Sweet baby Ray

  

Dear Gray Gray,

I’m writing this to you on the eve of your fourth birthday. December birthdays are a double-edged sword. Everyone is in a festive mood for the holidays and already in party mode. On the other hand, the holiday season can overshadow the celebration of YOU that you most definitely deserve. So, I hope that forever we can ignore the lights, frenzy, and over commercialization of December and spend time celebrating that the two most awesome girls around (you and me, kiddo) were born! You are sassy, fearless, funny, and strong and you deserve a day to be recognized!

Sweet Baby Ray, your impending arrival was a shock to us all. Wilkes was not even 1 when we found out you were coming.  We were smack dab in our second year of grieving the loss of your aunt Molly and cousins, Mary and Martha. Wilkes’ sweet nature and gentle spirit were an indescribable gift when we most needed it. I could not imagine living a child more than him. So, we were kind of in shock from disbelief of your existence and our grief while you were in your Mom’s belly. I couldn’t come home the Sunday you were born. The next 4.5 days were spent showing your picture to my students in Nashville, packing up for Christmas, and counting down the hours until I got to you! December is hard, and I always think about your cousins, Mary and Martha, and imagine what they would be like as their birthday approaches. As soon as I scooped you up and kissed your face, a part of my soul was restored. My love for Wilkes was something I thought could never be emulated. But you, well, niece love and nephew love is equal, but different. I finally got back a piece I’d been missing! 

I know that you feel like you know your Aunt Molly. We’ve all shown you pictures, told you stories, and pointed out when we felt her presence with us. You do know her. She is a part of you as much as she is a part of me.  But, I want this in writing. I hope you’ve felt our unwavering love for you over your life. We have some faults, us Garners, but we do know how to love each other. Molly received the same amount of love from us too. Like you, she opened parts of our hearts that we didn’t know existed. Molly was a good kid. Really, she was a better person than 95% of the adults I know. She was a friend to everyone. She loved animals. She was passionate and confident in her faith. But, she made a mistake. We didn’t do a great job of letting her know that as a human, you have no choice but to screw up sometimes. She didn’t feel like she could tell us that she made a mistake. She felt like her mistake was to great to be forgiven. Her mistake didn’t not kill her. Her life ended much too soon because she thought telling us her mistake would change our love for her. Gray, you must know beyond a shadow of doubt that NO mistake is too bad that it can’t be worked for good. You can’t do anything that will make me love you less. You are always enough. You are always more than we deserve. Never let anyone or anything make you feel differently. 

I know your teenage years are hard. You are certain that EVERYONE is watching you. Here’s a secret: they aren’t. In fact, all of your peers are too busy worrying that everyone is watching them to watch you! In the 4 years I’ve known you so far, you have brightened every room you’ve entered, you’ve made everyone you meet have a belly laugh almost as deep as your own, and you’ve had NO fear. I pray every day that your sense of humor and courage remain in every thread of your fabric. 

Some people might say your stubborn. Those people are correct. You are named for your great granddaddy. You get your keen sense of humor from him, but your obstinate nature is also a gift from him. We called him Duck because his famous saying was, “If I tell you a Duck will plow, hitch him up.” He stuck to his guns, sometimes it drove us crazy, but it was his trademark. As much as his contrary nature was a curse, it was a blessing. He was loyal to a fault, and if he wanted to help someone, he’d move hell and earth to do it. As you age, this part of being stubborn will make you a better person. Okay, maybe you’re laughing now. Yes, I got a few of those DNA cells too. Maybe it’s why I’m more patient with your meltdowns. 🙂 (At least you don’t look like him. It doesn’t do much for a girl’s self confidence to be told her whole life she looks like an old, bald man.)

All of the things that make you Gray are beautiful. You love makeup and girly things as much as I do. Makeup and clothes are a fun hobby; but know this: they are fleeting and surface level. No amount of makeup can hide a mean person. Enjoy the fun of decorating your face, but know that your true beauty is found in the way you love to make people laugh, the way you randomly give people hugs and tell them that you love them, and the way you make others feel good about themselves.  

You love your, “brudder,” more than anyone else in the world. You fight. You get mad. But you always have to know where he is and if he’s okay. I love watching you and Wilkes be brother and sister. More than that, I love watching your Daddy, my brother, be yours. He loves you two more than anything in the world, and it’s made me the most proud little sister in the universe. I hope that one day, you’ll find that you are the happiest when you are with his kids. I hope that one day, you’ll write a letter to his daughter. Tell her about your Aunt Molly. Tell her that no mistake will make you love her less. Then, bring her to the nursing home so that your Toto can tell her too. 

I love you more than meat loves salt,

Toto

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