Today is the Ides of March. It wasn’t a lucky day for Julius Caesar. He celebrated the day by getting stabbed 23 times by Brutus and cohorts.
The rest of us got lucky. For us, the Ides of March marks the birthdays of two of our popular family members: my son Matt, and great-niece, Meghan.
The Romans used to have military parades on the Ides of March, so I think Meghan’s first name is kind of fitting. Some think Meghan is a Welsh name derived from the Greek word “pearl”. But others (me included) believe it’s a Celtic/Irish name meaning “brave warrior”, derived from the ancient clan of “Meeghan”.
Either meaning would nicely describe this little package of femininity, courage, charm and generosity.
Rene’ wrote this about Meghan:
“Meg is the firstborn of my children, and she’s been like the second mom to all of my other children. She’s always been drawn to younger children and always took jobs that connected her to that. Meg has 3 children, Braxton, 6; Jericho, 2; and Kensley Jade,2. She’s been a blessing to our family, and has always been there when we needed her.
In Junior High, Meg enjoyed band and played the trumpet and the French horn. She stayed with the brass instruments like her daddy.
Recently, Meg has been involved with church. She has held the Family Life Committee chair, which included all of the social activities at church that involved the kids and their families. She also pulled off a surprise 50th birthday party for her dad at church. Biggest turnout I’ve ever seen at church. Recently she has let the “chair” position go to homeschool her oldest, Braxton.
Meg is living just outside of town right now (Fayetteville, Tennessee), but she’s looking at an apartment in town. Both places are not more than 20 minutes from our house. Monday nights are always spent at our house together to watch The Bachelor. This entails dinner and brownies with hot fudge and ice cream. Any hecklers during the show get picked off with a coaster by Meg. She has a great aim.
At the moment Meg is a stay-at-home Mom just concentrating on her kids. Fayetteville isn’t conducive to a paying position that would pay for daycare.
When Meg didn’t have kids of her own, she spent as much time as she could with other people’s kids. She spent almost a year nannying for a family with four kids, the youngest having Down syndrome. She found this very rewarding. She continues to try to help young moms with their daycare needs when she can.
Meg can spin a wonderful story for the kids at the drop of a hat. She can have them so into the story that they don’t notice anything else. They have learned to make their own stories now. Meg is still interested in music, it just has changed to a little younger audience. She turns rhyming stories into songs! She is very creative in writing stories, poems, and songs for the kids.”
To celebrate your Ides of March birthday, Meghan, maybe you should throw a toga party. (Because of the age of some of the partygoers though, perhaps the “nectar of the gods” will have to be apple juice).
Now for the Roman birthday of my son. Matthew Damian Ford. Just like his older brother Mark, Matt was two weeks late coming into the world. In an effort to speed things along, my husband Gene and I piled 18 month-old Mark into the car and we drove all over the bumpy roads around towns surrounding our city (Schenectady, New York). For hours. Nothing worked. Not even cramps. So we went home, had supper, put Mark to bed, and then proceeded to start a game of Scrabble.
About an hour into the game did it. We couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough. (Fortunately, in spite of the Ides of March, it wasn’t via a Caesarean section). To this day, if anybody says “Scrabble, anyone?”, Matthew and his mother snap to attention. We don’t always win, but we’re ready to “deliver”.
The baby born on that particular Ides of March was to take on the life suitable to a Roman soldier. Matthew’s life eerily parallels the same gig. Only men could be in the Roman army and they had to be at least 20 years old. They weren’t allowed to marry while a soldier and they had to serve for 25 years! Old soldiers usually settled down to live out their old age in a military town.
The life of a Roman soldier was very difficult. The men were disciplined by flogging. The general could even have a soldier beheaded for not following orders. Deserters got their right hands cut off.
While traveling, the diet of a soldier consisted mostly of unleavened bread. The soldiers also ate porridge and what vegetables they could find. They got a little wine. Meat was so rare that many of the soldiers didn’t even like to eat it.
At times soldiers were paid, but often they were given no money except for their share of the booty. At times, months would go by without any booty to share.
The soldiers were always looking for a fight. Fighting was easier than all the marching and camp work. It wasn’t what you’d call a dream job.
Besides the usual ear, nose and throat maladies of childhood, Matt’s first clash with medical “flogging” occurred when he was two-and-a half. He and a little friend drank fuel oil and had to have their stomachs pumped. During grade school, he broke his right arm twice – once while jumping from a slow-moving truck, once while roller skating.
When he was 9 years old, he and his sister Lisa were bitten by an animal believed to be a rabid bat and had to suffer through more “flogging” – 14 days of the first anti-rabies treatment ever administered at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.
Many sprains, strains, abrasions, and wounds to arms, legs, eyes, and head were stitched, splinted, crutched, and treated during grade school and high school. When he was 11, he had surgery on his right knee to remove cartilage following a soccer injury.
When he was in his pre-puberty years, he was seized with bouts of depression which gradually worsened. He had his first formal psychiatry visit when he was sixteen years old. We were only at the beginning of learning what a long, harsh and terrible war was awaiting him. Mental illness makes Roman soldiering look like playtime.
Matthew’s first manic episode occurred when he was 18 years old. He had to be hospitalized, and while all the family was numb with shock, we know now that it was only a minor prelude of what was to come.
Since then, Matthew has survived endless battles with debilitating depression and its counterpart – 16 major bipolar manic episodes. Most required critical hospitalization, recovery and convalescence. As he grew older, each psychotic episode wreaked havoc on his physical body in unpredictable ways.
One fierce episode was followed by severe pneumonia and encephalitis. After a two-week coma, Matthew awoke to find himself permanently disabled with ataxia (loss of ability to coordinate muscular movement), and with his fine motor skills and speech impaired.
Additional “floggings” after that included surgical biopsies of his lung and groin, removal of an abscessed pilonidal cyst, and removal of a benign tumor from his jaw,
In 2004, Matt was diagnosed with renal cancer and had to have his left kidney removed. Since then, he had gout twice, had many falls including some in which he broke fingers and a rib, body rashes, bladder infections, occasional nausea, and he suffers from night terrors.
At some point, he suffered a small stroke, and is experiencing cerebellar degeneration. The Roman general didn’t cut off Matthew’s head as punishment, but his cerebellum is shrinking. This has adversely affected his motor skills, especially his speech, memory and the use of his hands. Unlike the punishment of the Roman soldiers who had their hands cut off, Matthew still has his hands but he is no longer their master.
Yes, the life of the Roman soldiers was difficult. Matthew’s is too, but we never hear him mention it. His fortitude and true grit never cease to amaze me And neither does his good disposition and sense of humor. I hope I can summon that armor myself if I ever have to wage the kind of battles he faces every day.
Matthew was disabled in 1989 but by 1992, he was doing open-mics at a comedy club in Seattle. Here’s a few clips from some of those shows.
So that’s all for now about the Ides of March birthday folk.
All hail, Meghan and Matthew! Or, as Julius or Augustus or one of those other Roman dudes might have expressed it, “Gauisus natalis.”
And many more.