To Declutter or Not to Declutter

To Declutter or Not to Declutter

Birthmoms may relate to the notion of taking a certain pride in knowing our children take after us in particular ways. I previously mentioned playing board games with Eric and his girlfriend over Christmas, and the odd sense of pride I felt in noting that he and I often came up with the same answers during one particular game. It’s never been terribly surprising that he’s a smart kid, given what I know about my own intellect and the near-genius intelligence of his birthfather.

But there’s another way he seems to have taken after me that has left me wishing he might be more like my sister – that’s the arena of orderliness. I know that many kids keep their rooms a mess – but I’ve seen Eric’s, and heard his mom comment on the tornado it was for most of his childhood. Until I was about 12 and we finally got our own rooms, Corina and I shared a bedroom. You could have drawn a line down the center of it where my side ended and hers began, because mine was a constant jumble of books, clothes, papers, and toys, while hers was always oh, so tidy.

The older I get, the more appealing I find the idea of orderliness, even though it is anything but native to me. I’ve been trying to tell myself that the reason I’ve never been neat was that I never had enough space. When you think about it for even a moment, though, you discover the folly of that thought – because less space is all the more reason to be orderly, isn’t it? One thing that has been true is that my last two moves were rather hurried, and unpacking never quite occurred in the most robust sense. Some of those mostly unpacked boxes still sit in our new garage – but the inside of our house is so tidy that you wouldn’t know the same people live here as lived in our prior home.

John asked me, as my friend Barbara and I were busy unpacking box after box, “We’re not going to become those ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ people, are we?” As if that would be a terrible thing.

“If at all possible, yes, we are going to become those people,” I quipped in response. And I have to say, he seems to be pretty pleased every time he asks me where something is and I know exactly where to find it: box cutter, plastic gloves, Phillips screwdriver, beach towels, ice pick, step ladder, and power strips are among the items he’s asked about so far.

So imagine my surprise when, while putting away laundry earlier tonight, I found myself thinking, I could see this putting everything away all the time getting kind of boring after a while. Translation: “At least part of me misses the chaos.”

In looking for an image to illustrate the famous quote, “A clean desk is the sign of a sick Perfect Mess bookmind,” I came across a book, titled A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. The tagline is: “How crammed closets, cluttered offices, and off-the-cuff planning make the world a better place.” Of course I immediately ordered a copy. Book after book and expert upon expert tell us that our external world reflects our internal world – and if we want to become more diligent, efficient, and bountiful in our results, it behooves us to embrace order, as opposed to living in chaos.

It seems, however, that a part of me feels more comfortable in chaos. It is very nice, I will admit, not to have to waste minutes (which become hours and days and months, in the aggregate) looking for things. But too much order somehow feels stifling and artificial to me. Perhaps that’s why those clothes waited almost a week between coming out of the dryer and making their way into my closet and dresser drawers.

I suppose the best thing is for me to aim for a middle ground between the disaster in this before image and the squeaky clean after picture.

messy desk before and after

As for the kid? There’s still lots of time for him to grow into his own sense of orderliness. Or not.

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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.

Not Parenting Means Never Having to Say No

Not Parenting Means Never Having to Say No

My parents scrimped and saved every penny they had to send Corina and me to private school, first through twelfth grades. To this day, I still get the occasional odd look when I tell people where I went to high school, as there was a certain aura about most Xavier girls, and I don’t really have it because I was neither a legacy student, nor did I receive a BMW for my 16th birthday. I hated almost every minute of the exclusive, all-girls Catholic school – the cliques and sense of not fitting in at all – but I stuck it out. My sister lasted through her freshman year before she begged reprieve and was allowed to transfer to North High, just four blocks from the house where we grew up. It pained my mother to see her switch, though, because she was no longer able to say, “My daughters go to Xavier.” Losing that “S” on the end – and having just one daughter go to Xavier – didn’t carry quite the same heft when it came to bragging rights.

Having only attended public school at the university level, my knowledge of it comes only from the stories I’ve heard from others – and Hollywood. I imagine my experience would have been different, still. With all this talk about education these days, as teachers in Colorado and my home state of Arizona are on strike, it occurred to me to wonder what I would have done, had I been parenting Eric. Arizona has ranked somewhere near 49th in education for the last 20 years or so – but who knows where I’d have been living, had I chosen to parent Eric, so I cannot really factor that into my hypothetical decision.

The point is that I didn’t have to make that decision. Or any others. Things like circumcision – which, as I mentioned in a prior post, I had no idea was my decision to make at the time of Eric’s birth. Or vaccination. Yep – I’m one of those people who seriously questions all things related to allopathic (traditional Western) medicine, vaccines included. Twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t the great controversy it is today, but I’m pretty sure my sister did not have Samantha vaccinated.

g rated

Big things and small, parents must make decisions about them. I never had to say no to sugary foods or Disneyland or a cell phone before the age of reason. I never had to decide about pets – most likely the answer would have been yes, whether it was a gerbil or a pet monkey, because we were just always animal people. Whether to join Boy Scouts or have sleep-overs or watch this movie or that one. I lost count of the times I would rent movies, only to come home and have Corina ask, “Is it something Sam can watch?” I wasn’t parenting, so it never occurred to me to check the ratings of the films I brought home – I just got what I liked. She also put the kibosh on a couple of books Samantha had to read in school, Roald Dahl’s Witches being the one I best remember. Goodreads describes it as a “children’s dark fantasy novel,” which is probably accurate. But they were reading it when Sam was in fourth grade, and my sister thought it was way too scary for her at the time. So she said no – and Samantha had to deal with the fallout from that, in terms of being teased by her classmates.

I didn’t have to teach Eric right from wrong. I didn’t have to explain why I stopped going to church when he was about 10. I didn’t have to decide between healthy food and convenience because I was too tired to cook on a given night. I never had to tell him there was a limit to the number of after-school activities he could take part in, or that I didn’t care for a particular friend – or that friend’s parents. I never had to say no – or yes – to anything.

have vs get

I heard a while ago that one way to get past procrastination is to switch from viewing them as things we “have to” do to viewing them as things we “get to” do. For example, it changes things considerably to view it as, “I get to make some phone calls to clients this afternoon,” rather than groaning, “I have to make a bunch of client calls today.” The word get implies that the activity is a privilege, while have to makes it feel and sound like a chore. I was deliberate in my use of “have to” versus “get to” in the preceding paragraphs, because in the contemplation that stemmed from those thoughts about the education decision I never made, it occurred to me that I never made any of the rest of those choices, either – because I never had to. When I placed Eric with Kathy and Bruce, I relinquished both the right and the responsibility for making all of those decisions.

And for a moment, it felt like the biggest cop out ever. I took the easy road, rather than the complicated one where I’d have to make hard decisions, sacrifice my personal desires at times, and give a significant amount of my time, effort, and energy to this little person who needed it more than I did. I’m not ashamed of that choice – just aware in a way that I’ve never been before how much work and effort my son’s parents put in, in my stead. And grateful that they were able and willing to do such a phenomenal job of it all.

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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.

Making a Difference a Little at a Time

Making a Difference a Little at a Time

teacher strike

Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out on their jobs today, in demand of better pay for teachers and support staff, as well as improvements in learning conditions for their students. You may have an opinion on the strike as a tool to accomplish such a goal and the politics behind it. I was once of the opinion that our deficit in education is the most crucial of all social ills, because everything else (homelessness, addictions issues, obesity, and teen pregnancy come to mind) can be addressed if education is done properly. However, as I see it today, two of the most significant problems with education will not be solved with this strike or any others like it. First, we need to stop teaching students according to their chronological age and instead teach according to their ability (and willingness?) to learn. Secondly, we need to teach our youth not WHAT to think, but instead HOW to think. I’m certain some would disagree with me on Issue #1 (“But little Joey’s feelings would be hurt if he were 12 years of age but had to study math with 7-year-olds”), and we’re so far down the rabbit hole on Issue #2, in terms of the way we do education in America, that it would take a seismic shift to move us even remotely in another direction.

While I still feel education – and all the other topics mentioned above – are of vast importance, a different one now stays top of mind for me. It’s the subject on which I post and repost most often on Facebook. On his podcast today, comedian Bill Burr noted that this subject is the single most important issue to millennials: the environment. Hear, hear! In case you are (or have been) wondering, millennials are described as kids born between 1982 and 2002. Born in 1995, my son falls right smack in the middle, there. And I worry often for the state of the planet we are leaving to him and his children. My husband’s niece will be 10 in June, and Eric’s sister is pregnant right now with her first child. What will the world be like by the time that baby gets to be my son’s age? Pretty unpleasant if we don’t start doing something immediately to right the sinking ship that is our home planet.

Environmental problems include:

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Water scarcity
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Soil erosion and degradation

check phone while car idles

Sounds kind of hopeless when you hear those big problems listed out like that, but Mother Nature is nothing if not resilient. However, we all need to do our part, and we need to start today. Even small things count, because they add up when each of us begins to do more of them. One thing I’ve noticed, in particular in Arizona, is the number of people who get into their cars and let the engines run while they check their phones, sometimes for minutes that run into the double digits. This is an easy habit to fall into, especially in the crazy summer heat here. But if we pay attention and stand in the shade (or remain inside the store or office building) we don’t have to idle our engines and pump all that extra carbon monoxide into the air.

plastic bag litter

One thing my husband is getting much better at these days is taking reusable grocery bags to the store. Sometimes we forget them at home, but my personal policy is never to request a bag if I have 3 items or fewer – and often I will juggle many more than that to avoid bringing home another plastic bag. Think it can’t possibly matter whether you use one less bag a week? Did you know that an estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic? Even if you throw those bags away in a trash can, garbage is regularly being dumped (legally and illegally) into the ocean – so your plastic might just go and sit there for 15 to 1,000 years – or until an unsuspecting creature eats it for dinner. If you are a bit crafty and you’d like a tip or two on making your own reusable bags, this video may help. We also recycle just about everything we can: paper bags, toilet and paper towel rolls, plastic bottles, all manner of cans, Styrofoam, and plastic bags (both the grocery variety and others).

recycle toilet rolls

John a has also recently made the decision to stop eating all mammals – which leaves him seafood and fowl, in terms of animal proteins. This is also another huge step in the way of helping the environment, because factory farming is one of the biggest causes of pollution on the planet. I have not yet given up meat to the same degree – nor do I promise that I ever will – but we do consume a lot less meat these days than we used to, and I’m OK with that.

Another thing I’ve been paying attention to for a long time is straws – the ubiquitous NoStrawChallengeplastic drinking implements that are actually wholly unnecessary, in terms of our ability to consume most liquids. As the 1MillionWomen.com website points out, we use the things for roughly 20 minutes at a rate of 500 MILLION a day and then throw them away – and then, they NEVER break down or decompose. A quick internet search will reveal heartbreaking images of animals that tried to eat the because in the ocean (WHY do they end up in the ocean, again?) they look like food. The Sidewalk Cafe, a restaurant where we dined recently in Venice Beach, had actually posted signs explaining why they serve straws only upon request – and challenging patrons to take the #NoStrawChallenge.

I know these are small details, but the average American household throws away 10 plastic bags per week. Picture it, if you can. If every one of those houses used just one less bag per week, that would be 125 MILLION fewer bags discarded a week. Or six-and-a-half BILLION bags in a year. Just for using one less bag a week. Now add in recycling the things, and we’re really starting to make a difference, right?

I have no idea what my son’s family’s total recycling habits are – but if I recall our last visit this past December, they definitely had a recycling bin that went out separate from the landfill trash. These are habits I would have passed down to him, had he grown up in my house. My hope is still to one day have these conversations with him, if only to learn his perspectives about the things that are important to me. And if his generation is making the environment its number one priority, maybe there’s hope for us yet.

RESOURCES

Paper recycling facts

Things you can do…

On Straw Use

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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.

Turtles and Talismans

Turtles and Talismans

John and I saw a seal today. We’re still in the Los Angeles area, taking a couple days’ R&R before heading back to Phoenix. The back of the Tahoe is loaded with book festival paraphernalia (mostly books, but also chairs, table cloths, email sign-up sheets, postcards, etc.), and we added a rack to cart our brand new bikes with us. Seemed like a LOT of extra effort, until we got them out and road 8 or so miles along the Santa Monica/Venice Beach bike path. The weather was perfect and it was the most delightful ride! It was on the pier at Venice Beach where we encountered this little guy.

Venice Beach seal

I always thought of my sister, Corina, as the animal person in our family. Then I met John, and it seemed he and Cori had a lot in common – not the least of which was that he’s an animal person, too. The owner of the VRBO guest house where we’re staying has a very friendly Golden Retriever by the name of Jessie – and John has been cheating on our dogs with him. His owner has been away, so we’ve been taking Jessie for morning and evening walks, just like we would with our own dogs, Lucy and Sugar. I sent this photo to our friend, Barbara, who’s pet-sitting for us, so she can let them know John’s been seeing another dog.

John and Jessie

We’ve also seen squirrels, geckos, and these regal gulls who even agreed to pose for a photo.

Lois and Larry

Haven’t yet seen any turtles, my favorite of all the water and land animals. My fascination with them began some dozen years or so ago, when I stood and watched them for about an hour, outside the main gates of the Phoenix Zoo. They were sunning on a log, sometimes climbing over each other for better position and other times content just to sit and soak up the sun without moving for the longest stretches of time. I was reminded of the time I saw a turtle – decent-sized guy, maybe 10 inches wide by 14 inches long – wandering down the street in my neighborhood as I walked from the bus when I was a freshman in high school. I ran home to get a box to carry him in so I could take him back to my house (I’ve since learned that pet turtles frequently escape their captors), but he was gone by the time I got back to the spot where I’d seen him. I figured some other turtle-saving kid must have scooped him up in the interim.

Phoenix Zoo turtles

Having missed my chance back then, I’ve never actually had a living turtle as a pet. I do have many inanimate turtles, though. When I was planning the design of my still-fledgling atrium, I knew I wanted a way to incorporate my many turtles into the design. Found this awesome wrought iron shelf with wood slats – and it has become the new home for a little more than half of my turtle collection. My friend Kebba recommended I change the name from atrium to turtlarium. I like it! The other turtles are still in a box in storage, so I’ll have to g over there and rescue them soon! We also have a pewter turtle that guards our wedding bands, in addition to my small turtles and turtle earrings.

Back in December 2015, I got a henna tattoo at a street fair. It was a Celtic pattern on the inside of my left wrist, and every single time I looked at it for the roughly three weeks it lasted, it made me smile. So I have decided to go for the permanent version – but the design will be a turtle I cobbled together from a few different cultural images I liked. The center two are Celtic. A Facebook friend described it this way:

So your graphics seem to have different cultural origins. The one below is Gaelic. The one above, not sure – maybe Asia Pacific? And the overall image is Northwest tribal.

LO's Turtle TattooFirst, I planned to get the tattoo for my 50th birthday, but that’s come and gone. Then I was going to do it to celebrate reaching a specific weight goal – but that’s taking longer than I want, and my trainer encourages me not to tie rewards like that to my goals. Now, with Eric about to graduate from college, I could have it commemorate that – or I could just effing do it, right?! No reason attached to it other than that I want to do it.

I’ll be sure to write about it when I actually get the ink. In the meantime, you can check out my turtle collection on Pinterest, as well as just a few of the meanings ascribed to turtles and tortoises:

  • The turtle is a sacred figure in Native American symbolism, as it represents Mother Earth.
  • The turtle symbol signifies good health and a long life.
  • Turtle symbolism is characterized by its association with the Earth and the earth symbols of groundedness and patience.
  • The turtle is a symbol of the world.
  • The turtle symbolizes deliberately slowing down and pacing yourself.
  • The turtle is a symbol of determination and persistence.
  • The turtle represents emotional strength and understanding.
  • The turtle symbolizes ancient wisdom.
  • In Tibet, the tortoise is a symbol of creativity.
  • According to the principles of feng shui, the rear of the home is represented by the Black Tortoise, which signifies support for home, family life, and personal relationships. A tortoise at the back door of a house or in the backyard by a pond is said to attract good fortune and many blessings. Three tortoises stacked on top of each other represent a mother and her babies.
  • In Taoist art, the emblem of the tortoise represents the triad of Earth, humankind, and heaven.

Do you have a talisman that represents something special for you? Tell us about in the Comments section below!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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.

Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Pulpwood Queens and an Adoption Theme

Today is the first day of the 2018 LA Festival of Books. I am here with a colleague, Birgit Walker, who with her husband Jim, cowrote Keep Your Paws on the Road, about teaching your dog to be a great travel companion. I am also representing about a dozen other Phoenix-area authors’ books – titles ranging from Hollywood crime fiction to a Western to spiritual books to children’s picture books, and lots of others in between.

So it seems the perfect time to offer up a few comments on some recent books I’ve read. In January, I attended my first Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas. This was not a meeting of female lumberjacks, but rather the 18th annual gathering of book lovers – also known as readers – and a slew of amazingly accomplished authors. Started by a woman named Kathy Murphy, Pulpwood Queens is a book club that grew from one meeting in Kathy’s hair salon to more than 700 clubs around the world! These are some serious book lovers, and Kathy has created such a level of influence in the industry that she can pull household name authors to her event. On the flip side, she also has helped launch more than a few authors out of obscurity into a new level of fame.

packing tape handle

The weekend was packed with panel discussion after panel discussion wherein the authors shared their stories, discussed their creative motivations, and encouraged the writers in the audience to follow their passions. I came home with so many books that I had to pack a boxful to carry as luggage for the plane. You should have seen my very stylish packing tape handle. Laugh all you want; I was able to get myself from the rental car to the shuttle to the ticket counter with my fabricated tape handle. Of course, I received a love note from the TSA that they had searched my carefully taped box. For my safety – of course it was.

Author Katrina Shawver, my roommate for the Pulpwood Queen event, which takes place every year over MLK Weekend, told me her New Year’s resolution was to read a book a week in 2018. When I met him, my husband could – and did – read a book about every 2 to 3 days. I don’t think I’ve read more than 20 books in a year since college. So the idea of reading a book a week sounded like a pretty significant goal to me. In the 3 months since that weekend when I purchased, won, and was gifted all of those books, I have read five, about which I’m feeling pretty good. Once upon a time, my reading ratio was more or less 95 percent fiction to 5 percent nonfiction. Sometime over the last 20 years, it hasn’t exactly reversed, but it’s been more like 35 fiction to 65 nonfiction. These five books I read were all novels, so I’ve gone and skewed my recent ratio quite a bit.

A quote from Stephen King comes to mind: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” This blog has been my exercise in steady, if not daily writing, lo these last 3+ months. And I seem to be upping my reading – especially of fiction – quite a bit, as well. So maybe there is hope for me as a writer after all.

Adoption fiction

One interesting thing occurred as I listened to the authors speak over this very intense weekend – adoption seemed to be a thread running through a surprising number of the books. I had started this blog about two weeks earlier, so immediately thought I would read and write about these books. It has taken me until now to do so. I understand from the Pulpwood Queens Facebook group that the first author I will mention, Lisa Wingate, has recently sold her millionth copy of Before We Were Yours, no small feat. This is her 30th book, so she’s one of those many-years-to-get-there overnight successes. The book is the heartbreaking fictional story of a family impacted by a real-life monster by the name of Georgia Tann, a woman who literally stole babies and small children away from poor and “undeserving” families and sold them to wealthier people – all in the name of “the good of the child.” This child trafficking ring, covered up by police, judges, and child “welfare” workers ran from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book is extraordinarily well written, but truly a gut-wrenching read. I’m amazed it’s found such purchase among a wide audience, but happy for Lisa – of whom I asked a question about birthmothers during the Q&A and spoke with briefly as she signed my book – and grateful to have more light shone on such a dark era for American adoption.

Another “adoption” themed book whose author I heard speak is titled The Cage-maker, by Nicole Seitz. This book uses an interesting device, in that it tells the story of a wealthy family and the “curse” that seems to follow them across the years through the lens of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles. The writing is eloquent and lyrical – but the story is slow-moving and a bit challenging to follow because of the device of telling it in bits and pieces, not all of them chronological. A modern-day woman who writes a DIY home decorating blog unexpectedly inherits the birdcage – with the promise that it will reveal the identity of her birthmother. She reads the letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings and very occasionally comments on them as the story progresses. The bigger problem than the slow-moving nature of the book is that the adoption angle is utterly unnecessary to the story. In fact, it’s just confusing. Why make the heir an adopted person with no interest in knowledge about her birthfamily, when making her a long-lost niece would have worked just as well?

Then there was Cherry Bomb, a debut novel by a lovely woman named Susan Cushman. This freshman effort has received some glowing reviews; nevertheless, I found it a ridiculous and annoying read. It tells the story of a young graffiti artist who was abandoned by her mother at the age of five. While I have actually occasionally wondered about the people who’ve drawn some of the amazing and weird and obnoxious graffiti I’ve seen on walls in different parts of America, I found the inside lingo in this story awkward and overused. OK, I get it that a piece of graffiti is a tag, and stocking up on spray paint cans is referred to in the language of the artists as “racking.” But it felt like so much emphasis was placed on using this inside vernacular that the story was secondary. That, the age of the protagonist, and the general writing style made this feel like an unintentional YA novel. The most challenging piece of all, however, were the two massive coincidences used as plot devices. I understand, as I make this comment, that I have had some massive coincidences occur in my adoption. This, however, is a fictional story, and the coincidences are too incredible to be believed. They are also trite and so obvious that by the time you get to the end of the story, there is no surprise at all in “the reveal.” The intentions were good, but in my opinion, this book missed by a mile.

The last of these four books with something of an adoption theme is by the charming and very funny author Jamie Ford. What I mean is that Jamie is a funny person – his books would not be considered humorous. Here’s a detail that might impress you as much as it impressed me: Jamie’s first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was so well received that it has been picked up for use in high school literature classes across the country. He shared that the feedback from students that has most touched him are the comments that it was the first book they were required to read for school that they actually enjoyed. I had him autograph the copy that I bought to Eric, as my son made similar comments about losing his love of reading because of all the boring books he was required to read in high school.

So it was an interesting coincidence that Jamie’s third novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, also had adoption – of sorts – as its premise. A Chinese woman puts her young son on a boat to America, certain he will starve to death otherwise. Once he arrives in Seattle, he winds up in a children’s home where he’s made to work hard for his meager sustenance. When the boy is perceived as a complainer by the “do-gooder” who runs the home, she decides to get rid of him by literally putting him up for auction as the grand prize at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, or the World’s Fair. Cardboard tickets are sold as an amazed crowd gathers to gawk at the boy-turned-raffle prize. The winning number is drawn – and people are dismayed to learn that the winner is the madam of a high-end brothel. During his presentation, Jamie Ford explained that this much of the story is said actually to have taken place, although he was unable to unearth any further details about the boy, whose name was Ernest. Another heart-breaking story, this was by far my favorite of the four adoption-themed books I recently finished.

Other than the sometimes loose theme of adoption, the other thing these books have in common is that they are all historical fiction – a favorite of the Pulpwood Queens. If you’re an avid reader who would truly enjoy meeting authors and a congenial community of other readers, you might want to consider a trip to Nacogdoches next January for the Girlfriend Weekend – the theme will be Western! I will definitely be there with bells on.

In the meantime, if you’ve read other adoption-themed fiction you want to share, please post your suggestions in the Comments section below.

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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.

Turning My Brown Thumb Green

Turning My Brown Thumb Green

I finally got my own room when I was 12. My folks had an addition built onto the back of our house that included a master bedroom and bath, as well as a family room with a fireplace. I got my parents’ old room and Corina got the room we shared to herself (the larger room). We used that fireplace all of about three times because the chimney released soot – as chimneys do – that dirtied the roof of my mom’s white sedan. That, and the fact that one of the dogs knocked the Christmas tree over and some of her favorite bird ornaments were scorched to little charcoal puffs.

Before we knew the fireplace would be a bust, a neighbor who was cutting down a tree offered us a load of lumber – a nice find, actually, because fireplaces were not (and still aren’t) all that common in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. One of the pieces of wood was less a piece and more the actual stump of the tree, minus the roots and dirt. This stump had a little shoot sprouting from it, so when my mom saw it, she said, “That’s not dead. We can plant it!” And plant it she did. By the time we moved her into a nursing home some 30 years later, that tree had grown to nearly 40 feet. There were regular citations from the utility company because it interfered with their wires, and we could never rake fast enough to keep ahead of the leaves and pods that fell from it.

shoot on stump
The stump my mom replanted grew to more than 40 feet.

That was just one example of my mom’s gardening prowess. She would also take the seeds from the watermelon we had at dinner and literally throw them on the ground – and weeks later, a fully formed vine could be found growing along the next-door neighbor’s fence. Before her illness really took hold, my dad built her a greenhouse and she grew all manner of vegetables. The one that stands out was a cucumber the size of a fire extinguisher. She most certainly would have won some sort of prize if she’d entered that thing in the Arizona State Fair.

Mom’s green thumb didn’t exactly make its way down to me. I had my moments, of course. I grew fantastic sunflowers and a few decent vegetables at my house in Tucson before I moved to New Jersey. Then I grew nasturtiums and mini pumpkins from seeds in containers in the backyard of the house where I lived when Eric was born. I never minded the squirrels the way native Northeasterners do … until those thieving varmints ate every last one of my mini pumpkins clean off the vine. For some reason, though, all growth seemed to stop at the threshold – my indoor plants were usually doomed. I’d buy a few, forget to water them, and they’d die. Then I’d get re-energized and head out to try again. I came home one time with a few terra cotta pots, all ready to start anew, only to have Tony quip, “Oh, look. Little plant caskets.” I wanted to punch him at the time, but now it makes me laugh out loud every time I remember that. He was always funny in that sardonic way.

little plant caskets
“Oh, look – little plant caskets.”

About the time I met Tony, I took a road trip with a coworker out East. We met up with her boyfriend’s family and were invited to dinner at his dad’s home. I still remember the lush plants his stepmom had growing in one particular corner of their Baltimore home. I always wanted that kind of greenery in my house – but never quite got it together to do. Space was often a factor, as was attention to detail. Turns out that most of the growing will take care of itself if indoor plants have appropriate light and are watered once in a while.

Our new home has provided me a chance to try my hand at both indoor and outdoor gardening, once again. I think I’d have to put some real effort into destroying the outdoor plants – mostly rose bushes – we inherited with the house. Mary, John’s grandmother, brought them as clippings when she moved here from New Jersey in the late ’80s – and they are still thriving. They require little effort, other than trimming the dead flowers, as a drip irrigation system was set up when she built the house, so they are always receiving just the right amount of water and sunlight. We are planning to change up the front yard a bit, and this will involve planting a new rose bush and some bougainvillea – so there will be some original effort required on my part to get those going. Fingers are crossed already!

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Mary’s original rose bushes, transplanted from New Jersey

Perhaps all will be well, because I will have had a couple months to practice in our atrium – which is sort of the best of indoor and outdoor gardening. When Mary lived in this house, the atrium was finished with the same ugly rocks as the front and back yards have – and a GINORMOUS concrete fountain that weighed about 200 pounds. Perhaps the fountain worked at one time, but in all the time I ever visited with Mary across 8+ years, I never saw a drop of water in it. It was one of the things I was happiest to release at the estate sale.

My initial thought was that I would grow edible plants inside the atrium, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I remembered my friend’s stepmom’s plants – and I wanted to do something like that. So, the attempt is underway. So far, so good. Of course, it’s still only getting to the mid-80s to high 90s right now. Once summer comes, that place is probably a heat column – so even with the green shade screen, we may need to install a mister to keep it cool enough for things to actually survive in there.

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Laura’s atrium Zen

I’ve picked up a number of plants in various places since I decided to go for the green. A few of them I inherited from my sister. I neglected those a bit in the months leading up to our move, but they seem to be doing better, now that they have a secure home and some regular TLC – oh, and water. So my goal is to honor both my mom and my sister by reincarnating their green thumbs. Perhaps the nicest facet of the new plant-festooned atrium (you’d think that’d be redundant, wouldn’t you?) is that I can look into it from the desk where I type up these little posts. Seeing those plants – and actually stepping down into that space – makes me happy every time. Imagine how delighted I’ll be if I can actually keep them alive. Wish all of us luck!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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.

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

I remember being pregnant with Eric, trying to envision our lives – his and mine, distinctly separate – when he was 18. That’s the magical number to many a birthmother, as it’s the age of consent. They no longer need trouble with pesky adoptive parents when considering contacting the child they placed for adoption all those years ago. Of course, I exaggerate. I don’t have any idea how many birthmoms actually try to circumvent the adoptive family to reach their child, but I’m sure there are some. Particularly if the adoptive family has been extraordinarily stand-offish or breached the agreement after promising a certain level of contact.

As heartbreaking as such behavior no doubt is to birthmothers – birthfamilies – I actually understand it. I don’t sanction it because it’s more than likely born out of fear, but I can imagine an intensely overprotective adoptive parent thinking they’re doing the right thing by shielding their child from his or her family of origin. I believe this thought process is utterly misguided and will do more to hurt their child and harm their relationship with their son or daughter – but I get why they might behave that way.

Fortunately, I had none of those worries. Thanks to Kathy, our adoption has always been open, and I have had nearly unfettered access to my son – to whatever degree he was comfortable with. She always let him set the pace, and I never once got the impression that she felt threatened by me or my presence. And even so, I had a very hard time imagining this unborn baby – barely a seed of a human – at 18 years of age, or older. I used to ask my sister what she thought Samantha would do with her life, and she would tell me she didn’t want to speculate. She preferred to watch Samantha’s progress and growth unfold in real time. My niece is an interesting individual. She is simultaneously both one of the most amazing people I have ever known, and one of the most narcissistic and caustic ones. Cori got to see Samantha reach her 25th year – and given Sam’s extreme behavior the final year of Corina’s life, it’s probably best that my sister didn’t envision it ahead of time (or have a crystal ball).

It’s an interesting thing to be involved in your child’s life from the sidelines. This is NOT a complaint, merely an observation. I made a choice about which I have few regrets. But as Eric’s birthmother, I saw things through the very long lens, rather than through the day-to-day microscope. I received his annual school photos, vacation pictures, and occasional updates about this class project or that sports event. The good news is that I didn’t have to imagine him as he was growing up – I always knew where he was, what he was up to, and that he was safe and loved. Birthmothers – both domestic and international – in closed adoptions have spent their children’s entire lives wondering how they were turning out. I still can’t imagine how difficult that must be.

Five years ago, I received a somewhat last-minute invitation to Eric’s high school graduation. Kathy didn’t want to invite me until she knew there would be a ticket available for me – and she managed to wrangle one at the eleventh hour. It was quite a trip – not my first visit to Eric’s family’s house, but the first where I was fully enveloped into the family. I arrived a few days early and spent them driving around the Stanfields’ little New Jersey hamlet with Kathy, preparing for the graduation party. Everywhere we went, Kathy would introduce me to the clerk or attendant as her son’s birthmother, and they were fairly uniformly impressed by our close relationship. The woman who was our server at the restaurant on graduation night was straight out of Central Casting. Big hair, made up like a cancan girl, authentic New Jersey accent. She teared up when Kathy introduced me, and told us she was going to include our story in her memoir, which she said she was in the middle of writing at the time.

Many, many things have happened and changed in my life in those last five years. And now, our son sits on the precipice of Real Life – about to graduate from Northeastern University with a degree in civil/environmental engineering.

graduation invite

 

Due to the extremely limited number of tickets, I didn’t receive an invitation to this year’s graduation. I know Kathy feels bad about that, because it’s in her nature to want to make everyone happy. I’m OK with missing the graduation, but a bit disappointed to miss the graduation night dinner. Nevertheless, I’ll be there again for the big family party. As much as it won’t be new to me this time, it will be different. This time, our kid is all grown up. He’s an amazing young man of whom I could not be prouder. He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and my heart swells, thinking of the amazing future I hope he will have. Only he can really decide that – but from what I’ve seen, he’s got a giant heart, a brilliant mind, and a whole caravan of people who love and support him. In other words, a huge head start.

When it came to his high school graduation, I didn’t want to give him anything as impersonal as money as a gift. I was stumped about what to get, but then John’s dad came up with the idea of a gift card to the Boston Garden, since we knew he would be attending college in Boston. His pleasure at receiving that seemed genuine. I also gave him the info I’d tracked down about his birthfather – call it a side gift? This is a bigger occasion, so the gift will be commensurate. I’ll write more about that after I return from my East Coast visit in May, as I don’t want to spoil anything ahead of time.

So far, all I know is that I have plans to spend four days in New Jersey. My plane reservations are for a week, though – my plans are open for the rest of that time. Eric will undoubtedly be the center of attention that week, so I’m just going to plan, as usual, to go with the flow. I can always find a way to entertain myself, so there’s no need for anyone to worry after me, although I do hope to get in at least one private meal with the kiddo while I’m there.

Right now, he’s in the middle of finals, so I’m just sending good thoughts and keeping busy with my life in Arizona. I blinked and 23 years flew by. I’m not sure where the time went. Before long, we’ll be sending his kid off to college!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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.