Matthew Munson: Happy birthday Bryan

Bryan celebrates his 12th birthday

It’s Bryan’s birthday today, so I’m sure you can imagine that excitement levels have been through the roof all day … and yesterday … and Friday … and, in fact, his birthday has been much discussed for the past few weeks. I don’t begrudge him that, however; it’s his special day, and this is his 12th birthday, so I am savouring the last year before teenagerdom officially begins.

We are celebrating in busy fashion with a small party, his siblings coming to visit, and his grandparents helping this excited young man – I can’t say child any more, depressingly – celebrate a new year. I am struggling to keep up with all of this; I saw a video of Bryan recently of when he had first moved in with me, and it took my breath away – I was amazed to see the difference four years had made. I don’t see it, as I see him every day, but that abrupt shock of seeing this four-year-old video made me happy and reflective. When I showed Bryan, he just rolled his eyes and went back to his dinner. Typical.

Birthdays don’t mean as much for me anymore; I’m now 41 (42 in a few months), and I usually keep my celebrations small and quiet, if at all – I got out the habit of really doing anything during the pandemic, and it’s hard to get back into the habit. To be entirely honest with you, it’s actually a nice excuse not to have to worry about things like that – I’ve definitely never been much of a party-goer.

That said, I did have a joint 21st birthday party with two friends – all of our birthdays were with just a few short weeks of each other, so it made sense. I wouldn’t have thought to organise anything if it had just been me, so it was a nice experience to do something like that with a couple of friends. It was all very daft fun, but I’m not in urgent need of repeating the exercise.

Bryan is much more of an extrovert than me; I prefer conversations with a couple of people to large groups, whilst Bryan is comfortable performing on stage to as many people as possible. I have had to appear on stage a small number of times – once as an Ugly Sister, if I remember correctly, and once in a local show that I was helping out with (back stage), and the director (a wonderful human being by the name of Lisa Payne) asked me to “stand in” for a non-speaking role appearing right at the start of the show. Of course, I never thought to ask who would actually be doing the role, and the fact I then appeared in the shows dressed in a night gown is something that will be forever emblazoned on my memory.

I’ve mentioned before that Bryan goes to a local dance school for a few lessons a week, and talking to him and some of the staff fascinates me about a whole world I was only vaguely aware of before; I do genuinely enjoy learning new things, so hearing about auditions, a post-16 college being set up, and how dance exams work is a world apart. Bryan is, however, getting ready to take part in two dance exams, which he is immensely excited about – if he passes, he’ll get to move up to the next level of these classes, and I’m excited for him. He knows that I’ll be proud, no matter what, but I want to see him succeed in the things he clearly enjoys; he’s happy, and that’s what matters.

It’s strange for me to think about how much my life changed when I became a dad; it was a long process to go through, which is as it should be – I was vetted to within an inch of my life, and I’m glad I was. Everything about the application made me really think deeply about becoming a parent; was it right for me? Would I be able to give a good life to a child? Could I be loving and supportive of a child who hadn’t been with me since day one? Of course, the answer to all of those questions was yes; I am moving into a new phase now, parenting a pre-teen, and I am trying my hardest to cherish these moments – even when I’m tired, grumpy, or thinking about the future, I want to enjoy this time with my son. Every moment is a brilliant opportunity.