Ashley Brooks

About Ashley Brooks

Ashley Brooks is a mediocre knitter, pretty good bread baker, reader of bedtime stories, and front-porch sitter. She works from home as a freelance writer in Minnesota with her three-year-old and one-year-old along for the ride. When she’s not getting paid to craft content, she publishes creative essays at ashleybrookswrites.com and co-hosts the Chasing Creative podcast.

Posts by Ashley Brooks:

Another Wedding Ring

“Just a minute!” I holler toward the tiny fists that are pounding on my bedroom door. This is the standard morning scene: I’ve been awake for nearly two hours and, after getting my kids fed and ready for the day, I’ve finally barricaded myself in my bedroom long enough to put on a bra and host an inner debate about how many days it’s been since I washed my hair.  

I sift through a pile of bobby pins and loose change in my jewelry tray until my fingers close around my wedding rings. I start with the wedding band, a plain white gold ring with thirteen small diamonds dotting the band in a half circle; then I stack the princess cut engagement ring above it. They stop without making it past my knuckle, as they have been all week.  

I’m twenty-five weeks pregnant with my third child, and this is my least favorite pregnancy side effect. I’ll spend the next four months with swollen fingers that leave no room for my wedding rings. I know I get off easy—no morning sickness to contend with or serious pregnancy complications to face—but I still feel a little mournful about the rings. They’re easily the most beautiful thing I own, and wearing them on a daily basis pulls to the forefront memories that might otherwise slip away. 

When I put them each morning, I’m twenty-one again, being proposed to on a dorm room futon in the living room of my college apartment. We were surrounded by plain, grayish beige walls I wasn’t allowed to mar with so much as a 3M hook, and my feet rested on the edge of a blueberry pie stain set into the gritty carpet. There wasn’t a hint of elaborate romantic planning, not a single candle or rose petal, but I couldn’t care less because there in front of me was my future husband, holding up my ring. 

After dinner each night, when I slip both sets of diamonds off my finger and set them on the window ledge before plunging my hands into the dishwater, I think of everything that’s happened in this kitchen. We’ve swayed in front of the window with dinner simmering behind us; we’ve screamed at each other in front of the fridge and apologized by the stove; we’ve put silverware in its place while debating major life decisions; we’ve sat on the steps near the pantry with our heads on each others’ shoulders, sighing after a long day at work. 

Now, the same week as our sixth anniversary, I have to admit to myself that it’s time to put my rings back in their box until spring, when we’ll have another baby to hold and my fingers will, hopefully, shrink back to their original size. I set the rings back in the tray with a clink and make a mental note to find their box later.  

The pounding on the door has gotten louder and is now accompanied by occasional screams, but I ignore the chaos for a few seconds longer, scanning the jewelry tray until I find another ring.  

This one has a thin silver band, topped by an oval sapphire that’s surrounded by a halo of diamonds. The gems in this piece aren’t real. We bought it for less than 100 euros in a tiny town on Lake Como in Italy. It was one of the most expensive souvenirs we could afford on the European vacation we’d scrimped to go on before we had kids.   

We had raced through the shop, past antique end tables and hand-carved chess pieces, trying to see everything before we missed the last boat of the evening that would take us back to our hotel on the other side of the lake. The deep blue sapphire of the ring caught my eye, and I bought it without ever trying it on.  

The sapphire ring never fit quite right: too big for my fourth finger, just small enough to be uncomfortable on my third. It sat on my dresser, a fond but useless memory of our travels, until two months later when I got pregnant with our oldest daughter. Soon enough, my fingers swelled, and the Italy ring fit perfectly. Now with this pregnancy, I’ll wear it again and be visited by a different set of memories. 

I’ll fiddle with the lightweight band, twirling it around and around in my jacket pocket while I tell the kids, “Don’t climb too high!” and “Let’s give someone else a turn on the swings.” I’m absentminded, no longer at the park down the street but at a swing set we stumbled across in the Swiss Alps, where my husband and I laughed like schoolkids as we took a break from hiking.  

I’ll catch a glint of light off the faux sapphire in a stream of sink water while I wash vegetables, and suddenly I’m a new mom again, remembering what it was like to cook dinner while bouncing the screaming baby strapped to my chest. Did she need to eat? Was it a dirty diaper? When was the last time either of us slept?  

It will all flood back to me at once, opposing memories of awe at seeing the world as barely more than newlyweds, and awe at meeting our firstborn baby and realizing we didn’t know what we were doing at all.    

I open the bedroom door to the preschooler and toddler who come barreling in. We still don’t know what we’re doing, of course, not about any of it. But we do know some things, I think, as I watch the two tiny girls now jumping on our bed. We know that we walk side by side with a hand to hold through every moment of doubt or uncertainty, and we know every second will be worth it. 

 

Words by Ashley Brooks.

The Girl Who Knew

I used to be the girl who knew everything. It was kind of my thing growing up. I wasn’t good at sports or stylish or particularly friendly, but I had no problem solidifying my place as class know-it-all. I cried, once, over an A- on a sixth-grade science test. It was only two wrong questions, but they represented a chip in the person I was supposed to be. Every “A” I earned formed a barrier between me and the unknowns of the world, and I stood a little taller in my identity. 

My grades mattered less to me in high school, but I was still the girl who knew where she was going. I would graduate and go to college (check), major in English (check), become a freelance editor (check), get married, buy a house, and have kids (check, check, check). I never had the high school crisis of figuring out if college was for me, or the college crisis of what to major in. I’ve never second-guessed my career path or my family life or so much as which colors complement my complexion. I have it all together because I’m the girl who knows. 

Until now. Now I’m the girl who knows nothing, the girl who is standing in the office supply aisle at Target, chewing on her pinkie nail while her eyes scan the shelves for the perfect day planner that will tell her where to go in the new year. I’m surrounded by trendy gold desk decor and a neat display of paper products all clearly meant for the #girlboss crowd, a crowd I would’ve considered myself part of a mere twelve months ago. But do I still stand among their ranks now? Add it to the list of things I don’t know. 

In the last few months, I’ve transformed from someone who knew exactly what she wanted to someone who is lost and drifting. Last year, my goal setting came easy: it was all work and productivity, every baby step hinged on the larger goal of earning more money. The girl who knew thought that was the point of these middle years. You’ve achieved the big milestones, so what’s left but to raise your kids and climb an invisible financial ladder? Now, though, I find myself not caring about the things that make a goal worth pursuing. 

There is nothing simple, measurable, or actionable about my life anymore. I have two young kids and am pregnant with a third. I want to write a novel (maybe) and grow a blog where I publish personal essays (I think) and continue running my freelance business (probably, because paying the bills is a good thing). But there’s not enough time and energy for any of it.  

Can it be a SMART goal to look out the window at the softly drifting snow until my heart stops pounding for no reason? Does it count as measurable if I know that I need to do at least three loads of laundry a week for my family to have clean clothes on their backs? Is it a good enough resolution to say, “I’d like to still be here in 2019, and maybe then I’ll know what to do?” 

My inner twelve-year-old can’t handle it. She needs the checklist, the rubric, the neat row of A’s reminding her that she’s still on track. And so, the office supply aisle, where I hope that the perfect planner will send me marching in the right direction. Maybe I need a daily view to keep me on track. Maybe a spot for meal plans and daily gratitude will force me to actually plan meals and be thankful. 

I settle on the simplest planner on the shelf, black with gold polka dots, and no bells or whistles to remind me of my shortcomings in arenas like drinking eight glasses of water each day. It lands in my basket alongside a set of cute mechanical pencils from the dollar section that I don’t really need and a pair of dangly blue earrings that I grabbed on a whim (and later put back) because I used to be the girl who knew and who looked put together, and somehow both have fallen by the wayside.  

Back at my desk, new 2018 calendar wide open and blank, I have no more direction than I did in the store. I start by filling in what I know, which isn’t much: my sixth wedding anniversary at the beginning of January, a handful of appointments and meetings, a reminder to start gathering important tax documents. There’s still not a single resolution or deadline in sight. 

It’s a good day for setting goals, cold and clear, like just a breath of that crisp air will freeze out the things I don’t want and point me neatly down the path I should be headed. Two inches of thick snow has settled on top of the green garland curled around the deck railing outside my window. But as it turns out, I need more than cold air and a new year to figure out what to do with my life. I need a signpost pointing the way through the snowy woods. More than that, I need a lantern to light the way and a well-dressed gentleman in a top hat to say, “Right this way, Ma’am,” and offer me his arm so I don’t wander off chasing rabbits through the snow.  

After all, chasing rabbits isn’t on anyone’s to-do list. It’s not a real goal. You don’t feel productive afterwards (unless, perhaps, you catch the rabbit). But does that mean it’s not worth doing? What about feeling the crunch of the snow under your boots while you run, or feeling the burn of piney winter air in your lungs, or stopping in the purple-blue glow of a cloud-covered sunset hanging low in the sky? These are the things I’ll miss if I don’t chase a rabbit every now and then. 

I scribble “rabbits” in the sparse Notes section of the January calendar page and flip the cover closed. The girl who knew is gone, but the girl who doesn’t know yet is ready and waiting to stumble into the small, great things that lie just around the corner.  

 

Words by Ashley Brooks.

Saints of the Lost

hello there, friend

There’s a handful of saints every Catholic schoolchild learns about and never really forgets. You might not remember the Act of Contrition you’re supposed to recite before confession or your scripture memory verses from middle school, but those saints stick.

One of these is St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. You learn about him early in your school days. Catholic teachers take any case of misplaced homework or mitten gone astray as an opportunity to remind you that St. Anthony is there, waiting to help you in your frantic search for whatever trivial item you’ve lost track of.

The prayer to St. Anthony is simple: “Dear St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and it cannot be found.” This is what I silently chant on a Friday afternoon as I overturn our house in search of Chuckie.

Chuckie—full name being Chuck the Buck—is a deer-shaped blanket buddy who has been the chosen lovey of my three-year-old since she was an infant.

Chuck had been missing since Thursday morning. More than twenty-four hours without her beloved Chuck had left my daughter Hadley distraught, so I promised to look for him while she and her sister were gone at Nana’s house that Friday.

My search is punctuated by annoyance, my prayer to St. Anthony interrupted with thoughts like, ’I could be getting so much work done right now,’ and ’She needs to start taking more responsibility for her things.’ Still, I remember what it feels like to irrationally miss a stuffed animal, so I comb through the house for a full twenty minutes.

I check the couch cushions (beige) where the deer in question (also beige) so often likes to hide. I dig through three toy bins full of blocks and baby dolls. I pay special attention to the bottom of the kids’ hamper and beneath the mattress of our bed, both places where Chuck has inexplicably turned up in the past.

Despite my repeated prayers, Chuck isn’t anywhere. When I break the news to Hadley that evening, I think I’m more upset than she is. Her chin quivers and she sniffs a few times, but she contents herself with a substitute stuffed animal during bedtime that night.

I, on the other hand, am something of a wreck. I find myself tearing up during still moments over the weekend. I keep looking all the places we’ve already looked. I retrace our steps. I think of St. Anthony. I really lose it when Monday brings a fifty-degree chill and nonstop rain. Maybe I’ve seen Toy Story too many times, but I can’t stop picturing Chuck cold and wet, wondering why his favorite kid has abandoned him.

I pack the kids into the car and retrace our usual walking route through the neighborhood, driving five miles an hour so I can scan the waterlogged leaves piled into the gutter for any sign of a worn-out deer peeking through. We drive to Target, where I creep along through the parking lot in case Chuck fell out of the car unnoticed. We check the park, deserted and soggy, though I’m sure we weren’t there on the day of Chuck’s disappearance.

Nearly two weeks after we lost Chuck, Hadley has all but forgotten about him. I’m still opening random drawers and chanting my prayer. Her adjustment to life without him is even more tragic to me than the thought of him laying in the gutter somewhere. It means she’s accepted my failure to find the thing she loves most in this world. If I don’t find this deer, I have failed my daughter.

I’m getting desperate, and St. Anthony isn’t helping. I start thinking I’ve been targeting the wrong saint. Perhaps St. Anthony is so overwhelmed with the pleas of late-for-work adults who have lost their keys and panicked kids who can’t find their math textbooks that he doesn’t have time to point the way toward a bedraggled, beloved deer.

Google tells me about a saint that slipped through the cracks of my Catholic education: St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, impossible situations, and hopeless cases.

That sounds about right. Finding Chuck after two weeks is probably a lost cause. Or maybe the lost cause is me.

Lost is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately. What kind of mother lets her three-year-old lose her favorite toy, then snaps at the end of a long day that it’s her fault for not paying attention to her things? How am I supposed to protect my kids if I can’t even protect a stuffed animal? The signs that I’m failing at motherhood are piling up fast, and I’ve accepted Chuck’s disappearance as another item to add to the list.

Not all lost things can find their way home. But then, some things can.

It’s 5 p.m. on a weeknight. I’m surrounded by the usual dinnertime cacophony: the oven beeping that it’s time to put the casserole in, the one-year-old shrieking because I have to set her down while I open the oven door, the cat yowling because I’ve let the clock tick one minute past his dinnertime, a forgotten podcast humming in the background.

I shout over the noise, asking Hadley to feed the cat. She sits down to drag the container of cat food from the pantry, pulling it all the way out rather than just reaching in like I usually do.

Suddenly she is shouting, a joyous yelp layered above the chaos. “Chuckie!”

My visions of a sad, cold Chuck left out in the rain had been for nothing. During our seventeen days of searching, Chuck had been tucked snugly behind the cat food in the back corner of the pantry floor, a Sam’s Club size container of instant oats on one side, a forty-pound bag of wheat on the other.

St. Jude came through for Chuck. He took a lost cause, a hopeless case, an impossible situation, and made it right again. For once, I get to shorten my mental list of parental failings. If there’s hope for a lost stuffed deer, there’s hope for the hopeless mother who prayed for his return.

Words by Ashley Brooks.