“How does one be happy, hurting, growing, and healing simultaneously?”
Good question, right? These are the jumbles that Lesley Ware, now 42, started working through when she turned 40. At the time, the author and educator was going through what she describes as a “major life transition”. Lesley was recently separated and starting therapy to work through issues she’d been grappling with for a few months, including splitting with her partner of 10 years, money anxiety, and much-needed fibroid surgery.
But Lesley was also celebrating falling in love again, with her now-husband, comedian and television producer Victor Varnado. “It was gutting to mourn a relationship of many years while starting a new one,” she says from home in Ridgewood, Queens. “When my ex-husband and I parted ways, for the first few months, I was in bad shape mentally and physically.”
Now, as a newlywed, the pandemic hasn’t exactly been the most romantic backdrop to a new relationship. “Being in quarantine as a newlywed is strange,” she says. “My husband and I are both dealing with all our emotions about being locked inside, working from home with no breaks, while adjusting to life together. It feels like we’ve been married for years, but it’s just been months.”
Luckily, there’s a fun side, too. “Victor is an entertainer, so we’re always laughing.”
Lesley is the author of three activity books for kids (about sewing, fashion, and style) and creates fashion education programs for The Parsons School of Design, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pioneer Works, Museum of the City of New York, among other organizations. She has two new book projects on the horizon, along with a podcast and yet-to-be-announced “dream collaborations” in the works.
In this interview, Lesley talks about fashion as self-care, quarantine braids, and growing up having to be “twice as everything” as a Black girl.
I left my last full-time job at Girl Scouts of the USA 10 years ago. I can’t believe that I’ve made it a decade working for myself, with part-time teaching and book deals here and there.
I create education programs that help youth develop their creative abilities and talents through fashion. Youth are trendsetters and I get to inspire them to speak up with fashion in a way that feels authentic to their lives. This is my favorite part about my career. I often think about the movements that happened in the 1960s and how young people used fashion to their advantage. I was not alive during that decade, but now feels like a similar moment.
We met on Bumble. I wanted to meet someone in real life, but my friend suggested that I join and I gave it a try. This was my first foray into dating in 14 years. I figured it would not hurt to try it for four days out of curiosity. I’m glad I did.
We got married in November 2019, pre Covid-19. I wanted to wait until the spring and he wanted to get married in the fall. Looking back, I’m so happy we did not wait. We were able to have parties, during the holidays, and our mothers were able to join us, for the wedding. They flew in from Michigan and Texas and instantly became instant friends. It was exactly the vibe we wanted.
Victor is amazing! He’s a multi-talented artist and producer who has great ideas and can play a killer game of Ms. Pac Man. The thing he’s most excited about right now is being a cartoonist for The New Yorker.
Here’s an article he wrote for Vice about growing up as a Black Albino.
When I was going through my divorce, the only thing I could do outside the tiny-lofted studio I rented at the time was go to therapy and have breakfast with my cousin Brett, once a week.
On the days I went out, I found that wearing certain textures, colors, and prints made me feel better. I also observed how people responded to me when I wore them. The fact that wearing my black-and-white vintage polka dot blouse, from my friend Cleo, would make me, and maybe a few strangers, feel happy was encouraging.
Most of my clothes were in storage, so I only had a handful of things to wear, and they were self-care. The week leading up to my birthday I created an experiment I called 5 Days of Sparkle. I shopped my closet for everything that had beading, sequin, or sparkles. It boosted my mood and took some of the sting out of being single and not having the dream 40th birthday party that I’d been planning for years. I cried publicly (including at a trendy millennial cafe in Soho), a few times that week, in my sequin but at least I looked festive doing it. After that experience, I decided to truly explore how to use fashion as a tool and this has been an area of interest since. Why not use fashion every day to boost your mood? This is something that I’ve enjoyed teaching my students to do, too.
“The week leading up to my birthday I created an experiment I called 5 Days of Sparkle. I shopped my closet for everything that had beading, sequin, or sparkles. It boosted my mood and took some of the sting out of being single and not having the dream 40th birthday party that I’d been planning for years.”
One of my dear friends, Nicole, and I were talking recently about wanting to find new friends and how that can be a challenge in your 40s. Long gone are the days when you meet a best buddy on a new job, the subway, dorm cafeteria salad bar, or at a party. I mean it happens, but it is rare. Right now, I’m trying to rekindle old friendships and think out the box about what new friendships look like, especially as it relates to embracing intergenerational friends.
Forever I’ve been treating myself to getting my hair washed and styled almost weekly. It’s a part of my self-care. My hair is thick, hard to comb though, and washing is a daylong process (it’s a common hair texture for Black Americans called 4A). When the salon I go to closed in March, I had no choice but to DIY. I watched some YouTube and figured out how to braid my hair. My mom is a barber and stylist, so it’s in my DNA. Spending the time washing and braiding has helped me learn to love my hair and embrace its challenges in a creative way. The salon has since reopened, but I am still rocking my “quarantine braids”. Since the world has slowed down, the eight hours that it takes to wash and braid my hair does not seem like that big of a deal. Plus, this gives me an opportunity to binge-watch bad TV. I’ve developed a better relationship with my hair!
These days I’m learning that I’m tired. I started working when I was 14. I was a peer educator for Planned Parenthood and a fry girl at Wendy’s, in the ninth grade. My goal was to save enough money to buy a car at 16, and I did exactly that. I also started myself on a pattern of working multiple jobs and leaving little time to restore. Even when I was working full time at Girl Scouts of the USA, as a national program manager, I held an evening gig, at Anthropologie, while writing for my blog The Creative Cookie, after midnight.
My body is strong, but it’s tired, too. My therapist is encouraging me to take breaks and staycations, and spend days in bed just relaxing. Being a Black woman, this is something I used to think was a luxury. My parents have said to me since I can remember that I need to be “twice as good”, “twice as smart”, “twice as everything”, to succeed and be noticed. The bar always went higher and higher, and I piled on more and more. This year I have decided to stop and rest.
“My therapist is encouraging me to take breaks and staycations, and spend days in bed just relaxing. Being a Black woman, this is something that I used to think was a luxury. My parents have said to me since I can remember that I need to be ‘twice as good, ‘twice as smart, ‘twice as everything’, to succeed. The bar always went higher and higher, and I piled on more and more. This year I have decided to stop and rest.”
Even in quarantine, there’s a lot to do. Maybe even more with the shifting of my mind to think virtually. Lately, I’m looking for ways to improve, to advocate for myself, and to show up bigger. I now realize that I need to add rest to the list. This is the only way I’m going to get to the goals I truly desire.
Writing in my journal, talking with my therapist, being kind to myself, and resting. Covid-19 is making it clear that the priority right now is to stay healthy and keep those we love healthy, too.
Watching TV is also helping me deal with some jumbles. My husband is a television producer, so we have all the channels, a huge screen, and a comfortable couch. These have been some of the most jumble-free moments — just me and TV.
One positive aspect has been standing Zoom and Facetime dates with friends. We’re not visiting museums, pop-ups, or new bars together but we’ve been able to do fun things like morning coffee dates, virtual dance parties, and even attend a multi-day children’s book conference. The beauty of being virtual means seeing your friends and being anywhere in the world right now. Thank goodness for technology.
The main negative was that we had to cancel our honeymoon. We were planning to go during spring break, which was in April 2020. This happened to be the apex of the pandemic in NYC. For now, our honeymoon is on hold. It has been replaced with cake nights, date days, and you guessed it — watching lots of Netflix.
I’ve figured out that there is no set time to do anything.
I hope to figure out how to worry less and let go more.
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Amy Cuevas Schroeder is the founder and CEO of Jumble & Flow and The Midst. By day, she works as the director of educational content for Unusual Ventures. She started her first business, Venus Zine, in her dorm room at Michigan State University, and later sold the company. She now lives in the Chicago area, and is raising twin girls with her husband, Martin, a therapist.
Between Venus and The Midst, she’s worked as a content leader for Etsy, Minted, and Abstract, and has written for NYLON, Pitchfork, The Startup, West Elm, and more.
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