keeping her valentine.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset I ask the same questions every time.

"How was your day, sweetheart?" "What did you learn about?" "Who did you play with?" "What did you have for snack?"

The ride home from preschool is only four minutes long, so we stick to the basics. His answers are usually the same: his day was good, he forgot what he learned, he played with Benjamin and Isaac, he had apple slices and popcorn for a snack. Occasionally he mentions something specific -- a game they played, a song they sang, a worm spotted in the dirt. But generally speaking, his answers are as predictable as the questions I ask.

That is, until he mentioned Caroline.

My eyebrows went up as I glanced at him in the rear view mirror. Who's Caroline? Benjamin and Isaac are 2/3 of the boy posse that Everett's been a part of for two years. He's never uttered a word about playing with anyone but them ... let alone a girl.

But there it was, a new answer to the old question.

"I played with Caroline today. She is sooooooooo funny, mommy."

I was intrigued, but upon further investigation, didn't learn much. They played in the sandbox; no big deal. We moved on to the topic of snacks (he opted not to eat carrots that day).

Little did I know, Caroline would become a household name in the following weeks. Caroline this, Caroline that. His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he talked about her, a crush if I've ever seen one. But is it too soon? He's only four.

My suspicions were confirmed the day before the Valentine's Day preschool party, when Everett seemed especially concerned with which valentine Caroline would receive. We sat around the coffee table together Sunday afternoon. I cut printable dinosaur valentines, while he carefully wrote "Ev" on each one.

"Mommy, I want to give Caroline the purple one, because Caroline loves purple," he told me. I nodded and handed him a purple valentine. He smiled while writing "Ev" along the bottom.

"Mommy, do you think I can put a special sticker on Caroline's?"

Oh my. 

"Sure, babe ... what kind of sticker?"

"A flower sticker, because Caroline loves flowers."

This was the extent of my knowledge of Caroline: she liked purple, she liked flowers, she had a good sense of humor. Well, and my son was smitten with her.

We finished the rest of the valentines, attaching red suckers to the back of each one with decorative tape. I got up from the table to get ready for a yoga class, but not before Everett grabbed Caroline's valentine and told me he "just wanted to hold it" for a little while.

The next morning, in our typical rush to get out the door, I was zipping up my jeans with a toothbrush in my mouth when Everett asked if he could wear hair gel. Everett never asks to wear hair gel.

"Why do you want hair gel today, Ev?" I asked.

"Because I want to look handsome for Caroline," he said with a bashful grin.

What's a mother to do? I obliged.

We arrived at preschool a few minutes late, and I walked in with him to help put the valentines in the kids' bags. Carson made himself at home near the train table while I walked from bag to bag with Everett, reading the name of each student to him.

"This one is Benjamin's ... this one is Jake's."

Everett reached into his bag of valentines and made thoughtful choices. He told me which kids would like a T-Rex best or which kids preferred blue.

And then we got to Caroline's bag. I fished out the special valentine with the flower sticker and Everett held it carefully in his hands for 10 whole seconds with a dopey smile on his face before dropping it in her bag in slow motion.

When the last valentine had been delivered, Everett whispered to me, "I'm going to go find Caroline!"

I carried Carson out to the parking lot on my hip, but not before noticing Everett standing next to the playhouse with a little girl in pigtails. She was wearing a navy blue shirt with a pink heart. Aha. I tried to gage the situation. Everett clearly adored her, but did she adore him back? Was the feeling mutual? Did she talk about Everett to her parents, too? My heart ached at the possibility of a one-sided crush.

When I returned around 11:25 for the valentine party, the kids had just finished their cookies and milk. Everett waved at me before pointing to Caroline on the swings and running to join her. I watched them swing in unison, rays of sunshine beaming off the tops of their dirty blond heads.

I snapped a picture for his preschool yearbook.

She hopped off eventually, and so did he. They parted ways for a few minutes; Everett joined a friend on the seesaw and she sat down at a picnic table with another kid. At 11:50, Mrs. Brown rang the bell, signaling that it was time to come back inside to gather backpacks. Everett leapt off the seesaw and sprinted to the picnic table. I watched in amusement as he waited for Caroline to get down so they could walk inside together.

When we got home, Everett couldn't wait to dump out his valentine bag. He turned it upside down and let all the valentines fall to the floor as Carson let out an excited, "Wooooooow!"

Together we sifted through tiny cards, candy, crayons, and small bags of goldfish crackers. I knew what we were all looking for, even before he asked.

"Mommy, which valentine is from Caroline?"

In a sea of Paw Patrol and Minions store-bought valentines, hers stood out among the rest. A simple pink heart, with a red heart glued in the middle.

Happy Valentine's Day! From: Caroline

Simple. Handmade. No candy attached. Well played. I handed it to Everett and watched his face light up. I couldn't help but wonder again: is Caroline looking for Everett's valentine right now? Did she notice the sticker? 

He carried that valentine around for the rest of the day, stopping to stare at it any chance he got. When all the candy had been eaten, I threw away the bag full of valentines, but not before placing the pink heart in Everett's memory box.

He has a lifetime of falling in love ahead of him, and I know he won't always confide in me. Keeping her valentine is just as much for me as it is for him: to remember this first crush, when he was only four and asked for hair gel and wasn't embarrassed to tell his mom all about a girl.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

***

p.s. The following week, Everett's preschool teacher sent me this:

16804607_10211490738760406_1594608061_o

I guess the feeling is mutual.

(I should probably meet her parents soon.)

***

This post was inspired by a writing prompt from The Year Of Creativity. Want to join us? Use ASHLEE15 to save 15% off here. Every month comes with a lesson prepared by a C+C writer, writing prompts, creative exercises, and more!  

happy birthday, Everett!

Better late than never (my personal memory keeping mantra). Can I confess something? Memory keeping stresses me the heck out. I have so many goals, so many ideas, so many plans......baby books, photo books, memory boxes. Everything is unfinished; I am always behind.

However. The one thing I have managed to do (albeit late, always) is put together a video of my kids on their birthday. My digital files are half organized, half plopped into a folder called To File, so I figure this way: if my house burns down, I'll still have the best video clips of my kids' childhoods saved in cohesive movies once a year. Thanks, Vimeo.

And with that, happy 4th birthday to my sweet Everett! He brought home a glowing report on his preschool evaluation, and just last week one of his teachers stopped me at drop-off to tell me what a joy it has been to have Everett in her class. I may have shed a tear (hey hormones).

Everett: you are a joy at preschool, you are a joy at home, you are a joy (almost) always. I love the sweet and considerate boy you are turning into, and could not be prouder of how wonderfully you've handled your role as big brother. You make every room brighter, and I pray you never stop saying "hi!" to strangers on the street. Your smile is contagious, and I love watching you interact with the world. I love you forever.

Everett Turns Four from Ashlee Gadd on Vimeo.

Song: And The Birds Sing by Tyrone Wells

on splinters, tonsils, ear tubes, and trust.

Everett-1 "Mommy, I got some-fin in my foot!"

It was five minutes till bedtime, not like I was keeping track. (Okay, let's be honest: I am always keeping track).

His dirty blonde hair was still wet from the bath, and a post-dinner belly protruded from the top of his spaceship pajamas.

"What's in your foot, buddy?" I asked.

I pulled him towards me, and he sat down in my lap as we both examined the foot in question.

"I dunno! Some-fin!"

Upon further investigation under his teepee twinkle lights, I spotted a splinter. No doubt, the result of him playing barefoot at the park a few hours prior.

"Sorry, buddy, you have a splinter in your foot. Mommy's going to have to get that out for you."

He looked at me, wide-eyed, unsure how to respond. I cautiously explained the removal process: that I would have to use tweezers, and that it would pinch a teeny tiny bit, but it wouldn't hurt. He seemed skeptical.

We migrated to my bathroom for tweezers and better light. Panic set in.

"No mommy, I don't want to!" he cried.

I reassured him over and over again that I was going to help him, not hurt him, but as things like this normally go with three year-olds, he was quickly flailing about on the bathroom floor like a fish out of water.

I looked to my husband for reinforcement, and within seconds he was contained in his daddy's arms. I grabbed the affected foot and gave careful instructions, "Everett, mommy is going to take the splinter out. Be very still. This won't hurt, I promise. You have to trust me, okay?"

He looked suspicious. Slightly terrified. The weight of my own words echoed in my mind. Does my own son not trust me? Have I ever given him a reason not to?

Just when I thought I had screwed everything up, counting the number of times I've said, "this won't hurt" or "we'll do that next time", a single tear rolled down his cheek and I watched his body exhale.

He relaxed into my husband's arms, and waited for me.

I squinted, and carefully removed the splinter in one quick motion. He didn't even flinch, my brave boy.

"All done!" I exclaimed proudly.

He smiled as a wave of relief washed over him, a fish falling back into water.

My husband released him to the floor, where he immediately ran his fingers over his foot and looked at me, bewildered.

"It's gone! My foot is all bed-der!!!"

"I told you, buddy. Mommy will always take care of you, okay?"

"Oh," he smiled.

I gave him a kiss on the cheek and that was it, a lesson in trust.

***

Everett is having his tonsils and adenoids removed this morning, as well as tubes put in his ears. We are all up before the sunrise. This is early, even for us.

I've packed his Elmo and blue blanket carefully in his backpack. I bought him a new Lightning McQueen sippy cup so he can stay hydrated in style after the procedure.

I know he needs this. But when I picture the needle, the anesthesia, the cutting, the blood, I can't lie---I get a little lightheaded. I'm not an anxious person by nature. I'm the "relaxed" one in our family. But this morning, I can't help but feel a tiny bit panicked. On the outside, I'm cool and calm and collected, but on the inside, I'm just like Everett staring at the tweezers. Suspicious. Slightly terrified. A fish out of water.

The doctor said he will be fine afterwards. "It's a very basic procedure," he told us. He's probably done this hundreds of times.

So here we are.

This morning I will sit back, and I will try to relax, and I will be brave for my boy like he is brave for me. I'll say a prayer. I will kiss his cheek before they wheel him away, and then I will wait. Wait. Wait.

A lesson in trust.

happy birthday, everett!

Everett, I cannot even imagine my life without you. This is the year you learned to share me with your brother, and you did so willingly, sweetly, generously. I continue to be amazed by your ability to adapt, to change, to go with the flow with a smile on your face. You welcomed Carson with open arms and open mouth kisses, and I couldn't be prouder of the kind boy you are growing up to be. You are fiercely independent, wildly energetic, and full of joy, which continues to be your best attribute.

You make every room brighter and every day better. You will always be the one who made me a momma, and that makes you very special.

I love you forever, sweet boy.

adaptable.

Everett-14 Everett is two years old and has already lived in three houses. That's....weird.

Each time we moved, I had a minor anxiety attack about how our move would affect Everett. I was worried we would disrupt his routine, his sense of normalcy, his safe place. Will he be confused? Will he have a hard time adjusting? Will he be sad? 

And every single time we moved, the answer was no. Everett marched right into his new bedroom, marked by the boxes with toys carefully packed inside, and started playing as if nothing had happened.

As soon as he figured out where the toys and snacks were kept, he was home.

When I was pregnant with Carson, I spent a lot of time worrying about how Everett was going to react to his new big brother role. I worried he would be jealous of a new baby, and become needy or whiny. I worried that his wonderful sense of independence would be replaced with a sudden desire for attention. I worried about his attitude, his sense of security, his identity as my former "baby".

And then we came home from the birth center with Carson in tow and it was as if he had been there all along. Everett gave a general nod in his direction, said "hi baby bruhder!" and continued playing with his hot wheels like it was no big deal. He was unfazed. Unchanged. Not disrupted in the slightest.

His interest has been slowly growing. He loves to turn on Carson's swing, and insists on sitting on the bathroom counter when I give Carson a bath. Anytime Carson cries (which is kind of a lot), Everett responds with a quick, "Baby bruhder, it's okay!!!"

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I keep waiting for it to hit him, this huge life event that just took place while he was sleeping one Saturday morning in October. I keep waiting for a tantrum, a fit, a dramatic scene of some sort. I keep waiting for my two year-old to acknowledge the bigness of this, the drastic nature of what has just happened to our family---we grew by an entire person.

And....nothing. There is nothing. There is just Everett and his hot wheels and his Cheerios and his new balance bike that I found on Craigslist a couple weeks ago. Cruising right along enjoying life just like he always has.

As if there were always four of us. As if this house we've lived in for a few months was always our home.

I will continue to worry about Everett for the rest of my life. Of this, I am sure. I will worry about him when he heads off to preschool and when he drives a car for the first time. I will worry about him when he falls in love and gives his heart to someone else. I know at some point, change will affect him differently than it does today.

But in the meantime, I am going to just sit in awe of this boy of mine, the most adaptable kid on the planet, and continue to watch him take on change like it ain't no thing.

between the crib rails.

Everett-65 I can’t remember when he started kissing us between the crib rails. My first memory of that is tucked somewhere in between winter and spring of this past year. We finished our bedtime routine of teeth brushing and book reading and dropped him into the crib as usual. He sat up on his knees, pressed his face against the crib rails, and said, “pup?” The kid can say “truck” and “flower” and “cracker” clear as day, but a handful of words require their own Everett-translation, “pup” (kiss) being one of them.

Never the type to turn down kisses, Brett and I knelt down on the floor and brought our faces to meet his. His breath smelled faintly of Thomas the train toothpaste.

After that first night, kissing between the crib rails became part of the regular bedtime routine.

Every night we sit on the floor and yell, “Give us our pups!!” as Everett crawls back and forth in the crib giggling.

“Momma pup?” he says, as I take my turn.

“Daddy pup?” he says, as Brett takes his.

Sometimes he sticks his face in between every space from left to right, all seventeen of them, and we oblige. Back and forth, he presses his face against the cold rails, tiny nose and open mouth barely squeezing through. Sometimes I kiss his mouth, sometimes I kiss his nose. He’s not really picky about where I kiss, so long as my face meets his.

Sometimes he wants us to kiss everything in his crib. He holds up Elmo, and his Curious George doll, his disgusting blue blanket that he carries all over the house.

“Elmo pup?”

“George pup?”

“Gigi (blanket) pup?”

We kiss all of it, everything, every time between the crib rails. Pups for everyone.

***

We bought the toddler bed off Craigslist the same weekend we moved into our new house. A lady was selling it for $80, mattress included, and said it had only been slept on a handful of times. I believed her.

The bed looks good in his big boy room, there is no denying that. Every other room in this house still needs to be put together, but his room has art on the walls and twinkle lights on the teepee and a bright new duvet comforter from IKEA carefully tucked into the sides of the bed.

The bed. The bed where he will soon be sleeping.

Everyone keeps telling me you should keep a toddler in their crib as long as possible. That, so long as they’re not climbing out of it, baby jail is the best thing since sliced bread. And while I believe them, because containment is wonderful when dealing with toddlers who don’t always nap very long, I find myself rattling off Our Plan rather defensively.

We are having a baby in eight weeks! The crib is in the baby’s room! I can't sleep train two kids at once! This is all part of the Big Brother Transition!

But the truth is: that bed has been set up for weeks and Everett is still sleeping in his crib because I am not ready to give up being kissed between the crib rails.

Forget Everett. Forget Brett. Forget the baby books and mommy blogs and stranger advice.

I am not ready.

I am not ready for this. I am not ready for two kids. I am not ready for my baby to not be a baby anymore, even though I know he isn’t one. I am not ready to have one child in a toddler bed and one child in a crib. I am not ready to let go of this routine, of his toddler breath and slobbery mouth meeting mine in between the crib rails. It feels like the last baby part of him, and I am clinging to it with closed fists like a kid holding a helium balloon in the wind.

Tonight is Everett's last night sleeping in his crib. Tomorrow we plan to start sleep training in his big boy bed, taking advantage of the three-day weekend. I'm anxious, worried for him and what he will think, concerned he might be scared. I'm worried it will take four hours to get him to fall asleep and that Brett and I will kill each other in the process. I'm worried he won't nap well. Let's be real: I'm mostly worried he won't nap well.

But what I'm feeling the most is simply bittersweet.

So tonight, with eight weeks to go before we become a family of four, in this precious time of transition and in-between, I am going to relish every last ounce of those kisses between the crib rails. I'll drag it out for thirty minutes if I have to.

Pups for everyone.

the not-so-terrible twos.

52 Project | Where My Heart Resides-3 Everyone warned me about the terrible twos. Moms at the grocery store. Total strangers at the post office. Every time someone asked Everett's age and I answered, I received the same response:

"Oooooh, the terrible twos! Watch out! I hope you're ready!"

I awkwardly smiled back, as I usually do when I receive unwanted, unsolicited advice or warnings of any kind.

Because here's the deal....

My kid is two, and he's not terrible. 

Sure, we have terrible moments and occasional terrible tantrums and sometimes even terrible days (we've had a few recently), but to sum him up in all his two year-old toddlerhood glory as being "terrible" would be a truly unfair assessment.

Case in point:

Every morning, my two year-old asks me if we can go "bye bye". He brings me his shoes with no destination in mind, no grand plan or ulterior motive. He simply wants to have an adventure. And whether we end up at the park or the bank, he is equally pleased, and says, "Dat was fun!" as we walk back to the car.

My two year-old's favorite phrase is "Dat cool!" and he uses it unceasingly over the smallest of things. See a tractor on the road? Dat cool! Watch momma crack an egg over a mixing bowl? Dat cool! Watch daddy turn on the ceiling fan? Dat cool! 

Everything is cool to a two year-old. My confidence has never been so abundant.

My two year-old loves to play Sleeping Beauty. I pretend to be asleep until he kisses me, at which point I wake up and yell "GOOD MORNING!" while he bursts into a fit of giggles. We can play this game for 45 minutes straight and it makes him laugh every time.

My two year-old loves hot wheels and toy balls and jumping on the bed and being outside. He says "wow!" a dozen times a day, constantly amazed by simple sights that anyone older than two would find boring or irrelevant. He sings in the car, loudly, and dances without inhibition. He runs everywhere and gallops regularly, happy to use his skinny legs to their full capacity.

My two year-old says "hi" to every single person he sees, and will wave at them and repeat his greeting until he gets a response. Sometimes it breaks my heart a little bit when people don't hear him, but he never seems bothered by an unreciprocated greeting. He just says "hi" to the next person he sees, and the person after that, and the person after that.

Two is fun. Two is all about learning words and learning how the world works and learning how to communicate your needs and desires. I'm sure there are some terrible two year-olds out there, just like there are some terrible three year-olds, and some terrible seventeen year-olds, and some terrible forty-five year olds.

But today, I'd like to speak up in defense of two year-olds.

They're not all bad. They're not all terrible.

In fact, mine is pretty great.

So the next time you find yourself in the grocery store standing behind a momma with a two year-old in the shopping cart, be kind to her and try this instead: "Two? Dat cool!"