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.

She Knits – I Crochet

She Knits – I Crochet

My husband is the TV watcher in our family. He gets up, and first thing, the TV goes on. I lived without a TV for the six years prior to meeting him. But having a TV in the house without watching it is like having a bag of M&M’s on your desk without eating them – it’s not likely to happen. So I started watching TV, just a little at first. After seven years of marriage, it became something I wasn’t thinking about anymore. Until I got together with a few of my very smart girlfriends a few times and started to notice that we never had a conversation in which our favorite TV shows didn’t come up. Really?

read instead

This year, however, after attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January, I committed to reading more – which means turning the TV off. I’m halfway through my seventh novel since making that commitment, and I’ve been delighted to rediscover the joy of reading. We didn’t get rid of our TV, though, so I still watch occasionally. But I’ve never been able to watch television without having something to occupy my hands. For a while it was adult coloring books – but you miss a lot of details if you’re not actually watching the screen with some regularity. Same problem with video games on my iPad.

When we cleaned out my husband’s grandmother’s house after she passed away a year ago, one of the things I came across was a bag of knitting materials: balls of yarn, needles, scissors, and a pattern book. It was strange because Mary had always said she had no skill whatsoever at handcrafts – so we’re not really sure who the knitting bag belonged to. Made me think for a minute, though, that I might like to learn how to knit – or at least resurrect my middling crochet skills from my high school days. I even looked into classes in my area, but the next one was starting the following day, and I wasn’t quite that ready to jump in. My friend Katie, who’s an avid knitter, told me to hold onto the bag, because I might get into it someday.

20180529_193203

Well, lo and behold, someday has arrived. As it turns out, Kathy – Eric’s mom – is a knitter. She’s busy these days making a bunting for her grandson before he makes his appearance sometime in mid-August. Like Katie, she belongs to a knitting group, which she enjoys for the company and the relaxation knitting provides.

I guess I mentioned to Kathy that I’d like to get back to needlecrafting – but I wasn’t sure knitting was for me. My older sister taught me basic crochet once upon a time, so I thought that would be a better place to start. Then Eric went home to Boston last Friday, even though I’m still hanging out with Kathy and Bruce so I can attend Book Expo America in NYC this week. Since we had a couple down days early this week, Kathy offered to arrange a private lesson for me with a teacher from her yarn shop. What a thoughtful gift!

20180529_193233

My beginner project is a scarf, so I chose some worsted yarn. Fortunately, crochet is like riding a bike. I never got too far with it all those years ago, but apparently the muscle memory is still there, because it was pretty easy to pick up the two “new” stitches I needed for this project: single and double crochet. For advanced crocheters, this project will seem simple. I’m pretty proud of the start on my variegated colored scarf, even if it is a bit uneven. Not sure yet whether it will be a gift, or if I will just keep it. Bruce asked me today if there was need for a scarf in Arizona. “For me, yes,” I told him. “For you, probably not.”

crocheted scarf

So there we sat on the couch watching the first game of the Stanley Cup finals last night, Kathy knitting, Bruce on his iPad, and me crocheting. Kathy texted Eric about the cheesy start for the Las Vegas Knights and they went back and forth for a bit. It was so normal and comfortable. If you’d told any of us 23 years ago that this would be the outcome, I doubt we’d have believed it. And yet, here we are. For all those birthmoms who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can only suggest that you keep the faith and hang in there. It can get better – but sometimes it takes a while. And in the meantime, you have to get out of your own way and choose to allow the miracles to come.

__________________________
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.

Pretty Toes and Melancholy, Too

Pretty Toes and Melancholy, Too

I know people who consider mani-pedis not a luxury, but an absolute life essential. My general pattern is to wait so long between salon visits that my fingernails look like I’ve clawed my way out of a coffin and my feet have fish scales on the bottom. Then I wail to my husband, “I haaaaaave to get a manicure!”

“So go get one,” he says with a shrug. You think it’d be that easy. I could have gotten one last week, during that hour I played a video game on my iPad. Or instead of binge watching another British crime drama. Or instead of reading the latest novel I’m working on (7th so far this year – although I only read The American Marriage to page 63, because it was at that ridiculously early point in the “mystery” that I figured out how it was going to end). But, no. I played and procrastinated doing a task that has specific hours attached to it – the salons are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. – until I couldn’t stand it any longer. But now I have a client deadline and a meeting and other things pulling at my attention.

No matter. Today I went and got the damned manicure and pedicure.

Once I get there and allow myself to relax, it really is luxurious. First, they remove your old toe polish – OK, maybe they skip this step for the guys. Then they cut your nails down to the length of normal humans, rather than those of tree sloths. They also go to town on the cuticles, cutting away all that excess skin. I always pay a few bucks extra for them to do a callous removal treatment. Bye-bye, fish scales! Next, they break out the lotion, for a lovely calf, ankle, and foot massage. My salon also adds the treat of hot rocks, followed by a hot towel. No – not as torture, but to remove any remaining aches and stress. Then, they paint your toes with the dazzling color of your choice. OK, again, maybe the guys opt out of this step. But at the end, your feet look lovely and feel even better. The manicure, which comes next, follows much of the same process for your hands.

In spite of the delightful end results, it’s a bit of a lonely time for me, which I suppose is why I don’t really look forward to it like I used to. Many (most?) women do the mani-pedi thing as a group activity, because it’s just more fun that way. For years, I went with my sister. Even that last year when she was sick and living with me, we still went to the salon with some regularity. After she left us, I started taking John’s grandmother, Mary, to the nail salon with greater frequency. I think I might have taken her once or twice prior to Corina’s passing. After that, we went pretty much like clockwork at least once a month to a salon close to her home in Chandler – the house I now live in. In fact, we went to the salon together the day before the heart attack that ultimately claimed her life.

When John’s sister and her daughter were here for Mary’s funeral last June, we all went to that same salon, but it was a one-time thing, as they live in New York. I’m really not much into superstitions, but I think I might steer away anyone else who offered to be my regular salon buddy, as the survival rate for the job is rather, well, zero – so far.

I’ve tried on more than one occasion to get John to come with me. He’s a regular hiker, so his heels are pretty rough. For those who are reading this and have never had a pedicure, I encourage you to try it as a delicious way to pamper yourselves. Gentlemen included! It’s far more mainstream for men than you might realize. I do find this statistic a bit suspect, though, but according to an October 2017 story in the New York Post, “The International Spa Association reports in its new Consumer Snapshot that 49 percent of spa customers are men, up from 29 percent in 2005.” John, however, is having none of it. One of his former fellow plumbers had regaled the guys with a horror story about infections and lost toenails incurred from a nail salon visit, so he says “Thanks but no thanks” every time I bring it up. Even when I ask every so sweetly.

That leaves me to go on my own to treat myself to this indulgence that is both pampering and melancholy. Which is definitely better than not going at all, but not as much fun as it once was.

mani pedi 2

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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.

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

I remember being pregnant with Eric, trying to envision our lives – his and mine, distinctly separate – when he was 18. That’s the magical number to many a birthmother, as it’s the age of consent. They no longer need trouble with pesky adoptive parents when considering contacting the child they placed for adoption all those years ago. Of course, I exaggerate. I don’t have any idea how many birthmoms actually try to circumvent the adoptive family to reach their child, but I’m sure there are some. Particularly if the adoptive family has been extraordinarily stand-offish or breached the agreement after promising a certain level of contact.

As heartbreaking as such behavior no doubt is to birthmothers – birthfamilies – I actually understand it. I don’t sanction it because it’s more than likely born out of fear, but I can imagine an intensely overprotective adoptive parent thinking they’re doing the right thing by shielding their child from his or her family of origin. I believe this thought process is utterly misguided and will do more to hurt their child and harm their relationship with their son or daughter – but I get why they might behave that way.

Fortunately, I had none of those worries. Thanks to Kathy, our adoption has always been open, and I have had nearly unfettered access to my son – to whatever degree he was comfortable with. She always let him set the pace, and I never once got the impression that she felt threatened by me or my presence. And even so, I had a very hard time imagining this unborn baby – barely a seed of a human – at 18 years of age, or older. I used to ask my sister what she thought Samantha would do with her life, and she would tell me she didn’t want to speculate. She preferred to watch Samantha’s progress and growth unfold in real time. My niece is an interesting individual. She is simultaneously both one of the most amazing people I have ever known, and one of the most narcissistic and caustic ones. Cori got to see Samantha reach her 25th year – and given Sam’s extreme behavior the final year of Corina’s life, it’s probably best that my sister didn’t envision it ahead of time (or have a crystal ball).

It’s an interesting thing to be involved in your child’s life from the sidelines. This is NOT a complaint, merely an observation. I made a choice about which I have few regrets. But as Eric’s birthmother, I saw things through the very long lens, rather than through the day-to-day microscope. I received his annual school photos, vacation pictures, and occasional updates about this class project or that sports event. The good news is that I didn’t have to imagine him as he was growing up – I always knew where he was, what he was up to, and that he was safe and loved. Birthmothers – both domestic and international – in closed adoptions have spent their children’s entire lives wondering how they were turning out. I still can’t imagine how difficult that must be.

Five years ago, I received a somewhat last-minute invitation to Eric’s high school graduation. Kathy didn’t want to invite me until she knew there would be a ticket available for me – and she managed to wrangle one at the eleventh hour. It was quite a trip – not my first visit to Eric’s family’s house, but the first where I was fully enveloped into the family. I arrived a few days early and spent them driving around the Stanfields’ little New Jersey hamlet with Kathy, preparing for the graduation party. Everywhere we went, Kathy would introduce me to the clerk or attendant as her son’s birthmother, and they were fairly uniformly impressed by our close relationship. The woman who was our server at the restaurant on graduation night was straight out of Central Casting. Big hair, made up like a cancan girl, authentic New Jersey accent. She teared up when Kathy introduced me, and told us she was going to include our story in her memoir, which she said she was in the middle of writing at the time.

Many, many things have happened and changed in my life in those last five years. And now, our son sits on the precipice of Real Life – about to graduate from Northeastern University with a degree in civil/environmental engineering.

graduation invite

 

Due to the extremely limited number of tickets, I didn’t receive an invitation to this year’s graduation. I know Kathy feels bad about that, because it’s in her nature to want to make everyone happy. I’m OK with missing the graduation, but a bit disappointed to miss the graduation night dinner. Nevertheless, I’ll be there again for the big family party. As much as it won’t be new to me this time, it will be different. This time, our kid is all grown up. He’s an amazing young man of whom I could not be prouder. He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and my heart swells, thinking of the amazing future I hope he will have. Only he can really decide that – but from what I’ve seen, he’s got a giant heart, a brilliant mind, and a whole caravan of people who love and support him. In other words, a huge head start.

When it came to his high school graduation, I didn’t want to give him anything as impersonal as money as a gift. I was stumped about what to get, but then John’s dad came up with the idea of a gift card to the Boston Garden, since we knew he would be attending college in Boston. His pleasure at receiving that seemed genuine. I also gave him the info I’d tracked down about his birthfather – call it a side gift? This is a bigger occasion, so the gift will be commensurate. I’ll write more about that after I return from my East Coast visit in May, as I don’t want to spoil anything ahead of time.

So far, all I know is that I have plans to spend four days in New Jersey. My plane reservations are for a week, though – my plans are open for the rest of that time. Eric will undoubtedly be the center of attention that week, so I’m just going to plan, as usual, to go with the flow. I can always find a way to entertain myself, so there’s no need for anyone to worry after me, although I do hope to get in at least one private meal with the kiddo while I’m there.

Right now, he’s in the middle of finals, so I’m just sending good thoughts and keeping busy with my life in Arizona. I blinked and 23 years flew by. I’m not sure where the time went. Before long, we’ll be sending his kid off to college!

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

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.

Two Reunions and a Wedding

Two Reunions and a Wedding

Tomorrow is John’s and my 7th wedding anniversary. We chose St. Patrick’s Day, a Thursday, because of my affinity for the Irish part of my bloodline and because it was pretty nontraditional. As important a day as it was, the day before – seven years ago today – was perhaps more important, because it was the day I had a face-to-face reunion with my son for the first time since he was 2 days old.

It took John and me a while to figure out the right date and decide what we wanted to do for the wedding. We decided on an outdoor wedding (at Bell Rock) in Sedona. As soon as we knew the details, I phoned up Kathy and told her that she, Bruce, Eric – and Jill, if she could make it – were invited. She was quite happy for us – and nervous about telling Eric. He was 16 at the time and, understandably, we weren’t in as direct contact as we are now. Though Jill wasn’t able to attend, Kathy, Bruce, and Eric made the trip.

Next, we had to plan that first meeting between our son and me.

I invited Eric and his parents to meet me at our favorite diner – the place John and I had breakfast almost every weekend the entire time we lived near downtown Phoenix. John decided not to go, as he didn’t want to crowd the meeting. He figured there’d be enough tension without Eric having to meet my husband, too. I was giddy – and nervous – for the whole week leading up to the meeting.

Thankfully, I tend to have some common sense – so I planned for what I figured were the two significant possibilities: Eric would be like Tony, close-lipped, quiet, reserved, smart as hell, and saying very little. Or he would be like me: open, warm, and easy to talk to. Strangely, I didn’t feel like I had to do that much in the way of psyching myself out for possibility #1. Though the odds were pretty much 50-50, he’s a guy, so I tended to lean toward the assumption he would behave like Tony. And I was ready.

I felt I had done very little in the way of pestering or interfering with Eric and his family through the years. I’d let Kathy know that I was available if Eric had any questions (he never did), and he and I had exchanged a few emails. I sent a Christmas ornament for their tree every year, and acknowledged his birthday with a humorous ecard and the occasional gift. But I’d been as hands-off as I could be, because I didn’t want to overreach or scare either Eric or his parents. Kathy had told me several stories to indicate that our kid was a caring child, growing into a caring young man, but this was going to be an unprecedented meeting for him. How do you get ready to meet the woman who gave you birth and then gave you away?

Quiet and uncommunicative would have made sense to me. Turns out, I needn’t haveEric & Lo worried at all.

 

My sense of our son is that he took after Tony physically, but he seems to have more of my emotional makeup. He was obviously nervous at the meeting, but we sat, him between his parents, and I on the other side of our booth. We all chatted for a bit – and then Kathy and Bruce made a gracious exit and allowed Eric and me to talk, which we did for about an hour.

I was ready – expecting – for him to be quiet, and he was anything but. We talked easily like old friends catching up. He chuckled as I described my initial meetings with his parents. When I told him that their social worker, Anna, had described his dad as “hard to get to know,” he laughed out loud.

“Yeah – pretty much exactly,” he agreed with Anna’s assessment.

His folks swung back by to pick him up when we were done. Kathy said she asked him how it went – that was when he got quiet. “Fine,” was his only response. I’m sure he told her more later – but he probably needed time to process things. As far as I was concerned, the meeting could not have gone better.

The wedding was the next day at about 2 in the afternoon. Earlier that morning, we all made our independent ways up to Sedona from Phoenix: John and I; Eric and his parents; my sister and her husband; John’s family; our wedding officiant; and our photographer. Corina and I had hired a caregiver to look after our mother during the ceremony and throughout the weekend, but our mom came down with pneumonia a couple weeks before the wedding and we decided the day before that she wasn’t strong enough yet to make the trip. The caregiver didn’t get the message, though, so other than the gal who married us and the photographer, she was the only non-family member in attendance – other than the hikers and tourists who gathered around to watch. It was quite an experience!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have seen mention of the many powerful coincidences that punctuate our adoption experience. It was a monumental coincidence that helped us open the adoption in the first place. There are also all kinds of birthday coincidences, too. On the day of our wedding, we learned of another astounding coincidence that did not involve me or my family at all. As we all gathered in the parking lot of the hotel to drive down the hill for the ceremony, it was the first time the Stanfields were meeting my sister, and also the first time they were meeting John and his family. So imagine all of our surprise when both John’s grandmother, Mary, and Bruce did double-takes. “Don’t I know you?” one of them asked.

Mary and Bruce

“Yes – from the bank in New Jersey 30-plus years ago.” Mary had been a teller when Bruce was starting in auditing at the same bank branch back in Clifton, New Jersey, decades earlier. I still shake my head at the odds of such a thing occurring. There had never been any doubt that Eric was where he was meant to be – but this was absolutely uncanny.

After getting over our shock, we made our way to Bell Rock and had a beautiful ceremony. The reception dinner followed at Heartline Café – and Eric was so gracious as John’s dad (unintentionally?) pummeled him with questions about his plans for the future. I was so pleased that Corina got to meet and chat with Kathy and Eric. It was the only time they ever connected, but important to all of them, I think.

Life with John has been such a blessing – it’s hard to believe it’s already been seven years. And right alongside that wonderful relationship, I’ve been developing one of the other most precious relationships in my life. So glad to be connected to you, my beautiful son!

Lo with Stanfields

PHOTO IDs

Cover Photo: The whole wedding – pictures courtesy of master photographer David Bell. L to R: Matt Bustos, Corina’s husband; Corina, my sister and maid of honor; Gayle Kelemen, John’s stepmom; Laura; John’s dad, John Sr.; John; Ed Snible, John’s bro-in-law and best man; Charlotte Snible, John’s niece; Gayle Snible, John’s sister; Kathy Stanfield, my son’s adoptive mom; Mary Kelemen, John’s grandmother; Eric, my son; Lauralee Green, our officiant; Joan Pearlman, my mom’s would-be caregiver; Bruce Stanfield, my son’s adoptive dad.

Eric and Laura

Mary and Bruce meet again

Kathy, Laura, Eric, and Bruce

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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.