Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013

Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013
A letter I wrote but never sent…

Dear Eric –

Congratulations, again, on a fine finish to your high school days – and best wishes for a great start to the next phase of your life. Your mom keeps telling me how anxious you are to get out on your own and be independent. It’s definitely something to look forward to – fortunately for you, you’ve got a great family to support you, even while you’re busy forming your own independent thoughts and choices and life.

I am so grateful for the invitation to be a part of your graduation weekend. I know you didn’t have to invite me – and I also know your mom left that decision up to you. I enjoyed getting to meet the extended relatives and family friends and to spend a little time with you. I’m constantly amazed by your mom’s generosity in making me feel both at home and included in every aspect. I lost count of the number of times in just those few days she’d say to people, “Do you know who this is?” about me – as if there were any way they could have known. But it was cute – she was so excited to share our relationship. Giselle, the amazing waitress at that diner, definitely took the cake, though! You’ll have to let me know if you go back and see her again before you head up to Boston.

So funny how things work out, isn’t it? I’ve been wanting to move to Boston since I originally moved to New Jersey in 1992. I intended for New Jersey to be a temporary stop – but you’ve probably heard that quote from John Lennon about life happening while you’re busy making other plans. I would one day still like to get there, but it will be awhile, at least as long as Mary – John’s grandma – is still with us. And by then, who knows what we will have decided…

Your mom tells me you’re very interested in visiting Italy. Samantha, my sister’s daughter, was there for a study-abroad semester – so if you have questions, she might be a great resource. One of my cousins on my dad’s side was working on a family tree some time ago. I think Corina has a copy somewhere – I’ll try to get it for you, just so you can have an idea of where we’re from on my dad’s side. I’ve always felt that was something I should know – and yet I still don’t really. I know a tiny bit more about the Irish side (my dad’s mom), but just barely. I imagine part of the reason I’m so detached is because we grew up away from the rest of the family. I’m so glad you’ve got the experience of a large extended family. We have one, too – but they’re in Michigan and various parts of Canada, so we rarely see either side, and have never all been together at once. The closest we came to that was at my dad’s funeral, when relatives from both my mom’s and dad’s families were in attendance.

And speaking of families – you have another one out there, as you know. I feel now as if I should have asked if you even wanted the information I was able to find about where Tony lives. You never really expressed an interest to me, one way or another. I guess if I were in your shoes, I’d want to know – who he is, where he is, probably to see him at least once. Of course, if I were in your shoes, I’d probably have driven by his house already, but that’s just me. 🙂

Now that you know where Tony is – I’m sure you can also find a phone number if you dig just a little further than I did – you get to decide what your next move is. I can’t imagine the kinds of thoughts and feelings you must be experiencing right now, but I would understand if you wanted to try to meet him and also understand if you have no interest. The thing is, now you have the option.

I’m guessing your mom might have told you I also found him on Facebook. He looks exactly the same as he did the last time I saw him, except that he seems to be growing a weird ZZ Top beard. Your dad is concerned that Tony may not want to be found – and it’s certainly a possibility. He’d made more progress than I’d expected the last time I saw him. He’d just broken things off with a woman he’d been seeing when I went out there in February 2002, and he told me he’d told her about you. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. But I don’t know that he ever told his parents, his sister, his aunt – or now, his wife. He’s different from me in lots of BIG ways – all of them reasons we’re not still together. I’ve always been an open book about who I am, how I feel, who I love, and everything in between. I don’t know if I ever told you that for the rest of the time I was at Lehman Brothers after you were born, I kept a picture of you on my desk.

One of the other birthmothers I knew told me that I made people uncomfortable because I was so open about the adoption. But that’s not how I saw it. If other people were uncomfortable, that was their problem. I never was. And I was never ashamed, never guilty, and very seldom regretful. Most birthmoms are all of those, all the time – or at least until they get counseling and come to terms with the grief. In our case, I saw my social worker at Spence 21 times while I was pregnant with you and 12 times after you were born. She told me the average birthmom sees the social work six or seven times, total.

And I promised you – and myself – while I was pregnant that I would never deny your existence. So I can probably still count on both hands the number of times in the last 18 years when people have asked me if I have children and I’ve said no. Those were usually toss-off questions, questions from busybodies, or questions from people I felt I just didn’t owe an explanation to. Otherwise, if people know me for longer than about five minutes, they know about you.

But that’s not how Tony is. I’m not sure why, exactly, either. Maybe he’s changed, but when I knew him, he buried and stuffed all of his emotions. They came out every once in a while when he’d been drinking. I’d known him for more than eight years when I found out that his only aunt on his mom’s side is a birthmother in a closed adoption. He didn’t know – probably because she didn’t know – whether the child was a boy or a girl. She’s in her sixties now – and back in those days, once the woman gave birth, they just whisked the baby away. She never got to hold him, rock him, talk with him, or even see him. Very different from my experience when I got to hand-select your parents. You’d think that would make him more willing to talk with his parents, but for reasons I still don’t understand, the opposite seemed to be true. Again, a lot of time has passed since then, and he may have told them by now. I hope so. But I can’t promise that. And I have no idea how receptive he’d be to hearing from you – or how much he might stonewall you. I was talking with John about all of this over the last couple days, and he said something that is such a picture into who he is and why I married him: If Tony doesn’t want to see you, he’s the one who loses out.

Corina’s the only other person who ever really got to know Tony at all – and even that wasn’t very much. Hell, I knew him for 6 years longer than I’ve known John at this very moment, and still never got to know him very well, because Tony didn’t want anybody to get to know him. But when I spoke with Corina about this whole crazy episode last night, she said three things: (1) she’s sure Tony would recognize himself in you if he saw you; (2) getting married may have settled him down somewhat and made him more receptive (especially since he has a stepkid – who golfs!); and (3) that seeing you face-to-face, Tony would have a really impossible time just walking away. My sister’s the most intuitive person I know – so I rather trust her instincts on this. But again, it’s up to you. It’s not up to your mom and dad anymore. You get to decide this one.

My instinct is that even if Tony THINKS he doesn’t want to be found, he’d be more receptive to direct contact from you than from me. But if for any reason you want me to reach out to him for you, I’m more than willing to do that. I’m still guessing you’re just going to want to sit with things for a while.

Eric – just know that no matter what you decide about this, no matter what happens in school, where you go, what you do with your life – I will always love you, and I will support you in any way I can. I used to get really aggravated when people would tell me I was lucky to have found such great parents for you. It wasn’t luck, though. I worked really hard to get to the right people.

That was another place I broke the averages for Spence Chapin. Most prospective birthmoms used to choose a family after seeing three or four profiles. Your parents’ was the 12th profile I saw. And I had to demand to see it, too. After the seventh or eighth, the adoption department started to doubt I was serious about going through with it. For whatever reason, they could not hear me when I said I just hadn’t found the right family yet. It wasn’t until I threatened to leave Spence to go somewhere else that they relented and let me see more families. And your parents had just come into the process, so their profile wasn’t even fully complete yet. Before they’d let the prospective birthmom see the profile, they’d redact any identifying info. They hadn’t got there yet with your parents’ profile, so Mary, my social worker, read it to me instead of letting me see it for myself. And then she got up and left the room and left the folder with your folks’ info in it on her desk. I have no idea whether that was a deliberate move on her part, but as I look back on it now, I suspect it may have been. And I was so tempted to look at it – had I done so, I’d have immediately had all the info I eventually learned on my own. But I had made a commitment not to do that, so ever the good girl, I behaved myself. I love that the universe conspired to allow that info to come to me a little later, when I was ready for it.

As you are no doubt aware, we’ve had soooooo many coincidences, it’s beyond uncanny.

I love your family – and I love seeing you with them. They are very different from me, to be sure. Your life with me would have been very different. But I hope that even if you might wonder about that untaken road – a perfectly normal thing to wonder – you never experience regret. I have always believed that life takes all of us precisely where we need to be – and you, my smart, beautiful son, are precisely where you need to be. I’m pretty sure I would choose differently if I had it to do again, but only knowing what I know now about taking one moment at a time. At the time I was choosing adoption, I was trying to make the very best decision for so many people: for you, for Tony, for myself, and for each of our families. I didn’t realize that everything always works out, and I’d have been OK, no matter what. But instead, this is where our journeys have brought us. This is what we were meant to do and who we were meant to be to each other. And it is fine. I have always been at peace with it. Your situation, of course, is different, but I hope that you have – or one day soon – will find peace, too.

I love you, kiddo, so very, very much. Thank you for inviting me, including me, and sharing your special time with me. If there are every any questions I can answer – or you just want to talk – you know how to reach me.

All my love –

Laura

_________________
NOTE: I wrote this letter the day after I returned from Eric’s high school graduation, uncertain whether I would ever send it to him. As it turns out, I didn’t. But I have, in the interim, told him most of these things. At the time, in June 2013, we were still unaware of the string of serious losses we would all face: Eric’s aunt, John’s dad, my sister, and most recently, John’s grandmother. I also recently discovered through some Facebook research that Tony’s dad passed away almost two years ago.

Disarming Trigger Words

Disarming Trigger Words

It seems that many people needn’t go very far to find a reason to be offended. Occasionally, the offense is real … or serious … or intentional. Most of the time, however, people seem to go out of their way to look for reasons to take offense at a comment someone has made. I’m grateful for the light being shone on the dark pattern of the sexual abuse of women by powerful men, and at the same time, I see us heading down a dangerous path where we’re policing every comment, parsing every joke, turning the figurative furniture upside down to find the intentional slight that might not actually be there. After the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, the center on any issue is the place of common ground – and yet it’s often the most challenging to achieve.

I am concerned that in this overzealous watchful state we’re in, we may be losing our collective sense of humor. Now senses of humor run a large gamut – and there’s all kinds of comedy. I’ve never been a big fan of puns or slapstick, for instance, yet my husband loves the Marx Brothers. When I was in high school, my boyfriend and all of his friends were huge Monty Python fans, so much so that they’d committed every word of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to memory and would spout lines from it at the oddest times. It wasn’t until years later that I could even crack a smile at a sketch from those crazy Brits. Go find the Dead Parrot Sketch if you’ve never seen a Python skit.

It would be interesting – from a purely sociological perspective – to be able to rewind the scenes from my childhood to see what went into my humor development, or lack thereof. My sister seemed to share my humor-challenged state, so I have a suspicion it had to do with my dad. I remember telling Mary, my social worker at the adoption agency, how serious my dad always was – almost as if he regarded pleasure of any kind as frivolous at best, and sinful at worst. She referred to him as an ascetic – a word I had to look up at the time. In case you’re wondering, the Google dictionary defines it as: “characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Dad loosened up toward the end of his life. I couldn’t say what, exactly, triggered the change, but it was nice to see him enjoy dessert or laugh at a goofy joke.

So it’s really no wonder that my own sense of humor was slow to develop and then to evolve. I thank my husband, John, in great part for helping me with that, although I don’t think we’d have hit it off very well if I hadn’t already done a lot of personal work in the area of lightening the fuck up.

When I was in high school, I went to a Spring Training game with the Monty Python boyfriend. We were at the snack bar, and I went to get some napkins. There was a pile on the counter, so I grabbed them, not realizing they were sitting on top of another fan’s tray. He looked at me a bit perplexed and asked me what I was doing, so Anthony and his friends laughed at my goof – because it was funny. But I was humiliated. At that time, I had zero ability to laugh at myself or let a silly mistake like that roll off my back.

Years later, I was back in Phoenix working as a substitute teacher, when one little girl in my class tripped and fell. Immediately, most of the other students laughed at her. I chastised them – someone falling isn’t funny. They piped up to me that their teacher always laughed whenever any of the kids fell down. I was incensed and told them told them that their teacher was WRONG! People falling down is never funny. But if that were true, America’s Funniest Home Videos would never have been the hit it was, right? It wasn’t my kind of humor – still isn’t. I think it’s because I find it difficult to take pleasure in humor that comes at another person’s expense. But a lot of people do find it funny when someone else falls down or otherwise blunders.

Yet there are things I find funny today which I realize would anger – perhaps enrage – other people. Religious humor, for one thing. John and I watched a 2009 Jim Jeffries comedy special the other day, and his anti-religion jokes were simply scathing. Funny – but really, really harsh.

So having discovered my sense of humor a bit later in life, I also learned that I needn’t be offended every time someone makes a toss-off comment about adoption. You might have heard a parent say, when their kid has misbehaved in some way, “You’re not my kid. You must have been adopted” or “I should have just put you up for adoption.” It’s probably not the kindest thing to say to a child in any circumstance, but I get that we all say things in frustration, at times. What I no longer do is get my back up when I hear it the way I used to.

I have a friend whose adult son struggles with mental health issues. Her trigger words are “crazy” and any derivation or synonym thereof. For others, it’s anything to do with addiction or obesity or the word “retarded.” I’m willing to bet that many of us have a word or a term or a topic we think is just taboo for joking about – maybe more than one. While I do believe that most of us could probably use some sensitivity training and take more care with our speech, I also know that people are just going to say things.

I don’t believe the world owes us a bubble in which to live. Sure – speech that incites hate or violence is a real problem, but for the most part, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the habit we seem to be developing of feeling superior to others by finding ways to make them wrong. If we walk around all day listening for words or jokes or speech patterns that offend us, we will find them. And then what? Do we make it our mission in life to educate every person who “misspeaks”? Do we publicly shame them or call them out because we felt slighted? Worse still, do we go out of our way take offense on others’ behalves? Do we make YouTube videos or write endless Facebook posts about how wicked this person or that category of people is? This seems to be happening more and more these days, and all it’s doing is sowing more division, rather than in any way bringing us together.

Perhaps we can try – again – to meet in the middle. Let’s all be a little more aware of the language we’re using, and at the same time, let’s all just relax a bit, realizing that it sometimes might be OK to laugh at ourselves.

Relationship with a Functional Alcoholic

Relationship with a Functional Alcoholic

A significant sign of sleep deprivation – or depression – is calculating the hours until you’ll next be able to sleep, upon waking. From observing the behavior of several people I have known, it seems alcoholics function much the same way – counting the hours until they’ll be able to drink again.

My relationship with my son’s birthfather was always challenging. While I could always see his role in the problem, it took hindsight for me to see my part: chasing and begging and pleading, instead of just walking away or behaving indifferently. The thing is, I was competing with a ghost I could never best. Sure – there was the occasional other woman (Gina, the Las Vegas blackjack dealer, and his sister’s married best friend, Gwen, come to mind). But the real “other woman” in Tony’s life was booze, more specifically, beer.

We didn’t own a car for most of the time I lived in Jersey City – but once every six weeks or so, we’d rent one. And although we did occasionally go out and see a sight or take a drive to another part of the state, the one thing we did without fail when we had a car was go to the liquor warehouse on Route 1/9. And stock up. How was it that this seemed normal to me? He even bought a small, college-dorm-size fridge he kept fully stocked under his desk so he wouldn’t have to walk the extra 12 feet to the main fridge in the kitchen.

It wasn’t until I moved back to Phoenix and saw a copy of Liguorian Catholic magazine lying on my folks’ coffee table that I began to stitch together the reasons behind Tony’s near-constant absence in our relationship. The cover article was a portrait of a functional alcoholic. When people think of a problem drinker, they tend to picture someone who is constantly drunk and whose life is falling apart because of their drinking. However, that’s only one segment of alcoholics.

Others, like my son’s father, can work at high-level careers, earn good money, have a regular family life, even cultivate social bonds. Some successfully hide their drinking for years. Tony didn’t hide his drinking – it just wasn’t until I had the clarity of distance that I could see how much more alcohol meant to him than I did. No wonder nothing I did could ever grab his attention for longer than a fleeting moment – I couldn’t have won that competition no matter how hard I tried.

So they say we date and follow relationship patterns. When I look at my relationships with Tony and John, the two men couldn’t be more diametrically opposite. Except for one thing: my husband has struggled, on and off, with addiction issues for most of his adult life. The distinct difference is that I know how much I matter to my husband – even on the rare occasions when he still struggles, I know he loves me more and that he wants our relationship to succeed. I never once felt anything close to that kind of love or commitment in my relationship with Tony.

John more than likely inherited his addictive tendencies from his mother. Even after spending 10 years together, I’m not sure where Tony’s originated. But knowing, as I do, how big a role heredity can play in traits like addiction, I’m hoping that Eric takes after me on this one.

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

As far as I’m aware, there’s no rule that a pregnant woman considering adoption must have counseling, although it is highly encouraged. I remember hearing once – again, research to support this piece of anecdotal information yielded nothing – that by law, counseling had to be offered to a woman considering adoption, even a private attorney adoption, but that’s pretty much the extent of things. As you might imagine – particularly if you’ve ever dealt with (or been) a pregnant woman – she has lots of bonus hormones looking for a place to land. Combine that with an ill-timed, out-of-wedlock, and/or crisis pregnancy and a woman considering adoption, and you’ve created the emotional perfect storm.

It’s not the time for remembering details – or hearing, let alone acting on, the information. Particularly when someone says, perhaps as a casual comment, “Oh, by the way, counseling is available if you want it.” That’s why an agency adoption is so important for the prospective birthmother. She is assigned a caseworker who makes sure to talk her through the most essential details – and offers an ear to listen, as well as (hopefully) wise counsel and answers to any questions the pregnant mom does think to ask in her flustered state. That’s the problem, though, with a first-time pregnancy. You don’t know what you don’t know.

On the other hand, I don’t envy the job of an adoption social worker – or any social worker, for that matter. At least a baby usually finds a (better) home at the end of an adoption, so I guess there are pluses. But I imagine there’s a lot to know and remember to explain along the way. Still, it would seem there should be a checklist of topics for the caseworker to discuss with the pregnant mother, whether or not she decides to keep the baby. If she’s going to carry the pregnancy to term, things will come up and decisions will need to be made.

Yes, there’s that ubiquitous book, What to Expect When You’ve Got Anything at All to Do With Having a Kid, EXCEPT Be a Birthmother. That book – and all the others like it – focus on the happy event, assuming the baby will go home from the hospital with the same people it went in with, which is exactly what does not happen in adoption. Not ideal reading for the prospective birthmom. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Patricia Roles’ book, Saying Goodbye to a Baby, came closest to answering and addressing my questions, but (a) I didn’t find it until after my son was born and living with his other family and (b) even it didn’t cover some of the more basic issues.

As a matter of fact, after scoping out the Amazon reviews for Roles’ book (two 5-star reviews; two 2-star reviews, and one 1-star review), I think I’m going to order another copy so I can re-read it, 22 years later, as it seems my perspective just may have shifted. I do get the sense that the writer of the 1-star review is one of those people I wrote about in a prior post who has no desire to release her grief or heal from the adoption wounds. Yes, her pain is real, and there is no timeline for getting over it. But forward movement after any trauma is probably a healthier option than choosing to live in that pain forever. Yes – for many people, birthmothers included, living in pain is a choice.

So here are the things I wish I’d known before they occurred:

My scoliosis would matter when it came to the epidural. Epidural is a drug commonly used during labor and delivery. It is inserted into the spine by an anesthesiologist, with the command, “Hold still or you might wind up paralyzed.” I had a single dose that helped for the first little while, but the second dose didn’t “take.” We later deduced that the curve in my spine meant the epidural hadn’t gone where it was supposed to go. The nurses told me the pain I experienced was the equivalent of natural childbirth. You’re welcome, kiddo!

Those little red dots all over your neck and chest are capillaries that broke during the “pushing.” Nothing earth-shattering here, but it would have been a good thing to know so I didn’t have to freak out about it.

The birthparents make the circumcision decision. It was a bit surprising to find out after the fact that my OB/GYN did not perform this procedure. So Eric had to go home a happy kid, and come back a week later to be mauled and – some might say – mangled. Although a huge debate churns on about the merits of circumcision, as I understand things, the child still generally does whatever the father did. Had I realized ahead of time that it would be important to know my doctor’s stance, I would have made other preparations.

Breasts are milk producers. Duh, right? But not when you’re not expecting it. No one prepared me for my milk to come in, or informed me of the need for nursing pads even though I wouldn’t be nursing. Not to mention that nursing the baby you will place for adoption is an option. It would seem immeasurably more difficult to surrender a baby with whom you’ve shared that kind of bond, but I have known birthmothers who’ve done it.

I could have had Eric baptized in the hospital and been there for the ceremony. This is, of course, specific to Christian religious belief – in our case, Catholic. It wasn’t until I read in a chatroom about a birthmom who did this that I was even aware it could have been a possibility. Again, this is less important to me now, but it would have been a very special moment to share and is one of my very few regrets.

Grief can show up as anger. Though I discussed this in a prior post, it’s worth noting again here. I spent the entire first year of Eric’s life extremely pissed off at the world, and it wasn’t until someone I didn’t even like very much pointed it out to me that I recognized that anger as grief. I’m not sure there would have been anything to do differently, but it feels like it would have been useful information at the time.

It seems unlikely that Patricia Roles will update her book – so maybe it is time for a new book. And maybe my job is to write two of them: one, a handbook like Roles’ for birthparents, and the other my own adoption story.

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Today is my 9th Valentine’s Day with my husband, and I have lost track of the number of cards and gifts he has given me in the years since we met. Such a stark difference from my relationship with Eric’s birthfather. I told John the other day that I can probably count on two hands the number of gifts Tony gave me over the 10 years we were “together.”

“Really?” John asked. “Even including birthdays and stuff?”

Yep. Including birthdays and stuff.

I still remember what may have been the only Valentine’s Day gift I ever received from Tony a Chieftains CD the year Eric was born, 10 days before his birth, to be exact.

Looking back now, there were so many clues that Tony wasn’t “the one,” and yet I clung to that relationship for dear life. I had a loving father and (through no real fault of her own) an absent mother. I remember realizing how similar my relationship with Tony was to my relationship with mom. Although I lived in the same house with her, it was like she wasn’t really present. And though I was in a relationship with Tony, he was never really around. One of first things I had to get used to with my husband was being able to go to the movies by myself by choice, as opposed to going alone because he didn’t happen to be calling me back that week.

I long ago gave up trying to figure out the low self-esteem that must have driven my willingness to stay and stay and stay through the years. I’m just grateful for the day I finally had enough and decided the only way we were truly going to move on from each other was by putting physical miles between us. When I originally moved to New Jersey, it was with the thought that Jersey would be just a pit stop; ultimately I would make my way to Boston. Though I visited Boston a couple times, I never made the move there. Interesting, it’s where Eric chose to attend university.

By the time I was finally ready to leave Tony, I had neither the money nor the emotional stamina it would take to start over somewhere new, so instead of moving to Boston, I moved back home to Phoenix even though the desert has never, ever really felt like home to me. Those divine plans being what they are, it still took nearly 10 years for me to disentangle all the tentacles from my relationship with Tony so that I could finally be open to meeting John. We met though a blind date via Craigslist in July 2009 and have never looked back.

And just as there were all those signs that Tony was not the right guy, there were many signs that John was. For one thing, he had a cat. A single, 30-something guy had taken it upon himself to head to the Humane Society in search of a four-legged friend. He told me he had originally intended to adopt a dog, but when he saw Libby, she told him she was going home with him, and she did.

He was also the first one in our relationship to give the other a greeting card and a gift. Long was my habit to be the first to make such a bold move, but on our third date, John brought me a card and some flowers. He’s sentimental like his grandmother was. When she passed away in June and we cleaned out her house, we found what appeared to be every greeting card she’d ever received, going all the way back to high school. Whether it’s his birthday or Christmas or our anniversary, John sets the cards out on the coffee table or his desk in his office and displays them for a while.

Most importantly, though, John was where he said he’d be when he said he’d be there. He had a job that required him to be up before dawn, so even on weekends he went to bed early. I remember going to his apartment one Friday night around midnight to leave a surprise on his car. I wrote messages on a couple pads’ worth of heart-shaped sticky notes and stuck them on the back windshield of his car in the shape of a large heart. As I made my way over to his place, the old doubts started creeping in. Would he be home? Would his car be in its regular parking space at his apartment complex? Man, what a sigh of relief I breathed when his Corolla was right where it was supposed to be.

Over the years, he has surprised me with concert tickets, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, jewelry, and seemingly countless other thoughtful gifts, big and small. Today will be no different, I am sure. The best thing about Valentine’s Day with John is that it’s not that big of a deal because every single day with him is special.

One of the best relationship books I’ve ever read is The Surrendered Single, by Laura Doyle. In it, she explains that the right guy will never make you wait for his call or wonder if he cares about you. He will treat you like a queen, and you will always know how much you mean to him. I spent a lot of years giving the wrong guy the benefit of the doubt. He was the right guy for just long enough, though, or our son would not be here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that I moved on and gave the actual Mr. Right a chance.

Never a Prouder Mama

Never a Prouder Mama

Learning of the apparently inherited similarities between my son and me has always made me happy. The first batch of photos Kathy sent, when Eric was maybe 6 months old, included one of him eating a big slab of watermelon. Immediately upon seeing that, the tears started flowing. I was in my social worker’s office, and she was startled. Mary had expected me to be happy with the pictures, so the tears confused her. I had to explain something I’d never had a reason to tell her.

Having loved watermelon from as far back as I can remember, I would eat a huge chunk of watermelon every day with lunch at work for the entirety of my pregnancy. It was such a regular thing that my coworkers began to tease me about it – and on the rare day when the cafeteria didn’t have watermelon, they’d ask what was up. So seeing this photo was astonishing – he was continuing a pattern I’d created for him in utero. Kathy said in the letter accompanying the photos that she thought he’d eaten three whole watermelons by himself that first summer. His love of watermelon continues to this day – and Kathy will still send the occasional picture. The most recent one was of Eric, home over a break from college, with a huge bowl of watermelon in front of him as he watched sports on the living room TV.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that he’d inherited my extreme distaste for mushrooms. We were all out for pizza over the weekend of our wedding, Eric and his parents having flown in from New Jersey to attend. “They’re slimy and disgusting,” I answered when the question about mushrooms arose. “Exactly!” Eric confirmed.

One fall when he was perhaps 4 or 5, Eric’s parents took him to one of those “pick-your-own” farms where you can personally pick fruits and vegetables. I’ve always loved the places and was happy to see the photos when Kathy sent them. Then one photo, in particular, tickled me so much. It was Eric, holding a mottled green and orange pumpkin, maybe the size of an average head of iceberg lettuce. Kathy said about the photo that he’d chosen that pumpkin because it was green – different! – and got really aggravated when it turned fully orange. A rebel after my own heart!

When I was back in New Jersey visiting a few years ago, Eric accompanied Kathy and me to another pick-your-own farm where we picked apples for pie and apple crisp. My dad used to say you can’t get good apples in Arizona, something I always dismissed until I ate fresh-from-the-tree apples back East. Pumpkins weren’t very plentiful that year, but I bought Eric a huge pumpkin he took home with plans to carve later. He didn’t remember and hadn’t heard the green pumpkin story, but it made him laugh.

The story that really captured my attention, though, took place when he was closer to 11. Kathy and Bruce had been allowing Eric to play an online game with his friends. The thing was, you could only get to a particular level with the free version; after that, you had to pay to continue the game. Every night he’d play the game and then plead with his folks to let him pay for the upgrade, and every night they’d say no. Until, one day, he evidently wore them down. He asked if he could pleeeease pay for the upgrade, and one of them said the fateful word: “Maybe.”

That was all Eric needed to hear. The answer was no longer “no” – it was “maybe,” which in his mind meant, “Yes!”

Kathy said she woke up the next morning to see a fat envelope out at the mailbox, stuffed full of one dollar bills Eric had pulled from the piggy bank under his bed. Around them was wrapped the order form for subscribing to the game. He’d wasted no time at all in even trying to make the leap from “maybe” to “yes” – he just went ahead and assumed, and then took immediate action. Kathy said it was all she could do not to laugh while trying to educate Eric about the importance of not sending cash through the mail.

I heard this story and thought, Damn – this kid is an achiever! He persisted and persisted, undeterred, until he got what he wanted. I was never a prouder mama.

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

Today is the second anniversary of losing my sister. It’s hard to believe two years have already gone by. Then again, I looked up on February 10, fearful for a moment that I’d let the day go by without remembering. But would that have been such a bad thing? My husband’s grandmother was a big one for death anniversaries. It seemed she would mark the day on the calendar and look forward to it for weeks, then spend the whole of it working herself into a frenzy of sadness and tears – as if that were somehow expected of her, that she wouldn’t be a good widow or mother if she weren’t visibly and viscerally wracked with grief.

Death anniversary or not, I think about my sister often. She was two years younger and, in the last dozen or so years, my best friend. It’s a hole that will never be filled, as no one could ever take her place because no one will ever know me like she did. My husband is a wonder – he understands and accepts most of my moods and peccadillos, whether it’s excitement for a new project or sadness because I’m feeling Corina’s loss. But we don’t have the shared history, the stories, the childhood memories, the laughter about how weird things could be with our mom. He also won’t go thrift store shopping with me or to get a mani-pedi, no matter how nicely I ask.

Although, as you may have guessed if you’re reading this blog, I’m not a terribly private person, I am rather selective about with whom and how I share personal information. I don’t typically post every detail on social media, preferring instead to be in more direct, personal contact. I have a small circle of girlfriends, and as things were progressing with Corina’s health, I kept them updated. She was getting better for a while, and we were quite hopeful. Then things went downhill quickly.

The adopted family relationship can be a difficult one – what do you tell them, and when? Kathy’s sister-in-law was in treatment for breast cancer when I was back in New Jersey in June 2013 for my son’s high school graduation. She passed away that October – and Kathy emailed me a day or two after it happened. I knew she was sick in June, but was still surprised to hear of her passing. Then a year later, my husband’s father passed away in late 2014, after a brief illness. I’m not even sure that I updated Kathy before it happened because it was so quick. When it came to Corina, though, I continued to hope she would rally again, so I hesitated to tell anyone how much her health had deteriorated. Finally, I felt I had to let Eric’s family know … just in case. So I called Kathy – and she told Eric – maybe a week beforehand.

When Corina actually passed, I knew that I had to be the one to tell Eric. (I don’t know why I still have such a hard time saying she died. Usually I refer to her passing as “when Corina left.”) I couldn’t leave that job to Kathy. Eric was still in college at the time, and he hadn’t been returning my texts or emails very promptly in the months prior. But that day, he answered when I called. I really wanted to hold it together and just report the news, but I couldn’t. I could barely get the words out because I was crying so hard. Poor kid – I can’t imagine how that must have freaked him out. He’s a kind, sensitive young man – but how was he supposed to respond to such terrible news from his birthmother, a person he’s intimately related to but still doesn’t know all that well? I was so grateful in that moment that Corina and Eric had had the chance to meet and get to know each other a bit at my wedding.

He got pretty distant almost immediately after that phone call. And as much as I might think I deserve to be upset about that (on the rare occasion, I do feel that way), I know that Eric has had a lot to process when it comes to all avenues of life, not to mention the adoption. Being adopted, at all – why didn’t we keep him? The fact that his birthfather walked away and Eric has had no contact with him since the day he left the hospital with his adoptive parents. My dad dying when he was 11 – and them never having met. Meeting me for the first time at 16. Adolescence and graduation and choosing a college that was far enough away from his parents to give him a sense of freedom. Keeping up his GPA. Losing his aunt. And then me dumping more loss on him. When I can view it with that clarity, I’m not at all upset that he needed some distance and time – just grateful that we’ve subsequently managed to evolve to a pretty good space, at least for the moment.

My son is going to be 23 in a few days. He’s no longer a little boy – or a teen – barely still a student. He’s a young man with a bright future. I’d love to think it will all be sunshine and roses for him from here on out, but that’s not reality. Life is a mix of ups and downs, good and bad. The fact is that there will be more loss, because that’s just the nature of life. My hope is that he’s developing a strong coping mechanism and that he continues to lead with his heart.