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.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.