Mason was quite possibly the most high maintenance baby who ever existed. The sleep strikes, the incessant screaming, the crying until he threw up, the irrational tantrums when he woke from naps, the insistence on being held every waking moment… He was a grumpy, fussy baby. He refused the pacifier. He was not a child ever content to sit in a stroller or lay on a play mat.
Some weekends, my parents would come visit and my dad’s sole purpose was to hold Mason and preserve my sanity. Poppa had the magic touch. He would hold him facing out and slowly walk laps through the house, gently swaying and rocking.
We may not have made it if it weren’t for Poppa.
People with easy babies were quick with irritating advice. “Have you tried…?” “Oh, he needs…”
No. No, he doesn’t need a better schedule or a little pat on his back to “settle” him.
What he really needs… is an exorcism.
I quickly gave up driving anywhere. The shortest drives to the grocery store were filled with screaming. And then actually trying to shop once we got there? I would hold him with one arm as he cried while trying to maneuver those ridiculous car-cart contraptions for the delight of my other two, all while people would walk past and say, “Oh, someone’s hungry…” or “Looks like someone needs a nap…” and I wanted to scream, “Yes!!! Yes I do indeed need a nap! Don’t feel sorry for him, feel sorry for me! I haven’t sat down to eat a complete meal in 8 months!”
When we moved to California from Phoenix, Anthony said, “You drive my car, I’ll drive the kids.” And I tossed a “God be with you!” over my shoulder as I ran to his car and locked myself inside.
Then their air-conditioning went out in the middle of the desert and we stopped at some fast food restaurant in the middle of desolate nowhere and my sweaty kids emerged from the car and Mason wasn’t even screaming. He was covered in red licorice juice, dripping down his chin and soaking his shirt. And he was grinning from ear to ear.
And Anthony so very calmly said, “I kept playing music real loud and singing to him, and then I’d pass him another piece of licorice and he was fine.”
I think I could get through the minefield of Mason’s early years because I have a husband with a freakish amount of patience and endurance.
(And. From that point on, I carried candy with me everywhere I went.)
As Mason blossomed into a slightly less tyrannical 2 year-old, and quite a delightful little human even, I began to entertain ludicrous thoughts….
Perhaps we should have another baby.
But. Only if we could have a girl.
Anthony tried to rationally remind me that we are not the ones who decide these things. God does.
Yes, yes… of course. But clearly he will give us a girl. I desired for Ella to have a sister. Any girl growing up with a dear sister knows the special bond girls have. No other girl in all the world is allowed to make you completely insane with frustration while also holding your deepest darkest secrets, and your sacred shared memories, near and dear to the soul.
It just made sense. Why wouldn’t God want Ella to have a sister?
So… along came Griffin. A boy.
At his ultrasound, when my questionably sexist radiologist began rejoicing over the gender of my son, I just stared at him with an expression that clearly said, “Look again.”
Ella and I both cried. Yes, that’s right, cried. We wanted a sister. Why would God not give us this little gift?
And of course we loved Griffin with every ounce of our heart and delighted in every quiet, calm, joyful aspect of this precious baby… but I would still freely admit, “I wanted a girl. Why didn’t God give me a girl?”
And as Griffin grew and copied everything Mason did, and Mason made him his little mascot and taught him all kinds of naughty things and played with him and tortured him as brothers do, I delighted in watching them but always wished Ella had a sister.
We were at a field trip one September day and I was talking babies with a friend. I was holding Griffin and I said, for the millionth time in just 2 short years, (in my sorta-joking-but-not-totally honesty) “But I really wanted a girl. I still don’t know why God gave me a boy.”
And then, three days later, my earth shattered. And Mason so suddenly died.
Two days after everything changed forever, I was sitting in his room with my kids. And Griffin, oblivious to the magnitude of loss our family was suffering, took the extra mattress from the floor and propped it up as a ramp and proceeded to run off the bed and jump. I heard giggles and a muffled “wee!” through his pacifier. And I watched him pull himself back up onto the bed and repeat it.
This was something he and Mason did almost every single day when I sent them in to clean their room. Over and over and over again.
And it was on Griffin’s second delightful launch through the air that I so clearly heard God tell me, “This is why I gave you a boy.”
It took my breath away to feel the presence of God speak so strongly to me in that moment. And my eyes filled with tears, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, and I thanked God for knowing the future and knowing what I would need most.
And in those wretched days that followed when we were absorbing the shocking pain of our new reality, I watched Griffin cautiously approach Mason’s cars and look around to see if anyone was going to stop him. And I saw him pull down Mason’s prized jeep and push around his forbidden motor home.
As much as Mason embraced Griffin as a brother, playmate, partner in crime, and best friend…some things were just off limits. These very special toys brought Mason such joy and delight.
The thought of taking all those special possessions, and boxing them up, and putting them away, not watching anyone delight in them anymore, would break a whole new piece of my heart. And God knew that. He knew it would bring comfort to see Mason’s toys enjoyed. That sorrow would come at the loss, yes. But joy would also come at the laughter.
And now, Griffin talks, and looks, more and more like him every day. He raises his eyebrows the same way at the same moments when he is asking a question and wears his goggles in the same hilariously awkward way.
And at times, it is a sweet honor to yet again be a translator for a 4-year-old unable to pronounce consonant blends and who doesn’t understand the concept of the correct form of pronoun usage.
And when he wears Mason’s signature monkey shirt or when I rock him at night and he is wearing Mason’s favorite pajamas, I breathe in the memories, the precious seconds Mason was a part of my earthly life. And I am thankful these clothes aren’t in a box, waiting for the day I could muster enough emotional energy to decide how to turn them into a memory.
He runs like him, he laughs like him. And while he is uniquely his own person in so many special ways, the sparkle in his eyes has a hint of a special little boy who lit up our home. And the memories that come, while often bringing tears, also bring such tangible reminders of the spirit, and essence of my son I so desperately miss.
Yes, I wanted Ella to have a sister. But, honestly, I wanted all kinds of things for my kids. Things that would never involve funerals and loss and pain and tears… a carefree childhood where fears of death were a distant impossibility.
And I know God does not purpose the death of children and that we live in world broken by sin and that all of this will be made right because of what Jesus did on the cross. And I know that he never gives gifts of pain and loss and that this was not his perfect plan for my kids either.
And he hears requests for a little girl, but he knows that what I actually need is a boy. And he preserves gifts for me in those moments when I need it most.
Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask for because he has something better. He knows what we need. He knows what the future holds. And sometimes his most valuable treasures are hand delivered in the midst of our greatest pain.
And sometimes, the most sacred gifts of all are gently placed in boxes of heartache, delicately wrapped in pain, and tied with bows of tears. And often, these beautiful gifts are hidden in the darkest valleys or found tossed upon the fiercest seas.
These gifts are the presence of an Almighty God. When these weary days threaten to suck me under, and the pain of missing Mason just becomes too much to bear, I continually turn to my Creator, whose lavishly gives an abundance of gifts. Gifts that do not wear out over time or fade as do the temporal things of this earth. But gifts that grow brighter and brighter with the hope of eternity.
In these carefully wrapped boxes, I find a peace I cannot comprehend, a grace I do not deserve, a love I cannot fully fathom, a supernatural strength I could not muster, and ultimately, a joy I cannot contain.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17
(Oh, and all the exhausting reality of the first couple years of Mason’s life? Well, that was just his passion, all bubbling up to overflowing. Because once he was older and could communicate and express himself, there was no stopping him. It is what drove his cowboy boot days when everyone else was wearing flip-flops. It is why he wanted a 6 foot mohawk and why he could befriend anyone. It’s why he laughed from his gut and filled a room with his presence. His passion defined him. This little boy, the one who turned my world upside down with the chaos of his existence, he was a gift as well. And while I wish I could have held that gift so much longer than I did, I am so grateful for every second.)