Sunday, August 12, 2007

In a Most Unlikely Place

One of the things I have become more keenly aware of over the past ten or more years is the way in which adoption-related themes are present in the many forms of media. It probably shouldn't be, but it still catches me by surprise when adoption is mentioned or referenced in a movie, book, newspaper article or website.

Last night Kyle (our oldest son) and Ricardo (our thirteen-year-old, most recently arrived son) took in a movie, Rush Hour 3 . They raved about it afterwards, so you probably know how I experienced it. (I have also discovered over the past ten years that movies my children think are awesome probably leave me feeling a little disappointed). There were some interesting fight scenes, the standard car chase and evil-man-climbing-up-the-side-of-a-large-building scenarios, but overall I felt the film deserved its low marks from critics.

That being beside the matter, I was surprised at several of the adoption-related themes in a most unlikely place, a Jackie Chan movie. Warning: if you intend to see the movie, spoilers follow, so jump over the remaining portions of this entry.

In the movie the main character, Jackie Chan, who is the stereotypical LA police officer comes into contact with his "brother." In the beginning of the film this seems a fitting descriptor, because both he and his brother appear to be similar enough physically for this to be the case. The "brother" is Chan's antagonist, the criminal. Midway through the film others discover that the two are brothers, and Chan explains that they were both together in an orphanage early in life, that they watched out for each other, and so they have been "brothers" for many years, although their lives have turned out very differently from one another's.

The most gripping (pardon the pun) scene occurs when the two of them have been battling in hand-to-hand combat on the Eiffel Tower (I told you it wasn't a very plausible movie). Chan's brother begins to fall over the edge, Chan reaches out to grasp his wrist, and they engage in dialogue for a few seconds. During these seconds Chan implores his brother to accept his help, to move toward safety and to leverage himself using Chan's grip as an anchor. Angry words are hurled at Chan by the brother as he pries Chan's fingers away from his wrist, bids him farewell, and falls to his death by crashing through a newstand hundreds of feet below.

It is scene that is reminiscent of what many of us who are adoptive parents face. Figuratively we reach out to a child or children, offer them the security of our embrace, grasp their wrists to help pull them from what they have faced. Our strength and anchoring ability can give them the opportunity they need to find safety. Some children accept our firm grasp, use it to their benefit and find what they need for a happy, contented life. Other children feel our grasp, even when in the face of imminent demise, and refuse to be so reached. They reach up with their other hands, pry our fingers away, and tell us in myriad ways that they would rather "die" than accept our offered attempts to save their lives.

I remain more convinced than ever that parents of children with attachment issues need to extend the grasp. We cannot wait for the child or children to reach out to us, we need to take that initiative, whether they want our presence or not in their lives. Parents must be the initiators, and we must hang on tightly, even when their determined fingers attempt to pull away from our grip.

But I remain more convinced than ever of a second thing, too. While parents are the anchor, and while parents must be the initiators of security and kindness, the child must choose to accept the gift offered. The child has a responsibility to benefit from the parents' care, but it is a choice he or she must make. Ultimately, the one who cares the least in any relatioship (parental or otherwise) has the most power, because she or he is the one who decides what to do with the offered gift.

As an adoptive parent I have experience both reactions. There are children in my life who have accepted (not always as a first response, nor as a consistent one, but a general one) my offered "grasp" on their lives, used my anchored place to propel themselves forward and are finding success in life. This warms my heart. And I have other children who, for whatever reason, have done everything in their power to peel my loving hands away from their furtive wrists. They find life difficult, but probably do not make the connection between their rejection of opportunity and their circumstances. In any case, my task as a parent will to be always offering my anchored support, my parental grasp of love, even if some are unable or unwilling to receive its benefits.

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