Five Things: Memorial Day

ONE: We took the girls fishing for the first time this weekend… I was sure it would be a disaster, but they loved it. We used the live bait (worms) and bobber approach, and actually caught more fish than we had all year so far! They both loved holding the bass and throwing them back in the water. They loved grabbing the worms and watching their Daddy put them on the hook. SD4 actually caught about 4-5 bass by herself! Reeled them in and everything. It was wild. This was a day my husband and I will hold close to our hearts for many years to come.

TWO: There are major structural changes going down in my office. Some changes have been announced publicly, and some changes I know about because of my expert detective work. Regardless, I am hoping these changes will allow me to go for a promotion this summer! I am genuinely praying that the Lord will open up an opportunity for me where my career could develop for many years down the road. Wish me luck!

THREE: SD4 took her Kindergarten early entrance exam for BM’s school district about a week ago, and BM still has not told us how it went (although SD4 has told me twice that she did not pass). Maybe SD4 doesn’t know what she is talking about… or maybe BM is stalling to buy time, because she is dreading committing SD4 to our school district. Either way, I know the first real sit-down between my husband and BM in about two years is on the horizon [and I know I am not invited because I am a “distraction”]. The thought of a sit down (especially one I am not present for) terrifies me, but I know my husband can handle himself.

FOUR: My husband is working his tail off for us these days. We are going to the beach for a week at the end of June, and he has not let an “extra” work opportunity pass by, because he wants us to take as much “play money” as possible. He has actually said, “I want the girls to walk through the stores and buy whatever they want.” I am so thankful for everything he does for us, and really hope he thinks I pull my weight. Sometimes I question that about myself (i.e. a night home alone is much better spent with a Bud Light and Netflix than it is a dust rag and vacuum). But I don’t want to be a bench-warmer… I want to be a legitimate team player. Cheers to constant self-reflection and self-improvement!

FIVE: I’ve been dreaming a lot lately, which is out of character for me. Dreaming about the day when we have a big back yard and a grill. About the day we have a boat. About the day I get a baitcaster. About the day we have a Coke Zero fountain in the kitchen. About the day I am permanently tan without effort. Okay, maybe some of those won’t happen… but I’ve been dreaming! I know most people in their 20’s do not have “everything they have ever wanted,” but it is a little daunting to think about how many years it will take to make some of our dreams come true.

For now, I will keep prioritizing family, grinding at work, and keeping my chin up!

-Ashley

The Proposal

It has been six months since my now-husband proposed to me, and I still flash back to that moment often. Wow, how shocked I was, and how well thought out his master plan was…

We had been planning a trip to Atlanta, GA for months. He told me that he had an “all-day Sunday surprise excursion” for us. He decided he would give me a “clue” every Friday for about 8-weeks leading up to the trip. Clues ranged from, “we will be ‘picked up’ at least twice during the day,” to “the sensation will be under your feet.” He told me this was a three-part excursion and that we were being picked up that morning and chauffeured around. He told me this was all booked through a top-secret company in Atlanta that was heard about through word-of-mouth only. He even created a fake email account, and emailed himself [to show me] with confirmation of the booking. All roads led to skydiving, which I had no interest in doing. Nonetheless, I was excited for the trip and knew I would commit to whatever he had planned.

Now, I really need you all to understand he was working on this for at least three months… between the clues and the talking it up, I was stumped. In the beginning, I was confident this was all a big cover up for a proposal. As the trip drew near, he finally convinced me that was not the case. He had to go deep for that, and let me know that “he wasn’t ready” to be engaged. I was hurt, but understood… and that was what finally got me off of the proposal trail. My friend CML and I researched for two months about what he could possibly be planning…

He kept all of this a secret from nearly everyone. I don’t even think he told his parents until a couple of weeks prior. And he had everyone lying to my face… his coworkers, his parents… it was wild. I thought I could read his mom like a book, but I was wrong.

That Saturday morning, we woke up early and hit the road around 3am for our 7 hour drive. I am not a morning person, and ended up sleeping through the whole state of NC (copilot fail, I know). We arrived at our hotel around 10:15am (too early for check-in), changed in the hotel lobby bathrooms, and immediately hopped on the MARTA to go downtown to the spot I was most excited about, Olympic Park. I absolutely love the Olympics. Neither of us had ever been to Atlanta, and when we finally stepped onto the park grounds and saw the Olympic ring fountain, I was so excited. He then said he was going to go ask a woman to take our picture. While he walked over to her, I stood at the fountain in awe, looking at the torches that surround it. What I didn’t know was that while he was grabbing the woman, he was also tipping her off to what was about to happen…

We took a “normal” picture, and then he looked at me and said, “You ready?!” and dropped down on one knee. I kid you not, I totally blacked out in this moment. I’m sure he said, “Will you marry me?” but honestly I don’t remember. I do remember him holding up a ring that literally blinded me. While the nice woman kept snapping pictures, I remember repeatedly asking him, “Are you serious?! Are you serious?!” and I remember him saying, “So, is that a yes?” Poor guy, what a response I had… I guess I was able to say “yes,” because then I remember him jumping up to hug and kiss me. I was shaking. What an amazing moment! I was in disbelief. He thanked our new friend, then suggested we sit down at the fountain. Apparently it was obvious I needed a moment to collect myself.

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Proof of my sheer disbelief…
Over the next several minutes, we called and text relatives and close friends to share our great news. The time stamp on the pictures started at 10:43am… this was the first thing that happened on our trip. He didn’t waste any time. He was so excited and knew this would make the whole 4-day adventure our best one yet. Once we got ourselves together (okay, once I got myself together…), we found a spot to eat lunch, then took a tour of the CNN Center (Side note: This was 3 days before the Presidential Election… at the CNN Center… so you can imagine how out of place we felt). The trip continued to be the most memorable once I’ve had to date, including all the tourist attractions, so much good food, and so many kisses. But mostly the trip was just me staring at my ring, or intentionally taking pictures in a pose that would show it off (#MillennialProbs).

Four days and one car-wrecked-by-the-valet later, we were headed back home to Virginia. I was on cloud nine (while he was mostly just mad about the car). I still cannot believe he kept this a secret from me. I cannot believe the planning that went into it, or how well he executed it. I still remember exactly how I felt when he dropped to one knee, and for the immediate days following. I remember how proud I felt to walk around town with him wearing my ring. I remember how confident I was that every single person we passed noticed my ring, then looked at him and went “wow, how did she get him?!” Seriously, how did I get so lucky?!

After weighing our options, we ultimately eloped six weeks later. Although the scenery wasn’t nearly as beautiful as where he proposed, my view was just as captivating. That day, in that real estate office of that crazy old lady officiant, was the best day of my life. My husband changed my life forever, and I love looking back at our crazy, beautiful ride. The best news is, this is still only the beginning!

I love you, babe. Thank you for everything.

The Long Stretches

Because of the way my husband’s work schedule was at the time the custody agreement was created (and because of BM’s unwillingness to make adjustments without going back to court), we end up having a 6 day stretch where we don’t see the girls about once a month.

“The long stretches.” The weeks where I crave their company the most. The weeks I cannot do a simple household task without picturing them there to do it with me (such as folding clothes… our 2 year old loves to help me fold clothes).

The days I look back at their empty car seats, and feel tears well up in my eyes because I wish they were there to sing with me. The days I can’t even go into their room without feeling sick to my stomach, because their beds are empty and their toys are all put away. Because their room doesn’t look lived in.

The moments my husband calls them to tell them goodnight, but I can’t talk to them (Flip side: The moments my husband tries to call them, but BM totally ignores him). The moments I listen to our babies tell their Daddy how their day was, and how much they love him.

The times where it is just painful to not have them in my arms. The times where I could break down and cry because I miss them so much. These are my least favorite times. These are the times where being in a blended family hurts the most. It’s not how high-conflict BM is, or how chaotic decision making can be… it’s the long stretches when I can’t even talk to our beautiful, smart, hilarious daughters.

Thank God we are at the end of a long stretch. After work tonight, I will have the girls in my arms for four days straight. Our family will be whole again, together at last.

While the long stretches are painful, I praise the Lord for the moments we have.

Advice

I had a close friend of mine from back home text me recently and say, “I need advice.”

I immediately assumed she was in trouble… “Oh no, what happened?”

Her response: “I think I’m about to start dating a man with kids, and I need tips.”

Then it hit me… I have become the Token Stepmom among my friends. I am the model for this. I am the source of experience and wisdom. Oh, no!

I am not equipped to handle these sort of questions! I have no magic answer for my friend. I have no idea if any “advice” I could possibly give would actually help her.

She gave me the quick facts (how many kids, how long he was married, BM is high-conflict, the Dad has primary physical custody…), and I decided to give this “advice” a shot. I thought I’d share with you all what came to mind first…

ONE: There is so much out of your control while dating someone with kids, and being a Stepmom. You have to focus your energy on the things you can control. You cannot let a HCBM destroy what you’re building. You cannot let her rob you of your time with your boyfriend or his kids.

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TWO: You have got to communicate with your boyfriend openly, even when it hurts. He cannot leave you out of the loop. You have to communicate the essentials- such as whether or not he is interested in or able to have more kids- early on. There is no room for secrets or surprises in a blended family.

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THREE: He has to model to the kids that you are someone who needs to be respected. I know different blended families do this differently, but whatever they choose to do, they have to be on the same page, and be consistent. I could never be in my relationship if my husband didn’t respect me, show the kids how to respect me, and consider me on the parenting team.

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FOUR: You have to be confident to be a Stepmom. There will be so many opportunities to be jealous, envious, or upset. There is so much room for unnecessary comparisons that are wildly out of your control. You have to be confident and overcome your insecurities. This step is so critical.

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FIVE: If he treats you right, and if you love the kids, this is totally worth it. Being a Stepmom is so hard… but if he treats you right and you are a good team, it is even more rewarding.

team quote

Talking to my friend made me reflect on the early months with my husband, and made me remember just how far we have come. I am so blessed to have this family as my own. I am certain that I could not receive this happiness anywhere else. I am exactly where God wants me to be.

Maybe I won’t be the Token Stepmom forever… maybe my friend will be joining me on this journey! I’ve shared this site with my friend… let’s show her love and encouragement!

My New Last Name

I am so proud to wear my new last name.

For the first time in my life, I am proud of the name I bear, and the family I represent.

It has been a long time since I used a last name that was not my legal last name. That name, my mother’s maiden name, was never truly mine. That name was given to me by my grandma, who couldn’t bear to use my legal last name… my “father’s” last name. I believed that maiden name was my legal last name all the way through adolescence, until I applied for my Learner’s Permit and I, for the first time, saw the truth. I went by my “fake” last name until college, when I decided it was too confusing to try and correct every faculty and staff member I encountered. I opted for consistency over pride.

After 8.5 years of bearing and representing my “father’s” last name.. I am no longer bearing the last name of the man who destroyed my family. I am no longer representing a drug addicted murderer who has been in and out of prison, and who no one in my family (even on my paternal side) keeps in contact with, or even cares about. I am no longer burdened by the last name of a man who had two daughters by two different women, but has never once tried to make contact with either. I am free.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been at peace regarding my “father” for a very long time; however, wearing his last name from 18-26 years old was not fun. Having the first name “Ashley,” I was constantly surrounded by other Ashley’s, and therefore, being addressed by my last name. For example, when I joined my sorority in undergrad, I was one of six Ashley’s out of 55 members. The only thing worse than seeing that name on my legal documents, was being called it out loud. Thank God, those days are behind me.

I now proudly wear the name of a man who is an exceptional son, father, and husband. I now represent a lineage of public servants, with my husband and his late grandfather being police officers, and my father-in-law being a firefighter. I wear the name of a man who puts me and our kids first every day… a man who would never do to us what my father did to my family when I was only 4 month old. I am no longer embarrassed by my monogram, or expected to explain to my high school friends why my last name “changed” when we graduated. I am married to the most amazing man, and have been accepted into an incredible family. I will proudly represent my new family until the day I die.

Family can cause a tremendous amount of pain, but remain optimistic, as good things come to those who are determined.

Five Things: Boundaries

Hey, Friends! I’ll just hop right to it with this week’s Five Things: Boundaries.

ONE: Last Sunday, my husband and I took a date day to some local cideries and breweries, while BM had taken the kids for vacation in Florida with her parents. BM- who never texts my husband unless it’s [a complaint] about [him or] the kids- decided she would try to be best friends with him and vent to him about traveling with her parents, making comments about the past and how she knew he hated traveling with her parents. *Cue, another date interrupted by BM* Then a couple of days later, she text him several pictures of the kids, including one of her with my youngest step daughter… it had a caption something to the effect of, “Sorry for a pic of me! You can crop me out LOL.” Seriously Lord have mercy… boundaries, people…

TWO: My one coworker who really just grinds my gears… I’ll call her Buttercup… she means well, but she misses some all social cues… Anyway, today, my work BFF CML and I were chatting with another coworker by our cubes… then, Buttercup started loudly laughing with our conversation, as it she was trying to get into it. Mind you, Buttercup sits on the other side of the cubes and therefore couldn’t see us, or actually participate in the conversation. But nonetheless, she kept on laughing every time we laughed… Girl, boundaries… come on. Update: As I have been writing this, Buttercup is singing out loud at her desk. That is all.

THREE: I serve as an advisor for a chapter of my sorority. I’ve been newly appointed the “supervisor” of the advisory board for almost a month now, and let me tell you, these women have no clue what boundaries [or preparation] mean. These poor girls want to do the right thing so bad, but cannot turn in paperwork before a deadline to save their lives… then they result in emailing, Facebook messaging, and texting me and other advisors until we respond. They’re literally about 15 minutes away from getting the “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” speech. We’re about to have a hard core boundaries talk…

FOUR: I saw this quote (below) referencing boundaries in an Instagram I follow, and I love it. Although BM is not high-conflict with me, she definitely blames me for the fact that her and my husband never worked things out. I think that over the past two years, I’ve done a good job of showing her compassion, and of setting healthy boundaries. I am constantly challenging myself to be at peace with the things that are out of my control, and I think I have come a long way in that journey. I cannot control her crazy, but I can document. Mental-Health-Saving Boundaries…

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FIVE: My husband and I are both very careful about who we “let in,” and I think that continues to save us time and time again. Y’all, cut ties with people who are causing you more harm than good! Your inner circle should not contain 15 “best friends.” That goes for family too… my husband is constantly reminding me that I should not continuously reach out to a family that never reaches out to me. Protect yourself and what is important to you, whether that’s a spouse, kids, etc. Guard your heart, because once it’s broken, it’s no easy task to super glue back together.

So what type of boundaries do you have in place for your mental health, protection, etc.?

Have a great week!

-Ashley

Five Things: Thankful.

Hey, hey! What a week it has been, my friends… and may I just say, I have SO MUCH to be thankful for.

ONE: My husband *drool*… WOW what an amazing man! He had the girls draw me little cards for Valentine’s Day and I could have cried. We didn’t really do presents, but I blessed him with showing up to his work with dinner- in spandex pants. He was a fan (*wink*). He is so busy but spends literally every moment he’s not working putting me and the girls first. I am so blessed.

TWO: Living in such a great area! Now don’t get me wrong, we fully intend to retire in Florida, but I’m so thankful to live in a place where we can just scoot up to D.C. for a Washington Capital’s game for date night! We did that last weekend and it was so much fun! While we were there, we talked about how lucky we were to live so close… it’s wild to think about the fact that the majority of American’s probably never get to explore our nation’s capitol!

THREE: Great in-law’s. My biological family is pretty shaky, but man are my in-law’s great! They always go out of their way to take care of us. Last week, they surprised us with a beautiful canvas they got made with a picture of my husband when he worked the Presidential Inauguration as a sworn U.S. Marshall for the weekend. They always help me to see what really matters in life, and are such a great example of a strong, long lasting marriage (almost 31 years!).

FOUR: Our babies. Even though the 4-year-old would correct me and tell me that she’s a big girl. I tell you what… the only part of my life they have negatively affected is my bank account (*cue* I cannot walk past the toddler/little girls sections of any store without grabbing them something). All coparent-from-hell nonsense aside, I wish I could keep them these ages forever. I want to preserve them in their cute, innocent, charismatic little selves and kiss all over their cheeks all day, every day, forever.

FIVE: A great job. Even though I’m in a cube, and some of my colleagues [okay, mostly just one] really can drive me up a wall sometimes… I love my supervisors and the potential for growth in my department. I love that I am working in an area I can truly see myself “career.” I love that I’m working in an area applicable to my Masters degree. I am so thankful for this job, and thankful that taking a risk last April landed me on this incredible journey.

So what do you have to be thankful for this week? Never forget, there’s always a calm in the center of this crazy storm-of-a-life.

-Ashley