He loved the pilgrim soul in me, but he never got to know the sorrows of my changing face.  

That is the thing about growing older.  I keep growing.  

Oh What a Gift!

Have you ever read the Robert Burns poem, “To a Louse?”  It’s about a woman sitting in church showing off her fancy bonnet…but she doesn’t realize that a fat gray louse is crawling around on it.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunned by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her,
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner,
On some poor body.

 She tosses her head with pride that she’s the center of attention, unaware that the louse is the reason people are staring at her and pointing.  The Scots dialect makes a little translation necessary, but you get the drift.  My favorite part of the poem is the conclusion, which I’ll render into Englishish:  

And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us

Oh, what a gift God might give us, to see ourselves as others see us.  It would from many a blunder free us.  

See that new logo up there?  It was designed and drawn by my friend Jose Luis Silva.  You might remember him from such favorites as “Dust to Dust” or “Short But Sweet.”  He’s a genius and I trusted him with my face (which for a woman of a certain age is no small feat).  

At L'Express on Park Avenue

At L’Express on Park Avenue

Luis asked me for some guidance on which direction I’d like to go with the logo, so I told him that I wanted something black and white, friendly and fun, maybe a caricature.  I suggested that he use this picture of me that he took when we were in New York for our friend Spencer’s memorial service in January.  I love this picture because it surprised me.  For once I didn’t see a wrinkle or a size or gray hair–I saw me.  The laughing me, the loving me, the feeling me.  What a gift Luis gave me in this snapshot–to see myself as others see me.  

Then he recreated it for the logo.  The first version was a pretty exact replica of this photo, but my giggle covered by splayed fingers looked too much like Hannibal Lecter in a mask.  I asked him to try it again with my hand in a different position.  He perfected the hand, but my now-uncovered smile looked a lot like The Joker’s  creepy slash.  Luis listens to a lot of death metal, so I was thankful there wasn’t blood dripping from my eyeballs or a baby head clenched between my teeth (maybe in the next version!).  

I said, “Um…can you change my mouth?  I look a little…evil.”  His reply was, “But, sweetheart, you ARE EVIL.”  And my answer?  “Of course I am, but I don’t want to LOOK EVIL.  This is marketing.”  Luis commented on the interesting challenge that caricature poses for the artist:  finding the balance between rendering your subject, but exaggerating primary features for effect.  

The next version looked far less evil, but now I was looking too nice.  Jimmy Carter nice.  (Isn’t this starting to sound like a stereotypical “Honey, would you move the couch over there so I can see how it looks” dialogue?)  At this point, I knew he had the hair, the eyes, the face shape, the nose, the clothes, the wine–everything was right except my stupid mouth.  I muttered, “I don’t look like THAT!”  Then I walked to a mirror, put my chin on my hand and smiled…and discovered I DO look like that.

Luis’ next version was The One.  He gave me some new smaller teeth and I was finally comfortable.  It was a done deal when I pulled the image up onscreen and turned my laptop to Carlos.  He took one look at it and chirped, “Mama!”  

I am so grateful to have a friend who can see me.  And show me to myself.  And tolerate me through the revisions that I needed before I could see myself.  Oh what a gift!  

If you would like to hear “To a Louse” in a charming rendition, click on the following image to hear an award winning recitation!

Hear the winner of the William Law Memorial Trophy from Calderwood Primary performs 'To a Louse'.

Hear the winner of the William Law Memorial Trophy from Calderwood Primary performs ‘To a Louse’.

I’m Coming Out

smiling me

Saturday, April 20, 2013
about 4pm on a really good day

Hi, this is me.  

I was trying to edit my “About” page for this blog and I realized that I’ve been hiding.  I can tell all kinds of stories about heartache and empowerment and rebuilding, but I have been afraid to just show ME.  So today I am coming out of the photo booth.  

Most of y’all have known me since I wiped my nose on my sleeve, but some of you are strangers.  Hello to all.  My name is Ashley and I am the Baddest Mother Ever!  

This picture was emailed to me yesterday from a photo booth that I sat in last weekend.  It was Alumnae Weekend at my alma mater (Kathy Bradley, author of “Breathing and Walking Around” taught me that the phrase means “nourishing mother”).  I had a fantastic weekend, filled with stomach-lurching challenges (like leading a formal meeting with 1000 people, fire, and an organist) and breathtaking successes (that meeting, even with a couple of glitches).  I made new friends who graduated before I was born.  I hugged necks of friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years.  I met our oldest graduate, 106 and there for her 85th reunion.  My spirit was nourished.  I challenged myself, rewarded myself, believed in myself. 

And look at how it shows on my face!  Normally, pictures of me make me see wrinkles and gray and extra chins, but this picture…I can’t help but smile at myself.  I LOOK LIKE MYSELF.  

Five Things I Love About This Picture

  1. My whole face is smiling, even behind my ears.  
  2. I am wearing something colorful that says, “Hey, look at me!” instead of something drab that says, “Nothing to see here, move along.”
  3. I went into the photo booth wearing a pair of ridiculously huge, bedazzled sunglasses but I put them on my head so I could see myself.
  4. That necklace is made from my late husband’s wedding ring.  I don’t wear it often because I have a toddler who likes to grab things.  
  5. My gray hair looks kind of like highlights.  

How long has it been since you posted a picture of yourself on Facebook?  Yesterday, I saw Nicki making a muscle she’s worked hard to earn.  Today, Alice was having breakfast with her son.  Lucy had some cute hair going on.  Kimberly’s son is taller than she is.  Felicia is at the paddock.  What are the rest of you doing?  

Your babies are adorable.  Your cats couldn’t be cuter.  And that lunch you had yesterday…yum!  But let’s see more pictures of you!  It’s my challenge to you today.  Post that pic of YOU.