This Is Us – It Wasn’t About Jack

I know it’s fiction. I know the characters are not real. But wow, do these writers know how to write emotional stories.

I have friends that say the show is “too depressing,” or just too much of a “tear-jerking melodrama,” so they don’t watch. That’s fine. I have a theory about those people. Perhaps those people are not in touch with their own emotions and watching these stories and the heart wrenching relatable life events may be uncomfortable for them. I might be wrong, but really, This Is Us is soooo good!  To each his own.

I want to focus on Randall’s story, obviously. Seriously, I cannot stop thinking about last night’s episode. Finally, Randall’s story focused on his adoption and the trauma and anxiety in his life that is related to 1) his feelings about being adopted/abandoned, and 2) how his adopters handled certain situations relating to his adoption.

“A Hell Of A Week: Part One” kicked off several weeks ago with three episodes, each focusing on one of the siblings. The episodes also effectively flashed back to the stressful teen years and a flashback to their childhood and their first night in their “big kid beds.”

randallWe know that as an adult, Randall is an over-achiever and a perfectionist. And even in the flashbacks, we see Child and Teenage Randall aiming to be a over-the-top people-pleaser and solver of all of the Pearson Family problems. Randall’s anxiety has always been central to his character. But in these past episodes, we seem to see Randall sort of “flailing in the dark” about where the anxiety comes from and how to deal with it.

Randall’s anxiety even manifests itself in nightmares and once even in a ‘shroom-induced hallucination. In the episode “The Trip,” we see via flashback that Jack, Randall’s a-dad, had no idea that Randall’s biodad, William, was alive and/or interested in his son’s life. After Randall’s interest in random black people becomes evident, Jack talks to Rebecca and suggests hiring a private investigator to find Randall’s birth parents. But Rebecca shuts him down. Her guilt is palpable. She knows who Randall’s bio father is and had even been in contact with him. When Randall finds this out, he is understandably upset. Then, back in real time, Randall is accidentally tripping on ‘shrooms at the cabin, and hallucinates a conversation with his dead a-dad, Jack. “We gave you everything we could,” Dead Jack tells Randall.  “And all I was supposed to feel was grateful,” Randall shoots back. “I was a replacement for your dead baby. That’s all I’ve ever been.”

Later, when the drugs wear off, Randall’s anger had calmed down a bit and he decided to visit Rebecca. I was thinking we were going to see some sort of reconciliation and a real heart-to-heart between Randall and his a-mom. But no. Randall was still pissed about the lie.

“You kept that secret for 36 years. That must’ve been incredibly lonely,” Randall says, standing at the doorway, refusing to come in. Rebecca begins to sob. She reaches for him, but he pulls back. “No, not yet,” he says flatly. “I’ll see you at Christmas.” Then he walks away.

Okay, so the above is just an example of Randall’s issues and anxiety. I can relate to ALL OF IT. Fellow adoptees: can’t you? It’s so obvious!

therapySo, FINALLY, Randall starts to realize, through his therapy, that his abandonment issues are at the heart of his anxiety. Interestingly enough, however, the episode is touted as a “What if Jack Never Died” story. But what really comes though, for me anyway, are the scenarios that Randall plays through his head regarding his bio dad.  Randall realizes, through is therapy, the possibility of rejection, a different kind of reunion, questions about his bio-mother, different emotions about his adoptive parents. . . all so familiar to an adoptee. For me, this was missing in Randall’s story before last night. The flashbacks never showed him wondering about his biological family. His childhood, as far as we knew, was not riddled with fantasies about his bio parents and where they were and whether they were looking for him. Perhaps he didn’t think about it as a child or as a teenager. But he sure as hell let it all out during his therapy as an adult. All the scenarios were there.Jack Randall

I felt satisfied watching this episode. I understood Randall. It felt real.

Unfortunately, there is an entire group of TIU fans who think the episode was really about “what if Jack didn’t die?” And they’re disappointed with the episode. They didn’t “get it.” Uh, no.

It was about all the fantasies and emotions and anxiety and control issues stemming from Randall’s adoption. And we get it, don’t we?

Closure . . . or Peace?

I’ve read quite a few things written by adoptees (and others) where their end goal is some sort of “closure.” Whether adoptees are searching for bio family, or trying to end a toxic relationship with an adoptive family or bio, or trying to figure out how all of the complicated emotional layers inherent in adoption fit into a normal or well-adjusted life, adoptees are looking for closure.

For me, closure is a complex, elusive, and even somewhat scary, monster. And I’m not sure I want it.padlock-690286_1920

I believe life is a journey. Every point of interaction with another human being, and every bit of knowledge I seek, along with all the stumbling and bumbling along the way, come together to form who I am and what I believe. My truth, if you will. The journey, along with the growth and the pain and the learning—the highs and lows–never ends . . . until I end. Which I hope isn’t any time soon.

Closure” or the need for closure is defined from a psychological standpoint as “an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. The term “need” here denotes a motivated tendency to seek out information.”
Closure means finality. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. I’ve definitely experienced failures in this life, as well as regrets and terrible disappointments. My life, like everyone else’s, is complicated. But those perceived negatives make me who I am! I’ve accepted my past, but there will never be closure while I’m still living.

open armsI’m open, and I hope I remain open, to new experiences, ideas, friendships and people. People change their minds about things, too. People evolve. The way I felt about something yesterday (or ten years ago) may not be the way I will feel about it tomorrow (or five years from now).

Take, for example, the rejection (at birth and later in life) from my birth mother. It was a crushing disappointment at the time. I was in my early twenties the first time she rejected me as an adult. The second time was in my late twenties after I had my first child. I naively thought the photo I sent of myself sitting on my white picket fence in front of my little starter home holding my newborn baby boy might melt her heart a little. It didn’t. How does one put “closure” on something like that? You don’t.

The rejection and sadness I felt was like an open wound. But it didn’t last forever. I grew and I learned and I healed. I dealt with the pain and eventually, the sadness was lifted. I moved forward. Counseling, friends, and family helped. I also met other bio family members. I met my aunts (my bio mother’s sisters) and spoke to other family members who helped me to understand where my bio mother came from and who she really is today. I’ve decided I’m better off not knowing her. That’s a decision for now. But who knows how I’ll feel five years from now?

path moorFor some, finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. I guess in that sense, I agree with closure, in theory. I still like to think of my life as a journey—a windy road with all kinds of pitstops, detours, forks, and even potholes. Hang on, it’s a bumpy ride!

 

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Buy Laureen Pittman’s memoir here:

THE LIES THAT BIND

An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

What Are You Looking For?

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” This quote is credited to John Lubbock, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was an English aristocrat, banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist, polymath, archaeologist, and writer. Basically, this guy was an over-achiever. I bet he was a positive thinker, too.

glass half fullI don’t  usually make New Year’s Resolutions (okay, I make them, but I never keep them), but for 2020, I’ve decided to be more positive. I’ve made a pledge to myself to be a “glass half full” kind of gal. Don’t laugh.

It’s not going to be easy, I know. I’m a worrier. Seriously, I worry about everything. Constantly. I worry about fleas on my cats, the leaky faucet (which makes me worry about whether there are leaks somewhere I cannot see), money, my son in college, the loose pavers in the walkway out front, weeds, ants taking over my orange tree, the health of friends and family, getting old . . . etc. Worries are the first things to pop into my mind when I wake. They’re the things that keep me awake at night. I even worry that I worry too much. Duh.

Medication helps. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have been taking medication for anxiety for years now. It takes the edge off and I am able to be more aware of when I might be starting out on a crushing worry-spiral. If it’s a serious worry, I’ll give it its due and sit with it, worry about it, and force myself to think of solutions. Sometimes there are none. Sometimes the solution is out of my reach or beyond my control. I am learning to let some things go. It’s not easy.

I’ve discovered, too, that worrying is not always a bad thing. In fact, worrying may be good for your health, if it is understood correctly. There are studies that suggest that “worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and uptake of health-promoting behaviors.” (Kate Sweeney,  Professor of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.) This is a great article to read if you want to remind yourself that worrying is not always a bad thing.

I believe that thinking positively goes hand-in-hand with filtering out the worries. I just need to do it more. I don’t know how I’m going to succeed with this, but I will. I’ll start with reviewing just a few of the positive vibes and events of the last decade.

positivityI have a friend who beat Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in the last decade. He and his wife could not have gotten through it without positive thinking. It was a life-changing battle for both of them, their families, and friends. I’ve watched in awe as he and his wife faced challenge after challenge with poise and positivity. He had a bone-marrow transplant in 2011. It was successful, but brought with it a host of other complications. He has basically been fighting for his life for the entire last decade. 2019 ended with a double lung transplant, and this, too, has been a success! We had dinner with this couple recently, and I was nearly in tears just watching our friend as he was more animated, engaged, and happier than I’ve seen him in years. Garrett, my now 19-year-old, wants to get a tattoo of a pair of lungs to commemorate our friend’s success in this battle and as a tribute to him as a positive role model. He is an inspiration to us all. The power of positivity. 

JonathanAnother good thing that happened: thanks to DNA, I discovered my biological father! He’s alive and well and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to meet him and have a relationship with this extraordinary, talented, and smart man. He didn’t even know that I existed. And I gained a sister and a niece and a whole new extended family. It’s been a weird and oddly satisfying journey. Our relationship has evolved in a way I could never have imagined. We have been working together for the last 5 years to seek out hidden truths about his life and (our) family.

Writing and publishing my book, The Lies That Bind, was another positive for me. By writing, I was able to share my truth–my adoption story. Writing helped me to make sense of my world and the people in it. It also helped me to understand, to a certain degree, the people who are not in my world. If you’re adopted, you know what I mean.3d mock1

So, I’m going to be more positive about who’s in my world and appreciate everyone for who they are and what they contribute. And here are some of the things I’m going to try to do to radiate positivity in myself:

  • Look for the best in others.
  • Forgive easily.
  • Be thankful for all blessings, big and small.
  • Treat myself with kindness.
  • Be optimistic; expect good things to happen.
  • Avoid complaining.
  • Smile more.
  • Compliment others more. 
  • Be more tolerant.

I’m sure there are more positive things I can be or try–feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Adoption is Everywhere – It Cannot Hide (Or Can It?)

I have a friend. She is older than me. Old enough to be my mother, in fact. She knows my story. She knows that I was adopted, that I was born in prison, that I struggled with my identity in my youth, and that I was cruelly rejected by my biological mother when I searched and found her over thirty years ago. She knew I continued to struggle over the years with feelings of anguish and inadequacy after the rejection from my birthmother, and that I wondered constantly about my biological origins. She listened sympathetically and supported me fully (or so I thought) as the story of finding my biological father unfolded.

After over twenty years of friendship, and me spilling my guts about my crazy adoptee-centric issues (closed records, lies, shame, rejection, fantasies, social media, stalking family members, DNA, family trees, etc.), my friend dropped a bombshell. A big one. One night, after a couple glasses of wine and talking about everything and nothing at all, she confessed: “I gave a child up for adoption the same year you were born. My daughter would be just a few months older than you.”

Uh . . . what!? I was dumbfounded. After picking my jaw up off the table and consciously unknitting my brow, I took a big gulp of wine.

At first, I was sympathetic. She told me she was shunned by her own mother and father and sent away to live with a relative during her pregnancy. She described being shamed by her family for being pregnant at eighteen and how she was coerced into relinquishing her daughter.

I think at this point I was uncorking another bottle of wine.

I asked her if she had ever heard from her daughter or from anyone on her behalf. She said no. I asked her if she had ever tried looking for her daughter. She said no. She went on to explain that through the years she “made sure” that if her daughter was looking for her, she had done everything she could to make herself “easy to find.” It sounded like she was simply waiting to be found.

I asked her if she wanted help finding her now. She said, “If my daughter wanted to find me, she could have. And she hasn’t.”

There were tears and more drunken talk . . . and when my friend left that night, I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for her daughter out there somewhere. I wanted to do something about it, but it wasn’t my thing to do anything about.

That was nearly five years ago. Over time, I’ve given my friend’s situation a lot of thought. We’ve had a few discussions about it . . . but each time I bring it up, I get hit with, “You just don’t understand!” Really? Or, “Quit trying to push your agenda on me.” We end up frustrated and upset with each other. Now we don’t talk about it. It’s like this awful, sad, secret, adopted elephant in the room. Our friendship has suffered.

I don’t get it. She’s successful, retired, single, and has a grown son. Now that she’s retired she throws herself into volunteer work, which includes helping orphans in Mexico and mentoring foster children in her own community. As for the mentoring, she’s actually been mentoring foster kids for years—even before she was retired. I had always admired that she gave so much of herself to these motherless kids, but now I’m seeing it in a different light. In my mind, it’s like she’s trying to make up for orphaning her daughter. Of course, I shouldn’t assume this.

And about her being always “out there” to find . . . I’m not so sure she’s been truthful about “not hiding.” When she finally joined Facebook, she used a fake name. That’s kind of a big deal. Social media is one of the easiest ways for adoptees to track people down these days.

Of course, my assumption of her reluctance to be found makes me think of my own biological mother. She absolutely didn’t want to be found. That hurt. Now I have this friend who is behaving in a way that I believe is hurtful. I don’t think she’s dealing with her own emotions about relinquishing her child so many years ago. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, it’s not my thing. It’s hers. I’ll continue to advocate—adoptees need to be heard. Birthmothers, too. Some just aren’t ready.

My birthmother didn’t want to be found, either, but I found her anyway. Read my story, The Lies That Bind, An Adoptee’s Journey of Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

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Release Your Truth . . . Find Your Strength

If you follow my blog (or any other adoption-centric blog or group), you already know it’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). And you probably know that adoptees are making a concerted effort to switch the focus of the awareness to the people involved in adoption that matter the most: THE ADOPTEE.

It’s complicated. Most adoptees, at one point or another, deal with one or more of the following confounding issues:

  • loss of family (even if he or she gained a “good one” through adoption)
  • unknown or confused heritage
  • unknown health history
  • sealed records
  • family secrets
  • lies (sometimes)

And these issues often lead to anxiety, identity confusion, depression, low self-esteem, and more.

It helps to know and talk with other adoptees experiencing the same issues. It helps to bring your fears out into the open and deal with them. Release your truth and you will find your strength.

Last March, I attended the Indiana Adoptee Network‘s Annual Conference . What an eye-opener. It was fantastic to be with such a large group of people who just “get it.” While I was there, I was lucky enough to meet a woman who truly understands the power of opening up. She wrote a book about it. And guess what? She’s not an adoptee. She’s a birth mother (or “first mother,” if you prefer). I love what she’s done–for birth mothers and adoptees. And for anyone else holding in the pain of a traumatic event.

Shoebox Cover

In her book, The Shoebox Effect, Marcie Keithley tells the heart-wrenching story of relinquishing a child for adoption and how it affected her life and the lives of her family. As an adoptee, Marcie’s story helped me to understand the heart of a young mother suffering through her quiet desperation during a difficult time.

But, Marcie goes beyond just story-telling in her book. Marcie wants us all to open our hearts—and our shoeboxes—to let out the secrets and explore the truths within. There is healing in sharing. There is freedom and peace in understanding why we pack away and hide what hurts us. Marcie’s book offers a guide of sorts at the end of each chapter, to help us coax out our own secrets and unpack the shame, guilt, and unresolved grief. I wish my own birth mother would read this book . . .

Too often, we go through life as intimate strangers with the people we love. We avoid certain topics in fear they might open up a Pandora’s Box, so we take an opposing approach. Many of us stuff reminders of those topics inside shoeboxes or other containers, in hopes we can hide the situation away. But this is a mistake. –Marcie Keithley, The Shoebox Effect

This book is not just for birth mothers and adoptees. It’s for anyone who is hiding away bits and pieces (or big ol’ chunks) of his or her life in the hopes of avoiding difficult feelings. I highly recommend actively reading this book!

Marcie’s book, The Shoebox Effect, Transforming Pain Into Fortitude and Purpose, will be released November 12. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Click on the links here if you’re interested in learning more about the Indiana Adoptee Network and the Indiana Adoptee Network 4th Annual Conference.

Be Aware: Read an Adoptee Story

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Traditionally, this month is promoted by states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families. Celebrations include activities and observances across the nation, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events to promote the false narrative of the fairy tale of adoption.

I understand that there are orphans and foster kids out there with complicated or troubled families of origin that need permanent homes. I know that adoption has a place in our society. It’s just that it needs to be taken out of the spotlight as a fairy tale solution for the childless. In addition, by celebrating the fairy tale of adoption and ignoring its complexities, we continue to drive a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry. This is an industry that exploits the desires of childless couples or other people that have an “itch” to raise or “save” a child. This is an industry that also exploits pregnant, confused young women.

The unavoidable truth and the crux of adoption complexity is that it necessitates the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being or add to its brood. The singular most important fact about adoption is that it causes trauma, loss, and grief for both the biological mother (and often for others in the original family) and the adoptee. And most importantly, the fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. Because being adopted is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

I have a friend who adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage (before the 2013 ban by Russia of the country’s children by U.S. families). He’s now a teenager. She’s a fabulous mom and her son is a smart, socially well-adjusted kid. We were talking and the subject of adoption came up (I was probably updating her on my crazy adoption journey). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I used the word “adopted” to describe her son. She corrected me. She said, “He was adopted.” She emphasized the past tense and went on to explain that she didn’t use that word to describe her son. He’s simply “her son.” I get that. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend her. But the words “adopted” and “adoptee” aren’t bad words. At least they shouldn’t be. I felt the need to gently explain to my friend that her son is adopted and will always be an adoptee. He certainly doesn’t need to wear it as a badge of honor, but the fact that he is adopted and there is another family out there that he belongs to just as he belongs to her family, needs to be acknowledged. He may have feelings and emotions about it that he wants to talk about. He may have questions about his heritage and ethnicity. She should acknowledge that it is and will always be a part of his identity.

I cannot begin to describe all of the complexities of being adopted. It is a complex journey and different for every adoptee. Depending on the adoptee, it may involve searching for biological family. It may involve reunion. It may not. It may involve sadness, loneliness and depression. I hope not, but statistics do indicate that adoptees far outnumber non-adopted youth in all types of psychiatric treatment facilities. Some adoptees may feel like they have, in fact, lived a fairy tale life with their adopters. That’s great, too, but I hope there is some support out there for every adoptee when and if it is needed.

In the end, we all need to realize that at the center of every adoption is the adoptee. And I’m all about adoptee stories. I want to hear them all. I’ve read many of the adoptee memoirs out there (and still reading!). Take some time to read an adoptee story. Take some time to understand the heart of an adoptee. Celebrate National Adoption Awareness this way.

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Secrets, Lies, and DNA

I read an article today on Huffpost.com titled: The Death of the Family Secret. In a nutshell, the article is about how, with the use of commercial DNA testing, people are uncovering secrets, lies, and hidden truths about their families. The article discusses the ethics involved in exposing such secrets AND questions where privacy fits into the equation for those who desperately want to keep such secrets. Ethics? 

If you’ve read my book, THE LIES THAT BIND, you’d know that I believe that a secret or a lie that covers up the core of another person’s identity is not okay. Never. Ever.

My story deals with the secrets and lies that go hand in hand with closed records adoption. Other scenarios that cause people to keep secrets include the use of sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy, or even just flat out lies to cover up an affair. No matter what the reason, lies about a person’s biological origins–heritage, medical history, family legacy, relatives . . . are not OKAY!

This is the quote from the article that got me going:

“Where do your rights to learn these secrets end and the rights of others to keep them begin? What makes a family? What role should your DNA play in your sense of self or identity?”

A right to keep a secret about another person’s identity? I don’t get it. That’s not a right.

What role should DNA play? Well, no one can answer that. DNA plays the role it plays. It’s science. Human body systems, organs, tissues, and cells play roles in identity. It’s the nature vs. nurture argument all over again. To understand where one comes from is to begin to understand one’s identity.

DNA has been, and continues to be, a lifesaver (literally and figuratively) for adoptees. And it’s not going away. Funny thing is, a majority of the states (California included!) are keeping the closed records rules in place, despite the increasing popularity in commercial DNA testing. DNA testing, combined with the growing trend (and big business of) genealogy, are blowing apart the archaic rules and legalities behind closed records adoptions. It’s about time.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks to DNA, I found my biological father. Read more about my story in my book, THE LIES THAT BIND. And, I’m celebrating by having a sale  for both the paperback and ebook at Amazon! It’s a shameless plug, I know. But, I would like to know your thoughts on the article and about DNA uncovering our truths.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Admission: I Was More Scared Than He Was

My youngest son is home for the summer from his freshman college year. It went well. He enjoyed his nine months away and succeeded academically. He also played football (minor concussion, but recovered fully, thankfully) and rugby (scraped up just about every inch of his body, including his lovely face!), made a lot of new friends, and learned to live in a small space (in relative harmony) with two other young men. The whole college experience.

It’s been a year since he graduated from high school and I was faced with the fact that my last child would be leaving soon to go off on his own to start “adulting.” I worried about so much. Would he be homesick? Would he make friends? Have I done enough to prepare him for being on his own?

Yesterday, I came across a letter that I wrote to him after he graduated. Apparently, I was worried about a lot of things. I also realize, after rereading the letter, that I had nothing to worry about. He was prepared. I think I was worried more about myself than about him. I made this human–he’s my flesh and blood! Now he’s leaving? How will I cope? I’m being abandoned . . . again . . .

Of course, the abandonment part wasn’t true. My son was prepared and ready to go out on his own and live the college life. And I knew and supported it one hundred percent. But I must admit, I felt a little empty inside.

As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. I wasn’t abandoned (he’s back!). And I’ve discovered that life can be pretty good for empty-nesters. I finished some projects (my  book is finally finished and published–BTW: you can find it here), visited my bio-dad, Jonathan, again (and my husband, Guy, finally got to meet him), and even communed with some fellow-adoptees (loved meeting everyone at the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference).  The hubs recently retired, too, so we’re in the thick of it!

But if you’re getting ready to send of your kid out into the big bad world, and you’re as worried as I was, I share here my advice to my son:

 

April 26, 2018

Dear Son,

As your graduation day approaches, we want to say “Happy graduation.” Son, you are on the cusp of your adult life (you’re 18 now!) and we are so proud of you. Your Dad and I have so much love and respect for you—you are smart, talented, thoughtful and kind.

I’m writing this letter to you because sometimes it’s difficult for me to articulate what is in my heart. I always do better to write things down. I want to express to you my pride and my hopes for your life ahead. Also, one day I may not be here to help you deal with pain, to help you be strong, to give you comfort, and to see you win and succeed. I hope that you’ll keep this letter for future reference and think of me when you need encouragement and support.

I wrote this letter to pass on the best of what I am, and the best of what I have learned – even if like most parents, I haven’t always been able to follow all of this advice myself.

These words are from my heart and rooted in my firm belief that you will be better than I am, and that you will be successful in whatever you decide to pursue in your life ahead.

On Maturity

Age is not a measure of maturity, unfortunately. You have grown up, but you will continue to mature, for years and years to come.

Maturity means taking responsibility for your own life and the choices you make. Keep in mind that every choice you make from this point on can and will affect you for the rest of your life. Decisions like whether to get in the car with that friend that has had maybe too much to drink, or whether to ditch a lecture, whether to stay the night in someone else’s bed . . . there are so many decisions that may seem trivial at the time, but the consequences of even what seems like an insignificant choice may change your life forever. Be smart.

You will make mistakes. Know and understand that you don’t have all the answers. You should not feel shame or hesitate to ask for help or advice.

Don’t feel threatened when people disagree with you. And most importantly, be open to allowing people to change your mind. Sometimes another person’s way is the better way.

Appreciate when others compliment or praise you. Say “thank you” a lot. Manners and courtesy matter and go a long way in commanding respect.

On Humility

Don’t ever think that you’re superior to anyone. Or that you’re above rules or laws. It’s ugly to be arrogant. Apologize when you’re wrong, or when you’ve hurt someone. Remember that other people’s emotions and feelings are valid and important—even if you don’t agree or understand.

On Learning

Never stop being curious. Be adventurous. Try new things. Keep learning—it will make you a richer person. Pick up a good book once in a while. Read for pleasure. It will enlighten you. Life is large.

Challenge yourself—don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is one of the best ways to learn.

While you’re embracing adventure and new hobbies, remember to finish what you start. I’m know I’m guilty of not following this rule all the time. Remember that productivity and success are about finishing and a job well done. You won’t do everything perfectly, or even right, but finish it. Be proud of your work.

On Emotions

In your short 18 years, I know that you’ve felt many emotions. Happiness, joy, contentment, impatience, sadness, anger, and frustration. These are all simple emotions and have and will continue to come easily to you. It’s how you deal with them that is important. You must give every emotion its due—feel it fully and let it sit. For example, sit with your anger before you react. Consider how your reaction will affect others. Sometimes the only reaction you will need is an internal one. That is not to say that you shouldn’t feel angry or react some of the time, but anger shouldn’t be the reaction that rules you. It shouldn’t be the emotion that others know you by.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to express your emotions. Don’t let controlling people make you think you shouldn’t feel a certain way. Trust your emotions. Because you will have sat with and processed your emotions, you can, and should trust them. Fear and anger serve a purpose, and you should recognize that. Trust yourself.

I haven’t really talked to you about two of the biggest emotions—grief and love. I’ll talk about love later separately—it’s very complicated. But grief deserves a mention here.

I think, somehow, you know a little about grief—more than most boys your age. When you were a little boy, grief confused you and you were very sensitive to it. Your father and I were often at a loss on how to comfort you. When you were just a toddler, we often found you in tears inconsolable, thinking about grandpa or grandma, and what happened to them and why they were gone. You felt deeply also when you lost your pets—you were hysterical when we had to euthanize Hey Arnold (the rat) and when we lost Soxie (the cat). You wanted explanations that just didn’t exist.

So I believe you know grief—I witnessed it—and I trust that your maturity will allow you to process your grief, but understand that losing someone or something you love may never make sense. You must put logic aside when you’re dealing with grief and just let it flow. Don’t be afraid to cry. It shows that you are vulnerable and understand your emotions. In the end, it makes you stronger. Remember that your grief is about you, and not the person you lost. The person that is gone is no longer suffering, or in pain . . . your sorrow is about how you deal with your loss.

People and Relationships

Grandpa Hank told me once that if you open your eyes and your mind, you can learn something from every single person you meet in life. He was right. Be open. In your life you will meet people who inspire you to do well and to do the right thing. I hope that these are the people you keep close to you.

You will also meet people who are not such a good influence. I don’t want you to shun these people—learn from them. Help them if you can. Be generous with your kindness. Perhaps you can be an inspiration to them. I’ve seen you already be generous with your kindness and empathy. Continue this path.

Remember that your family is your “safe place.” Home is where ever you feel comfortable—where ever you have family and/or friends to comfort you.

Friends, too, have a huge impact on your happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness and isolation, and even strengthen your health. But close friendships don’t just happen. They take work and perseverance. Show interest in your friends when they are down, when they need help, and when they are struggling. Even if you just “stand there” next to them. It matters. Just show up.

Nurture and hold on to true friendships. Keep in touch with people that matter to you.

In a new place, like college or a new job, it may seem difficult to meet new people and develop quality connections. Be confident and open—you will attract the right people naturally with your warm personality and attitude if you let them see you for who you are.

Of course, technology has shifted the definition of friendship in recent years. With the click of a button, we can “add a friend” or make a new connection. But having hundreds of online friends is not the same as having a close friend you can be with in person. Online friends can’t hug you when a crisis hits, visit you when you’re sick, or celebrate a happy occasion with you. Remember that our most important and powerful connections happen when we’re face-to-face. So, make it a priority to really stay in touch with friends that are important to you.

On Love and Marriage

I’m not going to tell you much about falling in love or falling out of love. Love is something that you will figure out on your own, like everyone else. Love will sneak up on you and hit you when you least expect it. Sometimes, you will only think you’re in love, when in actuality, the emotion you are feeling is something different—lust, infatuation, admiration, extreme like. But when real love hits, you’ll know it. Maybe not right away, but you’ll figure it out. And that’s just it, my dear son, it is something that needs to be figured out. Again, it’s one of those emotions that you need to sit with and process. Don’t resist it, but please, oh please, take it slow.

You will get your heart broken, too. Maybe even more than once (probably more than once). Love is a risky thing, but it is the best feeling in the world when you are in it and the person you love loves you back. Remember that to be truly in love two people must also respect each other, trust each other and be kind to each other. If one element isn’t there, or if something doesn’t feel right, love isn’t there.

Now we come to the part about marriage. I’m no expert, but as far as I know, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage. Here’s my advice—don’t get married because your partner is pressuring you. Don’t get married because it seems like it’s the right time—you’ve been dating long enough and you feel like you’re the right age. Don’t get married because she seems like the perfect woman or she’d be the perfect wife or mother. Son, you’re probably going to want to get married for all the wrong reasons. We all do. In fact, the most common reason to get married also happens to be the most dangerous: we get married because we think it will make us happy. Getting married in order to be happy is the surest way to be unhappy and get divorced.

More simple advice:

Opposites may attract initially, but they don’t make great marriage partners. Marry someone who is more like you than not like you.

Pay attention to what your friends and family say. Consider that if nobody close to you seems to like your partner, there may be good reason for it.

Just know that you are worthy of real love. Wait for it and it will come to you. Know that you deserve a life of love, inspiration, and passion. Also know that there will be ups and downs and to expect and embrace them.

There are beautiful marriages. But marriages don’t become beautiful by seeking happiness; they become beautiful by seeking something else. Marry someone that you enjoy spending time with. Someone who truly loves you and makes an effort to make you happy.

One last word of advice—take time out once in a while to unplug and listen to the birds sing, watch a sunset, or go someplace quiet and beautiful to reset your mind and remember what is important. I know you love sunsets like your mama! That makes me happy.

What kind of man will you be? That’s up to you. Completely. Being a man, as I see it, is being your own man. It’s claiming your place in the world. Being your own man means not taking someone else’s path. I am proud of your journey so far and I know your path will lead to your own personal success and greatness.

We love you, Son.

Love,

Mom

P.S. You once asked me about how to live, be responsible, and have “fun” in college. I found this quote from the late, great Tom Petty about college that seems to sum it up. I hope you understand that it doesn’t mean that you should just forget responsibilities while at college, but it does mean that you should go easy on yourself once in a while.

“I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”
― Tom Petty

A Different Kind of “Toot” – National Train Day

Today is National Train Day. National Train Day was started by Amtrak in 2008 as a way to spread information to the general public about the advantages of rail travel and the history of trains in the United States. Amtrak stopped recognizing National Train Day after 2015 due to their own budget cuts, but many people still recognize National Train Day as a way to celebrate our rich railway history.

GrandpaI can’t let this day go by without recognizing and bragging on the railroad industry legacy in my own family! The handsome devil pictured on the left is my paternal grandfather, Richard Sachse. He was a smart dude.  He was born in Germany 1881 and studied engineering there (received degrees in civil engineering from the University of Dresden and structural engineering from Hanover University), but came over to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen soon after the turn of the century.

He began service with the California Railroad Commission as an engineer in 1911 and by 1914, was appointed Chief Engineer. His most impressive contribution to the railroad industry was his extensive work related to the planning and building of Los Angeles’ historic Union Station. If you’ve ever been to Union Station in Los Angeles, you know what a beautiful art deco, mission revival gem the building is. But I’m talking about something deeper than the architecture.vintage union station

As Chief Engineer of the California Railroad Commission, my grandfather was charged with solving the transportation problem that was growing more and more dire in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Downtown traffic was increasing (car ownership was becoming more common), streetcars and interurbans stalled in the congestion, and the city lacked a plan for improving its public-transit facilities. The result was an investigation and report (nearly 600 pages) called “Report on Railroad Grade Crossing Elimination and Passenger and Freight Terminals in Los Angeles.” (You can still get a copy of the big ol’ report on Amazon!) The report dealt with grade crossing elimination, a proposed union passenger terminal, freight movement, and electric interurban transit solutions. Also involved, of course, was all the related change required for reconstruction and new construction of city streets, viaducts and bridges, and city-wide planning as a whole. The work includes many historical photos, renderings, graphs, and statistics involving the traffic and transportation problems of Los Angeles in the 1920s. The Union Station opened in 1939.

I found this wonderful footage of the opening day at Union Station at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Archive. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.Old Train

Toot toot! Happy Train Day!

 

Toot, Toot!

I’ve never been very good at tooting my own horn. I’ve always shrugged off compliments, whether it be about what I’m wearing, my hair, my cooking, or my writing. At my age (50-something!), you’d think I’d be more comfortable with compliments from others and more confident and about my own successes. I’m learning. And I’m starting to feel the power of my words. It’s cool and empowering.

Book signingMy book is doing pretty well. I’m limping along (there I go again), trying to figure out how to “market” it without the backing and support of an agent and a big (or even small) publishing house. Self-publishing is definitely not for sissies.

I even took the bold step of making a book trailer. That was fun (and intimidating!)  Watch Now! THE LIES THAT BIND Book Trailer.

I also had a local book signing with a great turnout (mostly friends and family–thank you to all who came!). And I’ve been pimping the book as much as I can on social media–I’m pretty sure my friends and family are getting a little tired of hearing about the book.

Targeting the marketing is tricky. Obviously, adoptees and members of the adoption triad are my main audience, but I really believe so many more would embrace, enjoy, and even benefit from the story. Let’s face it: the subject of adoption and the real stories behind who adopts are inherently connected to people dealing with complex and sensitive personal family issues like infertility, surrogacy, illegitimacy, mixed race families, and families with same-sex parents. Adoption, like the family issues mentioned above, often contributes to a distinctive and often challenging form of family. The Lies That Bind is a relevant and inspiring read for individuals dealing with many of the complicated and emotional family issues that we face today.

The feedback I have received so far is telling me that my story is resonating with the world. I’ve got some great 5-star reviews and I’m thankful for that, but even more touching than the reviews have been the personal notes I’ve received from readers.

Just a few weeks ago, I received a new friend request on Facebook from a total stranger living in another state. I accepted her request and then, just minutes later, I received a private message from her. It brought me to tears:

facebook message

Then, just a few days ago, I received a hand-written note from another woman. Again, I’d never met her. She told me that she was raised by her biological parents, but they had also adopted a son before she was born. She explained that, even as a child, she always knew and felt that her brother was “just different” and it was clear that he felt like an outsider, as well, even though he had a stable, loving, adoptive family. This lovely woman told me that after reading my book, she was able to “understand a little more how he must have felt.” She also shared that “he died last year never having any knowledge of his birth family.” He never searched because he thought it would be “disloyal” to his adoptive parents and family. She closed with, “How I wish he could have found the connection you found with Jonathan!” Again, tears.

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has read the THE LIES THAT BIND. I hope it’s inspiring those who are questioning whether they should find their truth. I also hope it’s spreading enlightenment about the heart and soul of an adoptee.

If you’ve read THE LIES THAT BIND, please review it on Amazon! And if you haven’t yet read it, please do! You can buy it here (paperback or ebook or read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

And if you feel so compelled, please spread the word! Thank you. And, TOOT TOOT!

3d mock1

Available at Amazon.