A couple of weeks ago, another mom stopped me in front of the school with a big smile. "You're Gobez's mom, right? My son was on his soccer team last year."
"I recognize you," I said, before introducing myself and asking for her name. I sheepishly explained that with three kids in three classrooms playing on six different sports teams, I have trouble keeping track of all the parents I meet.
"I understand," she said sweetly. "I've been wanting to meet you officially, because I've heard such beautiful stories about your family."
Um, okay. Where exactly was she going with this?
"I understand that you adopted Gobez," the woman continued, "and then you unexpectedly found out he had a sister, and you went all the way back to Africa to get her."
"No," I said. "That's not true."
"Really?" the woman said, a confused look on her face. "But Mrs. Hart told me."
What the heck? Would you believe that Mrs. Hart is a teacher at our school?
"No, Gobez and Lemlem are biological siblings, but they've always been together and we adopted them together. I also have another daughter adopted from India ...I really don't know why anyone would say that."
Somehow, the woman and I managed to get past this awkward hitch and parted on friendly terms. That evening, my husband and I speculated about the reasons why Mrs. Hart, who has never taught any of our children, might be talking about us, and where she got her bad information, but ultimately we just laughed it off.
Then, yesterday, a friend sent me a surprising message. She'd overheard two moms from school talking about my family. She wrote:
Wow. I immediately recognized the identity of the chatterbox. Her comments were hardly a surprise, but still, the news knocked the wind out of me. Suddenly I remembered that other mom who'd also heard false stories about us. Last night, long after my husband grew tired of analyzing the incidents with me and drifted off to sleep, I lay awake trying to decide how I should feel about it all.
The great Dorothy Parker said, "I don't care what anybody says about me as long as it isn't true." My husband and I have made it a point to guard the personal histories of each of our children, believing that the details about how each one came to be with us belong to them alone. It is the right of each of them to decide who they wish to tell those stories to; not even the members of our extended family know everything. Maybe I should take the gossip about the origins of our family as a sign that we have protected their privacy well, and let it go. Nothing said has been truly malicious; people just need something to talk about, right?
At the same time, I can't help but wonder what other tales might be floating around campus. What happens when a nosy parent corners one of my kids to ask about one of these stories? Or when a classmate overhears the grown ups and then passes on the rumors to others? I can easily conjure a half dozen stress-inducing scenarios along these lines, to no good end.
Confronting the gossips, who may believe they're only saying "nice" stuff, feels like it will only stoke the fire. Human beings are hard-wired to gossip. We are also hard-wired to protect our children. I want my kids to learn to shrug off muddy rumors. I want them to know how to protect themselves from gossip with confidence and laughter. I want to be better at these things myself, and I will be, tomorrow. I just need a little time.