He was refusing to go to sleep. My little nephew, thirteen months old. Earlier in the day his three-year-old brother had taken a tumble and bonked the back of his head, hard. His parents immediately took him to the ER, and the village of family and friends gathered for Thanksgiving dinner took over the care of the little one. He nibbled on some turkey and bread (so much excitement, it’s hard to concentrate on eating), and soon my parents and I took him home. We said our goodbyes, sorry we have to take off, it was great seeing you, thanks for everything. He napped in the car, and played happily until bedtime.
Meanwhile I was getting updates from my brother via text: “Low-grade concussion.” “CT scan.” “Waiting for the results.” “Skull fracture.” “No brain damage.” (Thank God.) Needless to say we were all worried. I managed to get instructions on the bedtime procedure, we followed them as best we could (PJs, medicine, some solid food, a bottle, a story), and put him down and said good night. He cried, as we expected he would. After a while my mother said, “I think I’ll go rock him for a little bit.” I could hear them over the baby monitor, the boy fussing, my mother talking soothingly to him. I went up to check on them and she happily surrendered him to me. I rocked him while he cried. His grandma wanted to “fix” it: Turn on the light, he likes that. Here’s a blanket, he might be cold. Did he have enough to eat? Maybe he’s hungry. Let’s take him back downstairs for a while. Finally I said, “Turn out the light and shut the door. I’ve got him.”
He cried. He screamed. He squirmed. Mommy and Daddy and big brother aren’t here and something is wrong and I don’t understand. I couldn’t help recall nights like this with my own kids, feeling overwhelmed, wishing they would just go to sleep already. Those thoughts threatened to take over on this night as well. I could have lamented having to leave the party early, that if all this hadn’t happened I could be playing board games and drinking wine and having a grand time. I looked at this precious, unhappy child of God and felt a sense of peace. I knew that in this moment I was exactly where God intended me to be.
(This boy. Last summer, when he was eight months old. Grandma loves him so much.)
I began to hum softly. I thought I was humming “Away in a Manger,” one I often sang to my children when they were babies, but what came out was, “Immaculate Mary:”
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing
You reign now in splendor with Jesus our King.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!
In Heaven the blessed your glory proclaim;
On Earth we your children invoke your fair name.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!
I didn’t sing the words, only hummed the tune. I thought of Mary rocking the Baby Jesus and singing to Him. No doubt she also had nieces and nephews and little cousins she did the same for during her lifetime. This boy’s mother and father love him so much. Mary the mother of Jesus loves him more than anyone is capable of loving another. I can only imagine the infinite love of Christ for this little one, the One who made him in His image and lay down His life for him.
Soon he began to quiet down and eventually fell asleep. When I put him in his crib, I put my hand on his back. I kept it there for a few minutes, and when I started to step away, he looked up at me. “I’m here,” I said. He put his head back down and closed his eyes again. I stayed by his crib for quite a while, and every so often he would lift his head to make sure I was still there.
This night I was reminded that God is always with us, whether we realize it or not. In times of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, contentment and worry, He’s with us. He will never leave us.
Big brother stayed in the hospital that night and most of the next day. The good doctors and nurses wanted to keep an eye on him to make sure he was going to be all right. His parents expressed their profound gratitude over and over–to God for looking out for their child, to the doctors and nurses who took care of him, to all of us who helped with the little one. They could have pointed fingers and found someone to blame for the accident; instead they thanked God for His mercy and love in this time of worry and anguish. He’s home now, with strict instructions to take it easy for the next few weeks. His mother says it’s not easy to do that, given the fact that he’s acting like his normal self, wanting to do all the things that little boys do. The doctors said that the only lasting effect would be that in 30 years if he ever has another CT scan or an x-ray to his head, you’d be able to see evidence of a long-ago injury. He is going to be just fine.
(When he was 2 and a half. They’re both growing so fast.)
This was not the Thanksgiving we expected, but we were all reminded of how much we truly have to be thankful for.