Showing up

I promise to start showing up first and foremost for myself. Because if I am not in my own corner than it is tough to stand on the front lines for anyone else. My whole health propels the health of this home and those I cross paths with everyday. I do not say that with pride, I actually say it with ache because I've seen the days of unhealth and it seems no one comes out unscathed. 
Part of health for me is writing, the way the keys invite me to myself and all that is jumbled in my head. The stuff that keeps my mind running since 4am in the morning. Thoughts that make me smile and thoughts that bring pain to my chest. They cannot stay only in this frame they must find their way out. 

Today marks the first day of Lent and I am going to practice showing up and not allowing myself to get lost in my current wilderness. I want to hear the voice of God calling me in this season and I want respond. 

My story well for the next 40 days includes growing up with information, hearing women, seeing children, staying in love, being needy, type 8, creating home, finding life’s work, and grief. These stories have faces and moments that are being held and I want to give them language so that I can understand more. For anyone who joins me, thank you. Witness to life is precious. And I’ll always take your thoughts, your cheers, your tears, your disagreements, I am as open as I’ve ever been and you are invited. 

Morphing Christmas

When I ran into the living room in balmy Clearwater, Florida I was elated to see that Santa had come again! My cousins and I ran to find our stocking names and look below it where our big santa gift usually lay. This particular year I got a bike  - one with a bell and fun sparkly things to go on the wheels for decorations. My stocking full of M&M's and socks was also a highlight moment of the year for me. My brother or someone else always put comical things in the stockings as well like slimy gel fish tackle or rocks. It was at least 15 full minutes of collective joy for our family. 

When I ran into the living room in balmy Clearwater, Florida I was elated to see that Santa had come again! My cousins and I ran to find our stocking names and look below it where our big santa gift usually lay. The year I remember most clearly I got a bike  - one with a bell and fun sparkly things to go on the wheels for decorations. My stocking was full of M&M's with a few necessities like socks and shampoo. My brother or someone else always put comical things in the stockings as well like slimy gel fish tackle or rocks. It was some of the most memorable moments of collective joy for our family. 

Many in my family had special Christmas outfits. My mother wasn't above wearing light up Christmas earrings with her frosty the snowman blue sweater (all of December).  My grandfather and grandmother wore matching sweatshirts that I had made using puffy paint and each had a huge star in the middle. Considering my artistic skills, I can only imagine they were very "unique" but I felt such pride to give the sweatshirts to them. When I think of my Aunt Nanny and my cousins my mind flashes over endless Christmas PJ sets and slippers and socks with all the jolliness you could picture. 

My grandparents also led our family in a tradition of clue-writing on every gift that would be opened that day. For example, " To Beth From Dick, Clue: clickety clack. And she would spend like 10 minutes shaking the box, feeling the weight of the box, and on and on. My patience has always been too low to excel at this guessing game but the tradition led us to a day of lingering and opening presents on the floor and eating sausage balls and oranges for many hours.  Our family gave everything we had to make a really special Christmas day. And I loved it. 

Once the cousins got older and my grandparents passed away, our joint Christmases became less often. Still, our family tried to hold on to many of the Rowe traditions. This year we faced another major change in the rhythm, presence, and contribution of Christmas spectacular - we attempted to pull off all the special things without our matriarch.  Three days before Christmas marked the second year of her passing and the first marker of us attempting to actually carry on Christmas day.  Last year we all flew to Mexico, unable to imagine walking through stores and making egg casserole and coffee cake til the wee hours without her. No one was ready to fill in the gap.

Were we really ready this year?... ah, no. But was it time to lead a new generation of Christmases, yes, achingly, yes. Ollie, Bea, Sadie, Hannah, and Mateo need magical memories too. And she would want NOTHING less for them. While I think my sister spent the entirety of Christmas in the kitchen prepping to spoil for the next feeding, I found myself often circling aimlessly. I am not sure what I contributed. Typically, I would be the one to at least buy everyone cheesy Christmas gear, but actually, I even forgot Santa. Seriously. Hannah got zero presents from Santa. Mateo got one and that is only because I remembered Santa at about 11pm on Christmas Eve and still had a present left to wrap for Mateo so naturally, that one became from Santa. But there were no big ticket items under the stockings that Santa left and not even any hidden in the tree. We dropped the key ball. 

How on Earth she made it seem so right I have no idea. How the morning sounded like Evie and smelled like sugar and citrus we gave it our best shot. What I am coming to realize is that we can't just repeat the actions of the Rowes or the Wilsons but that we morph what we can within our skill sets and memory. And then we grow it by what comes naturally to the Wilsons, Wilson-Roberts, and Osters sans Matriarch. It aint easy folks. It wasn't smooth, for peet sake, we left our Santa. But listen Ba led the kids in Happy Birthday Jesus song and we blew the candles out on the coffee cake. The memory of Amy's apple pie and Aaron's lamb on Christmas night surrounded by neighbors living in insecure housing with no family to celebrate with ended up making so much sense.  It ended up feeling just about right. We didn't bowl everyone over with magic but all the combined efforts and spirits communicated how much we long to create again together. To honor her memory, and to find our new morphed way of communicating what Christmas means to our families. 


delight, shame and murky water

"Do you think you'll spend the night in the shower?" I banter with Hannah trying to move her towards bedtime. She yells out, "wait, mom, I have this idea and you can turn it down but I am kind of excited about it and thought we could do it tonight instead of reading." I step into the steamy room with heavy feet she can't see behind the curtain and tell myself "show up Ashley" and then I respond, "tell me about it." The curtain flies open and her eyes are big and she asks if we could take the new journal and the new pen that dad brought home for her today and begin writing a story together. She already had the names of 3 characters and the basic plot of some orphans life in the orphanage. "Yes, I want to do that," I take a breath and act cool not teary and finish my sentence, "I'll grab two cups of tea and meet you in your room."

We sat on opposite ends of her daybed and began creating a story together. I loved her face. I loved her imagination. I loved when she told me the word I picked was not the right one. I loved when she told that we needed to use (  ) "these things" to the part of the sentence I wrote that doesn't totally fit into the flow. I tried not to jump across the bed and hug her so tight that we were doing something together that felt so grown up and also felt like so my love language. I love to tell stories. I love to write. I often limit my imagination though and I loved that hers was big enough in places that I couldn't see out beyond all my brain walls. I felt the warmth of tangible delight that was soaring through the room. 

Ten minutes later an equally tangible but way way less lovely picture was also soaring through the room. When I returned to the family room, I asked Stephen what he was doing as his eyes were intent on the screen, he let me know he was really trying to figure out our budget. And something in the next sentence was about how we need to figure out how to make ends meet. Enter PANIC, HYSTERIA, and SHAME in unbound form spewing from yours truly. It was like ugly vomit. And I couldn't stop. And Stephen let me carry on in my ugly. My thoughts ranged from, "how can we still not make ends meet in Charlotte? I've got to get a job, this is ridiculous. I am going to sell out and get whatever work I can, dreaming is stupid. We HAVE to have money to survive here because our house is a money pit that has endless needs and in order to get any relief from the humdrum unbeauty I need to get out and do stuff and stuff costs money. and my clothes are old, my jeans have holes and my shoes are ancient, its nearing Christmas and our house looks like college furniture collection, and we have family coming and parties to host, and we can't be out of money and spiral and spiral and spiral....." I told you it was ugly. 

Not only do I sound and feel heinous but I have spewed venom towards the one person on my team in the world. I shot daggers at the person working his butt off to bring provision and delight to our family. Shame shower now ensuing. So like all smart people, I listen to his response and then I escape. The super sucky part is that his response was a reminder that we committed to each other to starting these conversations in gratitude. Gratitude for health, home, children, etc. etc. etc. We committed, just like a week ago,  to trusting that God has provided for us every single year of our lives and that we sit in a position of incredible wealth compared to much of the world. I'm now drenched in my own stench and he is totally right. His words aren't condemning or unkind. They are frustrated, which makes sense, but they are also gracious, it is still an invitation. I say, "you're right," and I escape to my room. 

And here I am this morning contemplating how on earth I go from a room of utter delight and blessing to the next room and spew venom. Why was that switch possible so fast? What on earth is in this body? Ache, longing, desire. and heaps and heaps and heaps of discontent. That I don't have answers today to make right. The story doesn' wrap up in a bow. The story is that I am in a throw down wrestling match with myself wanting to understand more of what tipped my hand so fast. I am twisting and turning wanting to know that when my head knows my heart and body don't follow. The divide is too great a gap right now and I have to tread the water to bridge them more closely.  And I don't think I like what's in the water. 

To be continued. 


my best teachers

"But I wove him." Mateo whimpers in a sad voice as he watches me crush a cockroach with a shoe and sweep it away. He seems confused because just moments before we were running out the door to get Hannah to the bus when we noticed that a worm was going to get smushed in our path. Mateo wanted to save him and take him to dirt. I stopped, we saved and grins filled the tiny face. So I am sure he was guessing that I had made a turn for kindness towards insects and he felt we had bonded in our rescue efforts only to find yet another creature right near our breakfast table that I smashed without hesitation. As Mateo shared his dismay with me over killing apparently his "favorite one," I had a brief moment of empathy for the lack of control and understanding in a 3 year old body.

So very little that he gets to choose at this point and the rules of the world appear to be baffling to him. For example, yelling "NO!" back at your mother when she makes a request like "go potty" or "put your shoes on" is actually not an option. These requests are not questions and the timing of which they take place are nearly never at your discretion, they are to be done as fast as the words leave my mouth before I give up and you are walking barefoot and it hurts with all the pokey things on the ground. 

I too feel baffled by our days figuring out this world together. It often has me feeling quite unstable. At the dinner table tonight, Mateo invited me to play a game of the switching face expressions which actually had me belly laughing. He recently discovered the art of fake laughing, and he took it to a new level when he abruptly stopped laughing and made a serious face, then back to laughing, then back to serious, then back to laughing. Which I actually found so wildly entertaining watching him navigate with his grey toothed fake laugh. It brought deep laughter to my giggles which were supposed to only last 20 seconds before turning serious so I lost that game. In those moments I fall for him so deeply, he is so inviting and warm and it truly takes SO VERY little to have him feel joined and therefore delighted. Still those moments can be rare in days I can't stop. 

Last but not least of my three short Teo anecdotes of the day, is that he seems to have take after his sister a bit in his keen awareness of moods and lack of appreciation for bad tones. He has begun reading faces very quickly and you ask, "what matter mom?" (or anyone that you can tell seems off). It kind of stops me in my tracks when I realize he sees so well and that building emotional intelligence begins so very young and can be honored. He also seems aware when words are too harsh and the tone is heavy, and yesterday when I was speaking in that firm tone with not as encouraging words, he began a cry and said, "don't talk like that with those words at me." I was mad, you had been disobedient, and yet I also scared you. And you called me for my unkindness and high volume. And I think you were right, I shouldn't talk at that pitch with those words to you - thanks for calling me out - mr. 3 years old. 

So, all this to say, my stay-conscious stay-at-home battle continues, and yet, "I see you Mateo," you are bright and emotional and loving. These days are so dang complicated and while there are many I wish away, there are some, when I see crystal clear the sacredness of these moments I get to share with you over bugs, fake laughter, and loud tones. My mother always told me she learned so much from us kids and for a long time I thought she seemed wise enough and she was just being nice.  Now I am coming to realize that hands down the greatest teachers of my last six months are 3 and 9. Good Lord, may I keep up and open. 

that's a wrap summer

“i do know… how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields” mary oliver

That line is so perfect for summer, where we get the chance to be idle and blessed. This morning I am reflecting on where we have been this summer. This is the longest summer likely I’ll ever have with the children. We started summer in mid May when we made our move across country. At the dinner table last night we were all sharing favorite memories of the summer and things we got to do and our summer included a LOT; Here is some of what we recollected - cross country move, 3 camps for Hannah, a visit to Whitewater Center, Carowinds, a week in the Outer Banks, a trip to Ohio and the loss of Stephen’s first grandparent, a family camping trip in NC mountains, 2 graduation gatherings, a July 4th lake day, time with Ba, Nana, Papa and Uncle, a visit from the Crouches & Cochrans, we bought a house, we stayed at the Ashton, we went to Litchfield Beach, we swam and swam in our own backyard money pit pool, we went to First Ward Park, 7th St Market, Romare Bearden Park,ImaginOn, Anne Springs Close Greenway, Freedom Park, Charlotte Knights Baseball game and every other spot we could discover in Charlotte. 


I found myself staring this summer which sounds incredibly odd to write but typically I resist moments that seem unproductive but I have been so blessed by them. i have watched birds, seen an Owl and a Hawk in our backyard along with all of our Cardinal friends, i watched the waves and remained in awe of the expanse and mystery of the ocean, i have run into the sunroom to watch thunderstorms and felt the exhilaration of thunder and heavy rain. 

It feels ridiculous to want to want a medal today for something millions of mothers do for much longer, but I am proud of me and the kids this summer. I think on the whole we had a sweet summer. I had my moments for sure.for sure. I seem to struggle with the transition the most while these two humans seemed game for each day, and also very open to be with each other. Of course, Hannah loved time retconning with old friends and not a 3 year old but she also laughed and played with him more than I could have even pictured. Mateo’s delight for “my hannah” is through the roof. We told him last night that Hannah was going back to school today and all he could say was “what? no!” 

I have left myself and come back many times this summer. It has been too much to process the loss and the hope some days. So I have just operated and the disconnect I have felt from God, from myself, from my family on those days where I am not going in haven’t been pretty. So my intention now as we move into a new season is increased consciousness. I have no desire to just operate and survive any longer, I am quite ready to live very very present.  I am ready to start new things and dig deep.  It has been a long long time since I have felt that capacity - so, may it be so. See ya summer, it has been big. 

hot blueberries

i havent been writing because I was so dissatisfied of the stories I would be telling. I felt such disappointment that I wrote of unrest and instead of continuing to share I wrote to myself. Maybe part of that is wanting to know more of the limits of when vulnerability is to be shared and when it is intimacy to be held.  I am trying to ask where am i in the healing process before I share? I am not great at this because I have found that part of my healing is sharing. Part of my feeling well is being known more honestly and allowing space that my honesty may also invite yours.  

I try to think of conversations I hold most precious and I often picture ones like blueberry crisp in the ovens. The goodness just busts out. And its crazy messy and runs all in the nooks and crannies. Its a delight and there is always clean up. That's the thing. Those are my favorite conversations - unrehearsed, a bit from the gut, true, even if laced with humor, they are true to the person not sculpted so perfectly for the audience, and they dabble in the mess, in the unknown. The reverse, that really wears me down, are the conversations that share and take back before they can even finish sharing, they solve, they soothe and they start putting their thoughts in reverse and changing them. because they cannot wait for the blueberry to pop, its too scary and hot and sloppy. and they are too afraid that if i see the slop I will not be able to look. or they will not be able to look. either way they protect from the both the goodness and the mess. 

So anywho, long way of saying, I'd like to reconnect and get back into those conversations that invite both the slop and the delight. I'd also like to eat a blueberry crisp now after thinking of it all morning. 

dueling voices

The 90 degree air moves above us as we dangle our legs from the floats inside the swimming pool. Mateo is halfway across the pool looking back at me with a huge grin. He was so pumped putting on his bathing suit, he kept asking, "you, me? you, me? you go in pool?" I was changing him outside still dripping sweat from attempting another run in this humidity. I couldn't even bother to slide off the running clothes for a bathing suit, so I just took off my socks, shoes and shirt and Mateo and I counted to three and jumped in for refreshment. Well to be honest, I counted to three and Mateo counted to one. Once we were both on our floats I gazed at him realizing how much more face time with play without phones or chores he likely desires. And at the same time I got this sense that I was there with him but not there with him. In real time, it all seemed blurry. 

I am not landing. I cannot find footing. And I am mad at myself that my grounding isn't working. And I am frustrated with myself that a choice we knew and we made that does offer goodness can still be this hard. I do not feel the right to be as grumpy as I actually have been. I know this ground and still, I cannot put my feet down. I feel resistant, scared, discontent and disoriented. I find complaints are always near my tongue. And I need to let go and land but I am dangling. I want to look across the pool and see your face and BE WITH YOU. My people, most especially Stephen, are getting the sharp leftovers of my brain as I attempt to land. 

Is there space for my disappointment? Is there space enough for me to absorb the mass transition so I can move on well? Is there a way to accept the radical change to our daily rhythms? Should I have known better? How many missteps did we make? How am I currently making up for the ache? How do I make right the fire in the crossover without burning all my people? Can I reconcile the competing voices in my head - one of kindness to myself that I am still in transition whiplash after a huge last few months and the second voice full of impatience and disdain for the bad attitude and discontent for what at the end of the day are first world problems (we have ample food, shelter, health, community, and work). 

That's where I am this Monday morning. Wanting to start a new week refreshed and open and optimistic. And facing the reality that I'm dangling still and there is work in my heart and mind to find footing again. And I need kindness and acceptance for myself and for my people to start again today. 

“I wanna go home.” Mateo begs. The day had included a long scooter ride down the light rail trail. The heat was bouncing off the dark pavement through the colorful painted rug on the trail causing his arm to hang over his scooter as sweat dripped down the side of face. I feel like the boy has been sweating nonstop for days. Hannah tells me it is because his body can’t get used to this weather. Yes, after his short lifetime of 90% days that were in the 50’s and 70% in the rain, this is a lot of change for all of our bodies to take. I had run 4 miles that morning and basically felt like an olympian from how hard my body seemed to work with this new element to navigate. 
Smells wafting through the warm air are new too, most of the time it smells like wonderbread and cigarette smoke. As we keep walking/scooting, I wondered what it feels like for their eyes. All new sights too. New city skyline, new coffee shops, new roads to drive and sidewalks to walk, new kids to play with, new moms giving hugs, new food being served, new accents being spoken - my word, every sense must be going through a whirlwind. Every sense awakened, some pleasantly and some with surprise, but none the less - you are tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing so many unfamiliar things. And even I who have long known many of these am finding myself feeling foreign at times.  
Of course sweet boy you want to go home. I just have no idea how to explain home to you right now. I find myself wanting to say that home is wherever Hannah, mom and dad are - and maybe that can be enough but I know in my heart you are asking more than for a permanent house. You are asking when can you rest, you are asking if we get to all stay together, you are asking for a something that doesn't shock your senses, home is complex and we all seem to be constantly searching for it. Love you boy.