|A giant panda for the nursery (but not a Kung Fu Fighter)|
Life lessons come from all around us. We might have a truth whispered to our heart through a song on the radio. We might gain wisdom from the loving words of a close friend. We might see a lesson played out in front of us at the mall or on our job. We may even find lessons in unexpected places such as a Pixar animated film about a panda bear named Po.
Jim and I recently went to watch "Kung Fu Panda II." We expected to enjoy Pixar's great animation (and we did!). We expected a good storyline and lots of laughs (We were not disappointed). But we were also pleasantly surprised with an adoption story that although sprinkled with a big dose of Hollywood drama contained some very good lessons about adoption.
I should mention here that if you haven't watched the movie and plan to, you may want to read the rest of this blog later (unless you are someone who likes to know the plot ahead of time!) For those reading on, here are the lessons we were reminded of.
Lesson #1: Adoption and secrecy do not belong together.
In the story, Po the Panda, is now an adult living his dream of being the Dragon Warrior and an integral member of the Furious Five Kung Fu Fighters. During a battle he has a flashback that makes him question his identity. He later asks his father, Mr. Ping the Goose, about his origin and finds out that he was adopted as a baby. This sets off a mini identity crisis for Po and he becomes obsessed with finding out about his birthparents and why they "gave him up." Although the movie treats this adoption discovery with some humor (Po the Panda is raised by a goose but never suspects he's adopted and is shocked by the news), it warns against keeping adoption a secret.
In the U.S., adoptions used to be closed- meaning the adoptive parents and birthparents never met and were only given minimal information about each other. Adoptive parents were told to raise the baby "as their own" and not burden the child with the news of adoption until he or she were old enough to handle it (if ever). Consequently, many children did not find out about their adoption until their teen or adult years. Like Po, they were shocked and began to question their identity. "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?" "Why was I given up?" Today, adoption practices are much more open. Adoptive parents are encouraged to make adoption a natural part of their child's birth story. Birthparents and adoptive parents often meet and many families stay in touch after the birth of the baby. With open adoption, the child is able to hear the loving words of why they were placed for adoption (often from the birthmother). This helps to minimize feelings of rejection and abandonment. There are no secrets and the child benefits by feeling loved and secure and by having the freedom to ask questions.
Lesson # 2: All children have the need to identify with their roots/heritage.
Po asks the questions that all children ask at one time or another "Who am I?" and "Where did I come from?" This is a natural part of growing up, whether an adopted or biological child. Who we look like, where we get our talents, why we act the way we do? These are questions we consider while growing up and forming our identity. When a child is denied that information, he or she will often "fill in the blanks" with fantasies that range from fairy tale to tragic. In the movie, Po has a dream that he meets his biological parents and they have traded him in for a radish. The radish then beats him up and Po awakes disturbed and feeling rejected. Information about and contact with the birth family helps prevent the need to "fill in the blanks" with fantasies. Truth helps to build a foundation of loving reality. Even when the birth family chooses not to remain connected, adoptive parents can share what information they do have and reassure their child that he or she is loved and was not rejected. Not all pain can be avoided. Po's story is tragic. His parents are presumed murdered and birthmother saves his life by hiding him in the radish crate. But although the truth is painful, Po still benefits from knowing the story of where he came from and realizing he was not replaced with a radish.
Lesson #3: Adoptive parents are real parents (and so are birthparents)!
The adoption language is not always "correct" in the movie, but the message is clear. Po's birthparents are real parents. They loved Po, gave him life, and made the best choice possible for him (to literally save his life). Mr. Ping is a real parent. He raises Po from a baby. He feeds him, comforts him, teaches him and loves him. Children can experience love from their birthparents and adoptive parents without being confused. Open adoption acknowledges this love. It is not shared parenting. The adoptive parents are Mom and Dad. In the movie, this concept is reinforced when Po returns from his conquests. He tells Mr. Ping, "I am your son" and they go off to cook together. Po benefits from the knowledge of his birthparents; loving sacrifice, but Mr. Ping is still his dad!
Huge Spoiler Alert!!!!! In the very end of the movie, we see that Po's birthfather is still alive. This may pave the way for a Kung Fu Panda III and more exploration of adoption themes!
Jim and I really enjoyed this movie and it reinforced our committment to open adoption. We look forward to celebrating our child's heritage and to many, many tellings of his or her birth story! We are so excited about becoming parents and pray every day that our match will come soon!