a long lost gift

On the eve of Jackson’s second birthday, I left the house to go shopping. My lack of planning and busy schedule (like most moms) had me out and about at the last minute searching for birthday presents and party decorations. I wasn’t planning much in the way of gifts. The house was already overflowing with toys, and beautifully wrapped boxes from family and friends lined the mantle waiting for the birthday boy. But I wanted him to open something from us on his special day.

I left right after I put Jackson down for his nap. Selfishly I was looking forward to a couple of hours to myself while soaking in that my boy was turning two, a milestone for our heart baby that I didn’t take for granted.

The gifts wouldn’t be extravagant. Just a couple of presents to highlight Jackson’s favorite things at this stage in his life.

My first stop that day was the bookstore. Jackson loved reading, and I wanted to hand-pick a couple of books that I knew would put a smile on his face. I meandered up and down the aisles trying to find just the right ones.

My first selection was a box set of Caillou books. That was an easy decision considering the little bald boy could often be found on our television screen. The second one took a little more thought and time, though. I didn’t want the latest and greatest kids book or even one of the great classics. It had to be special. I knew I would know the “one” when I saw it.

I read book after book, but when I finally spotted this red board book, I knew he would love it. The book was perfect. It was about hugs and kisses. Jackson loved showing his affection with a simple hug and kiss, and these days, he couldn’t get enough of them. He always wanted just one more. With a swipe of the credit card and a quick signature, I was off to the next shop to make tomorrow extra special.

There was no way to know that while I was shopping for the perfect gifts, my sweet boy already started dancing with angels.

In mere seconds, my world was crushed. The gifts and decorations, that only days before, excited me quickly became a painful reminder of what we lost. And I wanted them gone.

Three weeks after Jackson left this world, I asked my mother-in-law to return his gifts. Not only the ones we bought but all of them. It hurt too much to even look at them. One by one, the gifts that lined the mantle were all returned to their respective stores. There wasn’t a trace of a birthday left behind.

In the moment, I was relieved, but that decision has haunted me for almost four years.

What I picked out for Jackson, I chose because I knew he would love them. They were a glimpse into his personality and loving spirit. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I wanted it all back, specifically that little board book. I deeply regretted the impulsive decision I made that day.

But after a dizzying few months, I couldn’t remember what I bought. The grief erased my memory. I ventured out to the bookstore six months later to see if they had any record of my purchase. But they didn’t. For the last several years, every time I walked into a bookstore, I strolled through the kids section hoping to see something that looked familiar. But I always left feeling deflated.

I searched the house high and low for receipts. Anything to give me a glimpse of what I bought.

Nothing. Anywhere.

Until now.

I have been on a mission to declutter our house. One small pile at a time. I have been shredding paper for days when I came across a small pile of receipts. As I scanned the pile, they were mostly from late 2013. I thought their location was odd, but I started to get a little anxious realizing that what I had been looking for after all these years just might be there. I slowly scrolled through the rest of the pile, and right in front of me was one from Barnes and Noble dated 4/20/2013.

My heart sank in relief, and the tears started flowing. Almost four years of searching and frustration and anger at myself. And I was finally holding them in my hands.

“Huggy Kissy” by Leslie Patricelli. This was the book I yearned to have for all these years.

As soon as Ryder woke up from his nap, we headed to our local store to buy it. As we read it together, so many memories flooded back. The group hugs with friends. Our family piled on top of each other creating mommy sandwiches. Blowing kisses to Mimz and Poppa on Facetime. So many memories.

I realize I caused myself a lot of pain and stress over a simple book. It’s paper with words. It’s not life or death. But for me, this book symbolizes Jackson the day we lost him. In the first year without him, I worried everyday that I would forget about my son. I worried I would forget his little nuances. I would forget how much he was talking and what words he was saying. I would forget the way he gave me a hug or how his sweet kisses felt on my lips. I didn’t have him here with me anymore, and the thought of forgetting just one thing terrified me.

When I shared my fears with Eric early on, he encouraged me to journal everything. I am so grateful I did that because it has helped me to remember Jackson’s endearing characteristics, games he and Kate played and the little things Jackson said or did on a daily basis.

And yes, some things aren’t as fresh in my mind as they once were. But I am grateful those receipts crossed my path the other day, so that I have just one more reminder of my sweet boy.

Kate and Jackson reading. He obviously loved Leslie’s books because he’s reading “Binky” here.

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9