This Run Lift Mom podcast episode is an interview about modeling courage and vulnerability with Dr Ashley Wellman, Author of The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons: My Friend Fresno.
Who is Dr. Wellman?
Dr. Ashley Wellman is a victimologist specializing in homicide and sexual assault survivors. Ashley received her PhD in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of Florida in 2011 and entered the world of academia as a professor of Criminal Justice.
She has over 30 scholarly publications, serves as a media expert, and has been selected as keynote speaker at many national and international grief and trauma events. She’s recently been named one of Fort Worth’s 40 Under 40 winners, for her advocacy work and her new creative journey.
What’s that got to do with vulnerability and courage?
After the death of her husband and a career setback, her life radically changed.
As a way to heal and create a magical world for herself and her daughter, she added author to her resume. Her first children’s book, The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons: My Friend Fresno is illustrated by the talented Zac Kinkade was just released!
Key takeaways from this episode:
• We are allowed to transition/redefine who we are to be our best selves
• We cannot be our children’s best advocates and role models if we do not model bravery, strength, vulnerability, and honesty.
• We are more than a mother, even when it is our greatest role
As a grieving mother, Dr. Wellman knew that her path to healing had to include her daughter (in a way that they both were pursuing health and joy).
That is perhaps the most important part of this story- it would have been much easier for her to mourn and cope on her own.
2:00 professional background as a criminologist and tenured professor 4:00 career drive exposes workaholic tendencies 5:00 heartbreak of multiple miscarriage 6:30 the incident that changed her and daughter Reagan’s life forever
9:00 on deep grief and being pushed out of her career as she copes with living and parenting without Buddy 12:30 idea for the book My Friend Fresno: The Girl Who Dances with Skeletons 14:00 how the book teaches kids to cope with death
16:00 Ashley and Reagan channel grief into a positive tool 17:00 on the illustrator and the Providence of the team surrounding My Friend Fresno 18:00 where to find Dr. Wellman on social media + buy the book online
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Speaker 1 (6s): Welcome to the Run Lift Mom podcast, where we talking about running, lifting in money. Not necessarily in that order, we are going to be squarely in the Modeling category today with Dr. Ashley Wellman. And I bet if you were to Google her and see that her children’s book, the girl who Dances with Skeletons my Friend Fresno is out, you’d say. Yeah, sure. Of course. This is the mom and category. You guys Ashley got there. Very non traditionally her background y’all she has her PhD in criminology.
She’s a victim ologist specializing in homicide and sexual assault survivors. And she has got a boatload of scholarly publications from her time in academia. This show is about how her personal story changed to the degree that she ended up writing said, children’s book. You have got to hear this personal story to believe it. So without further ado, Dr. Ashley Wellman
Speaker 0 (1m 3s): No.
Speaker 1 (1m 8s): All right. Welcome to the Run Lift Mom podcast. Dr. Ashley Wellman how are you doing today? I’m doing so good. Suzy thank you for having me. I am so excited for you to both share your personal story and then talk to us a little bit about just the identity struggle that sometimes moms have we do, where is it? We’re casting to these little boxes of this is who you are, and this is what you’re meant to be. And I’m excited to share with your listeners that, you know what sometimes when great things happen or sometimes when bad things happened, we really do have to step back and redefine who we are.
Speaking of. Can you talk to me a little bit about your personal story Dr Wellman and how you redefined, who you are in your career? Of course The, there was no way of knowing where my life would go, but I’ll tell you as a control freak, I definitely knew where it was going. I, I was the one who I planned everything I knew when I was going to be married. I knew how many kids I was going to have. I knew what my, my career path was going to be. And when I was getting my PhD in criminology, so I’m a criminologist.
Victimology is when I was getting my PhD. There’s really one prescribed route of what makes you a successful scholar. And that was to achieve that tenure track job and too, to be a professor somewhere and B be a researcher. And I loved that role. That was really how I defined myself. And I kinda did the claw my way too, to find that definition by working so hard in my career. And I did it all with my husband, by my side, I met him.
His name is Buddy and I met him the year. I got my PhD and he really a couple weeks in said, you know, I’m, I’ll move wherever you want to go. And so my career potential was kind of limitless. It kinda of just, I just needed someone to offer me a job. And so I started at a military college in the South, and then I made my way to Missouri and in a small university there, I would do exactly what I was supposed to do. I got my tenure track job. I moved up to an associate professor with tenure and I was gathering up all these little collected awards and recognitions in these types of things.
And I thought I was so successful in that realm at home. I was successful too. I had a beautiful family. I had a little girl that was born in 2014. Her name is Reagan and my husband and I we’re trying for a second child, probably about 2016. And we would suffer four back to back miscarriages from 2016 to 2018. And in that time, my definition of being a mother really changed.
And I had to step back because I don’t know you’ve experienced a miscarriage, but no one talks about it. And there’s a lot of shame and guilt and heartbreak that happens around that because I was a Mom for a second time in lost it. Then a third time and last it a fourth time, lost it. Fifth time, lost it in by the end of that, I was that not the person that I had been. I wasn’t healthy or happy. And so my husband being in the amazing human, he was, it said, Hey, Ashley, let’s change our lives.
You’re not really happy at work. You’re not really happy here. Let’s move. And for a tenured professor, that’s a big deal, right? Get kind of cool. There were many days crying on the kitchen floor of like, I can’t do that. And I met two people at a conference who said, Ashley, I know it sounds like suicide in your career, but come to us as an instructor, which is a lower position, give up tenure and you’ll be, you’ll get this new job. You don’t like it. We’ll the next job will come to you.
Since I do it, give it up. The title means nothing when your happiness does. So we moved to Texas the day before my new job started in 2018, my husband told me to go take a nap. And I did. And I left him with my daughter on the couch. And it wasn’t three minutes later that I heard glass shatter downstairs and I ran downstairs and I’d find my husband seizing and not able to breathe in the hallway of our new condo called nine 11.
She asked me, was he breathing? I didn’t know. Suzy I didn’t know it is he breathing. He was just gasping for air. And my four year old at the time had wandered over screaming, saved. My dad saved my dad and it was heartbreaking. And I, I didn’t in a moment, I felt like a horrible mom for months because in a moment I could not attend to her. I, all I could do was fight to try to save his life. And I would follow the ambulance to emergency room and watch for nearly an hour while they tried to resuscitate him. And then I was 34, he was 44 or 44 years old date pronounced him dead.
And I left the hospital now, not a wife. You know, I, my husband was dead and I would have never predicted that, you know, things like that happen to somebody else. And my world was completely shattered, completely shattered. I thought I knew heartbreak from the miscarriages. I had no concept of what it would be to manage my grief of losing my best friend and helping my daughter grief the death of her best friend. And so work became the only thing I really knew how to do.
And I threw myself back into that. In the meantime, I picked up creative writing as a way to kind of save myself and heal, but work was my Salas. And that was my stage while a little known fact in hindsight. Now I know My, some of my colleagues were not comfortable with quote, the woman I had become, and I wasn’t grieving in the manner that they expected me to. And they became a little bit of resentment for my bereavement leave and things like that never imagined that spaces like an institution wouldn’t have the ability to fully support someone grieving or understand what that process is like.
But when I walked back into the classroom, I thought I was doing exactly what I was called to do B a professor. And a few months later, I’d be excluded from a job that I had moved there for. And the heartbreak started all over again. Suzy because like everything I was now, mother had been redefined, wife had been redefined. And now you’re telling me that the future of my career has also being taken away from me.
Speaker 2 (7m 46s): One thing that it feels comfortable to do to put it,
Speaker 1 (7m 50s): Yes, that’s who I was. That was me. And so I spent, this was in 2019. It was just last year. I spent months lying in bed, sick, physically sick, emotionally sick, crying, asking myself, what could I have done differently? Like, what am I supposed to do? This is all that I am. And my daughter came in and she said, you know, are you crying at work again? And I said, yeah, isn’t that sad. My six year old, my six year old knows that I’m falling apart about a career.
And a friend encouraged me. He had encouraged me to start the creative writing process. And he said, you know what? Ashley have two choices. You can believe what is being told to you, right? That you’re not valuable that you’re not worthy of these things. Or you can believe the truth, but know that maybe a new chapter of your life needs to start, you know, and that something else has to happen.
Speaker 2 (8m 47s): Wow. So you’re not only grieving, obviously the loss of your best friend and helping your daughter cope with that loss as well. But now grieving
Speaker 1 (8m 56s): The loss of a career that you have worked really, really hard for. Talk to me a little bit about that creative writing outlet and what happened. Oh, this is the best. OK. So in the midst of literally hell, so a picture of hell I was in it and I didn’t know how to get out. Suzy I really didn’t. I’m a very joyful person, but I’m also a very anxious person, a very serious person, and I’m very driven. And so to be kind of stripped of everything I was, was uncomfortable.
And I didn’t like it. I’m glad it happened because it forced me to do something different creative writing in, in painting music, anything artistic was really what Reagan. And I both clung to when Buddy died, it was our way of kind of bonding. And so creative writing for me allowed me to escape this little condo I was in, we were stuck there, or at least hadn’t expired. So we were stuck. They’re in this little place where he had passed away and my daughter would, you know, people coming into bring us food to be like, Oh, my dad died right here.
You know? And I would in the middle of the night walk across this little place where I knew that’s where I’d held him and he had passed away. It was awful. So that’s an understatement. I mean, to say what it, what it was like that, but writing it is a children’s book. It actually, when I started with I, my daughter’s best friend is opposable skeleton named Fresno again, I’m a criminologist. So a little weird, but right.
So I had a bunch of weird, quirky, interesting things in my office because I specialize in homicide that’s that I work with the survivors of homicide. And I had gotten this skeleton to put in the side of my My office. And Reagan said, you cannot take him. That’s my best friend. And when she was two, he started being literally her nap. Buddy her bath, buddy. You know, anything that Reagan wanted to do Fresno. So I had picture of her dancing with Fresno and my dear friend saw it. And he said, Ashley, that is the weirdest, strangest, most gorgeous picture I’ve ever seen because he said something so scary and something that should be, you know, a thing of horror.
She finds beauty in it and she finds kindness in it and friendship. And he said that there was something gorgeous about that. And I am, when he said that he said, go write a children’s book about her. So I was working on that in my condo. I was working on a ghost novel, which is going more of a traditional route. But over time, when I got denied that job, I walked down to the courthouse and I filed for a small business certificate. And, and I remember saying, what if this little book of Fresno and Reagan could be, my passion could be kind of my next step.
And I felt like this is kind of impossible. I’ve never small business. I have nobody around me. That’s a huge risk, you know, but I said, I want to put that out there. And I think quarantine has helped me time away and space away from that career. Heartbreak has helped me realize if I’m not willing to trust and risk and love myself enough to believe I could at least try and enjoy the process of putting out a children’s book on my own.
What am I doing? Cause I tell Reagan she can be anything she wants to be. Why not me? You know, I should be telling myself the same thing. And so I just actually got my hands on my approved of my children’s book and I have it in my hands.
Speaker 2 (12m 38s): It’s such a cool story. And listeners, you can either click details or you can swipe up in the show notes and you’re going to be able to see some of those photos of dr. Wellman and This book, which is amazing. But I don’t want to overlook the fact Dr Wellman that you, you know, so, so many of us moms it’s really easy for us to say that to our children’s right? You can do anything. You can be anything, you can start a new chapter, but we won’t take the advice ourselves to do find that hard. Or what would you say to a woman maybe in similar shoes that wants to turn a new page, but is having trouble doing that?
Speaker 1 (13m 16s): I’ll tell you, you talk to yourself the way you talk to your best friend. I think we are as women so hard on ourselves. We’re also very hard on other women. Don’t do that for our best allies. You know, an advocate for one another, but talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. If I listened to someone, say my heart is broken, I feel worthless. I feel valueless. I first say, okay, well, none of that’s true, right? And I’d say we’re how do we change that?
And so one be kind yourself, be gracious to yourself. Believe in the fact that you didn’t get where you are, right. To raise a human being too, to re to raise a family. Two, everything we do has an asset that can be applied to a business, have your own, or it can be applied to a new career and allow yourself to say yes, was this one is how I defined myself. Yes. Am I thankful for that? My God, I will hold the stories of my survivors. I will hold the advocacy that I do for my students and my My survivors as one of the dearest things in my life.
But it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to turn the page and have a new chapter and redefine who I am. And you know what Suzy, if that doesn’t work, I can turn the page again. Like that’s what I wanted in life is that my mom said, your mom said, Oh my God, she’s just worried about me as a single mom, you know? And she said, Ash, what if it doesn’t work? And I said, well, then that’s okay. I have a children’s book in my hand. That’s not going anywhere. You know, we take things away from each chapter. And so it’s not a failure. You don’t try it.
And if it doesn’t work step back and say, guess what? Cool new chapter turned the page. And you can turn that page. That can be the longest book in the,
Speaker 2 (15m 3s): You know, and I love dr. Wellman. I love, you know, we’re talking a lot about Modeling healthy behaviour, this season of the Run Lift Mom podcast. And what you’re describing is Modeling not only Vulnerability, but also Courage for Reagan.
Speaker 1 (15m 18s): Thank you for saying that. Sometimes I don’t feel it, you know, as moms, we, we like to be hard on ourselves, but I have put my relationship with Reagan and her health and my health as one of the priorities in my life. And I don’t know that I’ve ever done that. You know, we’re always chasing our paycheck. We’re always trying to get the house we want. We’re always trying to do all of these things. And for me, again, it really was, I’m going to be a great scholar and my family will benefit from that, you know, but I was forced to say, you’re stripped to the bottom.
One of the things I would encourage any mom who is grieving, anything, don’t be afraid to let your kids see your heart. There’s a fine balance between I cannot have Reagan of six year old, my grieving partner, but I also can’t isolate Reagan from my grief, because if we show Vulnerability too, our kids and she knows yes, work has hurt me. Yes. The death of her father has hurt me. Then when Reagan’s struggling, then she also knows I am a safe person to express her feelings too, because she knows I have them.
You know? And so I think as moms, we want so badly to protect our kids from everything, but don’t protect them from you. You know, let them see you as a human, because that’s who they believe they can be. So if I’m telling Reagan Ew, you know, I’m safe. You can grieve with me. You can be anything you want, but I’m, Modeling, you know, like I don’t like my body. I don’t believe in myself. I, you know, can’t show her emotions. Then the woman Reagan is going to grow to be it’s the woman she looks at and listens to. And so I very, very heavily encourage any mom to just be herself and love herself for her children.
Let that be what guides, you know, job, no paycheck. Our kids don’t know that my daughter, you think my daughter knows the difference between Mom the tenured associate professor or Mom the instructor, or Mom the high school teacher or mom, the, you know, janitor, she doesn’t care. And each one is noble. You know, each one is noble because I’m doing it for my family, but, but I’m a woman. And I think whatever woman I’m modeling for her and whatever mother and Modeling for her, that’s what Reagan is going to say. Like, well, you know, my worth is valuable because my mom fought to get hers reclaimed.
And my mom showed me what it’s like hurt and strive for better and to believe in herself. And so again, like if you can’t model it, my daughters, I’m going to believe it. So that’s really been, let her see the good, the, the ugly to a minute or, you know, to a minimum, but we let her see that I’m a human. And then she’ll know when she messes up, when she fails, when she gets hurt, that that’s also very human and she’s allowed to, to confine and be with me. Ashley where can folks find you online?
Of course they can find email@example.com. I do have to shout out to my incredible illustrator. If you guys are familiar with the Thomas Kincaid, World the painter of light, his brilliant and independently successful nephews, Zach Kincaid, who’s just in and of himself. This amazing artist he’s My illustrator. And one of the greatest things about him is that he said, Ashley, I’m not an illustrator. I’m an artist. And I’m nervous about this. I said, great.
I’m nervous about it. I wanted it to be a work of art. And so I cannot wait for your viewers to jump on and see his work. The story of Fresno is about really loving things that are different from yourself, finding what friendship truly means and being comfortable with the uncomfortable. And so I think your listeners will really be able to talk to their kids about what it means to accept those who aren’t just like us and what it means to love others and love yourself the way that you deserve. Thank you. Dr Wellman for sharing your very courageous story and redefinition.
Speaker 1 (20m 9s): You so much for listening to the Run Lift Mom podcast. I want to let you know that you can swipe up in the podcast player, that your in to see the show notes, that’s going to take you to my website and you’re going to get a deep dive on today’s show. Cool. Huh? You could think of it as a blog post, that compliments what was covered today with all of the links and resources discussed. Don’t forget to check out the podcast partners as well with some really great offers for you. And until I get into your earpiece again, remember for a while bodily training is of some value.
Godliness is a value in every way as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come that’s first Timothy four eight,
Speaker 2 (20m 48s): And this has been the Run Lift Mom podcast.