Barbara Barlow will be putting some miles on her car over the next week, but to the Oklahoma City resident it is perhaps the thrill of a lifetime.
Saturday, she will watch her son Matthew Johnson graduate from medical school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. On May 18, she'll be in the audience when another son, Stephen Johnson, graduates from Kansas City University's medical school.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be here talking about this today,” Barlow said.
Barlow raised both boys as a single mom. No easy task, but one that she found worthwhile and was completely dedicated to.
“I never felt comfortable having other men in their lives,” she said. “I wanted to be a good mom. I didn't want them to see me have a bad day because I broke up with my boyfriend.”
Barlow remarried after the boys grew up. But before then, there were plenty of ups and downs along the way. Stephen hung around with the wrong crowd when he was a teenager in their native Virginia. Matthew felt like it was his job to be the man of the house, but admits the task was at times beyond his ability.
Matthew is 41 and Stephen is 36. Matthew served in the Army and Stephen in the Navy.
When they decided to pursue medicine after their time in the military, their mom told them to go for it, as she had done so many times in their lives.
“She told me ‘Matthew, when you talk about medicine you speak with passion, you need to consider it for yourself because I don't think you're going to be happy until you do,'” Matthew Johnson said. “That's how she was our entire lives. She always encouraged us never to be afraid of going for it.”
As the kids were growing up, Barbara always made sure the family — which includes three more siblings — took an annual vacation together. The trips weren't fancy, but the time was well spent.
“We went to this place in West Virginia one year and stayed in a cabin,” Barlow said. “I was exhausted and fell asleep downstairs and started snoring. All the kids were upstairs and thought there was a bear in the cabin. We still laugh about it.”
The brothers, separated by hundreds of miles, remain close. One year Matthew took Stephen to school for show and tell. Matthew will “hood” Stephen at his graduation ceremony next week. Stephen decided to go to medical school in part because he was inspired by Matthew.
“I credit her for making sure that we always believed in ourselves,” Matthew said. “She taught us anything was possible.”
And for Barlow the lessons she taught have paid off. As Mother's Day gifts go, seeing two sons graduate from medical school in the span of a week seems like a dream.
“I'm going to behave myself,” Barlow said of the graduation ceremonies. “I will go in with my poker face and won't do anything to embarrass them. I'll probably shed some tears, but I'm not any more proud of them than the other moms and dads are of their kids.”