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.
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!
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.