A Child is Born, a Son is Given
By Jane Brady
The morning before you were born, I felt afraid. Since you were my firstborn child, I didn’t know what to expect. I sat in our large papasan chair in the early morning hours wondering what was to come. Besides the immediate fear of pain, I wondered how you might change me. Though I had wanted to venture into motherhood, to be caught up in the web of life, I knew my willingness was naive. It was impossible for me to know the magnitude of what was to come – the challenges and joys. Here I was teetering over the cusp of the rest of my life, unable to jump when I was ready. I pulled myself to the edge of the chair and waited for you to push me, for the contractions to come. The fear got to be too much for me, so though it was hard to get up, I turned on the soundtrack to The Mission. The wailing flutes and young boy voices overshadowed me and I felt calm.
A woman who “sits on the cushion of advantages … goes to sleep. When [s]he is pushed, tormented, defeated, [s]he has a chance to learn something [s]he has been put on h[er] wits; . [she learns] moderation and real skill” (Emerson).
I peeked through a window, your first Sunday in nursery. You were so excited to leave me, to be on your own in a grown-up class. I had thought you might need me more. It was snack time and you clamored up onto the wooden chair for the Teddy Grahams. The light streamed in from the window and I looked at your chubby arm, extending for more water in your Dixie cup.
Then you were two. You wore a brightly striped soft GAP romper as we headed to the park just down from our house. My thinking had been along the lines of, “Maybe he’ll dig in the dirt and I can read this book.” But you didn’t dig in the dirt. You didn’t play on any of the playground toys. All you wanted to do was run up and down the swell of the hill. All you wanted from me was to be waiting in anticipation at the bottom, to watch you as you came barreling – blond hair flipping up, and blue sneaks toddling. Soon I set the book down and just smiled as I watched you run.
You came running
With a small speckled egg
Warm in your hand.
You could barely understand,
As I told you
Of egg and bird.
That years ago
Smaller than sight.
As egg yearns for sky
And seed stretches to tree
Like me.Oh,But there’sYou and I,
So much more.
Have just begun.Think:
Worlds from now
What might we be-
We,Who are seedOf Deity. (Pearson 7)
Then came five. You had a straight, even bowl hair cut and a discerning eye. You were heavy into trains. You lined up small metal box cars in exacting order. Hours and hours spent moving, organizing, sizing up.
True joy comes from the capacity to . enjoy simply. The back of a beetle in the sun, the moss on trees, the whisper of leaves in autumn. To see and hear and smell and taste and feel small and simple things. (Dunn)
There was a day when I lost you. We went to a fabric store in Salt Lake to buy dark red plaid for new living room curtains. It took me too long to pick just the right bolt, but you kept busy. There were tunnels between the bolts of fabric where only a young body could fit. You sneaked up and down rows while I browsed. Then there was a long line at the cutting table. I kept my eye out, kept craning my neck. I’d see your hand stick out or hear a squeal and I’d turn my head back to my business. While in the line to pay, I lost sight of you. I searched frantically. I asked the cashier to help me even though I was embarrassed to have been so irresponsible. I ran out the door looking left and right. Nothing. Then I looked out to the car and I was amazed you had made it there. You had apparently had enough of buying and selling and were anxious to move on to other adventures. I kept the sense of found relief in my heart a long while.
Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. (Thoreau)
In first grade I’d come to help the students in your class read out in the hall. One day Mrs. Towers asked me to administer a test – to have each child try to read a selected passage and mark down their scores. “I doubt these three in the bottom section will be able to read any of the words, but make sure and compliment them anyway.”
My eyes scanned the list and there you were. The Bottom Section. My mind started racing. I knew instantly that I couldn’t allow myself to let the reality sink in now. I needed to get through the test and get home before the luxury of awareness. I set to concentrating hard on the task. Yet mixed into all this memory is Mrs. Tower’s daughter singing flawless opera at her funeral. And your eighth grade Stanford Achievement Test showing your reading level to be college level. I can no longer reach the sadness I had felt at that moment – the worry that I hadn’t helped you as much as I should have, that maybe I hadn’t given to you good gifts.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant … talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you … We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us … As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Williamson 90-91)
For years and years, every time you sensed stress in me you’d say, “Love you, mom,” in almost a pleading way. I imagine you hoped that love from you would be enough to cheer me up. And there wasn’t a single time when your saying it didn’t give me a smile, make my heart lighter.
When you were ten, Edmund Nelson beat you up at school. You were playing tag and when he tagged you, he punched you in the stomach. When you asked him to stop he did it again. And again. You grabbed at his glasses and they fell off. This provoked him to punch you even more. You both had to go to the office and though Mrs. Naugle knew from the beginning that you were not to blame, you were still concerned. You fretted that you shouldn’t have touched his glasses. You felt that no matter how provoked you might have been, it still didn’t give you the right to act inappropriately. You told me of how, when Mrs. Naugle was asking you the questions, you tried to pull the hood of your sweatshirt over your face because you were starting to cry. You felt so bad that you had been part of the cause of trouble and anger.
You told me how you prayed and asked God for help (not during the fighting, things happened too fast then – but while waiting in the office). You felt that even though God loves you and would of course want to help you, you should sacrifice in order to be worthy to ask for help. So you made, as you called it, a covenant: to be more responsible at home – since Dad and I had been getting on your case lately for not practicing your violin or emptying your laundry basket.
So when you came home you didn’t come tell me everything right away. Instead you practiced your instrument. You made sure your room was picked up. You made Emma Jane’s bed. You looked around the house and put anything stray into the girls’ rooms. You put a Mint Milano cookie on my pillow.
I wish nothing bad would ever happen to you but I think that sometimes your goodness is a magnet for hard situations. Most people won’t play with Edmund. In fact, many other kids won’t even be polite or respectful to him. You were being gentlemanly to play with him in the first place. But sometimes going the extra mile invites a new set of problems. I’m happy to see that knowing that doesn’t deter you from being kind.
I admire the way you are. You don’t get defensive when someone acts confrontationally toward you. You take the time to ask them to stop before without acting rashly. When Dad wanted to call Edmund’s dad and kick some, I appreciated the way you gently inserted that you didn’t want to cause any more ill feelings. You helped us work toward a compromise. Edmund’s actions were wrong. But all they did was serve to illustrate once again how strong you are. You are noble and kind and brave.
This Endris Night I saw a sightA star as bright as day
And ‘ere among a maiden sang
Lullay bye bye lullay
This lovely lady sat and sang
And to her child did say
“My son; my brother; father, dear
Why liest though thus in hay?”The child then spoke in his talking
And to his mother said
“Yea, I am known as Heaven’s King
Though I in crib be laid.”Now, tell sweet son, I thee do pray
Thou art my love and dear
How should I keep thee to they pay
And make thee glad of cheer?My dear mother, thou hold me warmAnd keep me night and day
And if I weep and may not sleep
Thou sing, bye bye lullay
After the Winters Quarters temple dedication you wrote this in your journal: “I liked Gordon B. Hinckley’s jokes. He told the people to put the mud in the crack and not on the floor during the cornerstone ceremony. I liked the Hosanna cheer. You’re upholding an ancient Jewish tradition. I think strongly about traditions. For example, every year we open at least one present on Christmas Eve. Last year we opened all of them – which was tons. This was breaking Dad’s tradition but keeping Mom’s. We couldn’t save both of them!”
You went on and on – mostly expressing your gratitude that the Union won the civil war but this next part particularly struck me: “I’m thankful that even though my mom doesn’t like birds and lizards she still accepts them in our house. And I’m thankful that Kyle (my bird) has accepted me.” I hated that blasted squawking, screaming bird. He made such a mess. But you had noticed that I had made a sacrifice for you.
I know often teenagers listen more to peers than to their own parents. Sometimes I’m glad for this. Sure Nick is a fantastic WarCraft player and a killer snowboarder – a dream come true as a cousin a few years older than you. Your admiration for him doesn’t stop there, though. When he gave the FHE lesson on staying strong amidst adversity he talked about the bird selling his feathers until he couldn’t fly. He wrapped your hands in threads until you couldn’t break the strands. He drew a picture of the fun things to do on the seashore but explained that when you choose to get in the water and into the undertow you no longer have the choice to play on the beach – you have to suffer the consequences to your choices.
I saw your eyes as Nick spoke, Sam. I saw how you looked at him. And how you listened. Nick has given you something that I couldn’t – the taste of an older brother.
You do not understandthat while you screamed at mefrom inside your crib
I was dying inside.That while I sang you hymns and Nursery Rhymes
to help calm you down,
they were really more for me.
You do not know
that when you finally yelled out, for what?
and gave up and laid down,
how I could breathe again.
How the aching in my chest eased up a little.
Just enough so that I thought,
“I might make it.”You do not see
how I watched you
hugging your turtle, playing with the sprouts of hair on its head,
rubbing its back.
How I listened to your chest heave as you sucked in gulps of air.
You probably think I am so cruel
for not letting you get what you want.How can I make you understand?That I love you so much
I will go through anything-even this-
to help you:to sleep
to become a man.I will hide in my corner enveloped in darkness.Feeling your pain a hundred fold.Even though you do not understand.
But I will not give in.
Because I love you too much.
One night Dad was cleaning the kitchen and when he got to the particularly dirty bench he said in a rather disgusted way, “Whoever has been using that Incredible Hulk chocolate sauce sure isn’t getting much of it in their cup!” Without missing a beat you responded, “I should say not! Look at my pants – they’re covered in it!!” There was something so “absent minded professor” about this, the way you hardly realized that you were incriminating yourself. I laughed so hard that my gut started to hurt.
Last month was your first “advanced” orchestra performance. Now that you practice in your room I haven’t known how your violin music is sounding. I had no idea what to expect. Dad and the girls were gone so it was up to me to drive you. You’re thirteen and a half and still as much a goof ball as ever. The first time you came upstairs you had on your tuxedo shirt and vest, but with jeans. Next time you came up you had black church pants but white socks and sneakers.
Next it was nuts to try to get your bowtie to look halfway decent. Plus there was your hair going every direction and the pizza on your face from dinner. We were running late and I started to get a bit disgusted. Couple that with the fact that I was still rather upset that you ruined our family pictures at the park by deciding it was your prerogative to be in a bad mood whenever you felt like it and not when it was convenient for me (not that it ever would be).
Thankfully we got to the concert on time. As the beginning and intermediate orchestras went by I felt, “This is about right. They’re doing well.” Then the advanced orchestra took the stage. I couldn’t see you but I’d seen you move the bow back and forth enough that I could imagine. Then “Hallelujah Chorus” started to play and I gasped. This wasn’t a junior high orchestra playing. This was too spectacular. I looked to the left and right. Was I on “Candid Camera” or something? I craned my neck but I still couldn’t see you. You couldn’t be playing this phenomenal music, could you? You, who still had pizza on your face?
Though the music director had strictly gone over concert etiquette at the beginning of the evening, I couldn’t sit still another second. I got up right in the middle of a number and excused myself all the way down the row to get out to the aisle where I stood up (undoubtedly blocking someone’s view) to see if I could see my son. There you were, towards the back. Your bow was going up and down in synch with everyone else’s. You were part of this musical masterpiece.
I stood there and listened, unaware of anything going on around me. All I could do was listen. Suddenly I wanted to fall to my knees to thank God that I had a boy with the mind to grimace in all of the twenty-four pictures I paid forty-five bucks for. I wanted to praise that you weren’t so perfect that you still needed me to help you get dressed and ready.
On the way home we stopped for gas and in the convenience store I told you to pick out anything in the whole store. I wanted to communicate how overwhelmed I was by your talent, by your goodness. You went for the 64-ounce red cream soda. I tried not to flinch when, on the way home, some of it spilled on your tuxedo shirt.
It comforts me to realize that in the moment that Mary knew she was actually going to give birth in an unsanitary, uncomfortable place – a place not inherently full of dignity – she must have questioned if she were worthy to be a mother at all, much less a mother to the Lord. Because the stable and manger have become so romanticized, I forget that Mary didn’t know that was the way it was meant to be. I imagine her worry, her deep-seated wish to give the best to her son and then her concern and almost knowledge that she was falling short.
I try to remember this when I start to feel the magnitude of heavy responsibility weigh down on me. The fact that I’ve been entrusted with you makes me want to shiver. Who could have imagined how enlightening it would be to learn about the symbolism in Revelation from you, how much I would laugh at you expressively telling me a Calvin and Hobbes joke. I didn’t envision us singing Weird Al songs in the car. But, then, our life together is greater than I could have ever imagined.
We are, each of us, angels with only one wing.And we can only fly by embracing each other. (De Crescenzo)
Dunn, Paul H. I Challenge You, I Promise You. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and English Traits. The Harvard Classics. 1909-14. <https://www.bartleby.com/5/105.html>.
Pearson, Carol Lynn. “Beginnings.” Beginnings. Provo, UT: Press Publishing Company, 1968.
“This Endris Night.” Words and Music: 15th Century England.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
Williamson, Marianne. A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.” New York: HarperCollins, 1992.