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.

Enjoying Life NOW

Enjoying Life NOW

I’m working on a book for a client about career advancement – essentially a primer for how to move up from the lower levels through middle management to senior management. It’s a good book, written by a man who’s been in the trenches. He’s been dragged through court, threatened by a gun-wielding former employee, and hired and fired more people than most managers have reporting to them. I believe this book has its place.

I also see that the world is changing. People complain of millennials as lazy, unfocused, wanting to be coddled. Those attributes may well apply. But then I listened to my 23-year-old son talk at the holiday dinner table about what he didn’t want in a job: 16-hour days reporting to people less intelligent than he – people who would, because of their position on the engineering totem pole, get to take credit for his creative ideas and resourceful solutions. How does he know this? Because it has already happened to him while working several internships before he’s even finished college.

Eric’s father, Bruce, is old school. He came up in a time when all of the concepts in my client’s book were in full force, because the primary way to succeed in the world was to go to college, get a job, and then make your way as high up the food chain as you were able. That may be Eric’s goal, too. But it might not be, and I sense a bit of tension around the idea that Eric may be rejecting the old ways.

I, for one, applaud him.

Perhaps the kids of his generation are less driven than I am or his parents were or, most certainly, than my husband’s grandparents were. Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? Maybe – if you still define success by how high up the corporate ladder you can climb. But what if success is driving your own boat? What if it means having a life you enjoy right now, rather than a life you plan to enjoy down the road someday, after you retire at 6o or older? What if it means traveling the world and/or running your own small business instead of buying a car or going into debt for a mortgage or collecting all of the things we older people associate with “making it”?

Personally, I suspect that this millennial generation has discovered a secret many older people only wish they’d stumbled across a lot sooner. Investing in experiences – rather than a ginormous diamond ring or a vast estate with a lap pool – may actually be much more meaningful and memorable.

To be sure, it will be interesting to watch and see how these next dozen or so years of Eric’s life unfold. Regardless of which path he decides to take, I’m rooting for him.

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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.

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

I recently attended a writers’ conference at Arizona State University. First time back on campus in many years, at least as a student. And I was most definitely a student for those couple days – commuting, parking, backpack, lunch at the student union, the whole enchilada. I was wandering around looking for a specific building, trying to appear nonchalant about it – apparently without much success, as one young man pulled his earbuds out and asked me if I was lost. Thoughtful kid to even notice, let alone take the time to help out a stranger who could easily have been his mom. “Why – do I look lost?” I asked him.

He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, kinda.” Then he proceeded to walk me in the direction of the building I was seeking. We chatted a bit on the way. His name is Ernesto and he’s from a tiny town called Rio Rico, not far from the U.S./Mexcio border. I mentioned that I’d gone to the University of Arizona, ASU’s arch-rival. He feigned upset and pretended to walk away. Then he told me he’d started at UA – makes sense, as it’s a lot closer to his hometown than ASU. But he didn’t like it. Felt it was cliquish and uninviting. A hard place to blend in and make friends. I told him that was funny to hear, as I’d thought the same thing about ASU back 30-some years ago when I was considering applying to schools.

At any rate, he’d transferred to the big city college at the start of this school year, and hasn’t looked back. The sheer size of the Phoenix area still overwhelms him, but he likes the campus, the town of Tempe where ASU is located, and the people much better. I say good for him for knowing his own mind. Reminded me a bit of Eric’s comments that so impressed me during that one dinner we shared with his family back in December:

He’s in his senior year at Northeastern University in Boston, majoring in environmental/civil engineering. At the one family dinner we shared with him, Eric explained a bit about his process for choosing Northeastern. He and his dad had gone to tour a number of schools in Boston, and Eric found himself paying particular attention to the demeanor of the students on the various campuses. Immediately he rejected a couple of schools, simply because none of the students looked even remotely happy. That’s a pretty significant level of awareness for an 18-year-old. And I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to hear him describe this thoughtfulness.

So chatting with this kid, Ernesto, of course reminded me of Eric. I rather suspect that my son would be the one to pull out his earbuds to help a lady the age of his birthmom find her way around campus. He’s charming and considerate that way. I was also just reminded of him in general, being on that campus again. While I never attended ASU as an undergrad, I did take part in a summer program for smart kids back in high school – that’s where I met my amazing friend Jane. There’s a reason they segment school into various age groupings. We might have been in a gifted program, but we were still a bunch of high school kids, running amok on a college campus. So you might not be surprised to hear that one of the things that delighted us that first summer was going up to the roof of the Modern Languages building and making a game of trying to peg the people below with Skittles. I never liked the taste of those candies – but I still chuckle at times when they come up in conversation.

I did grow up and move on to become a real undergrad. I look back now and wish I’d taken a lot more advantage of the speakers and concerts and general-interest programs that were offered on the campus. The good news is that our new house is pretty close to ASU, so we still have the opportunity to do those things. Although, the attitude and demeanor of college campuses across the country seems to have changed so much since I was in school.

When I was at the UA, mall preachers would hold signs and shout at anyone who’d listen. Now, they are confined to a tiny corner – and I suspect their speech is closely monitored. I had several teachers I despised for various reasons (mostly opinions with which I disagreed) – today on certain campuses, I could file a grievance that might actually affect their pay and status and even tenure prospects. A-list comedians are opting out of stops on college campuses because the PC Thought Police are wringing every last ounce of fun out of comedy. Thoughtful commentators are being labeled as extremists, as the actual extremists – uninformed students – shout them off the stage. The campus protests of the ’60s were before my time, but I suspect from the videos I’ve seen and what I’ve read that people were at least allowed to air their perspectives – even if it was through a megaphone or while bike-locked to a chain-link fence.

So things are different now.skateboard lock

And I really have become my father. I was making my way to the student union for lunch, when I suddenly heard the rumblings of something that sounded like a cat being murdered. Turns out, whoever determines the tunes that get played in the breezeway in front of the student union has what my professional guitarist husband would call comically juvenile musical taste. It was thumping, bumping, ear-splitting EDM (electronic dance music) – and no one even seemed to notice. The 19- and 20-year-olds carried on their conversations, shouting to be heard, but without flinching or batting an eye.

I also noticed something I’d never seen before that made me feel old: skateboard lock racks.

Then I headed to the library. Some things have stayed somewhat the same. Though many technology options abound that didn’t exist when I was in school, it’s still a quiet place where studious kids seem to congregate. One cool thing was the school’s prominent encouragement toward sustainability and recycling all across campus, including a large sign painted above the photocopier in the library lobby. (I do, however, take exception to the encouragement to print anywhere.)

ASU sustainable

The kiddo is getting ready to finish up his college career this summer and make his way out into the wide, wide world. I imagine that one day, as he looks back to his university days when his 7-year-old cousin Parker is a college senior, things will have changed even more. As well they should – it’s the only constant in life.

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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.

The Challenge of Naming a Baby

The Challenge of Naming a Baby

I was recently visiting with my friend Sunil, whom I’ve previously mentioned as my relationship guru. He’s a brilliant, thoughtful, calm, soulful person who has been a mentor and teacher to me in many realms, relationships chief among them. I suspect that if I’d known him back when I was dating Tony, my son’s birthfather, I might have been guided to leave sooner. But, as my husband and I were discussing this morning, it was all the steps and missteps of our pasts that led us to where we are today.

Everyone who knows Sunil was shocked to hear that he’d suffered a severe stroke back in November. He’s coming around, but still has a long road ahead of him toward a significant recovery. The good news is that his mind is still sharp, and we were able to have a nice chat. We spent a lot of time catching up, as it had been some years since we’d last connected.

Sunil asked about Eric, and I was proud to give him an update. Then, rather out of nowhere, he asked me if I had chosen Eric’s name. The short answer is no.

Although we’ve had a nearly picture-perfect adoption experience, there were some Eric as Zorochallenges. The first major one surrounded the name of this as yet unborn little boy. I was open to hearing the name Kathy and Bruce wanted to use, until they said Eric. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I had a visceral negative response to the name. For one thing, I’d gone to school with a guy named Eric who was tall, blond, and one of the biggest goofballs I’d ever met. He got drunk at a Halloween party where he was dressed like Zoro – and the whole Zoro thing followed him through the rest of his school days. I just looked him up on Facebook and he’s become an immigration attorney – seems like a pretty solid guy. But back in high school, he was just odd. I didn’t want to think of my kid in relation to this eccentric guy every time I heard the name.

The other part was the sense that the name Eric belonged to a blond-haired, blue-eyed person. I have dark hair and a medium to olive complexion. Though Tony was platinum blond as a kid and my father had blue eyes, it never occurred to me that our son would inherit all the recessive genes. Our kid did, in fact, turn out to be tall, blond, and blue-eyed. The name his parents had chosen for him was a perfect fit – even though I was resistant to it for quite some time.

I counteroffered with the name Thomas. The only problem was that Kathy’s brother is Thomas and, as our social worker Mary explained it, Bruce wasn’t too excited about their kid having his brother-in-law’s name. If their son was going to have a family name, it should be his father’s – but no one really wanted to name the new baby Bruce, so we had to come up with another option.

Perhaps the strangest part in the whole naming process was the fact that Tony wanted no part of it. When I asked for his input, his answer was, “He’s their kid – let them name him whatever they want to.”

I remember Mary trying to reassure me that it was a good thing that Kathy and Bruce were still so sold on Eric as the name for this kid. Apparently, had either of their first babies been a boy, they’d have named that child Eric. As Mary saw it, the fact that they still wanted to use that name was proof that they were already embracing this adopted child as their own. I wasn’t buying any of it.

My next choice – and the name I actually put on the birth certificate – was Christian. And I referred to my son and thought of him as Christian for probably the first 5 or 6 years of his life. Kathy and Bruce didn’t really care for that name at all. They asked their daughter, Jill, her opinion about the name she liked for her baby-brother-to-be; her answer was Christopher. Close to Christian, and still a no-go for the Stanfields. A couple years later, I ran the name Christian through a website that purported to analyze the vibration of the sound of any name. Christian, allegedly, has a very weak vibration, while Eric is strong and commanding. Hmmm…

As it turns out, Kathy and Bruce met me part way, and included Christian as his second middle name. So our son has the WASPiest sounding name on the planet: Eric Thomas Christian Stanfield. It did not escape me (nor, presumably, him) that the first three initials comprise etc.

Corina and Jane honored my decision to call my son by the name I’d given him. I think my parents were just a bit confused about what his actual name was – but they tried. Somewhere along the way, however, it occurred to me that Eric was the only name our son had ever known, so for me to insist on calling him something else was not honoring who he was. So on a dime, I shifted. Cori, Jane, and my parents followed suit.

I don’t know if there’s anything to that name vibration thing, but I’m sure that in the long run, Eric suits him much better than Thomas or Christian would have.

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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.

The Stuff of Life

The Stuff of Life

My husband and I moved into our new home a little over a month ago. Because the floors weren’t finished when we moved in, we’ve had to take our time unpacking – making it more of a room-to-room effort than a whole-house project. It’s interesting to look at the things we’ve acquired and moved, apartment to apartment and house to house. We have items from our childhoods, both our parents, John’s grandparents, my sister and her first and second husbands – along with the things we have personally added to our now rather sizable collection of stuff.

I was reminded a few months ago how personal a collection of stuff really is. I was on my way home from a book festival, my SUV full of all of my “important” book festival supplies: tables, chairs, table cloths, stands, wood crates, books, bookmarks, lights, pens, etc. Stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a man next to me who was hauling his own cart full of stuff – as homeless people in the Phoenix area (and probably other places) are sometimes inclined to do. It occurred to me as I watched him attempt to maneuver his over-full shopping cart that although I might think the things in that cart are just a pile of junk, to that man, they may be the world. Who’s to say what has value to someone? Chances are he might have found my books – the most personally valuable of the possessions I was hauling that day – unimportant, perhaps worthless.

We found out recently that Eric is going to be an uncle. His sister Jill and her husband are expecting a little one in August. Now that they are just about full-time empty nesters (Eric will graduate from college in May), Kathy has alluded to the fact that she and Bruce might be thinking about downsizing and moving closer to their daughter and new grandbaby. She told me that when they first began talking about this eventual possibility a handful of years ago, she was worried that Eric would resist the idea because the home where they live now is the only house he’s ever lived in. He was fine with the plan; it was Jill who was a bit upset. “You can’t sell the house where we grew up!”

But it’s what we do: we move through the cycles of life – and often that includes physically moving house, as the Brits say.

The thing is that with downsizing comes the sorting of a lifetime’s worth of things. Much of my stuff stayed in my folks’ garage until we finally moved my mom into a nursing home and sold her house – then those inevitable decisions could no longer be postponed. Presumably some of the things that would need to be sorted at Kathy and Bruce’s house are Eric’s, and he will have to make those same decisions about what to keep and what to sell or give away. Little League trophies, books, photos, sports equipment. It all mattered once upon a time, but does it still?

When I moved back to Phoenix from New Jersey, I brought only what I could transport in my Volkswagen Passat and the car carrier on top of it – namely, my dog Moondanz, my cat Gracie, my Mac, a couple of boxes of photos, and my clothes. The rest of it went into storage. I was temping and money was tight when I first arrived, so I within a few months, I didn’t pay my storage bill. All those things that had been too precious to get rid of at the time of the move were impounded – and gone. The vintage chalkboard Eric’s birthfather had bought for me at the indoor swapmeet down along the 1/9 (now a multiplex movie theatre). The very cool totem pole I’d bought during the six weeks I temped in Washington, D.C. for a white collar defense attorney with a Napoleon complex. Boxes and boxes of books (remember how valuable I mentioned they were to me?) and scads of craft supplies and completed crafts. All of it likely won in an auction by someone who might have gone on to star in the A&E series, “Storage Wars.”

At the end of the day, most of it is really just stuff. You often hear the question, If there were a fire or flood and you could save only one or two items, what would they be? After my husband and our pets, the only really important thing to me is my laptop (more specifically, the contents of said laptop) – but having paid a lot of money to restore it following a recent crash, I’m getting much better about automatically backing up all of my files, so even the things on the laptop are already recoverable.

Life itself is what’s precious. The things we collect while we live it just make it a bit more comfortable in the process.

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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.

23

23

It’s been interesting, in writing these posts, how many details I remember. Perhaps it’s because I’ve told some of these stories a few times, so the details have imprinted. Other things I don’t remember nearly as vividly. Today is Eric’s 23rd birthday. It’s after 7 p.m. as I write this, but I don’t have any idea what I was doing at 7 p.m. that evening. I know Kathy and Bruce and my sister Ann were there in the hospital within hours after his birth – which was around noon. Not surprisingly for New Jersey in February, it was cold, with snow on the ground. A few other details, which I’ll share in future posts – but I certainly could not recreate any kind of accurate timeline of my stay in the hospital. Any such chronology would simply be a guess on my part.

Toward the end of Eric’s first year, I got involved in an Internet chat room with other birthmothers. One mentioned celebrating her daughter’s birthday every year with a cake. That was such an astonishing concept for me – so simple, yet an idea I’m not sure I ever would have come up with on my own. It was almost as though I needed permission to celebrate the birthday of this son I had carried and birthed and released – yet still loved so very much – to come from someone else. The fact that this other birthmom did it gave me the room to coopt her idea and do it, too. And so I did. Every year for the first 10 years or so, I not only had a cake – but made a cake.

Some of those cakes came out well – others looked like sixth-grade Home Ec class failing grades. The nice thing was that one of the other birthmoms in Spence-Chapin’s birthmother support group had a son whose birthday was March 6. We met on the first Monday of the month, so each year, I would make my cake, carry it to work at Lehman Brothers – sometimes through the most atrocious weather – and then drag it on the subway all the way uptown to 92nd Street. Even if it started out looking nice, it was pretty battered by the time we ate it – but delicious nonetheless. As far as I am aware, I was the only birthmom in our group who did the cake thing.

It must have been February 2000, the first birthday I was living in Phoenix. February 24 rolled around and I headed to the store for chocolate cake mix and white frosting – Eric’s favorite – and proceeded to make my annual baked wonder. I made the cake, iced it, and was carrying it out to the dining room table when my dad asked me what the occasion was. Though my parents hadn’t known about my pregnancy, I had told them about their grandson four years prior, on his first birthday. So it wasn’t like my dad didn’t know – he was being deliberately obtuse.

I was outraged. I remember shouting at him – I must have seemed completely unhinged – that he never had any problems remembering Samantha’s birthday (my sister’s daughter), and just because my son wasn’t within eye’s view didn’t mean he wasn’t there or didn’t matter. Needless to day, the festive mood was spoiled.

The next day, my dad did something I don’t ever remember him doing before or after: he apologized to me. I’m not saying that he never apologized in my lifetime, just that I don’t remember any of the other ones. This one was a really big deal. And as his way of making amends, he gave me a greeting card he’d made on his Macintosh computer, one page folded in quarters, with one of those clunky, pixelated fonts. Happy Birthday, Eric. It was the most beautiful card I’d ever received. What’s more, going forward, for every birthday, Mother’s Day or any other celebratory occasion, he would make me two cards, one from him and one “from” Eric.

He’d not only heard me that day I’d freaked out on him, but my dad had understood how important it was to me that he recognize and honor his grandson’s existence. I can only speculate, but I imagine he must have considered how much Corina and I meant to him – and that gave him a sense of why my son, even though he wasn’t in my day-to-day life, might have been important to me, too. I still wish the two of them would have had the opportunity to meet. I know for certain that Grandpa would be so proud of his amazing grandson.

These last dozen or so years, I’ve gotten lazy. We tend to buy our cakes, or cheesecakes. Much more recently, just slices of cake, so we aren’t stuck with the whole thing. We actually celebrated Eric’s birthday early this year – yesterday. I wrote a post for Kathy’s birthday (February 3) about all the crazy birthday coincidences within our extended adoptive family. Somehow, in that post, I managed to ignore one of the biggest coincidences of all. My late sister’s husband, Matt, shares a birthday with Eric. So we had Matt over for dinner last night and sang happy birthday to him and Eric as we dove into a (whole) cheesecake.

I called Eric today – his voice mailbox was full. Apple and tree, right? So I sent him a text – and he called me right back. I was surprised, and pleased. Delighted, actually. Have you ever tried to act natural when you’re trying not to gush? I hope he knows the communication is important to me without my coming across as needy or demanding. Really, it’s just gratitude and a feeling of utter blessing when he reaches out – or calls back. Of course, I told him to be safe tonight. He said, “Yeah, you and my parents all said the same thing. I guess sometimes a parent’s just a parent, right?”

You betcha.

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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.

Eric’s Encounter with an SJW

Eric’s Encounter with an SJW

Unless you closely follow Canadian politics – more specifically, Canadian gender politics – there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, and he’s become something of a YouTube sensation and recognized cultural critic since he took on the Canadian government’s new law, Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and simultaneously expand the definitions of “promoting genocide” and “publicly inciting hatred” in the Canadian Criminal Code. Essentially, the law requires Canadian citizens to honor a person’s desire to be called by one of a list of dozens of different pronouns, words, and word groups, if they prefer that to the traditional he/she and him/her.

Peterson stood up and said, “NO! My right to free speech trumps their right not to be offended.” That was in September 2016, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s written a book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, but more notably, he’s shown up on a host of YouTube shows and podcasts and has been invited to guest lecture anywhere people want to learn more about common sense approaches to the extremes that seem to be pervading our collective thought processes. The extremes seem to abound on all sides: white males being excluded from diversity discussions; worry that if you expressed an opinion other than that the new Black Panther movie was the best film ever made, you’d be labeled a racist; the belief that if you think responsible Americans still deserve the right to own guns, you must secretly harbor a desire to slaughter children in your basement. OK – the last was perhaps extra extreme, but that sure feels like where we’re headed with all of our divisiveness and anger.

Who do you know who hasn’t lost at least one friend since the start of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign? We can’t even be civil on social media, the place that was supposedly designed to bring us together. The problem, it seems to me, is that we’ve lost our ability to think rationally, about almost anything. We are sacrificing our relationships – that is, our ability to relate to those around us, and the thing that makes us uniquely human – on the altar of being right, being angry, being defensive, being justified.

I make no secret about my politics – extremely progressive, liberal if that word works better for you. So I remember my reaction the first time I heard the term “social justice warriors,” more affectionately known as SJWs. The person describing them wasn’t singing their praises – in fact, he was appalled by their behavior. Wait! That can’t be right. What’s wrong with social justice? Everyone should want that, shouldn’t they?

Well, it’s not really the social justice part that’s the problem, as much as it is the warrior part. SJWs take all-or-nothing stands and set impossible standards that no mere mortal could achieve or maintain – and then become vocally, sometimes violently, agitated when people can’t, won’t, or as in Peterson’s case, don’t adhere to their rules. After all, those rules were made up – and sometimes written down – with everyone’s best interests at heart, weren’t they?

You may have heard about the two Anglo women in Portland, Oregon, who were forced to close their taco truck over claims of “theft” and “cultural appropriation.” And why shouldn’t people be up in arms, after celebrities with platforms like Lena Dunham spout off on Twitter that student dining halls shouldn’t sell sushi because that, too, is cultural appropriation? I’m not saying it never happens – but what seems to be happening more is anger over the idea of something that’s very clearly a gray area as if it were a straight-up offense with no room for debate. There is almost always room for debate.

So as John and I have watched college kids attempt to create safe spaces to insulate themselves from thoughts that even hint at making them uncomfortable and alleged feminists shout into any available microphone that it’s impossible for men to be feminists, we’ve wondered what it must be like to be a college student on an average campus today.

As it happens, my son is a college student at Northeastern University in Boston. And he shared a story with us over our holiday get-together with his family in December that made John grit his teeth and clench his hands into fists. It seems Eric was at a party with some friends. As you might expect, he met people there he did not know, a guy and a couple of girls. I didn’t grill him for the details, so I’m not sure why my son didn’t ask this person directly, but he said to one of the girls, “Does he want a drink?” pointing to their guy friend. Imagine his shock when she stepped toward him, inches from his nose, and with an alarmingly raised voice told Eric that her friend did NOT go by “he” or “him” but preferred to be called “they” or “them.”

This episode had happened weeks earlier and Eric still seemed a bit rattled by it as he recounted it at the dinner table for the whole family. “He visibly appeared to be a guy to me. I’d never met any of them before. How was I supposed to know that he went by they?”

I had to chime in to clarify. “Wait – the person with the gender issue was not the one who corrected you?”

“No. Didn’t say a word. It was their friend who got in my face.”

A huge part of the SJW motivation: get angry and defensive on someone else’s behalf. Find the most persecuted party and become their hero, whether or not they want you to. As long as you feel justified making someone else feel bad, you’re probably making a real difference.

What they completely fail to see is that they’re not helping at all.

That night when we were going to bed, John said, “I kind of hoped all the hype about the SJWs we were seeing on YouTube was just a wild exaggeration. Your son’s living proof that it’s real.”

What I love about Jordan Peterson is that he’s calling for us to stop yelling, to stop judging, to stop overreacting, to stop exaggerating. Each side of the political aisle views him as friend or foe, depending on the issue he’s confronting at the moment. Peterson himself claims he natively leans more liberal, but he’s on neither side, politically, as neither is making a whole lot of sense these days – not here in the U.S., and not in Canada or many parts of the rest of the world, either.

John bought his book today. Maybe after I read it, I’ll share my thoughts here.

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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.