Esperanza and the Swan – An Adoption Fable by Laura Orsini
Have you ever had that dream where you went to class all semester and then forgot to take your final exam? Or you realized on the day of the final exam that you hadn’t attended class once all semester? I had versions of that dream for years. Other similar dreams, too. Missing the bus. Catching the bus, but being unable to get off at the right stop. Missing my plane. Arriving at my destination, only to realize my luggage had been misdirected. Again and again and again, I had these kinds of dreams. I began to call them my Dreams of Incompletion, but I was puzzled by their meaning.
Then, about 8 or 9 years ago, I took a storytelling class with my friends Steve and Resa Ferreira. One of the assignments for the class was to write and tell a fable. There weren’t really any rules, except to craft and share a simple story that had special meaning to us. Those crazy dreams had ceased, but they suddenly came back to me and, more importantly, I finally understood what they’d meant. And so I wrote the fable, Esperanza and the Swan.
I’d been thinking for a while that I’d like to share Esperanza with Eric someday, as the fable tells the story of a mother losing her infant son, only to find him later. I imagined putting the story into print somehow. I pictured line drawings on translucent paper. Though I thought about it and thought about it – it never came to pass. But I saved the story, moving it from laptop to laptop. Then, Eric’s college graduation loomed large, and I knew this was the right time to gift him with this simple but important story. However, my visions of putting it into print no longer seemed the proper vehicle for the story.
So I approached my friend Rita Goldner, award-winning children’s picture book author and illustrator, and asked her if I could commission her to create a single painting that would encapsulate the whole story. That was a stroke of genius – as she created the most wonderful painting. I was still a bit concerned it would seem an odd gift to Eric. I was certain he would appreciate it one day, but I wasn’t sure he’d appreciate it now. Silly birthmom. I needn’t have worried. I waited until after his party and all the guests had gone to share it with him, his girlfriend, and his immediate family. He couldn’t have been more touched – and all of them loved the painting.
The text of the story is below.
Esperanza gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy whom she named Marco. Shortly after Marco’s birth, a wicked wizard cursed her husband, turning the boy’s father into a stone sculpture. Grief stricken, Esperanza decided to journey to her homeland to visit her native people. She wanted her son to meet his ancestors, and desired for the elders to bestow ritual blessings on the new man-child in their lineage.
As Esperanza lived along a busy seaport, she believed the easiest way to reach her homeland would be to seek passage on one of the many merchant ships that docked in her port town. She arranged travel for herself and Marco on a ship that would depart in three days’ time. To prepare for the journey, she washed clothes, packed dried fruits and nuts, gathered necessary medicinal herbs, and made ready her cottage for her extended time away.
Esperanza awoke early the day of departure and arrived at the pier several hours before her ship was due to set sail. As she stepped across the gangplank, she realized she had forgotten to bring along the leather pouch containing her identification documents. The journey would require travel across several countries, and Esperanza knew she would more than likely be asked to show her identity papers at some point along the way. Not wishing to disturb her sleeping infant, she touched his head softly and left him in his cradle on the ship while she ran home to retrieve the vital papers.
As Esperanza approached her cottage, she saw, to her horror, an enormous lizard lying across her doorway. Lizard was ugly, with many spiny protrusions running along the length of his long back. He switched his tail back and forth, lazily. Esperanza approached. Lizard hissed and spat at her. She was running short of time to return to the ship before it sailed, so she pleaded and bargained with Lizard to allow her into her cottage, promising him the modest home and all its contents in exchange. Satisfied, Lizard allowed her passage through the front doorway. Esperanza grabbed the leather pouch and was on her way in a matter of minutes.
To save time returning to the ship, Esperanza followed a shortcut that took her across a rickety bridge over a narrow tributary of the river where her merchant ship was moored. With great trepidation, she took a huge breath and began to make her way across the shoddy bridge — when suddenly, her foot went out from under her and she slipped, dropping the leather pouch into the rapidly moving stream. As it happened, a swan was passing under the bridge, just as the pouch dropped. The pouch’s leather strap caught on the swan’s bill. Swan paddled to the edge of the stream. “Majestic Swan, thank you for rescuing my leather pouch. But now I beg you, please, oh please, beautiful Swan — what will it take for you to return the pouch to me?”
“I’m not sure,” Swan replied. “What exactly does the precious leather pouch contain?”
“My identity papers. Oh, please, Mr. Swan. May I have them back? It’s urgent that I have them now if I’m to catch a ride on the merchant ship that will depart shortly.” Just at that moment, the ship’s horn blew loudly, indicating its imminent departure. Esperanza sat down with her hands over her face, and cried.
“What troubles you so, fair maiden?” Swan inquired. “Of course you may have your pouch back.”
“The horn! Did you not hear the horn? The ship is departing, and I shall never make it in time.”
“There will be other ships,” Swan said, matter-of-factly.
“No, there won’t! My son is on that ship. I’ve missed it now, and I have no way of getting back to my baby. What am I going to do?” Esperanza wailed.
“Well, what are your options,” the wise swan asked gently. Esperanza looked up at him. She shook her head back and forth. “Options? I…I…I don’t know.”
“Well, what if you had to know? What if ever seeing your son again depended on your knowing?”
Wow! Esperanza thought. What are my options? “I need to find a way to catch up with the ship. If only I had a boat or a ship of my own. How can I quickly secure a boat and a pilot who will help me catch up with the merchant ship?”
Swan slowly moved his long neck from side to side. “Does it have to be a boat?” he asked after a thoughtful moment.
“How do you mean?” Esperanza was confused.
“Does it have to be a boat that carries you?” Swan asked.
“No. I suppose not. It does have to be something that floats, and that can support my weight, and that has a means to navigate its way back to the ship, though…”
“Like what? Do you mean a raft?” Swan asked.
Esperanza looked carefully at Swan, a smile spreading across her face. “Like a bird with a sturdy back and a good wingspan!” Esperanza clapped her hands and jumped to her feet. Esperanza reached out to remove the leather strap from Swan’s bill. Then she climbed on his back and they quickly set sail after the now long-departed merchant ship.
It took 11 days, but Esperanza and the Swan eventually caught up with the ship. Esperanza and Marco were reunited, and they continued their journey to meet the ancestors where they were welcomed like royalty.
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.