Austen Berj Brooks was born 24 years ago today, September 26, 1991, at 6:57 a.m. He weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds, 8 ounces, was 21 1/2 inches long and had a 14 1/2 inch head. He was almost one week late and looked like a 3-month old. Fortunately for me, he was my third baby and the delivery was so fast my doctor missed the birth. That was just like Austen – take your time and then when you finally decide the moment is right, go for it.
Austen was named after one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. I told him this one day when he and I were sitting on the couch watching the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice. He must have been around 4 years old. He looked up at me and said incredulously, “you mean I was named after a girl?,” only he couldn’t pronounce his r’s so ‘girl’ was more like ‘geeil.’ “Well,” I said, Jane’s father was Mr. Austen,” which seemed to pacify him.
Austen’s middle name, ‘Berj’, is an Armenian name which has various meanings depending on the source: superb, sumptuous, luxurious; magnificent, splendid; elegant. When we saw how big he was at birth, we quickly determined that ‘Berj” was a perfect middle name.
Here is what I wrote in “The Austen Journals” shortly after his birth:
Austen has come into the world surrounded by love from his parents, his sister and brother and his grandparents. I cannot get over the amazement I feel when I look at him — amazement at his very being, his size, his good nature. I don’t seem to be able to grasp the concept of a third child. He is not a given, but something given to me as a kind of reward. I am forever grateful for his being, his conception, the good pregnancy I had, his apparent health and vigor, his beauty, his wantedness.
And today I found a letter my mother wrote to Austen from Longboat Key, Florida, when Austen was 2 months old. I believe I read this to him when it came in the mail and then I put it away safely in his baby album. At the beginning of the letter my mother presents her ‘resume’ and then expresses her gratitude:
Name: Roxie Sahakian
Experience: raised 3 daughters
Specialized in: grandchildren
Courses: pancakes, gatah (Armenian pastry)
Extra curricular: loving 7th grandchild, Austen Berj.
How lucky I am to be your grandmother. How lucky you are to have wonderful parents and siblings. How lucky we all are to have each other.
As I reflect on all that’s happened, I have concluded that the day Austen was born was one of the best days of my life, a joyous day worthy of the happiest of memories – of all those family celebrations, those children’s parties, gifts, balloons, cakes, candles, birthday dinners in Bloomington, and then in Chicago. I am hopeful that on this day each year I will always feel a serene joy and a profound sense of love and gratitude. How lucky I am to be Austen’s mother. And as his grandmother wrote, ‘How lucky we all are to have each other’.
Austen’s 11th birthday celebration in 2002 with his maternal grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.