So today is my great kid’s birthday, his 23rd in fact. A number that is astonishing to me in so many ways because I know it was just yesterday that I was in the great and lamented St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan celebrating this miracle that I had been given. (His other parent was there too but he gets no part in this story because of his actions and inactions since then).
Every year since he was born, I have celebrated his exact moment of birth – 2:08 am – by setting my alarm and sneaking into his room when he was a toddler, a young boy, a teenager and a college freshman and giving him a kiss and telling him how much he was loved. He never woke up once in all the years I did this, even though he knew it was coming. (He is blessed with the gift of deep sleep, that kid is).
Since he flew the coop to Sin City and his new college, I’ve still set my alarm for the middle of the night but nowadays I call him and settle for reminding him that he is and was the one I loved above all. My sun, my moon, my stars.
So as I did a few months ago for my Mom, my words are (part of) my gift to my great kid this year. Because I want you all to know what a special person he is.
From the time he was young, he had a soft spot for the mistreated, the underdog, the down-on-their-luck folks he encountered. I like to think this was learned from being blessed with having my darling Dad as his grandfather. A man who adored his first-born grandson, who – with my Mom – turned their lives upside down to relocate back here to be part of and a presence in his life every day. He learned how to play – and cheat at, truth be told – miniature golf when he was young from my Dad. When he was sick and I just had to go to work, he would spend the day with one or both of my parents, learning that caring for someone you love is just what you do no matter what.
The very first time I really thought I was watching the spirit of my Dad come through him was one Christmas Eve when we were at Mass, waiting for the service to start. For any of you who’ve done Christmas Eve services, you know that if you want a seat for the 5:00 service, you need to be there at 4:00. And that’s what we had done, patiently waiting for Mass to start. A classmate of my great kid and his Mom were directly across the aisle from us, in a small row saving some seats for the Dad and his classmate’s autistic sister who wouldn’t arrive until right before Mass started.
The usher kept trying to seat people in that row while the Mom kept trying to explain why she was saving the seats. The usher, I know, was only trying to get people seated but he became increasingly frustrated and a bit rude to her, telling her she couldn’t save the seats. After the last time he did this, my great kid looked over at her and grabbed my hand to get my attention. The Mom was weeping, embarrassed and upset that she’d have to let someone else sit there and that her husband and daughter wouldn’t have a place to sit when they arrived.
And – without a word from me – my great kid got up, walked across the aisle and sat with her and his classmate to fill up the row so that the usher wouldn’t bother her anymore. She looked over at me and mouthed “thank you” but I had nothing to do with it. It was Brendan’s kind heart and compassionate soul, qualities he had learned from my Dad, that had made that happen. What he did mattered in her life and to her family and to me too, so much so that I still remember it as clearly today – 15 or so years later – as if it had just happened.
He’s hopped on a plane on more than one occasion to surprise me, often at the time I’ve needed him the most. When my Mom was hospitalized last year, he flew home – after begging and pleading with his college professors to let him work remotely for a few days – and ended up staying for 10 days until my Mom got home and started to get better. To spare my Mom the agony of having to put my Dad’s cat to sleep when he became so ill he couldn’t even walk any more, he and my sister took the cat to our vet and then – after it was over – walked in the house, hugged me and wept over the loss. Because it was one of his last links to my Dad and it broke his heart. But it was more important to him to spare my Mom that experience than to worry about his own reaction to it.
He is loyal and true, standing up for people when they need an advocate or a friend. He is passionate about what he believes in and smart as a whip. He’s a hard worker, a good friend, a boy – a man now – with a heart of gold, a heart I can only hope no one ever breaks (or they’ll have to answer to me). He makes me want to be a better person and a better mother every day. He inspires me, he loves me and supports me and believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself.
So as his birthday starts to wind down, I will tell you what I tell him all the time, quoting from the great book and movie, The Help. Brendan, you is kind, you is smart, you is important. And I am blessed.