Do I have it in me?

When you start putting the pieces together and it takes so long and you’ve crumpled the instructions up so many times that you can’t even decipher the words.  When you keep going, putting pieces where you think they should go, inserting parts from other projects and using chewed gum to hold them in place because glue costs $3.00 and you only have $10 for the week.  When you wake up in the morning and swear you’ve given it all you could and yet somehow find yourself back at it an hour later. When you know it takes blood, sweat and tears but all you have left is an exacerbated sigh.  When you ask your friends to tread lightly because the whole thing might fall, but they forget and it shakes under their careless feet.  When you finally look up and see your reflection but you hardly recognize yourself….

When you finish, will it matter that everyone you thought would stick around has long since gone and the only one to say “well done” is you?  Is your voice going to be encouraging and soulful enough at the end of it to make you believe it was worth it?  Will you be satisfied with yourself even when no one else cares?

I surely hope so because the crowd is dwindling and your candles have all burnt low. Time to quiet your screaming voice and save your energy  in case you ever build that fucking thing. Everyone else has left the building and the only conviction you have is yours alone. 

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Fit of giggles and happiness

This past week, my mom had the boys enrolled in a day camp a few miles from where she lives, an hour away from me. I had a whole week to myself!  I’ve spent the past year redefining what kind of parent I am on my own.  This week was a rare opportunity for me to rediscover what I like to do on my own-not as a mother, but as a woman. It took a few days to decompress completely and wrap my head around it.  I was still working but I had the evenings and mornings to myself.  It was glorious!  I went for runs, long strolls into town for no other reason than I could, swimming in the morning and at night, watched TV whenever I wanted, had friends over, stayed up late and ate left over pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By Friday night, I could tell that my breathing had slowed down, my pace had changed to a sauntering stroll, my whole attitude was centered in a much more peaceful place. I had finally had a chance to completely recharge! It felt great!

I couldn’t have it all, though. Oh no, not this girl!  A full week going by without a problem coming up just doesn’t happen for for a gal like me.  Something always, always pulls me back and grounds me.  While the kids were away,  I ran into some serious car trouble that will likely leave us without transportation for at least the next few weeks. That combined with the fact that in order to fix it, I’m going to be completely broke (as in negative bank account, as in make the food last as long as we can) could have been bad. By the time they’d returned home on Sunday, I’d resigned all of us to a couple of weeks of biking where we needed to go.  While it was frustrating, to say the least, I couldn’t help but see the silver lining in all of it.  Maybe this was who I was now.  The week of recharging had changed me! Perhaps I’d been through so much lately that a problem with an actual solution was enough to keep the skip in my step.  {This wasn’t so bad.  I’m a peaceful, happy person now. I can totally make this work!}   When relaying my plans for the upcoming weeks to the boys, I found myself saying things like “We could really use the exercise anyway!” and  “It’s supposed to be fairly sunny for the rest of the week, why not enjoy the weather?” “I’ve been meaning to check out the various meals we can make using Ramen Noodles!” (I think there are over 100, btw!!)  Thankfully everything we need (my job, their camp, grocery store, etc.) is all within a  two-mile radius and we live in a town in which biking is a completely acceptable form of transport.  My peppy pep talk to the kids was met with long, blank, stares and a few grunts and moans, but I skipped right through it and moved along, using words like “team” and “bonding” and “namaste.” (No really- I bowed out of the dining room, while my younger son looked on amused and perplexed with his hands in prayerful pose as instructed, as I repeated Namaste until I was out of sight.)

As positive as I was trying to be, I admit, I had some seriously sobering moments of panic that could not, no matter what, be squelched. {What if we wanted to leave and go somewhere else for a weekend?? Everything outside of this place is at least 45 miles away!! What they hell was I thinking? I hadn’t even checked the weather! It could totally rain the whole time and then what?!  I pull up to work on my 5 speed, drenched and freezing all day and then have to turn around and bike 2 miles to pick up my equally wet and frozen children from camp?!}  But the most terrifying thought was: {What if this whole thing never ends and this is it?! This is how we get around now-the biker family….”there goes old widow Ashley and her poor children….biking through the snow…”}  The more I thought about it, the more terrifying the whole deal seemed to me. It wasn’t just the car, it was the financial worries and eventually every bad decision I’ve ever made.

So I stopped thinking about it. The reality was that we didn’t have a choice. This was just what we had to do and we could do it and feel good about it or we could do it and be miserable. I chose door # 1.

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Sunday night we were fortunate enough to accompany a friend to a small little theater situated at the edge of an enchanted old farm, with rolling hills and picnic tables and perfectly lined stoned walls.  It was beautiful and such a unique place to celebrate theater!  As we waited for the show to start, I looked around and wondered how we could possibly be upset about  obstacles in life?   We were so lucky to be in this little place!  I leaned back in my seat, grinning from ear to ear, so proud of myself for having chosen door #1!  This night was validation that good things can happen as long as you commit to happiness!  Ahhhhhh..  A quick glance over my shoulder to share this moment with the boys but when I looked over, they were gone.  Still calm, I thought “they must have gone to the bathroom.”

I scanned the length of the tiny barn, turned theater and found them blocking the entrance and in the throes of some barely audible, but clearly very intense battle over a sweater. People were skirting around them with annoyed glances at one another or requests for them to please move. All of which had no effect on them whatsoever. I couldn’t hear but when I squinted to get a better look, I noticed one had a cup of water and a crumbling cookie that he was clearly intending to use for ammunition against the other if the sweater wasn’t released.  The little one caught my eye just as the cookie hit his cheek and  let out a wail so loud that almost every head in the audience turned to see what was going on. They made their way back to me but it didn’t end there so I had to sit in between them.  It calmed down for a moment until a little hand made its way behind my back and slapped his brother’s head so viciously that a shout escaped.  Ordinarily I would have taken them outside and unleashed my usually very effective speech in which I threaten to rid my house of every electronic piece of equipment.  But we were trapped in such close quarters that I had to resort to whispering potential consequences through gritted teeth until the lights dimmed and a pianist began the play’s introduction. By this point I was so hot from embarrassment and angry from trying to control them in that barn that my bangs were stuck to my forehead and my mouth had never been so dry. I tried to find the brochure to fan myself off but couldn’t, which just made it worse. When I finally found it, crumpled up in my son’s sweater, I was so angry and frustrated at the whole situation.  I held up the crumpled remains of the brochure along with the sweater and with my lip stuck to my teeth and my eyes bulged out of my red face, I proclaimed to both of them, in a sinister, throaty voice :  “It’s mine now.”

I was clutching the sweater so tightly that my knuckles were white and my fist was shaking.  I held their gaze for a full 30 seconds.  My face must have looked completely psychotic.  Upon receiving my preposterous declaration and holding my alternating glare for as long as they could, it occurred to all of us how ridiculous this was. I looked like the Hulk, head moving from side to side, sweat pouring down my face, arm raised with a miniature piece of cloth hanging around my wrist. I had made one last attempt to hold my happy place together and all I had to show for it was a sweater and a crumpled brochure. The facade was cracking and we all knew it.  My older son bit his lip to stop himself from laughing as his brother’s hands flew up to cover his own mouth. By now, the curtains were opening and we’d all completely lost it. The first half an hour was spent stifling laughter as random parts of the play would remind one of us how ridiculous I looked.  All it would take was a sigh or twitch and we were, all three of us in stifled, uncontrollable, hysterics, heads down with the biggest smiles on our faces and tears rolling down our cheeks. We eventually had to excuse ourselves and return collected.  By the time the play ended, I was in the middle, their heads on my shoulders and we were breathing in sync, trying not fall asleep.

I don’t know how these next few weeks will go. I imagine much like the first few days. I foresee some unavoidable inconvenience and struggle but I hope those things are mixed with pep talks and great fits of laughter that lead to nights cuddled up on the couch together.  When we make it to the other side of this, I don’t want a trophy at the end. What I want is to be given another night like that. I want a chance once in a while to appreciate and savor the moment with my two boys.

By the time we left that old barn, turned theater, I felt like I had the richest piece of chocolate melting in my mouth and I didn’t care that the euphoria had allowed to me to laugh when the chocolate dribbled down my chin.

You can be whatever kind of boy you want to be

My 11 year old was walking around in my heels for about a half an hour. When I glanced over, I gave him an amused smirk and asked what he was doing. “What?! They suit me!” He proclaimed over the click, clack of wood heel on wood floor.  As he left the kitchen and headed toward the couch to play XBox, still wearing my stilettos, he threw an “I like it!” over his shoulder to which I replied, “whatever you need to do, man.”

It may seem like an offhanded response, but this was a careful reply and an attempt not to pay much too attention to it.  My first reaction was to tell him he looked silly and ask him to take them off. “Heels are for girls!”  However, it occurred to me that telling him not to wear those shoes contradicts the message I’ve tried to teach him up to this point. It tells him the ponies he played with when he was three, the easy bake oven he asked for for Christmas when he was four, and the general understanding that “he can be whatever kind of boy he wants to be” are wrong.  It tells him the Legos and trucks he likes are acceptable, but anything that comes painted pink and purple or requires a spatula or brush and and change of clothes are NOT for him.

I know it was just a pair of heels and really, it means nothing other than he was trying them out. But it opened my eyes to how easy could have been for me to confirm stereotypes and validate lasting gender specific prejudices. The confusion of gender in this country doesn’t exist because we allow our children to have options. The confusion about what it means to be a boy (or girl) in our ever evolving, yet frighteningly stagnant culture comes from a child knowing there are options and being told without reason or rhyme that they’re just not allowed to chose them.

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Brother Love

The boys are in the living room playing a video game when I hear:

Younger Bother to Older Brother: “You don’t love me.”

Older Brother:  “Come here and I’ll show you a trick to tell you if I love you.”

(I’m in the kitchen letting this play out, but terrified that this is a set up!)

Younger Brother cautiously makes his way over to his Older Brother.

Older Brother: “Ok. Feel my heart. Do you feel that?” (Y.B. nods) “If you can feel it beating, then that means I love you.”

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A poem for the working mother

If I were a stay at home mother, I’d give BJs like no other.

The house would be clean, dinner cooked. “Here Schnookums, sit down, relax with a book.”

If I stayed home, the kids would be sweet. They’d fight over nothing. Their rooms would be neat.

I’d dress them in clothes you’d know I’d made by hand. Each little collar would have stitched a “domestic” brand.

The things I would do if I were home all day long!

I’d bake pies and cookies and have weekly meal plans. We’d have HBO, Netflix and of course, On-Demand.

I’d wait for your paycheck on bated breath. The thought of your cock would always make me wet.

If I were a housewife your life would be great! You’d be adored and respected. For sex- you’d never wait.

But sadly for you, I’m a working mother. I clock out of one job and start in on another.

No BJs for you ’til everything’s done. And who am I kidding? Sometimes, you take forever to cum.

The dishes are stacked high, the dog peed on the rug.  You want your dick sucked? Well, I need a hug.

I work all day and I hate every minute. But the kids need shoes and clothes and food. So I’m in it to win it.

When we were first dating, I promised the world but having a job has jaded this down home girl.

I’m sorry my darling,

Most days you’re forgotten and saved until last.  “Tonight if you wash the dishes, you can put it in my ass.”

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Saved by Science

My 6 year old asked: “Mom, can I have some more of that delicious fruit?”

I was astonished that my picky eater -who typically only wants seconds of anything that’s orange and glowing so brightly it can be seen from outer space- wanted more of a healthy snack.  I enthusiastically (and maybe a bit frantically) started cutting up another piece of fruit!

6 yr Old: “Who made Kiwi’s, anyway?”

{If I say something like nature -as in the earth -as in it’s good for you, will it deter him? Think fast-what would my mom have said?}

“Hmmm.. God,” I say with a little smirk.

Pointing to the seeds, he says, “God? God made these? Where did he find these tiny nuts?” 

My 11 year old, sitting in the living room remarks, “God?! HAHA- I’m going with the Big Bang theory on this one.”

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Guilty pleasures

I don’t know what’s possessed me, but I’ve decided to spice things up around here and secretly wink at each boy individually whispering “favorite” while pointing to him. Hahahaha!! They each blush and smile and eventually one tells the other that their my favorite and they fight over it! They buy it every time! I need a hobby! Freud would have a field day with this :/

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40 days in: Letter to Jason

We were so happy. Every time I tell the story of June 7th, I always start with “we were so happy.” Moments before you died, I was having a conversation with Miles, as you know, about how we were all going to live until we were 110. An hour before you died, Ruth and I were remarking on the beauty of quiet pools and winding rivers. We were so lucky. Five hours before you died we were talking about how amazing it was that our kids were so amused by Lyrik you said you were” grateful that they had different men in their lives.” The morning of June 7th, I woke up before you, which you know is a rare occasion, and I looked at your sleeping face and Elvis lips and I smiled and… I was so happy.

The first couple weeks, I stood only when someone held my hand. I spoke only about what we had been through -staring blankly, terrified when conversations turned to what the three of us would be walking into –without you. I moved, but only because I had to. You were dead, but I was alive and so I was breathing, blinking, crying and feeling…but only because I had to.

The last two weeks have been more of a solitary journey for me. Friends and family still present, still checking in and helping, but when they leave or the call ends I can stand for longer periods of time by myself. And the time I’m alone with the kids or alone with my thoughts, doesn’t feel as endless and haunting as it did in those first 30 days.

It’s so strange, but 40 days later the ache in my heart is so much deeper than it was just days after June 7th. Maybe it hurts more because I allow myself to wish — to hope that you and I can sit down at the end of this and laugh and cry about it together; to wish you were here to help me comfort the boys- to give both heavy heads a place on your shoulders and to cover their whole backs with your hands when you pulled them in; to wish you were here to tell us it is all going to be ok; to wish we knew with certainty that you were ok.

My dearest wish, Jason is that you might stick around in this world for a little while just to see what our little nugget children are up to…their accomplishments, their love for each other, their laughter over farts and only you know what else… Miles is keeping up with the older kids at camp this summer. He rode a school bus for the first time! He’s drawing and he’s getting really, really good! He says, “you know who would be really proud of me? Dad.” And I know he’s absolutely right. Chase has been Miles’s protector during summer camps and when he sees one of us crying he’s right there rubbing our backs and then quickly making jokes to cheer us up. He’s swimming in the deep end at the pool this year and jumped off the highest diving board-no fear! He’s the first one to tell a story of you and the most insistent that we never forget-even when it’s hard to remember. And I hope these things you see.

40 days later, when I am quiet and the day is almost over- I allow myself the most selfish wish of all- that when you told me “you love me so much that when you die you want to come back and be with me all over again” that that love holds some weight with the Gods and you could choose this life- right now–not the next life or the life after that. That I might keep you here in some way- a balloon floating above us, tethered to the wrist of a young girl too afraid to let it go… that I might wish it hard enough and one day I’ll find you there, still swimming in the most beautiful place, on the most beautiful day, when we were so happy…that I might never let you go…

But when I allow myself that wish, my love, everything around me fades to a cold, colorless grey and the sorrow that follows the realization that you and I can never be again the way we were that day or those years, brings me to my knees. And so my love, I beg you watch over the boys and pray to God they feel you there for as long as you will stay. But I ask that you forgive me as I work to untie the string around my wrist. I hope you don’t feel forgotten when I turn up the music and dance and laugh and sing. I pray you don’t feel frightened that your life with us is forgotten when I smile as new memories are created. My love, my heart, my strength- my most selfish wish must now be that you’re not saddened by my relief when I unloose the knot and someday, set you free.

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Starting from scratch

I’ve started this blog over a hundred times.  Handwritten notes crumpled on the kitchen counter, email drafts at work, various google doc drafts- all saved for a day when I can piece them together and make sense of the story I’m trying to tell. I’ve had a difficult time finding a place to start when it’s all happening around me.

So maybe the best way to start this is to begin with who I am in this moment and in this moment, I’m a newly widowed, single mother of two boys ages 11 and 6. Today marks the 8 month anniversary of the death of my boyfriend of nearly 8 years. Jason and I met in March of 2007. My oldest son, Chase, was 3 years old at the time. After a little over a year together, we had our younger son, Miles- born on the same day, at the opposite time as Chase. They are almost exactly 5 years apart…

Jason died on June 7th, 2014.  He drowned in front of us at a local reservoir and waterfall.  Sucked in by the undercurrent of the falls, he was bashed against the rocks and emerged moments later, floating face first down the river, toward Miles (age 5 at the time) and myself. My son, Chase was also sucked into the undercurrent of the falls and spent over 30 minutes fighting to save himself, not knowing his stepfather had drowned next to him.  Friends of ours were there that day with their daughter and daughter’s friend. They fought with us, for us and for their own lives, as well.  There’s much more that happened that day and the days following and posts about those first few days and months will come. For now, I have to be satisfied with just an introduction or else I’ll get lost in every detail and if I let that happen, the past three paragraphs will join the rest of the unfinished blog posts I’ll never have the time to piece together…

Ultimately, this blog isn’t about that day, anyway. This blog is meant to be about how we rise together. How my children and I move on, clinging to and then staggering from the ledge where he left us. This is an expression of our struggle to find peace in the face of tragedy and hope against all odds. This is about finding our smiles. This is our story.

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