It’s been interesting, in writing these posts, how many details I remember. Perhaps it’s because I’ve told some of these stories a few times, so the details have imprinted. Other things I don’t remember nearly as vividly. Today is Eric’s 23rd birthday. It’s after 7 p.m. as I write this, but I don’t have any idea what I was doing at 7 p.m. that evening. I know Kathy and Bruce and my sister Ann were there in the hospital within hours after his birth – which was around noon. Not surprisingly for New Jersey in February, it was cold, with snow on the ground. A few other details, which I’ll share in future posts – but I certainly could not recreate any kind of accurate timeline of my stay in the hospital. Any such chronology would simply be a guess on my part.
Toward the end of Eric’s first year, I got involved in an Internet chat room with other birthmothers. One mentioned celebrating her daughter’s birthday every year with a cake. That was such an astonishing concept for me – so simple, yet an idea I’m not sure I ever would have come up with on my own. It was almost as though I needed permission to celebrate the birthday of this son I had carried and birthed and released – yet still loved so very much – to come from someone else. The fact that this other birthmom did it gave me the room to coopt her idea and do it, too. And so I did. Every year for the first 10 years or so, I not only had a cake – but made a cake.
Some of those cakes came out well – others looked like sixth-grade Home Ec class failing grades. The nice thing was that one of the other birthmoms in Spence-Chapin’s birthmother support group had a son whose birthday was March 6. We met on the first Monday of the month, so each year, I would make my cake, carry it to work at Lehman Brothers – sometimes through the most atrocious weather – and then drag it on the subway all the way uptown to 92nd Street. Even if it started out looking nice, it was pretty battered by the time we ate it – but delicious nonetheless. As far as I am aware, I was the only birthmom in our group who did the cake thing.
It must have been February 2000, the first birthday I was living in Phoenix. February 24 rolled around and I headed to the store for chocolate cake mix and white frosting – Eric’s favorite – and proceeded to make my annual baked wonder. I made the cake, iced it, and was carrying it out to the dining room table when my dad asked me what the occasion was. Though my parents hadn’t known about my pregnancy, I had told them about their grandson four years prior, on his first birthday. So it wasn’t like my dad didn’t know – he was being deliberately obtuse.
I was outraged. I remember shouting at him – I must have seemed completely unhinged – that he never had any problems remembering Samantha’s birthday (my sister’s daughter), and just because my son wasn’t within eye’s view didn’t mean he wasn’t there or didn’t matter. Needless to day, the festive mood was spoiled.
The next day, my dad did something I don’t ever remember him doing before or after: he apologized to me. I’m not saying that he never apologized in my lifetime, just that I don’t remember any of the other ones. This one was a really big deal. And as his way of making amends, he gave me a greeting card he’d made on his Macintosh computer, one page folded in quarters, with one of those clunky, pixelated fonts. Happy Birthday, Eric. It was the most beautiful card I’d ever received. What’s more, going forward, for every birthday, Mother’s Day or any other celebratory occasion, he would make me two cards, one from him and one “from” Eric.
He’d not only heard me that day I’d freaked out on him, but my dad had understood how important it was to me that he recognize and honor his grandson’s existence. I can only speculate, but I imagine he must have considered how much Corina and I meant to him – and that gave him a sense of why my son, even though he wasn’t in my day-to-day life, might have been important to me, too. I still wish the two of them would have had the opportunity to meet. I know for certain that Grandpa would be so proud of his amazing grandson.
These last dozen or so years, I’ve gotten lazy. We tend to buy our cakes, or cheesecakes. Much more recently, just slices of cake, so we aren’t stuck with the whole thing. We actually celebrated Eric’s birthday early this year – yesterday. I wrote a post for Kathy’s birthday (February 3) about all the crazy birthday coincidences within our extended adoptive family. Somehow, in that post, I managed to ignore one of the biggest coincidences of all. My late sister’s husband, Matt, shares a birthday with Eric. So we had Matt over for dinner last night and sang happy birthday to him and Eric as we dove into a (whole) cheesecake.
I called Eric today – his voice mailbox was full. Apple and tree, right? So I sent him a text – and he called me right back. I was surprised, and pleased. Delighted, actually. Have you ever tried to act natural when you’re trying not to gush? I hope he knows the communication is important to me without my coming across as needy or demanding. Really, it’s just gratitude and a feeling of utter blessing when he reaches out – or calls back. Of course, I told him to be safe tonight. He said, “Yeah, you and my parents all said the same thing. I guess sometimes a parent’s just a parent, right?”
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.