This year, I’m trying a No-vember.

Every Monday, my husband and I say, “This is the day we start over.” We get especially excited if the first day of the week is also the beginning of a new month. We want to be healthy – for our kids, for our waistlines, for the pandemic world we’re living in.

2020 has not made it easy on diets or schedules or goals. Last time I checked, the longest we’ve survived without a burger or a beer was I-think-maybe-’til-Friday. So last night, after a super fun but excessive Halloween, I started thinking about November. 

I started thinking about saying “no” and meaning it. I started thinking about all the excesses in our lives. This year has made it really easy to say “yes” to another glass of wine or another online purchase. 

What’s another $20? What’s another 20 pounds?

But is that really what we need?

Look, I’m all for treating yourself. I’m a bit of an expert at it, in fact. I’m just wondering what would happen if I pressed pause on all the mindless consumption of social media, ChickFilA, chardonnay and Free Prime Shipping.

What if, this year, I try a No-vember?

Your no’s might be different than mine. My Screen Time Report is ridiculous. My Amazon cart is absurd. I am definitely a stress eater, and there’s more to be stressed out about than ever. 

Modern motherhood is hard. I’m sure primitive motherhood was harder. Bath time every night is a disaster, but can you imagine only being able to wash once a week, all in the same tub water? (I watched a documentary once.) 

Sometimes, when I’m clicking “Buy Now,” I picture myself sitting next to a good ol’ frontier woman, in her little bonnet, showing her how I can push a button on a strange bright screen and the stuff I want will be delivered to my doorstep in as few as two days. 

What do you think she would say to me? 

When I first started using grocery pick-up and delivery, my mom was like, “ASHLEY, you can’t take your KIDS to the GROCERY STORE?”

I get it. We have become accustomed to an ease of living. Not only ease, but excess. I have too much. My kids have too much. It’s too easy to click that button. 

But not if I put the phone down, right? (Or maybe it’s the wine.)

I’m determined to find out. What might happen to my body … to my mindset … to my household … to my relationships? I’ll let you know how I’m doing on Thanksgiving. Or maybe Friday. But hopefully Thanksgiving.

This November, I’m saying “yes” to saying “no.” 

For me, that means no mindless eating or drinking, scrolling or spending. It means no excess.

Except for twinkle lights. Gimme all the twinkle lights.

(Did ya hear that, Sparky?)

No mom is an island.

As if we haven’t all been feeling a little lost this year, my coastal community just lost its bridge to the mainland. And, no – I’m not being dramatic. Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, a hurricane came and knocked out our brand new bridge. (Actually, it was a handful of unsecured barges, but that’s a story for another day … or a follow-up to Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”.)

I understand countless catastrophic things have happened this year – and even in “normal” years – but during a time when moms everywhere are already feeling isolated, a bridge is more than just a way to get from one place to another.

A bridge might be a lifeline, from you to your best friend. It might be the way your Mom and Dad travel to see your kids on a whim, a drive that used to take 15 minutes and now means two hours round-trip if traffic is good. It could be date night or a solitary stroll through Target or the annual mammogram you don’t really need another reason to put off.

It could be your sanity. It could be your job. It could add up to hours and weeks and months (and they’re even saying a year) of having to go out of your way to live your regular life.

I feel like this year is like – I’m gonna show you what you’re made of.

Motherhood, you guys. It’s as strong as it is fragile. As simple as it is complex. There’s nothing easy about it on a good day, and when so much of what is routine and unremarkable is taken away by illness and unrest and natural disaster, it can feel almost suffocating.

My days right now are going one of two ways:

1. Be super productive, cook all the meals, organize all the closets, do all the yoga, break up all the fights, fold all the laundry (but don’t put it away), get some fresh air, make people laugh, kiss my husband, help with the homework, keep everybody relatively happy …

OR

2. Stare at the wall.

There’s no in-between. Today is a stare-at-the-wall day. But we have to keep going. We have to show our kids that not every day is good, but there is at least a little good in every day. And some days? There’s a lot.

We have a chance to be a bridge. Check in on your friends and relatives. Send homemade cards and care packages, just because. Make somebody a meal, even if they didn’t just have a baby. Introduce a new neighbor to some people who feel like sunshine. Give a compliment to a stranger. Look for ways to help, because helping others will help you, too.

I remember when I first started dating my husband, he lived on the beach and I lived in town. A big storm was coming, and he told me if the bridge was blocked, he would swim to me.

Well, the time has come.

No mom is an island. So SWIM. Be a bridge, be a boat … be the hand that reaches out to the one who can’t go it alone anymore.

Let your people know you love them, any way you can.  

A pandemic poem for the first day of school.

Did they make it in the door?

Did I make the right choice?

The house is so quiet.

I miss that little voice.

Months I’ve waited for this day,

I’ve second-guessed and prayed.

Now they’re finally back where I think they should be …

Is this the choice I should have made?

But I trust their teachers, I trust my heart

I know everyone is doing their part

So I’ll hear how it went at the end of the day

Six hours to myself, must not delay –

Should I clean the whole house

Or listen to the rain?

There’s so much racing through my brain.

I hope they feel happy

I hope they’re not scared

After all this time, I know they were prepared.

Do a quick workout?

Get some work done?

First I’ll scroll through these pictures of the kids on my phone

(At least I know I’m not alone.)

Dear moms (and dads), on the weirdest first day ever, I hope you know you’re not alone. Do what you need to recharge and find peace, then count down the minutes until you can squeeze your babies and hear all about how it went. It’s gonna be great.

Halfway.

In just a few days, we’ll be halfway through this monster of a year.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can keep going. We’re going to see this to the other side.

The second half of a “normal” year brings us things like the First Day of School, Halloween costumes, family gathered ’round the table, pine-scented candles and lights on the trees. (These are a few of my favorite things.)

But this year, all of our favorite things are in question. Will our children return to school at all, or will they meet their teachers through a screen? If they do get to walk the halls, will they be wearing masks with the outfits they laid out carefully the night before? Will they laugh with their friends at lunchtime? Will they run joyfully through the playground … or could an innocent game of tag land them right back at home? 

It’s touch-and-go, with far less touch and not enough “go.”

It feels like a game, this year, but not one we want to play. Too much stopping and starting, waiting and wondering. 

And now we find ourselves at the halfway point. What do we know about that?

“Never do anything halfway,” we learned as children who wanted to give up. 

“Meet me halfway,” we were told at a difficult point in a relationship. 

If you watch a lot of movies, you know that the halfway point is crucial. The happy ending, if it comes at all, is hard won. Hugh Grant’s never gonna get the girl and Moana’s not gonna make it to Te Fiti without a fight.  

So here we are, halfway. There are battles to be fought and mountains to climb and hearts to restore.

We’ve been taking a lot of hikes as a family, with kids who are nine, five and two. At times, we have to carry them on our shoulders. At times, we have to encourage them with our words. One minute they are happily trudging through the mucky mud and the next their tears are part of the puddle.

But we pick ourselves up. We make it to the top, and we take in the view. Maybe we snap some photos and have a snack. Then, we are humbly reminded … we’re only halfway. 

That’s life. This is the year we’ve been handed, and the only thing we can do is keep going. We’re halfway there, livin’ on a prayer, and I know there are better days to come. Prettier views, sunnier skies, and happier times when we won’t have to worry so much about the world our children will grow up in. 

Let yourself be carried when you need it. Lift up the ones who need you, and have a good cry in the mucky mud if that feels right. Then pick yourself up, and carry on.

Your kids need you. The world needs you. The second half is when we pick up the pieces, and start putting things back together.

I’ll see you on the other side. (Even if I’m covered in mud.)

On becoming a mother.

Is it the moment we first find out … standing over a stick on the bathroom counter? Is it somewhere in the scent of Dreft as we wash their soft blankets and itty-bitty socks? Or does it happen when the doctor lays the sticky baby on our panting chests, as tears stream down our faces to match their own?

When a baby is born, so is a mother. But I don’t believe we ever stop becoming.

With every passing phase, from the sleepless nights and sore nipples to protecting them from bicycle bumps and falls to sending your littlest love into an enormous elementary school, then watching as they turn into their own person with their own ideas and opinions and interests and friends, to the day you send them off to college or into the arms of a husband or wife and their very first home with its own towels and traditions – we become.

Along the way, we collect other mothers – first the ones who mothered us, then the ones we find along the way in car lines and on soccer teams, whose losses and triumphs we feel as deeply as our own. Together, with their folklore and firsthand tricks, we become wiser. We become softer.

Like our children did as toddlers, we stumble and fall. We get into trouble and we find our way out of it, stronger and better than we were before. We become new versions of ourselves every day. At night, we lie awake and replay all the things we said and did and the many ways we would do it all different if we had a chance.

(We do. It’s called tomorrow.)

May all your todays and tomorrows be a chance to become new together – to grow kinder and more connected, to strengthen a bond that was formed before your baby took his first breath. To breathe deeper and love deeper and appreciate every moment you get to mother them in the tiny world you create before they venture out into the big one. To get them ready to travel through life without you, even if you’re always a phone call or a plane ride away.

On this Mother’s Day, when we have been mothering longer hours than ever, in strange and unexpected ways, I hope you take a moment to celebrate the mother you have become – and the precious people who forgive you and challenge you and inspire you to keep becoming, over and over, the one and only mother who was made just for them.

To the mothers holding new babies in your arms and those who never got to hold yours, to the stepmothers and adoptive mothers, the mothers who planned and planned and the mothers who feel unprepared, you are everything your child ever needed.

Thank you to my babies for making me a mother. Thank you to my mother and grandmothers and the mothers I’ve collected along the way for giving me grace and laughter and strength and encouragement to keep becoming every day.

Home is a holy place.

Dinosaurs at the Seder table. Standard.

Our traditions are going to look a little different this year, and that’s okay.

I know you might be missing church or synagogue or the ocean or wherever you choose to worship, but, the way I see it, the good stuff is always right where you are. And that’s home, for the foreseeable future.

Nobody plans for a global pandemic, as evidenced by the lack of masks and toilet paper. So in this holy week for so many people around the world, instead of focusing on what we can’t do – let’s celebrate what we can.

Being home together has given us all a chance to know each other more deeply, both our strengths and our shortcomings. No matter your faith, isn’t it always a good thing to take stock of what you’re made of?

We have been given an opportunity to take a hard look at ourselves and do better. Practice patience. (Keyword: practice.) Explore how we communicate. (Stop yelling at each other.) Promote problem solving. (First, try fixing things with your brother.) Show our children what it means to work our way through. (Resilience is a big word.)

I’m not saying this has been easy. There’s nothing easy about these days. Not for the working parents trying to homeschool their kids or the stay-at-home moms who have stayed at home all along. These days are hard, and they feel different, and we have good ones and bad ones and other ones when we don’t know what day it is at all.

During the Seder, we ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

This year, we have new answers.

The Passover story is a retelling of the Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt. There are trials and locusts and plagues that predate COVID-19 – but in the end, the sea parts and makes way to a brighter tomorrow. The most hopeful and holy of days for Christians, Easter, too, is a time of rebirth.

I’m sad not to be spending these special days with my friends and family, especially the grands and great-grands. (We’ll try to FaceTime when we light the candles. I’ll send photos of our backyard egg hunt.)

But simple is special, too.

Within the space of one week, my husband and I will have the chance to cook comforting, symbolic meals with our children and share two epic stories of hope from the safe shelter of our home.

Home is a holy place.

My hope for you is that you can let go of what these days should look like to make room for the magic they will be. Let them be silly and joyful and messy and meaningful.

And when it comes to the part when you ask, “Why is this night different?” – and you see a few fewer people around your table this year – maybe it’s to remind us all what’s really important.

Hope. Family. Love. Joy. Home.

Sh*t just got real.

Shortly after the birth of my third child, a group of my best friends gave me a muslin blanket emblazoned with the phrase, “Sh*t just got real.”

In that moment, when laughter bubbled over like champagne, I don’t think any of us anticipated just how true one blanket statement could prove to be.

Together and apart, we’ve navigated postpartum anxiety, termite damage, mastitis, hurricane warnings, potty training, divorce, and the death of a parent – to scratch the surface. Life is not a walk in the park. (Although we’ve done a lot of that, too.)

And now this. What in the world? This was supposed to be our year.

Coronavirus, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, self-isolation and shelter-in-place have, well … put us all in our place. 

And nobody seems to know what to do.

At the heart of this, we are being asked to spend more time with the people we love. More time with ourselves. More time just to be.

Are we so uncomfortable with that?

I understand there are jobs, livelihoods and even lives on the line. My husband is an airline pilot – we know too well the realities ahead. It’s not like they’re going to keep flying those big planes around with nobody in them.

But can’t we just be still? Nobody likes being told what to do. Nobody likes being told to do nothing, either. We don’t want to be bored, but we also don’t want to have to juggle too much. Work from home and take care of the kids? It’s time to find out what we’re made of.

Maybe this is an opportunity. Maybe instead of rushing to make Pinterest-perfect homeschooling schedules we should embrace the lack of plans, take each moment as it comes, listen to our children and learn from one another. Do a little good – not so you can post about it on social media, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Bake one of your grandmother’s handwritten recipes. Paint a self-portrait. Explore your backyard. Write a card to a stranger. There’s science and math and reading and art all around us. We have a great opportunity to teach these things and more. 

Let’s teach our children what it looks like to encounter a challenge and come out on the other side. Show them what it looks like in the middle. Show them patience and kindness and resourcefulness. Show them frustration and anxiety, too. Most of all, show them resilience

This is not something to be afraid of, so long as we all do our part. This is a moment to embrace the unexpected – and become better because of it.

Yeah, sh*t just got real. But real is where the good stuff happens.

With so much to “do” in motherhood, sometimes we need to just “be.”

I’ve been feeling really unsettled lately. Too much caffeine and too little sleep, an overload of scrolling and comparison, out-of-whack hormones and a diet of leftover french fries can really do a number on you. 

I can’t turn off my mind. On top of work and the work of keeping a home, there are schedules to remember, school projects to usher along and a million little tasks that need checking off each day. My pen has run dry. I’m all out of check marks.

After feeling like a tornado was spinning through my chest for a solid week, I declared a day of rest. With the children in school, I took a walk and actually went to a yoga class I signed up for, for once.

I breathed through upward and downward dog. I practiced a shaky chaturanga and lost my balance a few times. When it came time to set our intentions, I whispered, “Find Stillness.”

Halfway through class a song shuffled through the playlist, voices chanting:

Mother, I feel you under my feet
Mother, I hear your heartbeat

It took me right back to my oldest at three years old. His first year in preschool, the children dressed in native T-shirt fringe and learned this ancient song. They drummed. We smiled, adoringly. 

Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost my footing. Those words were a reminder to connect. Whether to Mother Earth or Father God or sky or song or universe – when we lose our way, connection is one way back.

I made time to connect today, with myself and the world around me. No pressures, no commitments … a chance just to be.

On my morning walk, I listened to the call of the birds and felt the cool wind in my face. On my yoga mat, I felt the strength of my muscles and looked inside my heart. As I twisted my body through the poses, I felt stillness come.

At the end of our practice, the teacher read a meditation. Part of it talked about being versus doing. Another part said what we give our attention to becomes our worldview. If we focus on discord, that’s what we’ll feel. What if we paid attention to the good stuff?

I think I’ve been giving too much thought to where I’m failing. Did I lose my patience and yell at the kids? That must be the kind of terrible mother I am. I’ve been spending too much time wondering if I’m good enough to make my dreams come true than actually doing anything to get there. 

Today, instead of worrying about doing anything about any of it, I decided just to be. 

I put my feet in a tub of strangely blue water and paid to have them massaged and made smooth. Inspired by my friend who jokingly realized she might be the worst kind of high-maintenance (the kind who thinks she’s low-maintenance) I even got a manicure. Now, my rough edges seemed smoother, too. Turns out, we all need a little maintenance. 

I went to the grocery store by myself, another luxury among mothers. As the automatic doors slid open to rows of perfectly organized produce, I was greeted by another familiar song, a standard of living room dance parties we need to bring back, Andy Grammer shouting, “It’s good to be alive right about now.” 

When you pay attention, you start to see all the good. 

Self-care is a trendy thing, isn’t it? The mothers who sang to the beat of the ancient drum didn’t have Instagram or Instacart or insta-anything. They had each other. They were rooted to the earth and to their families. We’ve let modern motherhood tell us all the things we need to do instead of remembering what we are called to be.

I was reminded today of the privilege to be “Mother” – the heartbeat of my family, what my children feel under their feet. 

It was a much-needed day of rest and restoration I hope will stay with me when the kids get in the car in a few hours and start screaming at each other. 

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Nine.

Little one I once held in my arms, you are nine today.

We had already been through a lot on the morning you were born. Seventeen hours in the hospital before they decided to take us to the operating room. An emergency C-section set to a soundtrack the doctor determined … I think you were born to “Dream On.” 

You were a dream to me. 

They told me I was sick, they told me I could die. 

I said, “No, I’m going to stay here and be his mom.”

We were just getting started. 

You cried a lot. I had never changed a diaper before. I cried while you cried as we figured it out together in the middle of the night. I was your home, and you were mine. 

At one, you were known for your ‘funny face,’ nose scrunched up to one side.

You learned how to ride a bike without training wheels just a few months shy of three. (But you were still two, your claim to fame.)

When you were nearly four, we handed you a baby sister. Even in our hardest moments, you are always the most patient. There’s so much we could learn from your sweet nature and helpful heart.

At five, you started Kindergarten and made a new best friend. I watched.

You have grown up before our eyes. How did it happen so fast?

Once shy and unsure, you became a boy your friends can look up to. I look up to you, too, even though I’m still taller. I know it won’t be long. 

When you were six, you got the brother you had hoped for. In baby pictures, he looks just like you, but without your cool red hair.

At seven, you placed first for your grade in the school-wide run. At eight, you sang a solo in the second grade play. That was me screaming at the top of my lungs. We are so proud of you. 

You love playing soldiers and spies. Your old G.I. Joes are your most prized possessions. You can’t figure out why kids your age want iPhones and social media. You don’t understand why everyone is in such a hurry to grow up. Neither do I.

I don’t know what you’re going to become, but I know you will be a good man. 

For now, though, can you stay a boy? 

I know I don’t have much time before you start pulling away – before you’d rather hang out with your friends than build forts and watch movies with us.  

You don’t want to hold my hand anymore, and that’s okay. 

But when you find another girl’s hand to hold, please don’t forget me.  

I’ll always be there when you need me, to catch you when you fall.

I’m not very good at math, but I know that nine is halfway to 18, and I can’t believe this much of your childhood is behind us … just like that. 

I thought we were just getting started.

I’ll be there to help you get ready for the dance. I’ll be at your concert, front row, screaming at the top of my lungs. I’ll drive you to all the things, just be honest about where you’re going. You can tell me.

Thank you for making me a mama, then a mommy, now a mom. Thank you for making me laugh when I’m stressed out. For doing your homework without being asked. For knowing what all of us need.

You are everything I ever could have asked for in a son. And I get to be your mom for my whole life. 

You are nine today, but we are just getting started, you and I. 

What if I’m just ‘Mom’?

Last week after dinner, I started crying while I was loading the dishwasher. I wasn’t unhappy to be doing the dishes – I was just feeling like a loser.

When you’re little, you’re always dreaming about what you’re going to be. My kids have wanted to be everything from an astronaut to the garbage man, dolphin trainers, soldiers and spies. 

I wanted to be on TV – Saturday Night Live, to be specific. I was on my way. I studied voice and piano. I took dance classes. I starred in nearly every play our community theater staged from the time I was five until I left to join a class of 25 bright-eyed babies just like me in conservatory.

I was going to be a star. 

Until I got there and realized we all wanted the same thing, and it was going to take a lot of hard work and even more luck to get there. I didn’t give up, but I did change dreams – and schools.

Now, I was working toward a degree in Creative Writing. I traveled to England to study literature and I visited the (replica of the burned-down) theater where Shakespeare staged his plays. I didn’t stand on it, but I did get a photo next to it, young and carefree and ready to take on The Globe … before I knew the weight of it.

I was going to be a writer.

I graduated from college with my fancy degree and not a clue how to become an “author,” which is apparently what you call yourself when someone takes a chance on you and publishes your words. 

After an internship at a local magazine, I worked as an editor for a few years before heading back to my hometown. I took a job in fundraising, where I learned the art of using words to ask for contributions to worthy causes, which continues to be some of the most rewarding work I do. 

When my first child was born, I took a break from work to do the precious work of raising him. At the same time, my mother was battling cancer, so I had the privilege and the freedom to care for her as she had always cared for me.  

There was a wedding. There were more babies. A few different jobs, but none that ever stuck … other than ‘Mom.’ 

I started this blog. I delight at every ‘like’ and comment that pops up on my screen. It is a joy to connect with you in these magical and mundane moments of motherhood and marriage.

Along the way, I’ve written several stories for children. Two of them are swirling around in my mind … meaningful messages I hope to turn into books I can share with you in time. But when? In between the breakfasts and the laundry and the dishes, I’m trying my hand at illustrating them. 

I don’t know if I’m making excuses or I’m just scared. Being ‘Mom’ is a full-time job – but I want the people who call me by that name to see me become what I want to be, so one day they feel brave and ready to become what they want to be. 

I am going to be their mother.

That night in the kitchen, I cried because I felt like I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t doing enough or making enough or giving them enough. I cried big, heavy sobs and my husband held me and told me he would do everything he could to make my dreams come true. 

Haven’t they, already? There is so much that is good, so much that is more than enough. Sure, there is something special I want to make, but look at what I’ve already made. Look what we do and give and create as mothers. 

As my sobs slowed, my face wet with tears, I asked my family, “Are you proud of me?”

And that same little boy who made me a mom – nine years old, too big, too good – came to stand in front of me. 

“You know what your job is?” he said. “Your job is to be the best mom in the whole world, and you have already accomplished so much.”

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not sure any of us really do. I don’t know how to become an “author” or how to help you achieve the secret dream inside your heart. But I know we can be here for each other, encourage each other as mothers and lift each other up. I know we can raise our children to choose joy and we can teach them to be good and kind. 

And if I’m only ever just ‘Mom’ … if it’s enough for them, it’s enough for me.