Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

Cousins, Cousins, and More Cousins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Adoption played a starring role in my life the whole time I lived in the NYC area. It seems, in retrospect, that I’d meet someone new, and within a few minutes they’d know about my son. So it makes sense that I told one of the temps working with me in the admin department of the Lehman Brothers Investment Banking division. Her name was Juliette and she was, at the time, making a film about witches. Like many temps, she was a working actor/producer who needed a day job to pay the bills.

If you could picture a woman who’d make a documentary about Wiccans, you might imagine a goth chick. Juliette was most definitely a goth gal. She wore only black, had long straight hair worn loose down her back, and seemed paler than the average woman. We got to talking about my son’s adoption, and Juliette mentioned that she, too, was adopted. The first thing I (still) wonder, on meeting an adopted person, is whether they’ve had a reunion with their birthfamily. As I’ve matured, I’ve become better at discerning the appropriate time to ask that question – sometimes it’s never appropriate. When I met Juliette, I believe I pretty much blurted it out immediately.

And, not surprisingly, I think I put her on the spot. “Um, well, I’ve never really searched for my birthmother,” she explained. She went on to describe an adoptive mom who was the epitome of June Cleaver and told me she’d never felt quite at home in her family.

“You know,” I blathered on, “chances are that you’re a lot like your birthmom. She’s probably arty and interesting and liberal. You might look like her too!”

Juliette’s face fell. She enjoyed being a misfit in her family, in terms of foiling her adoptive mom’s preference for pearls and dinner parties and Good Housekeeping décor. She had chosen to rewrite history in her head, and had more or less convinced herself that she’d descended, fully formed, into this family. And all of the things that made her different – and in her mind, special – were uniquely hers. Although she was 35 years old, it had never occurred to her that she had progenitors and, due to simple biology, was likely somewhat similar to them. Rather than comforting her, the thought that she might be similar to her birthmother seemed to horrify her.

As a new birthmother, I was shocked by her reaction to the idea.

I hated to think that my son might, out of hand, reject me as his birthmother. This was a lot less likely to happen, however, simply due to the timeline. Juliette arrived in her family back in the days of fully closed adoptions, when birth and adoptive families traveled distinct paths which the agencies took great care to ensure never, ever crossed. With our adoption beginning as semi-open, Kathy, Bruce, Tony (to the degree he was involved), and I were much further down the road toward extensive knowledge about each other – which means the mystery never really existed for our son. He knew who his birthparents were, where we were raised, the kinds and levels of education we’d achieved, what our parents had done for work, our religious beliefs, our health histories, and pretty much anything else he or his parents thought to ask – then and since.

Juliette had none of that. Everything was unknown, so instead of assuming she was like anyone else, she preferred to imagine that she had been a blank slate, and that she, personally, had chosen every trait that made her unique. Again, biology tells us otherwise. The nature/nurture debates still rage on, but the fact is that our physical traits, at the very least, are passed down. And likely personality traits, as well as social preferences and much more.

I lost touch with Juliette not long after she stopped temping with us. I did see and recognize her on the news in the days following 9/11, among the ash-covered faces running for their lives in the rubble of the Twin Towers. And I peeked at her Facebook page before writing this post. She’s still involved in acting, but in an entirely other milieu than filmmaking. According to an article in EOS magazine, the witch documentary did get made, though I could find no reference to it on IMDB. The article mentions Juliette’s teenage escape from conservative Orange County, Calif., but it says nothing further about her upbringing. I can’t help but wonder if she ever looked up her birthmom – or if her birthmom might have searched for her and been thrilled to discover what a wildly creative and successful woman her daughter has become.

Adoption is weird – there’s no right or wrong in terms of how the relationships ultimately turn out. We all just do the best we can. I never meant to burst Juliette’s bubble about her imagined story of origin. But at least a tiny part of me would be gratified to know that I planted the idea of a search that might not have taken hold otherwise.

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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.

Checking the Calendar

Checking the Calendar

If you’ve been reading or following this blog, you may have seen a comment or two from me about the seemingly innumerable coincidences – or synchronicities – that punctuate our adoption.

Today is Kathy’s birthday – HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Eric’s other mother! It’s only the first February birthday, though. Eric’s birthday is also this month. HAPPY ALMOST BIRTHDAY to our amazing kiddo. Come May, we’ll celebrate my birthday, which always falls near or on Mother’s Day. That is the first May birthday, as Jill, Eric’s sister, also has a birthday in May.

Now here’s where it starts to get strange. I’m not sure why, but up till now, I’ve never known Bruce’s birthday – Eric’s dad. Thanks to Facebook, I just discovered that it’s July 15. Here are 22 years’ worth of belated Happy Birthdays, Bruce! But guess who else has a July birthday? Tony, Eric’s birthfather.

So that’s three birthday coincidences so far – you might even call them smallish. But wait – there’s more! Eric shares his February 24 birthday with the late Steve Jobs, who also happened to be adopted. It’s also the day before Tony’s sister, Wendee’s birthday. Oh, and I just found out that Jill’s husband’s birthday is February 28 – but maybe we should stop counting.

For those who are keeping score, that’s four close family birthdays in February, two in May, and two in July. In other words a lot, as well as the pretty cool shared birthday with a famous smart guy. Here’s one last synchronicity related to birthdays in Eric’s family: Kathy is 10 years older than her brother, Tommy (Eric calls him UT), and Jill happens to be 10 years older than Eric. Hmmm…

There are 365 days in a year. What are the chances of that much overlap between just eight people? You know, Eric could probably calculate those odds in his head.

But we’re just getting warmed up. Keep reading to learn about the whoppers of coincidences in our story that go way beyond shared birthdays.