It was a completely innocent attempt to keep the kids entertained on the hot Memorial Day holiday. A quick check online indicated my only option for a kids’ movie was Kung Fu Panda 2. Hmmm. Didn’t sound like anything I would particularly enjoy, but Gus would love the action and Mia is pretty much game for anything. The movie kicked off with silliness, fun, and animated kung fu action. It wasn’t until Po’s dad entered the story that I realized I was in for more than I had bargained for. You see, Po is a panda. His dad is a goose. “That sure doesn’t look like his dad,” Mia whispered.
Uh oh. I’d marched my two sweet adopted children into an adoption-themed movie without doing my homework or preparing them (or me) for it. Goodness knows that the theater industry isn’t known for being sensitive or wise in its typical treatment of adoption. I wasn’t too worried about Gus. As I’ve said before, he’s mostly oblivious to adoption issues. Mia, on the other hand, goes through periods of grief and struggle. I reached over to pat her leg. She wrapped her arms around my arm and put her head against me. I held my breath and prayed for the best.
For a little while, it didn’t look like the best would come. After Po learned that he was adopted (something you would have thought would have already happened to a panda who called a goose “dad”), he went on a quest to find out who he is and why his parents left him. His insecurities about his true identity affected his abilities to do the things he did best and his worries invaded his every thought, sleeping and awake. He dreamed that he saw his parents and he called out to them. They turned to him and instead of embracing him, said that they never really loved him anyway. Lord Shen, Po’s nemesis in the movie, told him on more than one occasion that his parents abandoned him because they didn’t want him and didn’t love him.
My heart was breaking because Mia has asked questions about why her mom didn’t keep her, and whether her family in Guatemala loved her. I knew the fears displayed larger than life on the big screen in front of us were the same as the ones of the big heart in the child beside me. I cringed and cursed myself for not researching the movie. And I started to cry a little.
As the story unfolded Po, aided by the soothsayer goat, learned the details of his story: how the village of pandas was attacked by Lord Shen and the wolves because the soothsayer had foretold that his defeat would come through a creature of black and white. (This part of the story was reminiscent of Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew.) Po was a baby bear and both of his parents went to heroic measures to save him. Both were killed.
I found the telling of this backstory to be excruciatingly painful. I could feel Mia tense around my arm. I tried to keep my tears from falling on her. She was too wrapped up in the movie to notice them. It was the words of the soothsayer to the shocked, grieving Po that began to turn this adoption story around for me. She said to him: “Po, your story may not have a happy beginning, but it is not in the end who you are. It is who you choose to be.” It was a poignant moment. I cried a little more.
Armed with the knowledge of who he was and where he came from, Po was able to take on his nemesis from a place of strength. He defeated the enemy and saved China. But that’s not the end.
Po returned home to his dad, the goose. Poor dad had been worrying about him – not just about his safety, but also whether the knowledge of his adoption had ruined their relationship forever. Po looked at his dad and said, “I found out where I came from. I know who I am.” His dad’s eyes filled with tears. “And who are you?” he asked nervously.
”I am your son.”
With this, I became a weepy mess.
I felt Mia relax. As the movie credits rolled, I tried to dry up the tears. As we left the theater, Gus said excitedly that his favorite part was all the fighting, and then he began imitating the kung fu moves. Mia reached out and took my hand and said quietly, “That was a great movie, Mom.”
Maybe it was a good thing after all. But next time, I’m researching the movie first.