District of She Magazine

Embracing Me

I photographed a wedding recently and instead of the dance floor being packed with guests, there was just one—a little girl, who had found the center of the floor. Neon lights were shooting colorful rays around the reception's walls and loud bass was blaring through the speakers. She was wearing a beautiful frilly dress, matching shimmery shoes and her long blonde locks were all curled, springing off her shoulders whenever she moved. In between photographs, I watched as she closed her eyes, put her arms straight out and she twirled in giant circles around the empty floor. Guests came out from the shadows and began to watch her, I could hear the giggles from nostalgic parents. I smiled and I began to remember... this was me.  

 

I too once was once a little girl with long curly locks. I was carefree and brave, there wasn't a person in the world I was afraid to speak to. I dressed up in my mother's clothes with giant clunky shoes and twirl around for hours on the green country grass that surrounded me. From an early age I was always a dreamer, watching the clouds pass above me, making them into pretend shapes or animals. I grew up in a small town in Michigan, attended a small county school and the one thing my heart yearned for was to just keep dreaming.  

 

I am now a twenty-something year old Mama living in the good old state of Kentucky. I moved here fresh out of high school and at the time, was determined to become a horse racing jockey. One of the passions that stuck with me from elementary to my teen years was my love for horses. This passion is actually one that still exists, it just looks quite different than I expected. As a kid, I read almost nothing besides horse novels and Kentucky was always the setting of my favorite books. Elementary, middle and high school came and went and whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be it was always the same—the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Clearly moving to the horse state made perfect sense so I never hesitated. Before driving myself the six hours away from home, I made intentional contacts with some like minded people on the campus of the University of Louisville, where I would call the next four years home. One of those contacts had been an exercise rider for years and had some pull with a few trainers at the Track. After getting settled into the apartment I would be living in for the summer, she took me to Churchill and I met the man who would be my boss for the next several months. As an eighteen year old I was brave but I was still fairly dumb to the ways of the world, especially since I had grown up in such a small city. It was seriously a culture shock for me on my first day of work. A female working in the racing industry, though not unheard of, was and still is not the norm. I would hear crass remarks, offers and comments that I had never in my life heard before. I could feel myself being watched as I walked the Thoroughbreds at four thirty in the morning and the horses, though dangerous beings themselves, became my safe havens. Soon, my boss too, began to become unsafe. Wanting to take me to breakfast, lunch, expensive dinners. Buy me expensive clothes, take me to pricey places, and allow me to ride some of the most prized horses he owned. My young naive self began to realize that I wasn't born with skin thick enough and that working a job such as this was really just deflating the person that I was created to be. So, things changed.  

 

In my sophomore year of college I met a cute man at a coffee shop. He offered me a free cup of joe and we began to talk. Long Facebook messages (novels) turned into long walks. I knew the day I met him that I wanted to marry a man just like him; little did I know that in six short months he would pop the question and that I would say yes. I was only twenty years old when we got married on a snowy December day in my Michigan hometown. A couple of years later, I graduated with a Bachelor's in Arts with a concentration in Bioethics. I literally had no idea what I would do or what I was being called to.


 

Through several job changes, like being a nurse assistant at our local children' hospital, to substitute teaching, my job title is now officially a full time teacher. I received a Master's in Special Education and I am now in my fifth year of teaching a small class of fourth and fifth grade students who struggle with behavior disabilities.

 

The other hats that I wear are wedding and lifestyle photographer, writer, mom of two toddlers and wife of almost seven years. If someone had told eighteen year old me that I would have been married at twenty, had a son at twenty four and a daughter at twenty five, amidst the other things that I have been through and done; I would have laughed in their face. But something I have learned over the years that I pray I continue to embrace, is that there is strength in change. No matter how unexpected, there has been joy in every season. I do not for a second believe that if you haven't accomplished your dream that life is over. There is so much freedom in dreaming and part of that, is allowing yourself to be curious and open to new ideas. Some days I still feel like I have no idea what I want to do. At almost thirty I often joke that I don't know what life will look like when “I grow up.” Maybe I will teach for twenty more years, maybe I will pursue photography full time or write a book. Perhaps we will move away from Kentucky and call some other state our home. Maybe I'll have land full of horses or maybe I'll keep living the city life a few more years. Whichever way life turns and however the tides turn, my goal is to always embrace my inner strength. I want to forever throw my arms open wide, greeting the sun with twirling and spinning arms as I smile into the face of unknown.

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Love,

Ashley
 

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Photography credit for today's post: Aubrey Renee. Follow her HERE