We went to see Kung Fu Panda 2 today. It was part of a very special start-of-summer day Oscar, Edgar, and I had planned. Little did I know that a day that started out blissfully giddy would end in confusion and distress.
The film, if you haven’t seen it, features Po, the titular character, whose father is Ping, a very silly goose. Ping tells Po as much of his adoption story as he knows and admits that he should have shared this information with his son years ago. Po is then essentially immobilized until he allows himself to access the memories of his infancy. He confides in his friend that he is not able to proceed because he learned his father (Ping) is “not [his] real father.”
And there it was . . . a single word that hacks at the innards of at least this adoptive parent. REAL.
The movie continued, and there were several touching scenes–including one featuring the bravery and selflessness of Po’s birthmother–but yet this word continued to ring in my ears. I said nothing to my sons, who appeared to be engrossed in the film’s action and imagery.
As we left the theater, I asked them how they enjoyed the movie. Edgar was too busy moving through the hallway using kung fu moves that would have made Po and his colleagues proud. Oscar, however, had his head down. I asked him what he was thinking. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. I said to him, “When you’re ready . . .”
As we walked to the car, he said, “Is Po’s real father going to come back for him in the next movie?” (This was a reference to the final scene when a panda we assume is Po’s biological father is startled out of a meditative state and announces that his “son is alive.”) I asked Oscar who Po’s real father was, in his opinion. He said, “Well, not that silly goose, I guess. The panda at the end, right?”
I then asked him who his real parents are? He said, “You and Daddy.” I responded by comparing Po’s situation to his, to which he said, “This is so confusing–and sad.”
We rode home listening to music and talking about what we were going to do the rest of the afternoon; but when we went to pick up August, it was clear that both Oscar and I needed to talk. We told our friend and August’s daycare provider a little about the film–with me talking and Oscar whispering in my ear what he wanted me to say. When he whispered to me, “Tell her how Po says his father wasn’t his real father and how your real mother and father are the ones who are there for you.” So I did–or at least I tried since the tears that were percolating behind my sunglasses had me a little distracted. And as much as this was one of those “teachable moments,” it was most assuredly, too, a feeling moment. More discussion, though, will surely follow.
Angelina Jolie, who provides one of the voices in the film and is herself an adoptive parent, has said regarding her children’s response, “It seems that the children handled the show well and there wasn’t a need to further discuss the movie. But that’s because we talk about those issues at my house all the time, very openly. We’ve had those discussions so often, they’re such happy, wonderful discussions.”
To Ms. Jolie I would say we talk about these issues all the time, too, very openly. And, yes, here often they’re happy, wonderful discussions as well. So I don’t think that’s the reason there wasn’t a need for you and your children to further discuss the movie. I won’t provide any superficial conjecture here as to what the reasons might actually be, but I will say that my son–at least my oldest–will need to discuss it further becuase this film that you have contributed to has left my son sad. And you can bet–as his real mother–that I will be there for him in every way feasible as he works through his questions. Because the reality is that in adoption stories not every detail is happy and wonderful. Sometimes the story is sad and confusing and distressing.
But that’s where the real parents come in . . . and thank goodness (and not Hollywood) for that.