Tag Archives: Wesleyan

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.

Telling Stories

speaking

Another reunion weekend at Wesleyan and this one was a Big One. Twenty five years since the class of 1990 graduated. My last year as Alumnae President. I’ve got so many stories to tell but I need time to sit still and think about them. These were my remarks to the Alumnae Association on Saturday morning:

After all the pomp and circumstance, it’s good to turn to our sisters and say, “Good morning!” And I add, “Welcome Home!” because Wesleyan is home for all of us gathered here.

I’m usually rather extemporanteous with my speeches–I wait to be inspired by something during the weekend, some idea that comes close to the explaining the love that we feel here when we all get together. But this weekend has been even more busy than usual. It’s my 25th reunion (insert very loud WOO-HOO AND WHEEEE here)…and we have been staying up very late telling stories.

Kym, who is one of the most beautiful, wise and generally brilliant people I know, told us of the anguish she felt as she learned to wait and to abide while her father died.

Ystoriesvette, who we haven’t seen for 25 years, told of the joy of finding work that she loves, that keeps her growing. She made us laugh with the story of her soulmate proposing on the brim of the Grand Canyon, even as a tour bus clapped and waited for her answer. We laughed with her, past midnight.

We all could relate when Natalie talked about working 50 hours a week at the bank, but running home on her lunch break to bake muffins for her son’s cross country team. So we told her, “Sweetie–they have bakeries. Get you some money from the bank and BUY muffins, then take a nap.”

Two a.m., and Natalie crows, “Ashley! Tell us about that time you knew your marriage to Fartbuster was over! The one with the ice!” So I did. I told them of the epic blowout in the middle of the Atlanta airport when I stood back and said, “I don’t want this anymore. This isn’t the life I want for myself.”

Three a.m. rolled around but we just couldn’t stop telling stories. And I hadn’t written a speech.

But Friday night, at the Celebration Concert, I heard something that made sense of this weekend, that summed up the joy I feel when my sisters and I are together. Two members of the Green Knight class of 1980 sang “For Good” from Wicked. If you know the story, Glinda and Elpheba are two young women who meet at school:

“It well may be

That we may never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part–

So much of me

Is made of what I learn from you

You’ll be with me

Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have rewritten mine

By being my friend.”

We need a place to tell our stories, a safe circle of people who love us and laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry. I have that circle and I love you, every one of you. Thank you for rewriting my story.

PK90

Little Old WHAT?

 

THIS is a "granny."

THIS is a “granny.”

My writer friend Chris taught me a lesson this week and I appreciated her opening my eyes.  Because, like most lessons, it came right back to bite me in the butt within 48 hours.

On Monday, I wrote that story “Shine Through” about my return to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend.  In it, I made an offhand reference to “eavesdropping on a couple of little old ladies.”  Chris emailed me later that day and said,

“Hey, I think we’re good enough friends for me to say this.  (We are.)  ‘Little old ladies?’  Think about removing that from your vocabulary.  It’s talking in stereotypes.  Would you call me that?”

Now, for the record, Chris IS somewhat of an authority on this because she is an actual five-foot-tall woman who has been celebrating birthdays since 1932.  So technically, someone could look at her and think little + old + lady.  But that someone would be seeing an idea of her, not her.

Huh.

I replied, “Of course I wouldn’t call YOU that!  You’re a badass.”  This woman is funny and smart and iron-jawed and gentle and fierce and kind.  She’s had her heart broken beyond measure.  She was a computer programmer when that was a man’s game.  She’s a grandmother to two of the coolest kids in the world.  She’s facing a tough Mother’s Day this year because her daughter died in the fall.  She knits.  She doesn’t cook.  She writes stories.  She’s a breast cancer survivor.  She’s my friend.

If you saw her toodling down the street in her big ole Buick, white curls blowing in the breeze and a sensible sweater over her shoulders, you wouldn’t know all those things about her.

Sure, “little old lady” isn’t the worst thing you can call someone, but it’s dismissive in a thoughtless way.  It doesn’t see the real person, just the stereotype.  That’s why I thanked Chris for saying something.

And then came the aforementioned biting of the butt.  Two moments happened to me this week that had me thinking about age and the assumptions we make based on it.

The first moment happened at that same Wesleyan reunion.  After the big meeting, my classmate Tara and I were standing on the front porch talking in the sunshine.  As people came and went, I spoke to just about everyone.  Gave some directions.  Answered questions about events.  Near us, an alumna sat in one of the rocking chairs.  At one point, she reached out for my arm and asked, “Are you a student?”

Oh, how Tara and I laughed!  My first thought was that I was just so darn cute and charming that she thought I was still a teenager. Easy mistake to make!  I leaned closer to her so she could see my gray hair and said, “Good grief, no!  I’m 45 years old!”  I giggled a girlish little giggle.

She flapped her hand at me and said, “Oh, well…I’m blind.”

Ah.

That explains it.  I owe my youthful charm to macular degeneration.

The second thing that got me thinking about age happened yesterday.  We had that awful windstorm in the early morning so trees were down all over town.  Carlos’ day care had to close because they had no power.  He and I had an impromptu adventure day together.  We came home from our trip to the library to discover that two fire trucks were parked on our street, just a couple of doors down.  We wandered over to see what was going on.  A tree had fallen onto a power line and caused some sparking, so the fire fighters were babysitting it (their words!) until the power company could get there.  We had one 3-year-old boy who likes fire trucks right there with six bored fire fighters, a fire truck that still smelled like smoke from an earlier call, and a gigantic hook and ladder truck.  Carlos was in heaven!

Those men were so sweet to my boy.  Carlos doesn’t like loud noises, so he stood there the whole time with his hands over his ears, worried that the siren was going to surprise him.  One man opened the doors of the truck, showed Carlos the hatch on the front that holds the nozzle, even offered to let him sit in the driver’s seat.  Carlos just said, “No!” and “Wow!”  It was precious.  One of the older fire fighters and I were talking about the whole fear of loud sounds thing.  He said his granddaughter doesn’t even like it when his cows get to mooing.

Anywho…after a while they got the word that one truck could leave.  So the nice fire fighter looks at Carlos and says, “Ask Granny to take you back in the yard now!”

Um.

Excuse me?

GRANNY???  It’s not the first time someone has mistaken me for Carlos’ grandmother.  I do have silver hair and an imperious bosom.  But DANG.  Do I look like a GRANNY?  Maybe a “Mimi” or a “Nana” or something sassy like “Gigi” or “GaGa” but GRANNY???

Damn.

Who does he think I am, some little old lady?

Ouch.

_____________________________________________

Get to know Chris better through this wonderful blog post:  “Child of the Thirties.”  It even has pictures!

This Little Light of Mine

So far, so good.  My run of luck with extemporaneous speaking holds.  Every time I’ve been called upon to speak as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, I pull something out of my….thin air.   Instead of sitting down in my study and crafting a wise and inspirational message, I compose in the car as I drive.  My remarks are scrawled on the back of Dairy Queen napkins or written in the margins of the program.

Thursday, as I finished up my tasks at work, I pulled a pink Post-It note off the stack and scribbled, “This Little Light of Mine…” and shoved it in my purse.  That was all I needed to get the idea going.  You’re humming it now, right?  Yeah, me too.

This-Little-LightBefore the Candle Lighting ceremony, it’s my job to give some words of wisdom to the graduating class.  Something that celebrates four tough years of diligent academic pursuits.  Something that encapsulates the sisterhood that we hold so dear. Something they’ll carry with them into the years after college, something that will call them back to the fold.  Something with a chorus that any three-year-old can remember.

Back in the fall, I had spoken with this same senior class at the beginning of their last year at Wesleyan.  The advice I gave them that day was:  “Do the Next Right Thing.”  They remembered!  On Saturday, I asked if anyone recalled the advice and my friend Paula (who’s heading to the University of Louisville for her MFA!) hollered it out.  So proud of her!  They made it–they did each little thing that brought them here, to the last few days before they graduate.

But, as it is with life, each accomplishment brings us to the next…”What next?”

And wanting to answer that question for the seniors?  THAT, is how I found myself doing something that scared the ever-loving shit out of me in the name of sisterhood and gifts.  

I sang.  I sang near a microphone.  A microphone that was on and pointed at my face.  I sang on a stage with 1000 people waiting to hear what I was going to sing.  Gulp.  

I am an expert at lip syncing.  I only sing in the car by myself.  Or in the shower if everyone else is out of the house.  I don’t sing.  

Seriously.  When I realized what I had just talked myself into up there on that stage, I wanted to pass out.  But I opened my mouth and croaked, “This Little Light of Mine…”

And a chorus of voices sang back, “I’m gonna let it shine!”

Huh.

I croaked again, “This little light of mine…”

“I’m gonna let IT SHINE!”  They were getting into it!

Bring it on home, Ashley!  Sell it to the cheap seats!  “This little light of mine…”

“I’M GONNA LET IT SHINE!”  

Before we lost momentum, I waggled my hands in the air and they kept going!  “Let it shine!  Let it shine!  Let it shine!”  

I honestly think if we had done the second verse, Michael would have jumped in on the organ or someone would have jumped up clapping.  The simple joy of that song just does something!  It. Was. AWESOME.  

That was the whole message I left with those young women:  When you leave Wesleyan, take that light that you’ve been given here and let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.  Because a candle can light a thousand other candles without diminishing itself. 

 

2013 - 1the world needs

 

 

One Fine Morning

Well, I went to bed the other night with my speech for the next day unwritten, and–wouldn’t you know it–as soon as I turned off the light and put my head on the pillow it came to me.  I grabbed the pen next to my gratitude journal and scrawled on the back of my left hand:

8000
NRT
Auburn
Paula
Pioneers 
Honey, Please

Then I went to sleep.

Here’s what I ended up saying to the class of 2014 at the official beginning of their senior year…

Hello, everyone.  I am Ashley Garrett and I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association.  I bring you greetings on behalf of the over 8000 women who have gone before you into the wider world after Wesleyan.  I am excited to be here today because I love love love Fall Convocation–it’s the start of a great adventure, a journey.

We are Pioneers and just like the pioneer women a couple of hundred years ago, we have packed up the things we can’t live without and thrown them in our wagons and made our way to Macon, the first stop on that journey.  And like those pioneer women, we might be looking ahead at all the ground we have to cover to get from here to there and feeling overwhelmed.  I imagine that many of those pioneers said, “Hold on.  You mean to tell me that I have to WALK across an ocean of prairie grass just to get to a mile-high WALL of Rocky Mountains and once I get over THAT, I can start my life?  Honey, please.”

It IS overwhelming, when we look out at the start of journey and see all that lies ahead of us.  So here’s my advice to you:  Just do the next right thing.  Do the next right thing.  You don’t have to do all the things and you don’t have to do them today.  You only have to do the next right thing.

This is the advice I would give my friend, Auburn, who is a member of the first-year Pirate class.  This week, Auburn was elected the chair of her class STUNT committee.  She’s looking ahead to February and thinking, “HOW am I going to make this happen?”  Auburn, just do the next right thing.

Where’s my friend, Paula?  Paula is a member of the senior Purple Knight class.  She’s juggling Orientation leadership, a role in the theater production, backstage work on another production, and her course work.  And Paula is already thinking about how to get her Actor’s Equity card after she graduates.  Paula, do the next right thing.

I tell you this today because I am a Pioneer and I am also a Purple Knight.  And I’ve walked across some oceans and climbed some mountains and I’m back here today to tell you that I know you can do it.  You will get there if you do the next right thing.  For you have courage in your purpose and strength to see it through.  Class of 2014, all hail to you.

There was clapping and cheering and crying and it was everything I had hoped to say.

Wesleyan College convocation

That’s Paula on the far left with her friends. Look at those smiles! These women will change the world.

I got to hug Paula afterwards and meet her mama.  Paula hugged my neck and whispered, “I needed to hear that today.”  There was no better outcome I could have asked for when I went to bed without knowing what I was going to say.

I got a hug from Auburn, too.  She’s only been at Wesleyan for a few weeks and is still settling in, even though she’s a third generation Wesleyanne.  While we were talking, President Ruth Knox came over to say hello and I had the honor of introducing Auburn to her.  As luck would have it, Auburn is at Wesleyan on the Mary Knox McNeill scholarship for faith and service.  That scholarship was established in memory of President Knox’s sister.  It was pure magic, watching the two of them connect there on the steps.  Ruth said, “I’ll be keeping my eye on you.”  A light came on inside Auburn and I got to see it, that moment when a girl stood up taller, prouder.  She messaged me later and we giggled over the delights of the day.  The last thing she said was, “I feel at home here now.”  Well, you can get to know her on her blog “Tales of a Wesleyanne!”

Wesleyan college convocation

That’s Auburn in the middle with her mama’s classmates. Y’all might remember Virginia from that story “The Teacher and the Professor.”

When I went to sleep with those random words scrawled on my hand, I couldn’t have dreamed of where they would take me.  What a fine morning.

The Next Right Thing

I have been stretching myself pretty thin for about a month and tonight, it caught up with me and bit me in the tail.  Between launching projects at the new job, the fundraising for Leukemia Society, the mothering, the blogging, the board presiding, the pool vacuuming, the home construction projects, the feeding of the children and the balancing of budgets and setting up play dates and remembering to wash my hair…I am OUT.

Tomorrow at 11:ish, I get to don academic regalia in the Burden Parlor at Wesleyan College, along with the President of the College, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, the Provost, the college Chaplain, the President of the senior class and the President of Student Government.  I am the President of the Alumnae Association.  I love it.  I love love love love love this convocation.  Fall convocation, the formal beginning of the school year at the first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women.  We started in 1836 and haven’t missed a year since.

Wesleyan College 2012

Wesleyan College Fall Convocation 2012

We will line up in a double column according to the instructions pinned to either side of the wide doors.  A Junior Marshall will nervously guide us out the lobby and down the steps of the Porter Building, where we will link up with the grander procession.  We will fall in with the faculty, who walk draped in the velvet and satin they have earned through decades of study.  We will walk between the senior class in their new black robes and plain mortar boards.  We will be led by 30 students from 30 different countries who carry the flags of their homelands.

The Candler organ will make the air shake with joy.  We will march down the aisles, through the crowds of first years, sophomores, juniors.  We will take the stage and stand as the seniors file in and take their seats.  A fanfare from the organ and the ceremony will begin.

And in those first few minutes, I’m supposed to stand up and say a few words–bring greetings on behalf of the 8000 alumnae who have gone before this senior class.  And I.  Got.  Nuthin.

Last year, I realized during my drive down there that I had written a speech with lots of references to the WRONG class.  The seniors were Red Pirates and I thought they were Golden Hearts (I can’t even begin to explain right now).  So I improvised a little talk about “ships” like scholarships and internships and fellowship.  It was PERFECT.  This year’s senior class is a Purple Knight class–my own class!  I know their traditions inside and out.  I know the words to the song, the rowdiest of cheers, the hand signals.  

But inspiring words?  Nuthin.

So tonight I was in a swivet.  A tizzy.  A kerfuffle.  And it was just making my panic worse.

Then I remembered a piece of advice from my friend, Jean.  “Do the next right thing.”

I don’t have to figure it all out at once.  Just do the next right thing.  I can’t sit here and know that everything will go perfectly tomorrow.  I can’t nail it down.  But I can do the next right thing.

And that right thing is going to bed.

I’m going to bed with that phrase in my head, and I’ll think of something to tell those young women tomorrow morning.  I’ll see my friend, Virginia, in her professor robes.  I’ll see my friend, Auburn, at her first formal convocation.  I’ll see Annabel and Parrish and Lauren and Cathy and Ruth and Vivia and Susan and I will remember that I am one of them.  I am a Wesleyanne.

Wesleyan College 2011

Wesleyan Women, 2011

College didn’t teach me how to do everything.  It taught me how to discern the right thing.  It taught me how to dare.  It taught me how to improvise.  Wesleyan taught me to believe in myself back then and it reminds me to believe in myself now every time I step on the campus.

So I’m going to rest and tomorrow I will do the next right thing.