remember us.

Lee Brown PhotographyOn Saturday night we met my friend Lee at the river preserve for our annual family photos. We wrangled the kids, stashed the car with m&m bribes and emergency extra clothes, and hoped for the best. Being a photographer myself, I had scheduled the shoot during the golden hour, which of course coincides with bedtime. Call me crazy, but I'd rather deal with meltdowns than bad lighting. Just like every year, I was quick to request photos of Brett and I as well. I like the reminder that our marriage is a separate entity, a force to be reckoned with. A few times throughout the evening, we strapped the boys in the stroller and ventured into tall grass just the two of us. For the most part, Everett and Carson sat and watched patiently, only occasionally crying out in boredom.

We tuned them out for five minutes and kept our eyes mostly on each other, purposefully and intentionally because even though we don't always practice this perfectly, we want our kids to see Us.

"Us" being Brett and Ashlee, husband and wife, two people who still love each other after almost eleven years together.

It would be easy to let these kids swallow us whole if we let our guard down. They are young and needy right now, and it would be easy to save everything marriage-related for after bedtime. It would be easy to let them interrupt every conversation, to let them leave toys in our bedroom, to let them be in every single picture.

It would be easy to let them destroy Us on some days.

If we want our kids to respect our marriage, we have to let them see our marriage. We have to let them see our date nights, see us kiss in the kitchen, see us fight and make up. The only way they're going to see Us is if we let them. Or, in the case of annual family photos, if we force them to watch from the sidelines.

Some days I think our marriage has never felt more difficult than it does right now. In this demanding phase of parenting two little kids, we have to fight for our marriage every single day---for quiet, for date nights, for intimacy of any kind. Our days are full and messy and exhausting and it's all too easy to give our marriage the leftovers, the 2% of energy we have left at the end of the night.

We deserve better.

Some people might think it's weird that we take family portraits every year, but I love documenting our kids at this age because they are changing so much. Last year, Carson was barely a peanut in my belly and now he's eating butternut squash from a booster seat. In twenty years, it will be nice to look back at these pictures and remember this year, the year that Everett turned three and said the funniest things, the year that Carson rocked his gummy smile.

This was the year we became parents of two and it was damn hard and exhausting as hell, but look at us. We survived, we relayed, we fought and made up 200 times. We made mistakes and apologized and forgave each other and slammed a few doors and offered grace upon grace upon grace. We argued at 3am, watched our boys become best friends, and basically became parents all over again. We re-examined our expectations, had our fair share of living room therapy, and learned to love each other a little bit better.

It has not been easy. Some days the pressure and tension in this house could blow up the moon. But even on those days, somehow---by the grace of God---we find our way back.

And this is why I always ask for photos of just Brett and I.

Because in twenty years, when we look back at these pictures, I will be glad that we stopped for five minutes to remember Us.

Lee Brown Photography-1 Lee Brown Photography-3 Lee Brown Photography-5 Lee Brown Photography-6

daddy's home.

brett & ev-1 Sometimes when I look at Everett, I can see the tiny wheels spinning in his head, brain working at full speed trying to figure out cause and effect and all that jazz.

If I push this button, the batmobile will make a noise! If I stack this cup on top of that cup, together they will make a tower! If I stand on my box of blocks, I can climb on top of the coffee table!

He's learning stuff, which never ceases to amaze me, because all things considered, I'm not really teaching him a whole lot. Sure we read and name things out loud and sometimes I show him how to do stuff, but for the most part, Ev is figuring out the way the world works all by himself.

What an incredible and terrifying realization.

Yesterday he picked up the remote control, pointed it at the TV, and pushed the red button to turn it on. Say what?! I have certainly not taught my one year old how to operate the television, but there he was, confident as all heck, raising the remote control (which is as big as his arm) straight at the TV like he had been using it his entire life.

Where did my baby go?

He's not talking yet, but he babbles constantly, often with confidence. I'm noticing that even though I can't understand him, he understands me. He knows when I say we're going "bye bye" that we're about to leave the house, and he knows when I say "night night" that it's time for a nap. He knows "bath" and "time to brush your teeth!" and "ew, poop!" and a handful of other words.

But my favorite of all of these is one of the first phrases he learned: "daddy's home!"

For the past year, every day when Brett gets home from work and I hear the garage door open, I look at Everett and smile as big as I can, and say with excitement, "Ev! Daddy's home!!!"

And no matter where we are in the house, in a bedroom or in the kitchen or sitting on the floor playing with blocks, Everett's eyes quickly turn towards the door in joyful anticipation. He usually starts to giggle and semi-hyperventilate. Brett walks through the door and says, "Where's my boy?!" as Everett squeals with delight. He practically pushes himself away from me to jump into Brett's arms.

Every day, it's as if they haven't seen each other in months, when in fact it's only been 9 or 10 hours. And every day I think to myself, this. I don't ever want to forget this. I don't ever want Everett to not be excited when Brett comes home from work. I'm sure someday he'll be a moody teenager and won't care about anything at all, especially the whereabouts of his parents, but for now, for today, and for as long as I can, we will do this. We will sit on the floor together staring at the garage door with smiles on our faces waiting for daddy to make his grand entrance.

Everett, if I only manage to teach you one thing before your second birthday, I want it to be this: daddy coming home from work is worth celebrating. He's worth all the smiles and giggles and hyperventilating your little heart can stand.

growth charts be gone.

where my heart resides*sigh* First things first, I am writing this down confession style because last Wednesday I blogged about our solid food escapades, while in the same day learning that Everett has dropped to the 2% for weight. Clearly I should not be giving anyone advice on how to feed their child because I am a failure at feeding my own.

So, the backstory....at Everett's six month appointment our pediatrician told us that Everett's weight had dropped from the 25% to the 5%. She seemed concerned and threw out a number of suggestions: start pumping every day, drinking more water, taking fenugreek, and maybe supplementing with formula. I took two of those suggestions and started pumping every night, drinking more water, and as the months progressed, giving Everett more solids.

When we brought him in for his 9 month appointment on Wednesday, I was honestly shocked to find out that he had dropped even lower to the 2%. Our pediatrician (who I like, but did not like in that moment), started asking me about nursing and my milk supply. I'm currently nursing Everett four times a day and as far as I know, everything is fine. He doesn't cry when he's finished or give me any other signals that he is still hungry. He's also eating three solid meals a day, aka SEVEN meals total per day, every two hours.

I immediately got defensive.

But, he's crawling now! He's super active!

He poops 4 times a day! He used to only poop once a week!

I'm small! I was a small baby! We are a slender family!

She didn't really seem to care, and kept pointing to the growth chart.

Which, I know I'm not a doctor, or a nurse, or medically trained in any capacity, but WHAT IS UP WITH THE GROWTH CHART? I realize it would be awesome if Everett was smack dab in the middle, but he's not.

And I guess if I had even the tiniest of inkling that there was something wrong with Everett, I would be grateful for our pediatrician's attention to the growth chart. But I don't have the tiniest of an inkling. Everett is, literally, the happiest baby on the block. He smiles 90% of the day. He only fusses when he's tired. He's crawling and babbling and loves to be outside and play with his blocks. He's a happy, active little boy.

But our pediatrician doesn't see any of that. She sees a number on the scale, a percentage on the chart, and a reason to lecture.

And I can't help but feel like this is crazy sauce. The idea that a doctor can see my son once every three months for fifteen minutes at a time and use a stupid growth chart to size up (pun intended) how healthy he is, seems bananas to me. At what point do we stop using these growth charts? I'm 26 and last time I checked, there wasn't a growth chart for me to adhere to. Adults come in all different sizes and shapes according to diet and exercise and their natural disposition, right? And if Everett's clearly not malnourished or lethargic or crying from starvation, is it possible that he is just.....small? And that maybe he'll stay small or have a growth spurt next month or grow bigger when he's a toddler?

Maybe I'm the crazy one. Maybe I should be worried. Maybe there is something wrong, and maybe this is what they call motherhood denial. Who knows? Being a parent is hard. It feels harder today.

I'm stepping down from my soapbox now. If you need us, Ev and I will be drowning our anxieties in yogurt and cheese.

when you miss the sunrise.

sunrise2 This morning Everett and I were lying in bed, him babbling and me half-sleeping. My stomach growled and E giggled as I begrudgingly swung my legs off the bed. I noticed there was an orange tint to the room, and it took me a moment to realize there were orange and pink rays streaming through the cracks in the window blinds.

"Oooooh, Ev! There's a pretty sunrise this morning! Let's go look."

I picked him up and he squealed with delight as we made our way to the window. I opened the blinds and saw the familiar view that I've come to know and love from our bedroom in the morning. Shades of orange, pink, yellow and grey filled the sky.

As I stood there quietly soaking in the sunrise, the morning, the beauty of it all, Everett was practically jumping out of my arms to grab the blinds. He wanted to touch them, hit them, or eat them (I wasn't sure which).

My poor baby. He was missing it! As we stood there facing the magnificent sky, Everett couldn't see the sunrise because he was too focused on the window blinds in front of him.

Aha.

Every day, God is teaching me more and more about what it means to be a parent.

Missing the sunrise is like missing the blessing of marriage because you're too wrapped up in your wedding. It's like missing the first time your baby smiles at you because you're too wrapped up in folding laundry. It's like missing the gift of grace because you're too wrapped up in religion, or like missing out on Heaven because you're too consumed with this life.

Missing the sunrise is like missing the whole point.

And yet...

That sun rises every morning. Certain, true, consistent. Another chance to see it, and another chance to get it right.

As a parent, I have plenty of hopes and dreams for Everett, but above all is my hope that he won't miss the sunrise.

Have you ever been so distracted by a window blind that you missed a sunrise? Are you lost on this metaphor? That's okay, I think I am too.

everett's life verse.

life verse | where my heart residesEphesians 3:16-19

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

You know that one song that gives you goosebumps every time you hear it? This is the verse that gives me goosebumps.

Of all the things I hope for Everett---health, safety, a good education, the ability to make wise decisions when he's a teenager, a fulfilling career, a godly wife, beautiful children of his own---nothing compares to the hope I have that he will one day know Jesus. Above all else, I pray that he will come to grasp, as well as mere mortals can, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Do you have a life verse? Did you pick one for your children?

the truth about traveling with a baby.

Two duffel bags. One diaper bag. One bag of diapers. One Moby wrap. One Ergo. One car seat. One stroller. Eight burp cloths. One Boppy. Apparently, this is what it takes for a family of three to go away for one night. We looked like a total circus when we showed up at the Bodega Bay Lodge for our "romantic" anniversary getaway.

Friends, I'm about to get real. Traveling with an infant is no joke. It's serious business. And, well, had I known how serious it was prior to booking our trip, I probably would have made different plans. Don't get me wrong---we had a nice time, but, it wasn't the same as our typical anniversary getaways. Duh Ashlee, you have a baby now! Well, yes, I know, but part of me thought it would still be a sweet, semi-romantic, semi-relaxing trip. Aaaaaannnnd, that didn't exactly turn out to be the case. I mean, how relaxed can you be when your baby wakes up at 5:00am and refuses to go back to sleep, causing you to leave the hotel immediately to avoid making your neighbors angry, and then, as it turns out, the entire town of Bodega Bay doesn't open until 8:00am so you're stuck driving around aimlessly while your baby finally decides to fall asleep again in the backseat? Not very relaxed I tell you. Not. Very. Relaxed.

We returned from our mini-vacation totally exhausted, and, well, in need of another vacation. The moral of the story (and my advice to all you future parents and new parents) is this: don't try to plan romantic weekend getaways with your almost three-month-old baby. The luggage, the long car trip, and the lack of sleep in a cozy hotel bed (torture!) is really not worth it. Send the baby to Grandma's house, get a couples massage, and enjoy a really nice dinner. It would be a much better use of your time and money.

*steps down from soap box*

All in all, the weekend wasn't a total bust. We watched the Olympics and took Everett on his first hike and first trip to the beach. We also made valuable use of our car time (while Ev was sleeping) and talked about our hopes and dreams for the next five years. While it wasn't the most romantic weekend in the history of Brett and Ashlee anniversary trips, it was our first little trip as a family of three and I'm happy to report that we survived. But next year? Everett's going to Grandma's house. For sure.

Mommas - have you mastered the art of traveling with an infant? We are taking Everett to Hawaii this November and I need all the tips I can get. Help!

p.s. I hate that this post about our anniversary contained so much whining, but I'm too lazy to write something different, so, here are a few mushy posts in case you're in the mood for something mushy:

an open letter to my husband on our five year anniversary heartache how I know Brett will be a good dad when I first understood the meaning of love

saving my life, right now.

Nobody told me about the bubble. I suppose I expected it, in the same way I expected motherhood to be wonderful and challenging all at once, yet I had no idea what any of it really meant until that beautiful Monday morning when I held him in my arms for the very first time, elated and sick as could be. And now here I am, in this translucent bubble, protected yet exposed, safe yet vulnerable. People can see in and I can see out but nobody really understands what it's like because him and I are the only ones inside. Sometimes our days are long and tiring and I struggle to see the joy that is all around me. I am mostly covered in spit-up and drool, watching him stare at me with furrowed brows as he tries to make sense of me and the world. He cries as all babies do, a lot sometimes, and is becoming more and more needy it seems. The neediness feels good and overwhelming, but mostly overwhelming.

And, despite the neediness, I cannot help but wonder: does he know me?

I am here day after day pouring myself, my whole self, into him and his life, and I am still not always sure. Even in the sincerest and purest of moments when he needs me the most, when we lie together in bed, side by side, him nursing and me stretching my neck as long as it will go to kiss his forehead. Even then, I wonder: does he know me? Does he know how much I love him, how much I care, how much I worry?

And just when it all seems like too much to bear---the diapers and the spit-up and the endless piles of laundry and the crying (oh the crying!), the lack of sleep and the extra weight that refuses to leave my hips, that is when it happens. That is when he smiles at me, his signature gummy toothless smile that makes me forget about all of it. And even though he will smile at you, there is a different smile reserved for me. The smile that happens inside of the bubble is different than the one that happens outside it.

His deep blue eyes, intense as the ocean tide, stare into mine as the corners of his mouth lift quickly, signaling familiarity. I know you.

He knows me. I am his mother and he is my son and here in the bubble, we both know it.

Today, in the midst of the chaos surrounding this house, the daily frustrations and fears, I am thankful for my eleven-week-old toothless wonder. His gummy smile is saving my life right now.

This post is part of the "In which we are saved" syncroblog by Sarah Bessey. If you have the time, I'd encourage you to take 30 minutes today to ponder and write about what is saving your life right now.

ten days in.

Everett is ten days old today. I love him so much I can hardly stand it. I love being a mom, and perhaps even more than that, I love watching Brett be a dad. He changed his very first diaper at the hospital last week and has changed about 57 diapers since then. I'm fairly positive we have laughed harder and more often in the past ten days than the past six months. It hurts my incision when I laugh but I don't even care. Giggling over Everett's little antics is worth a sore scar.

Our days have changed drastically. This is the second time I have opened my computer in ten days. I am perfectly content lying on the couch for hours at a time just staring at this beautiful life next to me. I love watching his sleepy smiles and listening to his little baby sighs. A few days ago, I pulled him out of his bassinet during a nap so I could hold him instead. I told Brett I missed him. He said, "Go get him. You're his mom. It's okay."

I'm his mom. He's my baby.

Ten days in, I don't have very much figured out, but I do know one thing for certain---God created me to be a mother. Let the adventures begin.