Every day my son has a new favorite toy. One day he just loves his green stuffed frog, carrying it around and allowing it to have the best seat in the house- on his beloved school bus riding toy. The next day he is best buds with the stuffed dog my husband gave me a few Christmas' ago. And then there is his panda. A small stuffed bear brought home from China, meant to be a gift for friends of ours who seem to be stalled in the "waiting for a referral" part of their adoption journey. When another couple we know came home from China with their son about five months before we traveled, they brought us a beautiful paper lantern to hang in his new room. This touched us deeply, and we decided to pass the love on by bringing home something to give another waiting couple. One thing led to another, and nearly a year later we have yet to connect with our friends. The patient panda had been stashed in the hall closet, where, when I recently opened the door to retrieve a coat, it fell out, landing on my son's head. he giggled and picked up the small bear, thrilled, I think, with it's size, just perfect for his little hands.
My son and this panda quickly became friends. It found a home in the car, got carried in to day care and the grocery store. We have a larger panda at home that doesn't leave the house, that is just one of many of the stuffed animals in the stuffed animal basket. But this one, because it so easily could be carried around, found it's way to a lot of public places. And at first, this worried me.
My son is Chinese. I am not. Would I be perpetuating a stereotype by allowing my adorable little Asian boy carry an adorable little panda bear into Giant Eagle? I will admit, it made me uncomfortable. But then I came to my senses and realized that this panda is simply one of many. That tomorrow it may be cast aside for the frog or stuffed puppy. I made the decision that if the toy makes my son happy then who am I to judge? And if, when he is older, my son chooses to play with an Asian minded toy because he too is Asian, then I am fine with that as well.
That is not where our panda story ends though. The other day my son was sitting in his car seat playing with his panda. The car door was open and a family friend and I were talking outside the car. An acquaintance of this friend came up and said hello to my little boy. My friend pointed out the panda and said, "He feels right at home." "What?", I thought. "Did she just say that?"
If my son feels "right at home" playing with his panda, then it is because he brought his panda from our home. It is because he has played with that panda with his daddy and with me. It is not because panda bears live in China. The uncomfortableness I originally felt when my little guy first began carrying that panda around re-surfaced. Should I have not let him play with it?
Of course not. I stand by my first decision, that he should play with whatever toy he wants. If he wants to play with a doll amid his trucks, that is fine with me. If he wants to help Mommy cook and then help Daddy change the oil in the car, that is fine too. If he wants to play with a Chinese dragon or a drum from Guatemala, then good for him.
I wish I could say that my story ends with me saying something incredibly witty and educational to my friend. Sadly, it does not. But next time I am in that situation, and I am sure I will be in that situation, I know exactly what I will say. "Yes, I hope that one day that panda reminds my son of his birth country and the life changing trip we took to meet him. But if it reminds him of home, that is because it came from home. Our home, in Columbus, Ohio."