Tag Archives: growing up

Out Into the World

Dear Grant,

So Friday is the big day, huh? College.

COLLEGE.

College? How did THAT happen?

I looked at some pictures today of the campus at good ole’ F.U. and it got me all verklempt. It’s a beautiful place, filled with shiny happy people and I have a good feeling that you will grow there, from the kind and clever young man you already are into an even truer version of yourself.

There will be some rough spots along the way, no doubt. I was dying to go to college back in 1879, but even though I had dreamed of getting there for so long, I still turned my face to the wall and cried a few tears after the lights went out on that first night. There I was, under that brand new comforter and in sheets right out of the box–on my own and out in the world. Alone? Not really, but kind of more alone than I had been up to that point in my life.

So if you get a little lonesome Friday night and start to feeling alone in the world, I hope you will think back to these few stories and know that you are 100%, unequivocally loved by me and everyone else in this big messy family.

I came to meet you in the hospital right after you were born, but the nurses had you in the fishbowl for some nursey kind of stuff. We didn’t get to meet that day. Instead, your dad showed me a video that he had made right after you were born. In the frame you see your mom beaming with happiness. The nurses had you in the bassinet to do the Apgar test and get you cleaned up and you were screaming and yowling and shaking with fury. There you were out in the world for the first time and you were NOT HAVING IT. In the video, Joe walked over to where you are and reaches out his big ole finger. He said something calming, like “Hey, buddy” and he touched you on the arm very gently. You immediately stopped crying (and he started).

About three weeks later, you came to my house for a visit:

grant 4

Yes, we had pink carpet. It was awful. So was that marriage, but that’s another story for a different day. You were out in the world for real, out in the suburbs. I still didn’t get to hold you that day. Papa did. He held you in his lap and cried because he loved you so much. I’m glad y’all share a name. I’m glad we all share a name.

A few months later, Fartbuster and I came to babysit you, so your parents could go out in the world. That’s a tale I’ve told already in Saved By a Nectarine. I owe you a thank you for that episode, really. If it hadn’t been for your diaper catastrophe, Fartbuster and I might have had kids together. Thank you for scaring him off. I owe you one.

grant 3

 

You were too young to remember Fartbuster. Much like you, Aunt Ashweeeee spent those couple of years learning how to walk on my own and learning how to feed myself and learning how to move around out in the world. There was one night when I came over to babysit you and I was just gutted with sadness. As much as I loved you, being around you awakened this fear that I would never have a child. I’d never have someone to love me the way your mom and dad love each other. And to top it all off, I woke up the next morning with a giant zit on my chin. You asked me, “What dat?” and I almost sobbed the answer: “It’s a grown up kind of boo boo.” But with a simple little kiss, you made it better. You fixed a little part of my heart that day. Thank you. I got the courage to go out in the world again.

grant 5

 

I don’t know if you remember Uncle Richard. Y’all hit it off right away. I brought him to Callaway Gardens to meet everyone. You and Jackson were playing in a giant pile of leaves and Richard took a few steps back, got a running start, and did a flip right into the pile. Your face lit up like you had found one of your kind roaming around in the world. He was a lot of fun and loved you. He proposed to me on your sixth birthday–do you remember that? I called to wish you a happy birthday and said, “Hey, Grant! Uncle Richard asked me to marry him. Should I say yes?” You said, “Sure, I guess so.” I took your advice. Thank you for that.

grant

 

You were too young to know it at the time, but you’ve helped me through some of the toughest days of my life, just by being your joyful self. On the day Richard and I finally got married, your sass kept me focused on the happiness we made that day in our backyard, not on the sadness that was out there in the world. You ate a GIANT piece of cake (More Up, Please!) right under your mom’s nose.

grant 7

 

You and Jake rolled down the hill until you were covered in grass. Richard’s dad had such fun playing with you that day. Thank you for that, for being a little boy so full of life. You and I shared a toast, each with our own kind of bubbly drink. I raised my glass and said, “To the Student of the Week!” and we clinked glasses. You raised your glass and said, “To the bride!”

grant 8

 

Thank you for that.

Not two weeks later, you helped me find a little glimmer of joy again when I was completely lost in grief. I was waiting in the vestibule of the church for the funeral director to bring Richard’s ashes in for the service. For a second, I was by myself in that quiet spot, right out there in the world all by myself. I didn’t know what to do to keep myself together. Then the door cracked open and I saw your dad and mom, looking sad. Before I could say anything, you came busting in and gave me the biggest hug. When I let you go, you rocked back on your heels and said, “Aunt Ashley! We got new shirts!”

Do you know how precious it is to me that I can look back on one of the saddest times of my life and that few seconds of joy is the thing that I remember most vividly? Thank you for that.

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Well, I better wrap this up because you’ve got a big day ahead. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you go out into the world, remember that you are never alone. You’ve taught me that lesson over and over in the last almost 19 years. I will come running if you ever need me, Grant, whether you need cake or a new shirt or a hug. I owe you.

Go have fun.

Love,

Aunt Ashwee

Unca Joe, Aunt Fancy, Goose, Aunt Sassy, Aunt Smarty, Aunt Bossy

Unca Joe, Aunt Fancy, Goose, Aunt Sassy, Aunt Smarty, Aunt Bossy

Look At the Sky

When I got home from Pilates class last night, Vivi was standing in the middle of the den with her  pajamas already on and her hair dripping wet.

“What’s up? Why’s your hair wet?”

“I washed my own hair! In the SHOWER! Daddy said I could.” She threw her arms around me with such joy. I kissed her on top of her head.

“Good for you! Did you rinse it really well?” Ever the Quality Control Inspector, I took a long wet tendril between my fingers to test for slippery conditioner. She had done a really good job.

“Well, if you’re going to go to sleep-away camp, you have to learn how to take a shower. I’m proud of you.”

And I was. But my heart broke a little bit.

G and I have been washing her beautiful curls her whole life and now she can do it on her own. She wants to do it on her own.

When Vivi was really small, maybe three, I was bent over the tub trying to get all the bubbles out of her hair while she played with a family of floating plastic penguins. She didn’t like the water going in her face, so I told her to look up before I rinsed. She kept her head tilted down but rolled her eyes into the back of her head. “No, baby, look up with your whole face…point your chin to the ceiling.” She twisted her face into a grimace with her chin stuck out, but still didn’t tilt her head back. In growing exasperation, I said, “Look at the sky!”

It worked. She turned her whole smiling face straight up to the sky. And ever since, I’ve been saying “Look at the sky” when it’s time to rinse her hair.

Will I ever get to say that again?

What’s the next gentle thing that will go? Something I’ve been doing for her that she’ll learn to do herself? How will I tend to her as she learns to take care of her own body and her own heart? She fixes her own cups of water and pours crackers in a bowl for a snack. She is already dressed in the morning before I come out of my room. She reads herself to sleep at night.

I am learning the lesson that all mothers learn as our children grow into themselves. As my children rely on me for less, I’ll have more time for myself.

I’ll have my turn to look at the sky.

Marin County, October 2014.

Marin County, October 2014

An Equation for Evolution, This Week At Least

25 + (20 – $5) + 20/20  = 500

Let’s start with 25…

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I’m in the lower left, grabbing my left boob in an archaic inside kind of joke thing that we did back in 1990.

I’m still processing everything that happened this weekend at my 25 year college reunion. One thing that has sat with me for days is the idea of evolution. A friend complimented how much I had “evolved” at one of our class parties. At first, I tried to turn it into a joke–like I was winning the tiny trophy for “Most Improved.” Then I corrected myself and accepted her gift of that word. She meant good things–how we navigate growing up successfully when we develop and diversify based on the things that happen to us. I have done that. We get our edges worn away and we figure out what works. Yep, done some of that, too. We keep moving and changing. We grow. So yeah, I guess I have evolved in the last 25 years.

+ 20

It’s been 20 years since I married Fartbuster, as of today. I wonder what it would be like to sit across a table from the me that was me 20 years ago and listen to her. At 26, I was excited to be getting married…FINALLY. wedding-407487_640I don’t think I ever took a moment to ask, “What’s in this for me?” All I wanted was To Be Married, so I married the person I loved at the time. I didn’t spend much time thinking about What I Wanted In a Partner. I thought that love was enough. I didn’t understand much about the other two things–honor and cherish. I didn’t consider whether he honored me and I figured he would learn to cherish me. I did love him. I think he loved me. But we were 26. How would I see that young woman–would I pity her, admire her innocence, or get fed up with an earful of her bullshit?

-$5

At the rehearsal dinner 20 years ago, I walked across the restaurant and knelt down beside our family friend, Wally. My mom snapped a photo as I handed Wally a crisp $5 bill. After a quick “Do you remember that time…,” Wally and I roared with laughter over something I had told him 6 years before.

The summer between my junior and senior years of college, my then boyfriend went on a long vacation with his family. I felt miserable and alone, and super jealous that he was cruising in Greece while I was working as a temp secretary in a credit office. My mom and I were over at Wally’s house for dinner one night and I kept moping and sighing and missing my beloved. There was a teensy bit of angsty wallowing going on.

Wally got sick of hearing it and told me to get over it, and knowing Wally’s acerbic tongue, it was along the lines of “Young love, my ass.” He and my mom laughed. I shouted, “Y’all think you know everything just because you’re older. I’ll have you know that I know myself and I love him and I will always love him!” Wally hooted and snapped, “I bet you FIVE DOLLARS that you don’t even know where that boy is five years from now.”

"Oh YEAH? We're young but we are IN LOVE."

“Oh YEAH? We’re may be young but we are IN LOVE.”

Wally was right. I had no idea where that boy had gotten to, and here I was marrying a different true love. So I paid him his five bucks.

(20/20)

Twenty twenty hindsight. I’ve acquired some of that over the years. That junior in college really did love her boyfriend with everything she had–but it didn’t last another year. And the young bride handed over $5 in recognition of what a wise old friend knew that she didn’t. The divorced woman at 31 learned the hard way that she should have asked some sharper questions before making those vows. The widow at 36 didn’t have anything to regret, but everything to lose. Now the mother at 46 looks back on them all with loving kindness.

Given the 20/20 nature of hindsight, I feel empathy for the me that was a few hours away from marrying Fartbuster twenty years ago. I’d give her a hug more than a talking to, because she was doing her best.

Evolving is about going THROUGH life experiences, not trying to skip them or stay safe or rush past. When life ends up teaching a tough lesson, my hope is that I will pack it up for the journey and keep moving.

MD39The-Best-Way-Out-Robert-Frost-Posters

=500

And this is the 500th post on Baddest Mother Ever. I’ve learned so much in this space and over these two years. To accept who I am now and accept that I was doing my best back then. To love, honor, and cherish MYSELF above all others, even the ones I love. May we all continue to evolve.

Do I Dare To Eat a Peach?

End of the Season

End of the Season

Tonight at the grocery store, I sorted through a late summer box of peaches. Picked each one up and smelled it to see if it would ever get ripe. Checked the soft skin for signs of brown rot. Looked at the stem spot to see if it was a split seed. I placed six in a plastic bag and thought for a few seconds about a boy I’ve had a crush on as long as I can remember.

His name is Jeffrey. I won’t say his last name but I will say that I bumped into his wife a few months ago and told her I wanted to write this story and she said it would be fine. And besides, if I didn’t tell you his name, I couldn’t tell you the story about how when I was in third grade and Daddy found a little abandoned puppy in the middle of the highway, I named that puppy Jeffrey after my secret crush. Until the next day, when Daddy broke the news that the puppy was female so I changed her name to Jeffy.

Our grandmothers were friends. Our mamas have been friends since the first day of Kindergarten. His mother and my father were neighbors and thick as thieves when they were kids. He and my sister were born just hours apart and were close friends. I sat and talked with his mama last month and ate a slice of her heavenly pound cake.

I think the last time I saw Jeffrey in person was when he sang at my Pop’s funeral. (Yes, in addition to being good-looking, smart, and kind, he can sing too.) At the graveside service, when he came over to say hello, I got the giggles. It’s that bad. I went up to his sister and confessed, “When your brother is toothless and slobberin’ and 100 years old, I will STILL think he’s the cutest thing in the world!” She said she would too. And my sister concurred as well.

So now that I’ve embarrassed myself and Jeffrey by extension, let me get to why peaches make me think of him.  Back in the day, Jeffrey and I both worked at a peach stand in our home town. As the years went by, he took over the running of the peach stand and became The Boss.

One summer, oh THIRTY YEARS AGO, I worked for Jeffrey. I knew the responsibilities well. He would go to the farmers market to buy crates of peaches at the start of the week. Each morning, I’d sort through the peaches (it’s called “culling”) and throw the rotting ones or the split seeds into a box that swarmed with yellow jackets getting drunk on the nectar. We’d sell that whole box of culls for $5 to any ladies who were making jam that week. I’d take the good peaches and make up pretty baskets to display on the stand–$3 for the small, $5 for the medium, $7 for a peck.

One week, towards the end of the season, we got a lot of split seeds. That’s where the peach looks fine on the outside, but if you look up at the top, there’s a hole right down in the heart of it. Those will be rotten from the inside out. No good. Jeffrey told me clearly NOT to sell any split seeds, to pitch them in the cull box. Then he left. I started making baskets and EVERY peach was split. I sure didn’t want to let him down, but if I followed his instructions, they’d all have to be thrown out. I figured that people could get some use out of most of the peach, so I went ahead and sold them. The next day when I got to work, he was furious because he had had someone come back and complain about the peaches. I was crushed, but he was right.

He didn’t ask me to work for him anymore and I was heartbroken that I had let him down.

And here I am. Forty six years old and I still remember disappointing him whenever I buy peaches in the grocery store.

So Jeffrey, I apologize for that bad decision.

The other reason I wanted to write this is that I wanted Jeffrey to know how special he is. If I could pick a boy for my girls to adore, I would pick someone just like Jeffrey.

The other day, my friend Hester made a reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot. It’s a poem narrated by a man who finds himself dithering into the end of his life, worried about how he is perceived as silly by those around him. He is coming to realize that he is not Prince Hamlet. His hair is thinning and he has “measured out (his) life in coffee spoons.” My favorite lines are these:

I grow old….I grow old….

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Do I dare to eat a peach? Will I look silly if the juice runs onto my shirt? Will I become the topic of idle chatter?

While I was looking at those peaches in the grocery store tonight, and thinking of Jeffrey, and how I still feel bad for letting him down 30 years ago, and Prufrock’s peach, and the lessons of time, I realized this–we grow older but we only grow wiser if we let some of that stuff go. I have been carrying around that little kernel of shame about a mistake I made in 1984…since 1984. That’s just silly.

I am learning to apologize when I am wrong. Forgive myself when I am foolish. Be grateful for life-long friends. Run the risk of looking silly. Tell stories that remind people how special they are, still.

Dare to eat a peach.

peach-437680_1280

Let Her Go

Let Her Go.

Let Her Go.

I went into Vivi’s room after she was asleep to pull the covers up on her shoulder and tuck Pengy under her chin.  I pushed a curl behind her ear.  So tiny, this girl.  The girl who is already asking me how old she needs to be before she can go to camp.  It’s becoming real to me, after all these years of watching her grow in baby steps–there will come a day when she goes off on an adventure without me.  There will come a night when she falls asleep, with Pengy tucked under her chin, and I will be somewhere far away.  She already wants to go.  And I will let her go.

All this camp talk got stirred up because Vivi and I took a little road trip this weekend to deliver our friend Abigail to three weeks of camp at the Duke TIP program.  Duke’s Talent Identification Program is a place for gifted teens to find their tribe.  Abigail’s mother Rachel and I met at a similar program–Governor’s Honors–back in the summer of 1985.  Rachel is one of the Elephant Painters.  When she found herself trapped by an impossible scheduling conflict, I jumped at the chance to take Abigail on this adventure.

I adore Abigail because she’s funny.  When I asked her if the students were allowed to leave campus, she said, “Oh, no.  They freak out if we even talk to a stranger walking by on the sidewalk.  They’re real worried about…wandering prodigies, I guess.”  Within 30 seconds, she and I had turned this into an improvisation skit.  I growled in my best police radio static voice “BOLO, we got a 1600 SAT on the loose.  Subject was last seen wearing a Doctor Who shirt and skinny jeans.”

That’s the kind of kid Abigail is.  Love.  Her.

But four hours in the car with a wandering prodigy and a seven year old tornado required some compromise, especially since some dumbass (ahem…me) has recently given Vivi the “Frozen” soundtrack.  So we came to an agreement–Abigail and I got to talk about books and music and angst and TV and movies and poems and nerves and books again for 15 minutes.  After our time was up, we listened to Vivi belt out “For the First Time in Forever.”  Then Vivi went back to reading her book for another 15 minutes while Abigail tried to convince me that Benedict Cumberbatch really is the most beautiful creature in the world and I tried to get her to admit that he looks like his parents were first cousins.  Then Vivi sang “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”  We talked about life in the small town and life in the big city.  Abigail told me that she was nervous about her time at camp.  I told her that I had felt the same way before GHP.  We talked about anxiety and coping and remembering that EVERYONE feels that way in a new situation.  Then we hit the Play button and Vivi sang “Let It Go,” complete with dramatic flourishes and hand gestures.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!

We stopped at a roadside peach stand in North Carolina so I could introduce Abigail to the wonders of Blenheim ginger ale. As we stretched our legs with a browse around the peanut brittle, peach cider, and fireworks, all three of us were humming “Let It Go.”  Abigail bemoaned, “I can’t show up to a COLLEGE singing THAT SONG.”  She feared that humming a Disney song might give her roommate the wrong impression, a faux pas that no number of Marvel Comics references could erase.  Lose all her cool points.

Remember that feeling?  That overwhelming excitement about joining a totally new group of people to do a totally new thing?  The chance to redefine, putting forth a curated version of your best self?  I do.  But the curated version of myself that I present to others and my authentic self have gotten a lot closer together over the years.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

The bottle opener for the ginger ales was mounted by the exit door.  I popped mine in the curve and with a twist of the wrist, the cap fell down into the receptacle.  I stepped aside so Abigail could open hers.

She froze. “I…don’t…know…how that thing works!”  She was truly flummoxed.

I said, “And they let you into GIFTED CAMP?  Girl, please.”  I talked her through it and she got the top off her Blenheim.  We stood there in the hot parking lot and each took a long slug of spicy ginger ale.  And winced.  Blenheim is HOT.  She loved it.  It made me so happy to introduce her to something new, to be part of her world getting a little larger.  To show her that it’s not the end of the world when you have to admit you don’t know something.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

After Abigail got settled in her dorm room with her new roommate, Vivi and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the car.  I took Vivi’s hand and said, “I’m a little sad that we have to leave.”  Vivi, in her second grade (almost) wisdom, said, “Well, we got her to the right place, got her the right kinds of snacks, put all her clothes on hangers, met her roommate, got them a trash can…now we have to leave so she can do the rest herself.”

“You’re exactly right, Viv.  I guess I’m partly sad because it makes me think about the day when you’ll go off to camp and I’ll have to leave you to have your own adventures.”

She squeezed my hand.  And started asking how many more years until she can go to camp just like Abigail.

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Something Old, Something New

Jamie paintingToday I spent eight hours on my feet volunteering at a consignment sale.  The significance of the date didn’t hit me until 7:30 p.m., when I went to write a check for the two tubs of summer clothes and sandals I had bought for my kids.  March 5, 2014.  The ninth anniversary of the day when Richard and I said our marriage vows.  I wrote about it last year in “The Artist At Our Wedding.”

Part of me is glad that I was too busy today to dwell on the date, to mark every hour by remembering what I was doing at that exact time on that day in 2005.  I spent this day in the YMCA gym sorting clothes, checking for stains, running back and forth, tossing shoes into the right box, making conversation, making new friends.  

 Last night, I tagged my own items to sell.  It makes me sad, every time, to pin and price the clothes that my darlings wore.  The yellow dress Vivi kept clean through the Easter egg hunt last year, when her hair was still long and trailed behind her as she ran around Nana and Papa’s garden.  The orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt that Carlos wore at Cocoa Beach on the day we went to see the Mars Curiosity Rover launched into space.  A pink sequined top and ruffled skirt that Vivi picked out for her first day of kindergarten.  Tiny shoes that never touched the ground.  Pajamas that had swaddled my nephews, passed down to us for our season, then passed along again.  That blue sun hat that Carlos hated, the one with the Velcro strap that was too strong for him to undo.  carlos hawaiian

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

I had that talk with several other mothers today–how sad it makes us feel to say goodbye to the clothes from our kids’ yesterdays. But it just isn’t possible to hang on to every precious thing.  I try to remind myself that they outgrow their clothes because they are healthy and strong.  Changing is a part of being OK.

A wedding anniversary.  One life ended.  Another life begun.  I wouldn’t have these children if that March 5th wedding had ended in a happily ever after.  Would I notice the bluebirds as much?   I often wonder what it would have been like to have children with Richard.  But I don’t have much time to chase that wonder because I am so busy living THIS life.  That something old.  This something new.  This always borrowed.  This beautiful, sometimes blue.

Wordless Wednesday — Time to Grow

Thoughts on growing from three wise men who always maintained a connection to childhood:

 

I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird  that has broken out of the egg.
James M. Barrie 

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

C. S. Lewis 

Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.
Hans Christian Andersen 

Newly hatched baby gecko

Newly hatched baby gecko

 

I hope you grow today.