I'm the stranger in the Macy's line who offers to share her extra 20 percent off coupon with you. It comes from a need I have to share my great discoveries with anyone within earshot. For the most part, I think I spread more good than do harm -- with one possible exception: the years I spent convincing the world to adopt older children from abroad.
There are different ways to build a family and we chose to build ours through adoption. My now 14-year-old daughter was 5.5 years old when we brought her home from China and my son, now 11, was 4.5 years old. Beyond that, their stories are theirs to share and you won't be hearing the details of their early years from me. At least not anymore.
I spent the first few years of motherhood using my kids as poster children for older special needs adoptions. I think I, in part, fell into the role because unlike the 15 percent of the population that is adopted but you can't tell by looking at them, it is obvious to all who see us that ours is an adoptive family. This, combined with my natural inclination to share advice with the world, propelled me to become an adoption ambassador -- and I dragged my kids along for the ride. I advocated adoption publicly, showed off my children often, spent hours talking to families who were on the fence and posted in online communities wherever I could to encourage people to do what I'd done.
On more than one occasion, I invited a family struggling with infertility to dinner and let my kids charm their socks off. Oozing adorableness, my daughter would give them a tour of her room, showing off her precious music box . She'd tell them how it came from China "just like me." She'd give hugs freely and I could see our guests melt to her sweet ways. It worked so effectively that we know at least three little girls from China who found their forever families because of my kids. And I certainly have no regrets there.
I saw my role as educator. I could spout the 411 on every country's adoption policies, answer every question, calm fears and address every argument anyone had. I never took offense at the intrusive questions every adoptive family gets. (The most absurd was always: "Are they yours?") But invariably, I would steer the conversation back to where I could determine the motive behind the question. If they weren't sincere potential adopters, I would cut my answer off quickly. If they were, I moved in for the kill.
And then something happened. Gradually, we stopped being an adoptive family and just became a family. Not every school project has to be about adoption or China. When we celebrate Chinese New Years or the Moon Festival, we do it as a family without announcing it to the world. I stopped seeing us as a good idea I needed to share and I allowed my family to become just a family.
I also gave my children the right to their privacy. While becoming a mother to them altered my life in many ways, the bulk of the adjustments fell on their small shoulders. They are the ones who had to move half a world away from everything familiar and everyone they had ever known. With what were the purest intentions, I plead guilty to adding to their load by asking them to show the world how perfect they were, how smooth their transition was, how easy this was - when in fact, of course it wasn't.
So yes, I'm not altogether proud of how I approached this aspect of parenting those first years. But a few months ago I realized how far I've come. At my daughter's Bat Mitzvah ceremony this summer -- where she chose to share a small part of her adoption journey in her speech -- a guest later asked me a question that I used to get all the time: "Why did you go to China to adopt?" In the past, my answer had always been an informed rundown of each country's adoption programs, including what the requirements were to qualify.
This time, I finally knew the real answer: Because China is where my daughter was.