Is It Stalking or Sleuthing?

Is It Stalking or Sleuthing?

February is Eric’s birthday month – he’ll be 24 on the 24th. I shrieked a little to myself in the car the other day when I realized that he’ll be just three years younger than I was when I had him. Wow – no real sense of what I was doing when I was 24. Probably my last year living in Tucson – planning, as it were, for a move to the Big Apple (actually, Jersey City, NYC’s wormy little brother across the Hudson River). I had a job of sorts, but no real plans for the future. Definitely not planning to have a baby and place him for adoption. Calls to mind that great John Lennon quote:

life is what happens

So birthday gifts are always a bit of a challenge. I didn’t get anything for the first few years. Later, at my sister’s recommendation, I’d buy gifts as I saw them and just hold on to them. Even after we’d opened the adoption (I learned the Stanfields’ address before Eric’s 3rd birthday), I never wanted Kathy and Bruce to feel pressured or threatened. When Eric and I finally met in person for my wedding – he was 16 – I gave him all the gifts I’d been keeping for him. Most of them were Christmas ornaments – one per year – and small stuffed animals I’d collected from the various places I’d traveled through the years.

He’s a sensitive kid, so he seems to appreciate thoughtful gifts as much as fun ones. Usually I try to do a little of both. I remember Kathy telling me that when Eric was in maybe second or third grade, he came home with that typical childhood project: the family tree. Sensitive, brilliant kid that he was – even as an 8- or 9-year-old – he asked for two pages, so that he could do two family trees: one for the Stanfield family and one for his birthfamily.

family tree

As it turns out, I have rather detailed family trees for both sides of my family. A cousin on my dad’s side did some fairly sophisticated research, so that tree is bigger, with many more branches. My mom’s tree is kind of like her family – a bit scattershot, misspellings here, wrong dates there. But it’s a good start and contains a lot of info I wouldn’t have access to were it not for the fact that somebody thought to record even these convoluted details.

So this year for his birthday, I was thinking I might finally try to put a family tree together for Eric, since I do have most of the pieces from my side of the family. Felt a little silly to realize that both of my sides still equal only one side of Eric’s family tree. Which means I’d need to research Tony’s family tree in order to do both sides justice.

I lost touch with Tony a number of years ago. The last time we saw each other in person was February 2002. We had a failed attempt at a reconciliation, after he broke up with a woman he’d been living with and was feeling lonely, I think. Back when Eric graduated from high school, I took some time and finally tracked Tony down via Facebook and other online tools. It was a circuitous process, but I’m a good researcher. I couldn’t find Tony outright, so I started with his Aunt Judy, which led to his sister Wendy, which led to him – and his wife. That enabled me to find his address in Bedminster, NJ – which it turns out was just 10 minutes from the house where Eric grew up and where he once again lives with his family. No surprise, when I stopped to consider the vast number of coincidences that have occurred and helped shape this entire adoption relationship.

I wouldn’t call it stalking, necessarily, but every now and again I would try to check in on Tony and Wendy. She posts much more frequently – and it was on her page that I learned that their dad had passed away a few years ago. My most recent foray revealed that Tony and his wife have split up – so that address I found for Eric a few years ago won’t do him any good now.

hatchet cake

Ever since Eric’s college graduation last May, I’ve been thinking on and off about reaching out to Tony, just to let him know his kid is all grown up – a smart, good-looking, thoughtful man. Glad now that I didn’t send a copy of the graduation photo to that address I had for him. But my walk down Memory Lane via Wendy’s FB page was a reminder that Tony really did cut ties with both Eric and me rather completely. There were photos from the time we were dating – but none of Tony and me. It almost felt like I never existed in his life. Perhaps not so surprising, in that this was his sister’s feed – but as much time as I spent with his family, you’d think I might have shown up in one picture. There’s actually a photo of him and his dad in front of a Trump casino in Atlantic City, wearing identical leather jackets. I remember that trip – I’m standing frozen in time, out of frame, but just a few feet away from them. A very similar picture of Tony and me was taken – I actually gave that to Eric a few years ago.

dale & tony

I was also reminded about the Christmas when Tony and I went gift shopping together – for his family. Turns out, he didn’t get me anything, and then took all the gifts I’d helped him wrap and toddled off to Baltimore to spend the holidays with his family, leaving me on my own in Jersey City. Yeah – there were some real douchey moments, and I was an idiot for sticking around as long as I did. Live and learn, isn’t that what they say?

Why do I still think about getting in touch? I guess because I really do want Eric to have all the information he can – before people die and there’s no way to retrieve it. This is his birthfather’s family – people who are his blood relations. Tony told me he’d told Molly (the live-in girlfriend from 2002) about Eric and still planned to tell his family, but I have no idea whether that ever happened. How could he NOT? ricochets through my head – but pretty easily, I’m guessing, if he still compartmentalizes the way he used to.

I remember a while back seeing that Wendy was pretty invested in the whole genealogy fascination, so the thought occurred to me that I might reach out to her, instead of Tony, and just take my chances that she’d get back to me, regardless of whether or not she’d ever learned she has a nephew (or that her daughters have a cousin). If anyone would have their family tree info, it would be Wendy. Reading through her FB posts, I believe we’d get along a lot better today than we did 29 years ago – but considering further, I recognized that her loyalty will always be to her brother first, so I think I’ve pretty much talked myself out of that idea.

Instead, I decided to take a 2-week trial at Ancestry.com and see what I could dig up there. Learned the date their dad passed away – July 6, 2015 – and that he was a college graduate. I would not have guessed that. Tracked down the family’s old address in Cedar Rapids, and confirmed the birth years for both Tony’s mom, Diane, and dad, Dale. But not much more than that. If Wendy’s been working on a family tree of any sort, it’s not public.

One night back in the late ’90s, when we were out playing pool at a bar near work, Tony was a little drunker than usual for a worknight and he (accidentally?) let it slip that there was adoption on both sides of his family. Apparently his Aunt Judy, on his mom’s side, was a birthmother who’d relinquished a baby in her teens. He had no idea whether his cousin had been a boy or a girl – or whether Judy had ever had any sort of reunion. Then, there was his dad’s side – where things get really complicated. The way I remember Tony telling the story was that his dad was one of seven kids, all of whom were adopted out of the family due to what he assumed were financial complications. It was the late 1940s/early 1950s – not sure what other reason there could have been. A few decades later, his dad finally located the last of his brothers – and it was such a big deal it was written up in the local paper. That was the only time Tony ever brought any of this up – so my vague memories of that conversation were all I had to go on.

When I was looking through Wendy’s FB page to try to figure out how long ago their dad had died, I came across an image of that story from the Cedar Rapids newspaper. I didn’t read it at the time, but now that I’m looking for every clue I can find about their family, I went back and pored over it with a microscope. Either I remembered the story incorrectly, or misinterpreted the information, because according to the newspaper article, Dale was one of 15 kids – seven of whom were adopted out. The story doesn’t fill in too many more blanks. But between it, my memory of meeting an aunt and uncle who lived in Tucson, and a few photos I perused on Wendy’s page, I’ve been able to put names to 10 of the 15 siblings. Still no names, dates, or locations for great-grandparents, although I did find separate photos of Diane’s mom and dad.

finding lost brother

And that’s where this story ends, for now. I’ll probably take as stab at the family tree, though I’m not sure I’ll get it all compiled in time to send as a birthday gift. If by some miracle Eric were to decide he’d like more information, I might one day try to contact either Wendy or Tony. Should that happen, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m gonna hang up my sleuthing ways and let bygones by bygones.

______________________________
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, consultant, and publisher who coaches other authors to make loand market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. 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 the first book, The Least Likely Criminal, from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Grieving at the Holidays

I’ve written about Jane several times before. She and I have been friends since we were 14. Her birthday is coming up on the 19th, two days from now. And yesterday, her dad passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t know him very well – probably as well as she knew my father. But he and his wife – I know her only as Mrs. Oh – were always very kind to me, especially considering that I was a white Catholic girl whose lifelong friendship with their daughter could only have perplexed them.

Parkinson’s is an insidious illness that drains the whole family. Though there were certainly aspects of the martyr in Jane’s mom’s insistence on doing virtually all of the caregiving herself, she was also, as Jane described her in her FB post announcing her father’s passing, a warrior. Mrs. Oh was, in her younger life, a nurse. Her husband, Jane’s father, was an OB-GYN. It must have been terribly difficult for him to become the patient after all those years of having been the medical authority.

As I was thinking about how much more challenging it is to lose someone – even somebody suffering with a long, debilitating illness – right around the holidays, I remembered writing an article for a small, bimonthly local health journal a number of years ago. It was the first Christmas after my father passed away, and I recall it resulting from our family’s efforts to find a new normal. Here’s a bit of an excerpt from the article, originally printed in the Arizona Networking News, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the loss occurs near the holidays. Whether it has been one year or 20 years, you are likely to feel the loss much more acutely during the holiday season.

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year. What can you do if eggnog and ho-ho-ho are just not on your radar during this festive season?

  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Cry, if you need to cry. 
  • Get support.
  • Offer a prayer, blessing or good thought for your loved one. 
  • Light a candle.
  • Leave an empty chair at the dining table. 
  • Give a gift or donation in their name.
  • Write a letter to the person you lost. 
  • Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one.
  • Begin a new tradition. 
  • Create a memory book.

This is just an excerpt of my original article. Read the whole thing here.

The interesting thing to me, as I reread that article, is that I didn’t specifically touch on loss through adoption at all. I have truly been blessed to have experienced a relatively easy, predominantly open adoption. As a result, I never really went through holiday anguish of the sort other birthmoms understandably experience. I mentioned in a prior post the only time I remember having a significant sense of adoption grief/loss during the holidays – it was during a holiday party we threw for the employees’ children one year during my first tenure at Lehman Brothers. It’s not that I didn’t experience grief, loss, or regret – but those episodes have been blessedly brief and infrequent. I credit that to all the talk therapy I was able to do with my wonderful Spence-Chapin counselor, Mary Weidenborner.

Now that I’m on the thought train, I’m sure sad, grieving, and struggling birthmoms will remain on my mind for the duration of the holiday season. I send each and every one of you heartfelt love, blessings, and hope that the pain will recede and that you find a way to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in spite of the sorrow.

As for Jane and her dad: Godspeed, Dr. Oh! Love you like crazy, Jane!!

no more pain

__________________________
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 recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. 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 the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

I spent some time yesterday with my dear friend Karen and her daughter, Kelly, the one she placed for adoption 36 years ago. Theirs was a tumultuous adoption experience, yet things between them are good now. Karen was 18 when she learned she was pregnant, a senior at a suburban Delaware high school. It wasn’t uncommon for girls her age in her town to find themselves pregnant – but they all made one of the two other choices: they got married and parented their babies, or they had abortions. No one chose adoption, and Karen was ostracized for her decision.

Her mom didn’t help, insisting that her daughter give up her future plans for college and a career to stay home and raise this baby! Karen selected a new set of parents for her baby girl and placed her daughter with them in spite of her family’s protests.

Here’s the thing: adoptions sometimes go sideways, in spite of the birthmom’s best intentions. In Kelly’s case, her adoptive mom, Patricia, never quite came to terms with the fact that her daughter was not her biological child, so she didn’t take after her in looks OR personality. She was her own person, with different traits and skills and interests. Kelly said she understood very early on exactly what it took to please her mother – and that was pretending to go along with all of her mother’s choices, from clothing to food to hobbies and playmates. Eventually, though, Kelly tired of pretending. She realized the payoff of her mom’s happiness wasn’t enough reward to warrant faking it anymore. So she started to express herself – her real self. That didn’t go over so well. And as she hit her teens and it became apparent that she wasn’t going to look anything like her mother, Patricia lost all interest in parenting her.

Though Kelly didn’t say this, it was almost as though her mother treated her as a doll or a plaything: as soon as she could no longer make the doll do what she wanted it to, she tossed it aside.

Skip forward some years to Karen’s reunion with Kelly. Lo and behold, Kelly is a mini-Karen. She strongly resembles her birthmother in appearance, speaks like her birthmother, has similar interests to her birthmother. Meeting Karen was like coming home. And the mere thought of it devastated Kelly’s adoptive mom. Even though she was never close to her daughter the way she’d envisioned their relationship in her dreams, Patricia would be damned if she’d let this interloper (aka the person who GAVE BIRTH to her child) be the mother she could never be to her daughter. So even though Kelly was a legal adult before she and Karen had their reunion, she’s had to run the gauntlet of guilt trips and psychological terrorism to pursue a relationship with her birthmom.

As she’s gotten older, Kelly’s begun to learn better self-care – and that means fewer interactions with Patricia, regardless of the guilt her mom still tries to heap on her. It means conveniently forgetting to tell her mom when she’s been to visit Karen, or how much she and her half-brother resemble each other. Karen married 17 years ago and has a 13-year-old son with her husband, Henry.

Kelly is involved in politics, working as a grass-roots organizer and campaigner for several local candidates in New Jersey and other Eastern states. During her work on a recent campaign, she met a man a few years younger than she – a man she thinks she might like to marry one day. How to hold a wedding, though, when you have two mothers, one of whom refuses to acknowledge the existence of the other? It sounds like the drama straight out of a Lifetime movie of the week, but these are real people who are dealing with these emotions today, in 2018.

I’ll admit that given my place in the adoption triad, I generally have a natural bias toward the birthmother. But I cannot help but think that even if I had no stake in the adoption arena, I might see this one from Kelly’s and Karen’s perspective. And, if given the opportunity, I might tell Patricia that just because her daughter wasn’t her clone, didn’t fall in line or measure up to her standards, just because their relationship wasn’t what she’d imagined it would be in her pre-adoption fantasies, doesn’t mean her daughter doesn’t love her. It doesn’t mean she failed as a mother. And it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with her. But I would also tell her that it’s not her daughter’s job to make her happy. It’s not her daughter’s job to live up to the fantasy standards she dreamed up before she knew the real person her daughter would become. And it’s not fair to hold any of her shattered dreams against her daughter.

As I’ve written before and will, no doubt, write again, I firmly believe that because of their place in the relationship – older, more experienced, and hopefully more emotionally mature – the parent sets the tone and builds the framework for the relationship with their child. All the child can do is react and respond to whatever raw materials their parent gives them. If the parent gives them love and support, the child will likely give that back, in kind. But if the parent gives her child grief and guilt and emotional blackmail, it’s unlikely – perhaps impossible – for a healthy relationship to develop under those circumstances. The onus for that is on the parent every time.

Only time will tell whether Kelly and Patricia will ever find a bridge to a less combustible relationship. Stranger things have happened, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

__________________________
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 Magic of Parker and Friar Tuck

The Magic of Parker and Friar Tuck

Adoption is, perhaps, the strangest of all relationships. Though ours was not open from the beginning, I am blessed to now have a fully open adoption, an adult son who is smart and funny and kind, and adoptive parents who have welcomed me with open arms into their home for this visit to celebrate our kid’s graduation from college. It’s lovely and odd and complicated to have this other family – they’re kind of like in-laws, but different because it’s our son who is the bridge. I’ve had the most contact with Kathy through the years, but have been getting to know all of them for some time now. This trip, in particular, I had the delight of spending quite a lot of time with Eric and his lovely girlfriend, Meaghan.

Last night, Eric and Meaghan when out instead of dining with the family – so my bridge and conduit was missing as I had dinner with Kathy, Bruce, Kathy’s nephew Parker, and her brother Todd. Parker is an astonishing kid. Good-looking, charming as all get out, funny, and sharp as hell. Mary Anne, Todd’s wife and Parker’s mother, passed away from breast cancer nearly five years ago. It was a year before we lost my husband’s dad and a couple years before my sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Mary Anne and Corina were close in age at the times of their deaths – and when Kathy and I talk about Mary Anne’s passing, it’s sometimes still an emotional trigger for me. The big difference between them was that Corina’s daughter was grown when she left us. Parker – just 8 now – was barely 4 when his mom passed away. He seems to be doing OK. Spends a lot of time with Kathy and Bruce – but he worships Eric and wants to hang out with him every chance he gets. Though Eric left to head back up to Boston this morning, he’ll be home in New Jersey again next weekend and has promised to take Parker to the driving range during that visit. You-Know-Who will be beside himself when he finds out.

Many years ago, I became involved with an amazing nonprofit organization called Gabriel’s Angels, which offers healing pet therapy to abused, neglected, and abandoned children throughout Arizona. The philosophy is this: because these children have known nothing but disappointment from the adults in their lives, they have a very difficult time trusting grown-ups, or anyone, for that matter. Through the love of an animal (mostly dogs, but also the occasional pot-bellied pig, cat, or miniature horse), though, these kids learn what it means to bond, to love, to have empathy, and to develop compassion. The goal is to disrupt and permanently break the cycle of violence so that these children can grow up to experience healthy adult relationships. While it’s been amazing to be involved with this organization, it wasn’t until yesterday – watching Parker with Kathy and Bruce’s border terrier, Tuck – that I actually witnessed first-hand the miracles pets can work with otherwise troubled kids.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Parker to lose his mom at such an early age. She was not only his pal, but his confidant. Kathy manages to fill in a lot of the gaps created by Mary Anne’s absence – but it’s Tuck in whom Parker confides. One of the amazing things about younger kids (and sometimes older ones, too) is that they quite often forget adults are in the room, and they just talk. Parker is mature for his age – sassy, confident, and quite a jokester. But the minute he sees Tuck, his voice changes. He gets soft, and he sits down on the floor to pet and play with Tuck. He tells Tuck what a good boy he is, how special he is, and how much he loves him. The change in demeanor is incredible to witness – and listen to from around the corner.

Parker’s dad, Todd, is a nice guy, but a bit of a curmudgeon by nature. He doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for the dog. While we were out visiting with Eric’s family over the holidays, Parker convinced Kathy and Todd to allow Tuck to come spend the night with him and his dad. Parker was over the moon – until the first potty accident in the house. The other thing about Tuck is that he’s a whiner/yelper. He’s also an early riser. I don’t think Todd could have gotten that poor dog back to Kathy fast enough. But the drama of that overnight visit did nothing to dampen Parker’s enthusiasm and love for Tuck.

In spite of suffering an unimaginable loss, Parker is fortunate to have the Stanfields as his family. Kathy and Bruce adore him – and he has a lifelong friend in a little brown pup whose full name is Friar Tuck.

__________________________
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.

Go Ahead, Dance the Night Away – It’s Good for You!

Go Ahead, Dance the Night Away – It’s Good for You!

If you haven’t heard live music in a while, you owe it to yourself to get out and see a show! Doesn’t matter the genre – country, hip-hop, classic rock, classical, bluegrass, flamenco – just go out and see a band. According to an April 2016 article from Science Alert, listening to live music can reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body. And a 2017 study out of Australia found that “people who actively engaged with music through dancing and attending events like concerts and musicals reported a higher level of subjective wellbeing.”

The first album I bought was Journey’s Escape. I saw my first concert, Asia, the same year, with my BFF Jane at the original Compton Terrace in Phoenix. I was 14. My husband, the musician, bought his first album, AC/DC’s Back in Black, at 9 and attended his first concert at 11. It was the Rolling Stones. He was a precocious music aficionado; I was a precocious reader. Since getting together, we have attended a LOT of concerts.

John still goes far more often than I do – he’s becoming a regular on Sundays at Cactus Jack’s, a neighborhood bar near us that features a Grateful Dead cover band called The Noodles. I’ve heard them a couple times – and it was plenty. I can take the Dead, and jam bands in general, in small doses. John’s probably watched a couple dozen Dead & Company simulcasts in the last few years. So there’s overlap to our music tastes, but we definitely diverge. Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper are coming to Phoenix this August, and I was surprised when John was surprised that I wanted to see them.

Walt Richardson
Walt Richardson, center

One artist we agree about is a local guy by the name of Walt Richardson. Walt is a music institution in the Tempe/Phoenix area. He started as a solo act, playing the Tempe Festival of the Arts and in front of Moons Cafe in Tempe. In the mid-’70s, he and a guy name Aziz Chadley started a reggae band called Driftwood, which eventually morphed into the Morning Star Band. That’s when I was introduced to him. Walt Richardson and the Morning Star Band opened for Ziggy Marley at Mesa Amphitheatre my senior year in high school. And I am a semi-centarian – so this guy’s been playing for a lonnnnnng time. The Morning Star Band traveled all over the country – so Walt’s also a much loved and well-traveled music man.

John played in a band called Dry Spell back in the ’90s, and would occasionally run across Walt around Tempe, although they didn’t know each other. Today, Walt hosts a weekly open mic event at Tempe Center for the Arts, and John (aka Mickey Clement) is becoming a regular performer there. He had the chance to chat with Walt at a recent Noodles show, and it came up that Walt himself would be playing at Cactus Jack’s this past Friday night – so we went. What a treat! I repeat, if you haven’t been to a live show in a while, put on your dancing shoes and get out there to see some music. You don’t have to spend your kids’ college fund to do it, either. Although we’ve paid a pretty penny to seem some major acts, local acts are sometimes even better, and they’re often free.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Watching my husband dissect the music, learn new songs, rehearse a minimum of three hours a day, and take the stage around town, I have such appreciation for the work these performers do. If there’s live music and you didn’t pay a cover fee, please tip those musicians well. They’re working their butts off, and often the crowd doesn’t even seem to realize they’re there. You got in free – the least you can do is toss them a five. If they’re good, tip ’em extra!

Walt is always fun to watch. Another local act John and I really like is a cover band called The Walkens. These guys do the most amazing job covering everyone from Michael Jackson to AC/DC to U2. We first heard them at a street fair about seven years ago. It had rained earlier that day, so the crowd was pretty thin, but we were utterly shocked at how few people applauded this super talented band. We liked them so much, we went out of our way to plan one of my birthday dinners at a restaurant where they were playing that night.

One night a few years ago, we happened into a local indie coffee shop. To our delight, a jazz trio was just setting up. We hadn’t planned to stay long, but this unlikely group – a long-haired woman perhaps in her mid-30s, an old guy with a golf hat, and a kid who couldn’t have been out of his teens – captured our attention and held it for the next 45 minutes to an hour. We have subsequently discussed, on more than one occasion, how there is nothing like listening to live music to make you feel connected to other people who also are willing to dance and sway and clap and move their bodies to the beat. (In retrospect, perhaps I should have known something was off about my son’s birthfather: he could watch an entire concert by one of his favorite bands and not move a muscle, never even crack a smile.)

Christopher Shayne Band
Christopher Shayne Band bassist, Mark Blades

We recently saw an excellent local Southern rock group called the Christopher Shayne Band at the Pot of Gold Music Festival. Those guys were hard-rocking – and a lot of their songs were drinking themed – but they were excellent. Neither of us had heard of them before, but neither were we surprised to learn that they will be opening for ZZ Top this coming weekend at Arizona Bike Week.

Joe Rush

A Tucson artist whom I grew to love but never had a chance to see live was a guy named Joe Rush. My friend, the marvelously creative Gawain Douglas, introduced me to Joe when he designed the cover for Joe’s first album, Play and Play and Play. You have to know the music is impactful when it stays with you for 30-some years. When I made Eric’s Playlist for him for Christmas, I was thrilled to be able to include a song from Play and Play and Play, which unlike all the other songs on the playlist, is not available on iTunes. It just so happens that someone liked one of my favorite songs on that album, “The Blackbird and the Bluebird,” enough to make an animated video of it. As often happens when books are taken to the big screen, this artist’s rendering is not how I would have interpreted the song, but it’s clever nonetheless.

I’ll admit, my favorite band is a major act: I’d probably go to the ends of the earth to see U2 play live. That said, the most fun I’ve ever had at a concert was the Police reunion tour with opening act Elvis Costello at Desert Sky/Blockbuster/Cricket/Ashley Furniture/Ak-Chin Pavilion. That was when it came home to me that live music is meant to be listened to al fresco. I guess my biggest bucket list concert at this point would be the Cure, since we knocked Huey Lewis off the list last fall at the Lost Lakes Festival. But we’ll enjoy whoever we see next, more than likely a local group. I’m excited just anticipating it…

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

What’s at the Top of Your Lifetime Playlist?

What’s at the Top of Your Lifetime Playlist?

Being married to a musician, I probably spend a lot more time listening to, watching, and learning about music than the average non-musician. It helps that I’ve always loved many kinds of music, even though the extent of my musical training and skill ran to a six-week course in the recorder back in second or third grade at St. Agnes Catholic School. I think we learned “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The boys used the recorders as swords – I’m not sure what ever happened to mine.

So when John tries to explain using this chord instead of that one or how Dave Nachmanoff doesn’t use traditional tuning for a lot of his songs, it’s mostly lost on me. He tells me, however, that I have a pretty good grasp of sound for a non-musician, even though I don’t know the musical terms to precisely convey what I mean. When we’re watching those singing competition shows and I say, “It’s not round enough” or “It’s very tinny,” he knows exactly what I mean, and usually agrees with me.

My mom’s family was very musical. I wish I knew what happened to it, but there was a black-and-white photo of her with a number of her 11 siblings, each standing around a tree holding a musical instrument. My mom held a violin – but I never heard her talk about playing it, so that may have just been a pose for the picture. Back at about the same time I was tinkering with the recorder, my Aunt Molly (Modesta) made an album of Spanish songs of which my mother was both very proud and very envious. That, like the photo, disappeared into the wind with my mother’s illness. She spilled stuff on or broke or tore up or otherwise destroyed most of the mementos I – and, presumably Eric and his family – would cherish today.

My niece, Samantha, has quite a vocal talent. Corina and I thought for some time that she would study music and perform professionally, but after high school, she gave up singing entirely, except to occasionally sing with her church group. She sang two songs at my father’s funeral – and we wanted her to sing at my mom’s memorial Mass five years later, but she refused. Cori finally cajoled her into it, and she sang “Ave Maria,” after which all of my mother’s relatives clapped, like it was a recital. I thought the priest was going to have a heart attack. I really wanted her to sing at our wedding reception, but that didn’t happen. John’s stepmom, Gayle, stepped in and did an amazing job covering U2’s “All I Want Is You.”

In spite of my father, who preferred silence to any sort of music, I have appreciated music from my earliest days. And, I have what I sometimes think of as a series of soundtracks from different eras of my life. I put those all together into a musical version of my life story for Eric this past Christmas. I vacillated about giving it to him, as it felt more than a little self-indulgent. Nevertheless, my history is his history, so I gambled that he would find it at least somewhat interesting. I won’t share the whole list here because it was a very personal gift to him. If this blog ever makes it into print as a book, I’ll reconsider. I will, however, give you my intro to Eric’s Playlist:

So the last time I heard “Forever Young” on the radio, it occurred to me that I might make you a “mix tape” of the songs that were important to me throughout my life – and as I put the playlist together (we actually recorded them on cassettes when I was your age), I started jotting notes about each song. My initial goal was to record the whole thing on an MP3 player for you so I could include these descriptive bits as audio recordings – but that became labor intensive, so I decided to move into the 21st century and do it the sensible way, with an iTunes playlist (or, more accurately, two iTunes playlists).

The songs are more or less in some attempt of chronological order. Some will seem weird to you, no doubt – but all played a key role in my growing up, development as a person, are things I just love, and/or are pieces of music I’ve shared with John. Maybe you’ll enjoy listening to them – maybe just reading about them. Either way, here we go.

  1. Rod Stewart – “Forever Young” –This song is the whole reason I made this playlist for you, Eric. Every time I hear it, I think of you. I’m not sure how well we will ever get to know each other, but I hope you have even a small understanding of how much you are loved and that I wish only the very best things in life for you.

Eric never commented on the playlist, so I have no idea what he thought of it. No matter – it was a wonderful walk down Memory Lane for me. I had a blast playing most of the 92 songs on it a few times each as I put the list together. I say most because I included music I didn’t especially like, if it was important for some reason.

So there you have it, the first of my promised posts created from randomly selected words. Still have Bravery and Caves to tackle as topics from the same writing prompt, so stay tuned!

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Meeting the Grandparents

Meeting the Grandparents

Although John and I have taken many short trips together – mostly for music or book events – we’ve never had a proper honeymoon. We spent the day after our wedding with my son and his family. We knew we wanted to do something together – and John was happy to go along with whatever plans we made. Yet it was an interesting process, trying to decide how to spend that day. I cast my vote for the Pink Jeep Tours, an opportunity to go off-road and see the rugged terrain of the Sedona area. However, the majority won, and we wound up visiting the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, a small town a few miles from Sedona.

Even though we spent it together, Eric largely kept with his parents while John and I sat together during the tour. Bruce was busy with his camera, photographing the wild animals that came up to the window of the bus. I remember a friendly giraffe with a huge tongue, in particular.

After our visit to the park, we went for pizza, and then made our way back to Phoenix. The trip back was a bit of a friendly competition, John and Bruce trading the lead back and forth between them as we drove down the hill from Sedona.

Though my mom had been ill, we decided to stop by the nursing home to see her, so that Eric could meet at least one of his birth-grandparents. My dad had passed away five-and-a-half years earlier, and it remains unlikely Eric will meet Tony’s mom – though I do believe anything is possible. According to my occasional FB research, Tony’s dad died nearly three years ago. What I remember about them was that Dale could be extremely sarcastic, often making his wife, Diane, the butt of his jokes. I would watch her wince at his comments and think to myself that I would not be surprised if one day, after 30 years of marriage, she walked out. As far as I know, that did not happen. It was also a teaching moment for me and Tony, because when he tried to belittle me the same way, I let him have it. Turns out I did have a few boundaries with him.

My mom had been on a progressive decline for the few years prior to going into the nursing home. For years – as long as I can remember, actually – her behavior had been odd. It wasn’t until after the massive stroke that would take her life that Corina and I received an explanation for her strange behavior: the vascular surgeon called in to officially determine that hospice was our only option told us that our mom had indications of severe vascular dementia, the likely result of multiple strokes that had occurred throughout her life. By the time Eric met her, about five months before she passed away, she was already severely incapacitated. Though it’s possible she understood when I introduced her to Eric and his parents, she was unable to say much. But she nodded happily and smiled a lot.

I’ve never spoken with Kathy – or Eric – about that meeting, so I really have no idea what his response was. I do believe he was grateful for the opportunity meet at least one grandparent, though.

My husband was blessed to have known all four of his grandparents – and to have a close relationship with his paternal grandfather and grandmother. His grandpa died nearly 25 years ago; Grandma left us just last June (2017). Though she doted on him, he had a difficult relationship with her, as she was every bit the family matriarch, with high standards, particularly when it came to what others might think … about everything. He was a smoker until almost two years ago – a fact he tried to keep hidden from her. I doubt she could have missed it, though she might have chosen to ignore it, as her sister died of lung cancer and she claimed to abhor smoking – and, by association, people who smoked. He said at one point a couple months after her passing that he wished he’d been able to be more of himself with her. She loved him nonetheless.

It occurs to me as I write this that I don’t know much about Eric’s adoptive grandparents – which ones he might have met or had relationships with. I believe Bruce’s father was still living when Eric was born – but I’m not one hundred percent certain about that. Kathy, again, would certainly have all of those details.

I have few regrets about the adoption, but I do wish Eric and my father had had the chance to meet. I know my dad would be so immeasurably proud of his only grandson. My dad was a college professor, once upon a time – and, if my experience is at all reflective of his teaching skills, perhaps not a very good one. He’d find one way of communicating an instruction – on pretty much any topic – but if you didn’t understand him and asked him for further explanation, he’d say the exact same thing again, just more slowly and with greater volume. No, I would think, it wasn’t that I didn’t hear you – rather that I didn’t understand you. Can you explain it in different words? But he was kind and gentle, and he gave me the gift of compassion. He was a year younger than John’s grandmother – so they were of the same era where etiquette and proper manners mattered greatly.

Unlike John’s grandmother, Mary, my father was a scholar of his faith – knew the Bible inside and out (rare for a Catholic) and understood and accepted every aspect of the church’s dogma, pretty much without question. We had a pretty intense argument when the retired bishop of Phoenix was accused of a hit-and-run accident that left a man dead. My father felt it was unseemly for the bishop to be treated as a common criminal. I insisted that shepherd of the church or not, he’d killed a man and left the scene – it was only right that he pay the same price any other person would pay. Mary had no such highfalutin ideas. She went to church most Sundays, but had a difficult time distinguishing between the holy seasons of Lent (leading up to Easter) and Advent (leading up to Christmas). For her, church was more of an obligation with the benefit of marvelous social interactions.

My mom was pretty much the polar opposite of my dad. She got her GED the same year I graduated from high school. I remember some of the sessions with Mary, my social worker at the adoption agency. As we talked, I would tell her about my parents and she’d scribble furiously on her yellow notepad, taking notes she would give to the Stanfields’ caseworker to share with them (before they knew the adoption would eventually become open). One of the things that most caught her attention was when I told her that although my mom had very little formal education, I thought she would have been a very good student. “What makes you say that?” Mary asked. The fact that she read everything she could get her hands on. She was a slow reader, often vocalizing her words as she read. But she loved books of all sorts. While she was functional, she was curious and loved learning.

She was creative, too. My dad was efficient – my mom resourceful and imaginative. I suspect I blend gifts from both of them in my writing and in building and running my business. I see some of that in Eric already – but he also has a great deal of Tony’s super-analytical mind.

I still have no idea whether Eric even knows about this blog – or is reading it. Still, a part of me writes every post for him. Better still than him reading these words would be the chance to sit and talk about this stuff with him. Maybe someday…

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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.