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.

That One Friend Who Really Gets You

That One Friend Who Really Gets You

I’ve been friends with Jane since we were 14. We met at a ridiculously named program – Project for the Study of Academic Precocity – for gifted high school kids, held over summer break on the Arizona State University campus. We were assigned side-by-side seats because of the alphabet. She was Jane Oh. I am still Laura Orsini. She lived in Sierra Vista – a small town about 190 miles SE of Phoenix. After the summer program finished, we exchanged letters. Written on paper. Which we mailed in envelopes. With stamps on them. The kind you had to lick. Jane was the most amazing letter writer. She would pen epistles to rival any of the Evangelists – except that hers were hysterical. I would read them, rolling on the floor laughing, and when my family would ask, “What’s so funny?” I would shrug and say, “Nothing. Why?”

Friendship is a strange animal. For one thing, I’m not very good at them. Long-term ones, anyway. I have friends now – people I live and work and hang out with here in Phoenix, a handful of whom I’m pretty close to. But while I still know people from my grade school, high school, and college days, I wouldn’t say I’m still friends with any of them. My way is to live in the moment – which means I don’t do such a good job of hanging onto people and things from the past. In certain ways, that could be a positive, I suppose. But it’s left a wake of used-to-be friendships behind me – not because of any specific falling out, but usually just due to growing apart.

Except for Jane.

She’s the one rock – the one person who goes back with me to almost the beginning.

And we couldn’t be more different. She was born in Korea, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was six or seven years old. It used to crack me up when people would ask her where she was from – racist people who see a “different” person and make an automatic assumption – and she would tell them, “Baltimore.”

She was also from “another religion.” I grew up Catholic – as far as my father was concerned, there were no other religions. All others were imposters, sad wannabes who had no claim. When I was 16 and went to visit Jane one summer, my father reminded me, “Be sure you get to Mass on Sunday!” When I told him that if I couldn’t go to Mass, I’d just go to church with Jane’s family, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. “NO!” he shouted, his face red and ready to explode. “If you can’t go to Mass, you don’t go to church at all!” What the fuck? How on earth would it be better to not go at all than to go to a different church? What I never told him was that I went with Jane to her church and she came with me to Mass on the Fort Huachuca Army Base.

Jane’s parents spoke Korean at home – she understood them, but always answered in English. They were always very nice to me, even though I seldom understood a word they were saying. At her wedding, I was one of two non-Koreans; the other was the husband of one of Jane’s friends, so he at least spoke the language.

While I’d never call them Tiger parents, Dr. and Mrs. Oh had definite ideas about how they wanted Jane to grow up and what they wanted her to do with her life. She was an amazing visual artist who was also the most center-brained person I’d ever met. She was equally as good at math and science as she was at writing. She would have loved to go to art school, but that was out of the question. Her parents’ first choice for her was to follow in her dad’s footsteps and go medical school. She said no way. Second was law school, which she agreed to.

We wound up living in the same city – Tucson, Arizona – for a few years after college, while she was in law school. But then she moved to California, got married, started a family, and our contact has been sporadic across the years. And yet it’s one of those friendships you read about in storybooks. Sit us down with two cups of tea and a couple [dozen] hours on the clock, and it’s like time hasn’t passed at all.

So Jane was one of the only people I initially confided in about my pregnancy. And from the start, she referred to Eric’s adoptive family as his “other family.” It’s one of the things I’ve most loved about her because it always made me feel more connected to him than I think I might otherwise have done. So that’s where the name for this blog comes from. Eric’s Other Mother. His actual mother, Kathy, is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met – and I have no doubt that she will be fine with this title.