Blog a la Cart

XII

Dear Mom.

We had such fun this Halloween. I wish you could have seen the Ulmer/Cart family team costume. We were all characters from “Finding Dory.” Dad and Kimmy went all out – Ulmer creativity unleashed! DIY Halloween game strong! You would have gotten such a kick out of it. I can practically hear the wheeze laugh these costumes would have inspired. I somehow landed the lead as Dory. James was Marlin. Sanderling was Nemo. Courtland was Bailey the Beluga. Sunny was Hank the Septopus. Kimmy was Destiny the Whale Shark. And Dad was Crush the Sea Turtle. It was so festive. I hadn’t originally felt up to pulling off another family costume, but realized how putting in that effort would be uplifting when I find myself so missing you at every holiday.

And Kimmy and I helped Geraldine throw a festive Halloween open house at her new home right in the heart of all the trick-or-treat mayhem in town. The three of us made such a great team. We learned party execution from one of the best.

I wish you could have been a part of it all.

143 Your Ashley

img_0450

halloween2016-1

img_0427

img_0451

XI

Hi, Mom.

People often tell me how much I remind them of you. At your Celebration so many people commented on it, not just how I look, but my voice, the way I speak, the way my hands are accompaniment to that expression. And of course there are “isms,” specific behaviors or tendencies which I emulate more and more as I tread deeper into adulthood/parenthood.

Like wearing my pajamas to the girls’ bus stop earlier this week. Hot dang, my transformation to Allison Motherhood is nearly complete thanks to that choice. But when the PJs are this cute… you taught me that trick. I’ve got an entire drawer full of Calida nightgowns to show for your commitment to luxurious, comfortable nightwear.

I haven’t ventured out in public in a nightgown (yet), but there’s time to get on your level.

143 Your Ashley

img_0226

X

Hi, Mom.

One of the more painful aspects of life in The After is existing among acquaintances, friends, even family members, who no longer ask about you, about how I’m doing in your absence, or dare to speak your name in my presence. So many people who claimed you among their dearest friends sent letters and condolences in the immediate aftermath, and yet it has been radio silence since.

It is so deeply painful to feel as though there are people in my life who expect me to be over it. Moved on. Why would I need to still talk about my dead mom? She’s been gone 8 months, surely my sadness and grief has had enough time to work itself out. Snap out of it, Ashley! Look on the bright side! Look at your beautiful children! Your mom wouldn’t want you to be sad.

And to that I say, Fuck. That. Noise. I witnessed how hard you grieved your own mother in the 15 years you lived without her, and there is absolutely no way you wouldn’t want me mourning and grieving your death. You would be so outraged that you were dead. I can’t stop thinking about how furious this whole situation would make you. Sure, anyone would be mad they were dead, but oh, your fury would be a special kind of rage and indignation.

The thing I wish people would realize is that I will never stop wanting to talk about you. I will always want to tell stories about you to my children. Or share memories of you with my friends. I will never want to pretend like you weren’t the most essential person in my life, and that I am forever altered and life is forever less by your death.

I miss you so so much, mom. Thank you for allowing authentic expression of feeling, in all its varied capacities. I recognize now more than ever how special it was to grow up in a home where I was permitted to share and emote honestly. I am a better support and cheerleader for those I love because of it.

143 Your Ashley

IX

Hi, Mom.

For over a month, I’ve been plugging away on a sweater for your grandson. I’ve become enamored of this bubble stitch from a bonnet pattern, and decided to incorporate it into a sweater for Sanderling. It was my first true foray into pattern design, and I was extremely nervous that all that time and effort might have been for nothing if things went awry. I know you would understand zero percent of this given your utter disinterest in knitting (thank goodness your mom took it upon herself to teach me), but you were always such an admirer of the pieces I produced (and on the receiving end of many, even my earliest, less successful projects).

I wanted to share Sanderling wearing the finished product so desperately with you. I wanted to hear you “ooooh” and “ahhhhh.” I am really so dang proud of what I created. It fits beautifully, just as I’d envisioned and hoped. And I was yearning for a compliment from you.

You would have loved it.

143 Your Ashley

sandersweater-8
sandersweater-3

sandersweater-2

sandersweater-4

sandersweater-5

sandersweater-6

sandersweater-7

sandersweater-9

VIII

Hi, Mom,

I took Sunny to see the New York City Ballet perform at the ’62 Center this week. It felt so reminiscent of childhood adventures with you to watch the Boston Ballet perform. The “Swan Lake” pas de deux had me in tears. The female ballerina was so delicate and graceful. The perfect swan. I know how much you would have adored the performance.

Another female lead had the most beautiful hands. It reminded me of the way you always commented on Kimmy’s gorgeous hands when she danced. What a small detail, but what an enormous impact. We sat close to the stage so we could really watch the dancers sweat and work – another thing you taught us young. Ballet is both beautiful and athletic, and takes an immense amount of strength and training. It’s a powerful sight to witness up close. To experience that kind of grace and power so intimately.

Although we live in the country, we took the opportunity to put on fancy dresses and don our dress coats. Sunny even carried my rabbit fur muff from when I was little. You taught us that some occasions just call for fancy, and the ballet is most certainly an opportunity to put on one’s finery. I’m endlessly grateful that I live in a small town community with such easy, affordable access to the arts – I recognize now what a gift (and effort/expense) it was for you and dad to prioritize that for us during our childhoods. I want you to know that I am passing along that legacy.

Courtland, envious of Sunny’s trip to the ballet, asked if she could carry her red rabbit fur muff to school the next day. And why the hell not? You don’t need an excuse to be fabulous.

This muff is extra special because it was in the Valentine’s Day gift bag you prepared for Courtland the morning of your sudden death. I understood instantly why you had purchased it for her. Ever committed to fairness and equality, your second grandchild needed her very own special muff to compliment her big sister’s. That muff carries extra weight and meaning given the circumstances. And while you never saw it in use, you’d be happy to know it brightened up an otherwise grey October Friday.

143 Your Ashley

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-8-47-07-am

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-8-46-58-am

VII

Hi, Mom.

I really needed you today. It felt like no one was in my corner or had my back. I retreated to my bed room before the kids returned home from school and hid out under the covers. And I cried. Long and hard. For you. For myself. For your grandchildren.

I needed a cheerleader today. I needed someone checking in on me. I needed someone asking how I am doing with authenticity and time. I needed a long, rambling voicemail. I needed a voice on the other end of the line. I needed a mother.

During my hardest moments of grief, I need a mother’s love. And yet that is the very thing I am mourning.

143 Your Ashley

VI

Hi, Mom.

In my office sits a framed photograph of you and Dad bedecked in purple and yellow on the sidelines of a Williams football game. It’s the fall of 2006, and you’re seated in the grass, shoulder to shoulder, hugging my Ursa close, and smiling up at the camera proudly.

When I returned to work just a few weeks ago, nearly 8 months to the day since you died, that image smacked me in the face upon entering my office. It sat casually on my desk, in the very place it was left when I closed up my office on Friday, February 12th, fully expecting to return the following Monday, the home stretch to baby’s arrival. And yet, just two days later, our lives changed forever. And I had forgotten about that photograph in the fog of life in The After.

But there it was, with you and Ursa side by side. And I felt myself grow angry and crushed at its sight. Two out of the three beings in that image are dead. Gone. I will never see them again. Never hold them again. Never feel their love firsthand. Ever again. I was gutted by that reality.

It wasn’t so long ago that we sat together on that patch of grass on that brisk November day. And as I stared at that image today at work, I found myself trying to recall what it felt like to hold your hand. I tried to recall the safety and love I experienced when pressing my face against the side of your cheek in a hug. Or the way stroking Ursa’s silky, black ears always brought such relaxation and calm.

And I fucking hate that I don’t ever get to experience those things again. Ever again. It is so horribly, painfully unfair.

143 Your Ashley

V

Hi, Mom.

Montauk Daisies are in full bloom in The Berkshires. I never would have taken the time to notice the way that flowers mark the months with their ephemeral beauty were it not for you. After we purchased Cartwheel Farm, you quickly got to work filling our land with vibrant blooms, instructing us about care and upkeep, and the beauty to anticipate year after year. It wasn’t until I became a homeowner that I fully appreciated the labor of love (and sweat) it was to maintain your perennial flower gardens at 30 Margin. The time, the expense, the knowledge required. How fortunate we were as children to grow up surrounded by such natural splendor, and how fortunate as an adult to benefit from all that experience (though I feel cheated of so much, as you had so much more to give, particularly on that front).

The first flowers you had us plant at Cartwheelm Farm were Montauk Daisies.

They’re wonderful, Ashley! They bloom in October. Just when the days start to get darker and grayer, they are a happy, sunny sight as the season cools.

You stood watch, sipping a frosty beverage no doubt, orchestrating James and I as we dug holes and planted and watered and pruned. And year after year, how those bushes grew and thrived and gave us that happy boost each October.

I drove up to the farm with the kids last weekend as I was in need of a smile and some sunshine from my mama. We picked an abundant bouquet of Montauk Daisies and they have been a happy sight on our dining room table for over a week.

I will always see you in the flowers.

143 Your Ashley

elisasolomonflowerearrings_blogalacart-2

IV

Hi, Mom.

This week’s episode of “The Longest Shortest Time” shared the story of a woman mothering without a mother. And, fuck, I stood frozen in the kitchen listening with my mouth agape (so much for cooking dinner while casually listening to my favorite podcasts). Moment after moment of this woman’s story found me nodding ardently with resonance and affirmation.

I’m not my biggest cheerleader, and I’m getting emotional because I think there is something about a mother that is your cheerleader. When my mom died, I felt so acutely like my personal cheerleader on the sidelines of my life is gone.

This thought runs through my head almost daily. I am forever without the person who loved me and championed me best in this life. And man, that never won’t suck.

143 Your Ashley

III

Hi, Mom.

Sunny has finally agreed, however begrudgingly, to wearing a swim cap during swim practice. Success! Finally! I know that you and I both pushed her on this last year during swim season – and she finally acquiesced now that she’s swimming on the team.

I have a much better understanding of how you must have felt during the peak of my competitive swimming years. Consumed and forever frustrated with the state of my chlorine-saturated hair. Sunny, like me, has unbelievably porous hair, so it turns that awful shade of green and gets all coarse and tinsley thanks to so much chlorine exposure. No amount of pre-swim rinse and conditioner followed by post-swim, anti-chlorine shampoo treatments has made much of a dent. When Sunny protests about the cumbersome, lengthy process to prep for swim practice, I’m reminded of my own annoyances with you when you’d insist that I step in a cold, fresh water shower before diving into the pool. It all comes full circle.

I caught a glimpse of her from across the pool at practice last week, standing in her racing suit, goggles on over her new blue cap, tall and lean, long-legged and lanky, and I reflected that you must have beheld a very comparable sight with me.  She shares my love of the life aquatic, and is such a strong, confident swimmer for her age. It’s clear that she is one of the strongest and fastest in her group. Her strokes are coming together beautifully, and holy shit, the girl can already nail an unbelievable racing dive. The team was practicing starts the other night, and when Sunny came off the block, both her coach and myself audibly gasped. Neither of us were expecting her to get such distance (and her coach actually thought she might land on the kid in front of her!). I wish you were around so I could brag about this to you, because who else but with my child’s grandmother can I be so over-the-top proud of a seven year old’s swim habits and not sound utterly ridiculous? I love watching her grow in this way, and, more importantly, I love seeing how much she has taken to this sport, how much she loves the water, the discipline, the practice. How happy it makes her to be in the pool. You and dad always called me your fish, and apparently it’s genetic.

143 Your Ashley