Real Roles: Ashley Lauren S.

1. What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you? 

My name is Ashley Lauren S. I live in the suburbs of Chicago, and I am 28 years old. 

2. Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, very near where I live now. While most writers seem to have tortured childhoods, mine was quite the opposite. I grew up in a nice, suburban home, with a nice, suburban family. My mother made a point, though, to make sure I was raised with a sense of purpose and independence. She encouraged me to think about things like traveling the world and getting advanced degrees before getting married, and she was the one who planted the seed about keeping my last name for my whole life. In short, she gave me the values I have today starting at a very young age.

3. How would you describe your current family and close support community?

I have many families and close support communities. Sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they are completely separate. My closest family at the moment is my husband, Tim, our dog Penny, and our parents and siblings. They support me in every way possible, even when they completely disagree with what I’ve decided to do. My other “families” are as diverse as the people in them. I am a high school teacher, and so the wonderful people I teach with are my school family. They offer much more than lesson plan ideas. Often, they are a shoulder to cry on or the first to share in my joys. Similarly, my students are “my kids.” I meet them at the beginning of the school year and they quickly worm their way into my heart with their never-ending humor and general awesomeness. It’s always bittersweet to see them go on their way at the end of each school year. Outside of school, I have close writer friends who function as a sounding board for ideas, feminist friends who incite me to action, and my oldest friends who know me better than I know myself, sometimes.

4. What are some of the things you do on an average day?

Every day, I have coffee. No matter what. I also try to fit some reading and writing into every day, but with teaching, sometimes that’s hard to do. And I always, always, talk to my mom, eat a meal with my husband, and play with the dog.

5. What do you do to pay the bills?

I am fortunate enough to not have to do anything to pay the bills. What I do, I do because I love it and couldn’t imagine my life without it. This fall will mark the start of my seventh year teaching high school English, and my fourth year as a freelance writer and blogger. Every day, I sit in my classroom or at my desk at home and think, “Someone pays me to do this stuff?!” It’s too good to be true. 

6. Does your life look like what you imagined it would when you were young?  

My life looks so much better than I imagined it would when I was young. I have a beautiful family and a beautiful house. I have two jobs that give me purpose and allow me enough money and time to both pay the bills and experience the rest of what life has to offer. Sometimes, I wonder when the bubble will burst, but it doesn’t take too long to come back to the present and enjoy what I have in front of me.

7. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

My greatest challenge has been deciding what I want to do with my life. I haven’t always loved teaching as much as I do now. I thought, for a long time, that I should be doing something “better,” like writing the next Great American Novel or teaching at a prestigious university. It took me a while to realize that teaching the next generation is just about the greatest, most important thing someone could do and that I really loved doing it, so who better to take the job?

8. Have you made any decisions or choices that have surprised those around you?

When I decided to get married, I think that surprised people. No one expected me to be part of a co-dependent relationship, so to speak, after I had spent my life trying to be so independent. I think people don’t really realize that a marriage isn’t so much co-dependent as it is interdependent. We work together, but we are still our own people. 

9. Who have you looked to for inspiration while creating your life? What have they taught you?

My family has been my ultimate inspiration. My mom is a teacher and, as I said before, the strongest woman I know. She’s given me my strength and my drive. My husband inspires me to relax a little bit and see the humor in life rather than the stress and encourages me to “live a little.” My dog, perhaps surprisingly, has inspired me to love unconditionally. And eat lots of treats.

10. What TV shows, movies, music or books have been particularly formative or important in your life?

Without a doubt, the TV series Friday Night Lights has been the most formative pop culture experience I’ve had, and I recommend it to everyone. I was reluctant to watch it at first because I really hate football, but it isn’t about football at all. It’s about marriage, interdependence in both marriage and in the team, and the importance of having a team of some kind in your life to depend on. It really is the most emotionally true show I’ve seen in a long time, and has one of the best representations of marriage pop culture has to offer.

11. Are there any stories not told in media that you’d like to see represented?

I’ve written a lot about how the media portrays marriage. I’d like to see the media bust out of the tired, old marriage tropes: the desperate-for-love single girl, the June Cleaver who vacuums in pearls and high heels, or the Debra Barone who nags her husband beyond oblivion. It’s refreshing to see real marriages that really work and true partners who help each other grow rather than tear each other down. But, I suppose there isn’t much drama in that.

12. How often do you think about gender roles and whether your life matches what others might expect from your gender?

Every day. As a feminist writer, it’s hard not to see, and as a teacher, it’s something I especially deal with. People often think women are meant to be teachers because they are good caregivers and not much more. I’m not a particularly great caregiver. I chose teaching because I’m a professional educator who has had lots of education and experience in educating students. These issues also arise frequently when family and friends ask us when (not if) we’re having a baby. Because I am a woman (and a caregiver), I am expected to want babies, and I’m just not there yet.

13. What wisdom have you gained in life that you think other people would benefit from knowing?

The best nugget of wisdom I’ve gained is one I heard first from one of my yoga instructors and have since passed on to my students at the end of each year. My instructor said to us, “Like the firefly, you already know how to make light. You already know what to do; it’s inside you.” When I was struggling with my decision of whether or not to keep teaching, I went back for another year just to see what would happen and it came to me so naturally and ended up being so much fun. I already knew what the best thing for me to do was, and I was already doing it.

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