23

23

It’s been interesting, in writing these posts, how many details I remember. Perhaps it’s because I’ve told some of these stories a few times, so the details have imprinted. Other things I don’t remember nearly as vividly. Today is Eric’s 23rd birthday. It’s after 7 p.m. as I write this, but I don’t have any idea what I was doing at 7 p.m. that evening. I know Kathy and Bruce and my sister Ann were there in the hospital within hours after his birth – which was around noon. Not surprisingly for New Jersey in February, it was cold, with snow on the ground. A few other details, which I’ll share in future posts – but I certainly could not recreate any kind of accurate timeline of my stay in the hospital. Any such chronology would simply be a guess on my part.

Toward the end of Eric’s first year, I got involved in an Internet chat room with other birthmothers. One mentioned celebrating her daughter’s birthday every year with a cake. That was such an astonishing concept for me – so simple, yet an idea I’m not sure I ever would have come up with on my own. It was almost as though I needed permission to celebrate the birthday of this son I had carried and birthed and released – yet still loved so very much – to come from someone else. The fact that this other birthmom did it gave me the room to coopt her idea and do it, too. And so I did. Every year for the first 10 years or so, I not only had a cake – but made a cake.

Some of those cakes came out well – others looked like sixth-grade Home Ec class failing grades. The nice thing was that one of the other birthmoms in Spence-Chapin’s birthmother support group had a son whose birthday was March 6. We met on the first Monday of the month, so each year, I would make my cake, carry it to work at Lehman Brothers – sometimes through the most atrocious weather – and then drag it on the subway all the way uptown to 92nd Street. Even if it started out looking nice, it was pretty battered by the time we ate it – but delicious nonetheless. As far as I am aware, I was the only birthmom in our group who did the cake thing.

It must have been February 2000, the first birthday I was living in Phoenix. February 24 rolled around and I headed to the store for chocolate cake mix and white frosting – Eric’s favorite – and proceeded to make my annual baked wonder. I made the cake, iced it, and was carrying it out to the dining room table when my dad asked me what the occasion was. Though my parents hadn’t known about my pregnancy, I had told them about their grandson four years prior, on his first birthday. So it wasn’t like my dad didn’t know – he was being deliberately obtuse.

I was outraged. I remember shouting at him – I must have seemed completely unhinged – that he never had any problems remembering Samantha’s birthday (my sister’s daughter), and just because my son wasn’t within eye’s view didn’t mean he wasn’t there or didn’t matter. Needless to day, the festive mood was spoiled.

The next day, my dad did something I don’t ever remember him doing before or after: he apologized to me. I’m not saying that he never apologized in my lifetime, just that I don’t remember any of the other ones. This one was a really big deal. And as his way of making amends, he gave me a greeting card he’d made on his Macintosh computer, one page folded in quarters, with one of those clunky, pixelated fonts. Happy Birthday, Eric. It was the most beautiful card I’d ever received. What’s more, going forward, for every birthday, Mother’s Day or any other celebratory occasion, he would make me two cards, one from him and one “from” Eric.

He’d not only heard me that day I’d freaked out on him, but my dad had understood how important it was to me that he recognize and honor his grandson’s existence. I can only speculate, but I imagine he must have considered how much Corina and I meant to him – and that gave him a sense of why my son, even though he wasn’t in my day-to-day life, might have been important to me, too. I still wish the two of them would have had the opportunity to meet. I know for certain that Grandpa would be so proud of his amazing grandson.

These last dozen or so years, I’ve gotten lazy. We tend to buy our cakes, or cheesecakes. Much more recently, just slices of cake, so we aren’t stuck with the whole thing. We actually celebrated Eric’s birthday early this year – yesterday. I wrote a post for Kathy’s birthday (February 3) about all the crazy birthday coincidences within our extended adoptive family. Somehow, in that post, I managed to ignore one of the biggest coincidences of all. My late sister’s husband, Matt, shares a birthday with Eric. So we had Matt over for dinner last night and sang happy birthday to him and Eric as we dove into a (whole) cheesecake.

I called Eric today – his voice mailbox was full. Apple and tree, right? So I sent him a text – and he called me right back. I was surprised, and pleased. Delighted, actually. Have you ever tried to act natural when you’re trying not to gush? I hope he knows the communication is important to me without my coming across as needy or demanding. Really, it’s just gratitude and a feeling of utter blessing when he reaches out – or calls back. Of course, I told him to be safe tonight. He said, “Yeah, you and my parents all said the same thing. I guess sometimes a parent’s just a parent, right?”

You betcha.

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

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss

Today is the second anniversary of losing my sister. It’s hard to believe two years have already gone by. Then again, I looked up on February 10, fearful for a moment that I’d let the day go by without remembering. But would that have been such a bad thing? My husband’s grandmother was a big one for death anniversaries. It seemed she would mark the day on the calendar and look forward to it for weeks, then spend the whole of it working herself into a frenzy of sadness and tears – as if that were somehow expected of her, that she wouldn’t be a good widow or mother if she weren’t visibly and viscerally wracked with grief.

Death anniversary or not, I think about my sister often. She was two years younger and, in the last dozen or so years, my best friend. It’s a hole that will never be filled, as no one could ever take her place because no one will ever know me like she did. My husband is a wonder – he understands and accepts most of my moods and peccadillos, whether it’s excitement for a new project or sadness because I’m feeling Corina’s loss. But we don’t have the shared history, the stories, the childhood memories, the laughter about how weird things could be with our mom. He also won’t go thrift store shopping with me or to get a mani-pedi, no matter how nicely I ask.

Although, as you may have guessed if you’re reading this blog, I’m not a terribly private person, I am rather selective about with whom and how I share personal information. I don’t typically post every detail on social media, preferring instead to be in more direct, personal contact. I have a small circle of girlfriends, and as things were progressing with Corina’s health, I kept them updated. She was getting better for a while, and we were quite hopeful. Then things went downhill quickly.

The adopted family relationship can be a difficult one – what do you tell them, and when? Kathy’s sister-in-law was in treatment for breast cancer when I was back in New Jersey in June 2013 for my son’s high school graduation. She passed away that October – and Kathy emailed me a day or two after it happened. I knew she was sick in June, but was still surprised to hear of her passing. Then a year later, my husband’s father passed away in late 2014, after a brief illness. I’m not even sure that I updated Kathy before it happened because it was so quick. When it came to Corina, though, I continued to hope she would rally again, so I hesitated to tell anyone how much her health had deteriorated. Finally, I felt I had to let Eric’s family know … just in case. So I called Kathy – and she told Eric – maybe a week beforehand.

When Corina actually passed, I knew that I had to be the one to tell Eric. (I don’t know why I still have such a hard time saying she died. Usually I refer to her passing as “when Corina left.”) I couldn’t leave that job to Kathy. Eric was still in college at the time, and he hadn’t been returning my texts or emails very promptly in the months prior. But that day, he answered when I called. I really wanted to hold it together and just report the news, but I couldn’t. I could barely get the words out because I was crying so hard. Poor kid – I can’t imagine how that must have freaked him out. He’s a kind, sensitive young man – but how was he supposed to respond to such terrible news from his birthmother, a person he’s intimately related to but still doesn’t know all that well? I was so grateful in that moment that Corina and Eric had had the chance to meet and get to know each other a bit at my wedding.

He got pretty distant almost immediately after that phone call. And as much as I might think I deserve to be upset about that (on the rare occasion, I do feel that way), I know that Eric has had a lot to process when it comes to all avenues of life, not to mention the adoption. Being adopted, at all – why didn’t we keep him? The fact that his birthfather walked away and Eric has had no contact with him since the day he left the hospital with his adoptive parents. My dad dying when he was 11 – and them never having met. Meeting me for the first time at 16. Adolescence and graduation and choosing a college that was far enough away from his parents to give him a sense of freedom. Keeping up his GPA. Losing his aunt. And then me dumping more loss on him. When I can view it with that clarity, I’m not at all upset that he needed some distance and time – just grateful that we’ve subsequently managed to evolve to a pretty good space, at least for the moment.

My son is going to be 23 in a few days. He’s no longer a little boy – or a teen – barely still a student. He’s a young man with a bright future. I’d love to think it will all be sunshine and roses for him from here on out, but that’s not reality. Life is a mix of ups and downs, good and bad. The fact is that there will be more loss, because that’s just the nature of life. My hope is that he’s developing a strong coping mechanism and that he continues to lead with his heart.

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

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.

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.