Tomorrow is a big day. My mom will be turning 100. Bryan will be 40.
Remembering back forty years ago, I recall secretly hoping that my first child would arrive on my mother’s birthday. It would be her first grandchild.
Mom had already come in from Johnstown, PA that weekend in May 1981 to attend my graduation ceremony at Princeton Chapel for my Masters degree from Westminster Choir College.
The very next day, she and I walked around the Newtown neighborhood streets together as I complained about the back pain I was experiencing. That evening after my doctor’s appointment, I went to the hospital. Bryan Gordon Johnson was born at 12:31 a.m. on May 13, 1981 at 6 pounds, 14 ounces. He was named after my father, Byron Gordon.
Bryan was robust and healthy. I counted ten fingers and ten toes. He “christened” the nurses with his first “pee: And I will never forget those intense baby eyes boring through me as we bonded after birth. I still get those intense stares forty years later.
Twelve hours after delivery, the pediatrician stood at the foot of my hospital bed in his stereotypical plaid bowtie and suitcoat. In his clinical monotone, he told me that my firstborn child was a “Mongoloid” and that I could either keep him or put him in an institution.
I bristled. This was my son – my first child! He would be loved, protected and nurtured to the fullest. It took a while to cool down from the encounter. And, then, I dissolved into tears at the reality. My son was not going to be “normal”. Every cell in his body was altered by that extra 21st chromosome. My journey as a parent would be different and more difficult than other parents.
But my mother – one of the first to meet little baby Bry, was there to encourage, love and support our newly-formed family. Acceptance was immediate. Her help was a Godsend.
The bond she and Bryan share has continued to grow over these past forty years since his birth.
The whole family was looking forward to gathering together last weekend to celebrate this common milestone birthday.
Covid threatened to thwart our plans to celebrate these two. An outbreak of the virus among the fully-vaccinated residents of Mom’s community had broken out two weeks before our planned reunion. Thankfully, the ban was lifted two days before we were to travel back to Johnstown where Mom still lives as part of a Personal Care retirement facility.
What a blessing to be able to be together once again! To hug. To kiss. To hold after almost a year-and-a-half. December 26, 2019 was the last time we were all together.
Bryan was able to put his birthday excitement “on hold” and, instead, focus on his Grandma. They sat side-by-side on my brother’s love seat wearing their matching birthday tiaras. Bryan gave her the gifts we had brought, helping her open them when arthritic hands made it difficult. And, on his own, he had purchased his grandma several word search puzzle books, knowing that she loved to spend time in her recliner, trying to keep her mind sharp and stimulated.
Mom lamented that she could no longer get out to shop to buy anything for Bryan for his birthday. I reassured her that Bryan understood.
And he did. I’ve seen such a maturity arise in him these past few years. A growing-up that acknowledges that birthdays are not always about him. A coming-of-age, wherein Bryan believes that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
And the very important realization that the greatest gift is not materialistic, but in making special birthday memories – together with his birthday-mate.