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.

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.

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

To my knowledge, my son has 3 bio first cousins: my sister’s daughter, Samantha, and Tony’s sister’s daughters, Emily and Rebecca. He has never met any of them. He also has a cousin on Kathy’s side, little Parker, the most precocious 7-year-old you’ve ever met in your life. It was very special to watch Eric, this brilliant college senior, spend time with his little cousin over the Christmas holidays. The two of them have a very special bond that is heartwarming to see in action.

My husband has just a couple cousins, as well – and they are quite a bit older than he. That is, on his dad’s side. Not sure about his mom – she’s not really in the picture, and other than his sister, he’s not close to anyone from her side of the family, including any cousins who may exist.

I, on the other hand, have literally dozens of cousins. My parents, though not prolific childbearers, had siblings who more than made up for their lack. My father’s younger brother had 11 children, and his younger sister had five. His oldest brother and sister entered the religious life, so neither had children, but the five Orsini siblings managed to bear an average of 3.4 children each. Then there was my mom’s family. I don’t even know with certainty how many cousins I have on the Rendon side – but as she was one of 11 herself, there are many, many cousins. I believe only three remained childless, and each of the other eight had between two and six kids each. Let’s lean toward the six and say that’s an average of 4.5 – so I’ll put my guess at the number of cousins on my mom’s side at 36. Holy cow! My family, alone, has enough first cousins to field more than five baseball teams!

Things is, I still don’t really know what it’s like to grow up in a sizable family. Because my dad left the priesthood to marry my mother, they were forced to move away from the diocese where they met. They decided if they had to leave, they might as well move to a sunnier climate – which is how I ended up in Phoenix, as opposed to growing up in Michigan. Or so the story goes (I feel certain I am missing a few details!). So there were five of us for a while: my mom, dad, younger sister, and older half-sister – until my older sister decided to seek her fame and fortune in New York City when I was all of about 6 or 7. So then, it was just the four of us. No big Thanksgivings. Only ever needed the leaf for the dining room table if my mom invited people over for dinner – which might have happened twice in my entire childhood.

I was so excited to spend the holidays with my high school boyfriend because his family always had a houseful of people. His mom and aunt and grandmother would make lasagna noodles from scratch, hanging them over the furniture to dry – what a sight! And there were PEOPLE around! It didn’t matter that I didn’t know them and went mostly unnoticed in the corner – it was just so exciting to have more than three others to share special family events with.

My niece had a strange growing up experience. My sister did the very best she could, always putting Samantha’s needs first. And if she were honest, I think Sam would tell you that she was never really deprived of anything. She was in the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, which enabled her to travel the country and the world performing. She attended and graduated from TCU – and spent two semesters abroad during that time. Yet, she bounced around a lot as a kid – spending only the first couple years with both parents. Then she went with Corina to New Jersey for a bit, before they eventually came back to Phoenix. And, for better or worse, she spent a lot of her growing-up years around my mental-health-challenged mother.

She and Eric are just 3.5 years apart in age, and they’ve never met. John and I will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary this St. Patrick’s Day. I had wanted Samantha to sing at our wedding, but she made other plans, opting to go to Florida for spring break instead. It really wasn’t that she missed our wedding that was so upsetting – although John has said he can’t wait for her to get married so he can not go to her wedding – as much as it was the fact that she turned down the opportunity to meet one of her few cousins, my son, Eric. I’m not sure whether or how much thought he’s ever given to the fact that he has never met Samantha, but I’ve given it quite a lot. Sam’s not what you’d call the giving type – she’s always done things her way, regardless of the consequences – so in retrospect, it shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise that she chose a personal vacation over our wedding. My sister called it karma that Sam got the flu the second her plane landed and she spent her entire vacation in her hotel room.

My son is pretty much the exact opposite – going out of his way to be kind and generous. Kathy told me that he was right around 3 when his sister went to sleep-away camp for the first time. Kathy was a bit nervous, as her daughter had never been away from home for more than a night. Eric could see how upset his mom was, so he threw his arms around her neck and told her, “Don’t worry. I love you, Mama.” Eric and Sam are both smart, though, and have both attended fairly exclusive schools. I wonder what they’d talk about if given the chance – and hope they’d get along. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I’m quite happy to know that Eric does know what it’s like to have bigger family get-togethers. Kathy and Bruce were very generous in including me in Eric’s high school graduation celebration. That was a party that extended far beyond just family. But even when it is just the family, it’s Eric, Kathy, and Bruce; Eric’s sister and her husband; Kathy’s brother and his little boy; and Bruce’s sister and her husband. That more than doubles the size of my family celebrations as a kid.

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

No birthmother is happy at the thought that she’s hurt her child by placing him or her for adoption. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine many must feel, as I did, that we were doing the best thing we could for our babies – or older children, as is sometimes the case. I definitely could have parented my son – I was old enough, with a steady job, and health insurance. In other words, I had the means. But I’m not sure, to this day, that doing so would have been the best thing for him. I’m not unmaternal, per se, but I never felt the overwhelming drive so many moms – and would-be moms – seem to have. I think kids are cute enough, but I’ve never gone out of my way to meet a baby or felt something in my life was missing because I did not live the parenting experience.

That’s a challenging admission to make, given that my son could certainly take it as abandonment. And strangely enough, it’s only through the self-inspection, recollections, and research I’ve begun doing for this blog that I realize how deep his pain might have been. Just because I adjusted fairly well to the separation doesn’t mean he did. It’s long been my belief – and experience – that the older person in the relationship (e.g., the parent, teacher, older sibling) sets the tone for the relationship. So in that regard, the tone I set in my relationship with Eric was that I wasn’t going to be his mother. Partly, if I’m honest, because I didn’t want to be anybody’s mother (it wasn’t about him, personally) – but mostly because I didn’t think I could do a very good job at it. My role models had been iffy, my biological clock non-existent. And the one thing I knew was that he deserved a great mom – great parents. So I went through a lot of effort to ensure he got them.

It took me a very long time to find a life partner in my husband, John. I was 42 when we met, and 43 when we married, a first marriage for both of us. He was the first man I dated seriously after Tony, my son’s birthfather. We met through the Craigslist personals. I’d been posting there on and off for five years when we met, yet mine was the first ad John ever responded to. The thing is, as I look back on it now, all of those first dates were a lot like the profiles I saw for prospective parents. I could have said yes to a second date with any of them – just as I could have agreed to a meeting with any of the prospective parents from the first 11 profiles. But I would have been settling for less than what I really wanted, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I’m not comparing choosing adoptive parents for my son with choosing a mate; the former was far more important, because it affected a little person who was wholly dependent on me to make good decisions for him. If I dated and subsequently married badly, society would easily allow me to divorce and get a “re-do.” If I chose the wrong parents for my son, there would be no take-backs. So maybe holding out until I met the right people to become Eric’s family was practice for holding out to meet John. One thing is sure: I got it right on both counts.

I will say that as John and I were briefly considering the idea of parenting, it did niggle at the back of my mind to wonder how Eric would feel if I’d had another child I kept after having placed him with Kathy and Bruce. I’m not quite sure how much that thought affected my decision not to have a child with John – perhaps more than I realized.

And even though it seems my son has had a great life, I know he has struggled with the adoption, as virtually every adopted kid has. Fortunately for him, the adoption has been at least semi-open since the start, so he’s known who his family is and has been able to see photos, meet his aunts and maternal grandmother, and have his questions answered as they arose. He has a full medical history for my side of the family, and a few details about his birthfather’s. In short, he has a lot more access and information than many adoptees do, even in today’s era of “openness.”

I was banging around, looking for a photo idea for closed adoption when I came across the website, IAmAdopted.net. Grit your teeth and gird your loins if plan to do any reading there – because a lot of its information may hit you hard in the face, especially if you are an adoptive parent. The goal of the site, it seems, is to foster better, more open relationships between adoptive parents and the children they call theirs. There is helpful, eye-opening information for birthparents, too. For instance, one of the posts I read is titled “If Adoption Was About the Child.” It begins with these lines:

“Every day … I read about the experiences and narratives of adoptees, and the overall conclusion I have made is that adoption is about birth parents and adoptive parents. When will we be real about it and admit that?”

Her point is that it’s only in the rarest circumstance when adoption is solely done with the child’s well-being most central. Usually adoptive parents are adopting because they want a [bigger] family – not out of a desire to help a needy infant or toddler. And likewise, adoption is often a solution for the birthmother. I felt defensive reading those comments – and yet I must admit this blogger has a point.

She then goes on to delineate the ways adoption would work if it were truly centered around the child. I am paraphrasing, unless a direct quote is indicated. But please go read the original post!

  • All adoptions would be open. Check.
  • Adoptees would be allowed consistent contact with their birthfamilies – providing safety wasn’t an issue – without the adoptive parents fearing their child would like their birthparents better. It didn’t start like that, but we got there in a way that unfolded at Eric’s pace, not mine or his parents’.
  • Adoptees would have access to their original birth certificates. I wanted this – but even the birth certificate I have does not name Tony as the birthfather. I must have been angrier with him than I remember. And the one Eric’s family has was redacted and changed to indicate their last name, not ours.
  • Birthmothers would not deny contact with the children they placed for adoption. While I cannot imagine doing this, from what I’ve been reading, the guilt and shame some birthmoms experience is overwhelming and they feel they don’t deserve access to their children. What they fail to realize is that in doing so, they’re creating a second rejection that might be even more painful than the original one. The writer calls the behavior selfish, and I’d have a hard time arguing with her.
  • Adoptive parents would allow their children to search without getting overly emotional and making it about themselves instead of about their children’s need to claim their identity. This was not relevant in our adoption, but given how open Kathy was from the beginning, I doubt it ever would have been an issue.
  • The experiences and narratives of adoptees would be validated – not questioned. Adoptees wouldn’t be labeled as angry or bitter. Adoptive parents and birthparents need to admit that everything won’t always be rosy for their kid, no matter how much he or she is loved. The separation of adoption is a form of trauma, requiring attention and recuperation. Rather than scolding them for experiencing their emotions, it would be far more helpful for the parents to help them express their emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Check, on Kathy’s end. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t always realized the depth of this pain.
  • There would be no lies told or secrets hidden from the adopted child. Check.
  • Adoptees wouldn’t be expected to always feel grateful for being adopted. Wow – this one caught me off guard. I don’t think I overtly did this – but perhaps I expected Eric to be OK with things just because he had all the information. Well, I’m his first mom and I chose to let another person come in and take what would have been my role. How could any of us expect him never to feel even a little resentment for that?
  • There wouldn’t be an exorbitant amount of money exchanged for facilitating the adoption. Her direct quote is: “(When will birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents learn that they are being duped by the multi-billion dollar adoption industry?) You can change that by demanding lower to no-cost adoption. Adoptive parents hold the power in adoption land.” Yep – I agree with this one, even though I wasn’t on the paying side of the equation. Actually, because I had health insurance, I covered most of the costs for doctor visits and my hospital delivery, which makes fees an even stranger consideration in our case. I did, however, receive a stipend of a few hundred dollars for maternity clothes.
  • We would admit that race matters. This, again, was nonmaterial to our adoption, but I love this thought. Especially this part: “If you are going to adopt transracially, be prepared and don’t make excuses for not being able to move or how far you must travel to the nearest city that is more diverse after choosing to spend thousands of dollars on your adoption. Put it in the budget.”
  • Adoptive parents would help adoptees locate their birthfamilies and demand legislation to open all adoptions and provide adopted persons with their original birth certificates. Yep – 100 percent agreement on that one, too.

So if I were keeping score, I’d say we did pretty well with the items on this list. But I’m not really the one to ask – I wonder how Eric would feel we did. A few are beyond our personal reach, but even though we’re not directly affected, we can still get involved in changing things. If we want whole, healthy adopted persons to come out of the strange relationships created by adoption, openness in every area needs to be the standard.

When You Hope You’re Nearly as Smart as Your Kid

When You Hope You’re Nearly as Smart as Your Kid

When I was pregnant with Eric, I expressed concern to my social worker that the adoptive family might not be able to keep up with him, as he was bound to be a very smart kid. “You don’t know that for sure,” she said every time I raised the issue. Yes, I knew that – more or less for sure. Yogi Berra’s quote comes to mind: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. I had my reasons for believing this: I was always at the top of my class and in various gifted programs, and Tony was the smartest person I’d ever met. Actually, that record still stands – he is still the smartest person I have ever met. Intellectually, anyway. He didn’t ace the SATs but was in the top ½ percentile. Point is, our kid was very probably going to be of above average intelligence. I’ve long thought the reason Mary tried to caution me was in case something went wrong and he was born with a disability of some sort. She needn’t have worried.

I don’t remember Eric’s Apgar score – Kathy probably knows it. But I watched that baby – maybe 15 minutes after he was born – roll himself over on the examining table. He was close to 2 when he figured out how to unlock the baby gate. And he was 2 when he told Kathy his first joke. She asked him where he’d put his socks. His response: “In the refrigerator. Ha, ha, ha!” In my January 9 post, I mentioned that he was also loading his own software on the computer at 2..

I’ve always been grateful that he attended a Montessori preschool. When he moved to a traditional grade school, the teachers had a hard time keeping him occupied. Kathy told me he would finish his assignments before everyone else. So when a child on the other side of the classroom would drop a pencil, Eric would run over to help them pick it up – he was done with his work; what else was he going to do?

At his high school graduation, his sister told us how frustrating it was that he was so good at math when she struggled with it. She’s 10 years older than Eric, but said that when she was in high school, Eric would offer to help her with her math homework. She might have been joking – but the point is taken, nonetheless.

I don’t remember exactly how long it took him to solve the Rubik’s Cube – but it was measurable in minutes, just like his birthfather. I saw a logic puzzle at a seminar one time, and to date, three people I’ve shown it to have figured out the answer: Tony and Eric were among the three. And the third person came up with an alternate answer that, while technically correct, is not the answer that is the “easiest” to spot. Here’s the puzzle:

card challenge

Moving only one card, make 2 rows of 4.
Answer at the VERY end of this post.

So when Eric proposed playing a board game while my husband John and I were visiting him and his family last month, I was hesitantly enthusiastic about it. Which board game? How much logic would be involved? And how much did prior experience factor into things?

The first night we played Scattergories, a word game where each player has to name 12 objects (provided on pre-printed lists) that all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Objects we had to name included: World Capitals, Female Celebrities, Models of Cars, Things in the Ocean, Things with Tails. If the letter for a particular turn were “A”, we might have come up with Addis Ababa (worth 2 points!), Adele, Alfa Romeo, algae, and African spider monkey as our answers. You get the idea.

This was a word game – I am a writer. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Not really – because the timer was ticking, naming some of these objects was challenging, and I was trying to outsmart a very smart kid. I’ll admit, it was an interesting source of pride when Eric and I would come up with the same answer for the same object (neither player gets credit for their answer in that case) on numerous occasions. We played three games: I won one; Eric’s girlfriend won one; and Eric won one. So we played a rubber game for the match, which I took by a hair.

sequence game

The next night, we played a logic game called Sequence. Chess players may take offense, but it reminded me of chess, in that you have to watch the whole board and plan a number of steps ahead. As a result, you also have to consider what your opponents’ probable next move(s) will be. I don’t remember who won those games, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Lastly, we played a game John and I had received for Christmas, called Exploding Kittens. It’s another strategy card game – ridiculous, really, as if the title weren’t enough of an indicator. I won the first game and Eric won the second. He was really excited after the second game because he felt he’d figured out the strategy, and hence, how to win. We left that game with him, assuming he’d get a lot more use out of it than we would.

One of the things that really impressed me was that this 22-year-old college senior and his friends sincerely enjoy hanging out and playing board games. Make no mistake – Eric and Meaghan spent a lot of time on their phones, too. But Meaghan also pointed out that Eric has seen surprisingly few movies. I’m guessing he was occupied with school? So you know what you do while you’re playing board games with your friends? Drink beer, of course. And you also have conversations, typically without the TV or other distractions pulling at you.

puzzle of the world

Another thing Eric and I share is a love of puzzles. He’s far surpassed me in his mastery of the jigsaw puzzle, though, having completed a 9,000-piece puzzle of the world over a recent visit home from college. He’s found the next one he wants to tackle; the challenge is finding space for it in his small Boston apartment.

Dots

Lately I’ve been playing a logic game of my own on my iPad. It contains multi-colored pairs of dots on a black background. The goal is to connect each dot to its partner, filling in the entire field. Whenever I complete one of these levels on the first attempt, I congratulate myself and think, Yeah – I can still keep up with the kid.

the answer

This Birthmom’s No Narc

This Birthmom’s No Narc

It can be a challenging position to watch from the sidelines as other people parent your child. The first thing you must do is realize that your kid will never call you mommy, mom, ma, or any other maternal term of endearment. Figuring out what Eric should call me was interesting. We settled on Birthmom Laura for a while, but have long since dropped the Birthmom title – now he just calls me Laura, and I’m fine with that.

Kathy did her best to keep me updated about the things that were going on with him – A’s on report cards and the news that he’d broken his clavicle playing hockey at 8. One thing she did that so endeared her to me was, on occasion, send me a lock of his hair. The first was accompanied by a note that said: “I thought you might want to see what it really looks like, not just try to get an idea from the pictures.” Strawberry blonde and blue eyed – you’d never have known he was my kid, except that from certain angles he looks exactly like me. From other angles, he looks just like his birthdad. But he got all the recessive genes, which I always found interesting. Today he towers over me, having inherited his paternal grandfather’s height.

It was a long time before I felt comfortable sending birthday gifts. I remember finding aUA outfit tiny baseball outfit with a UA Wildcat on it – from my college alma mater. I wanted to get it but hesitated, because I never wanted to stress out his family or make them feel I was interfering or overreaching. It was my sister who advised, “Why don’t you get him the gifts you want to get and just hold onto them? That way, anytime you want to, you can pick up something – and then someday, when the time is right, you can give them to him. Maybe one day he’ll give that outfit to his own son.” That helped so much. Going forward, I made a habit of buying a small stuffed animal almost anywhere I traveled. By the time I did give them to him when he was about 18, I had amassed quite a collection. And, as my sister had predicted, I think it was special for him to realize he had stayed important to me for all those years.

The one gift I have actually been mailing for a while is an annual Christmas tree ornament. Somehow, that felt less personal and less threatening. It was pretty cool to see years’ worth of ornaments on the tree during our visit with his family this Christmas season.

I’ve only received a handful of gifts from Eric over the years. And as I sit here typing this, I can see two of them hanging on my walls. One is a ceramic imprint of his hand inside a heart-shaped frame from when he was maybe 5 or 6. I sent Kathy a kit and asked her if they’d make it with him sometime. He painted it in bright pastels, mostly pink and orange. It’s ridiculous – and beautiful – like I imagine most refrigerator art must be to many parents. The other is a fan-shaped piece of stained glass with two birds that says “Happy Mothers’ Day.” I don’t remember exactly when that one came – but I do remember Kathy saying that Eric had seen it in a shop and wanted to get it for me. It was solely his idea. He also got us a gorgeous Tiffany vase for our wedding.

In my last post I mentioned the sporadic nature of his thank you notes – and how that was mostly OK with me. And it has been – mostly. But these past couple years, while Eric’s been busy with college and more distant from me – and from his adoptive mom, too – I got so frustrated for the lack of acknowledgment of the gifts (I wasn’t seeking a syrupy thankyou note – just an “I got it!” text would have sufficed) that I was tempted to stop sending them at all. When I texted him “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas” last year, I didn’t even hear back from him. I’ll admit, that stung a bit. What I didn’t do was go running to Kathy or call him out on it in any way. Now had I been parenting him, believe me, I would have been all over that. But he was pushing the boundaries of this weird, tentative relationship, and I was pretty sure that I just needed to give him space. That instinct seems to have paid off, as we really did have a great connection on my recent visit with him and his family.

More recently, another thing came to my awareness that I will sit on for a while. While my husband and I were visiting with Eric and his family, his parents were sick with the flu, meaning we didn’t see much of them. That was actually kind of nice, because it meant we spent more time with Eric and his girlfriend, playing board games, watching hockey, and hanging out. On our last night there, my husband offered to take Eric and Meaghan out to dinner. Since we were in Eric’s backyard, he drove.

Now my husband used to be a smoker, and he still gets frustrated with me because he can’t ever sneak a cigarette without me knowing about it. No matter how hard he tries (usually not as hard as he thinks), I can smell it on him. He tells me I should get a job as a smell tester. So when we got in Eric’s car the other night, I instantly noticed the odor of cigarette smoke. Which immediately made me wonder whether he or Meaghan is a smoker. It’s possible that they’d recently had a friend who smokes in the car with them – but it’s equally possible that Eric and/or Meaghan is smoking. I had two choices: say something or let it go. I opted for the latter.

This decision goes back to that thing I came to terms with long ago. I don’t have the role of mother in Eric’s life. He already has someone who does that for him, and she does a really good job. So he doesn’t need me checking up on him, lecturing him, or even letting him know that I know when he’s misbehaving. It’s not like I never offer any advice – just that I’m selective about the topics and how I do it. Smoking is a really bad habit – one I’m glad my husband ended more than 18 months ago. Knowing that, I also realize that Eric’s an adult now, and it’s unlikely that one sentence from me would talk him or his girlfriend out of anything. Yet nothing would shut down the relationship faster than if he thought I would narc on him at every turn.

If, as the adult/parental figure, it’s up to me to set the pace of this fragile relationship, my choice is to wait for him to give me the indicators to follow.