My husband wanted us all to go see Finding Dory together for Father’s Day. It’s not always easy to find movies that work for all of our children, because our littlest one gets scared easily, and our oldest is far more interested in teenage characters than anything else.
But Disney Pixar movies are usually a pretty good bet, and everyone was on board. Since our youngest had never seen Finding Nemo, my husband dashed out and rented it from a local library, and we watched it on Saturday night, mostly to help create context and meaning for Finding Dory the next day.
Our oldest daughter is three months shy of thirteen. She has been steadily separating from us as she moves through adolescence and prefers to be alone in her room listening to her music.
Never one to tell us much about what she was thinking, even as a little girl, she has now retreated into a place where we seldom hear more than one word about her day, even though she hops on her bike at 8:30 am to pedal to camp and doesn’t return home until late in the afternoon. Sweaty, happy and hungry, she tells us things are “good” or “fine” or “okay” before she tries to escape our pesky questions.
She protects her true emotions more carefully than anyone I know, usually sporting a poker face that is impenetrable. A trait that is not unusual in adoptees, nor in middle schoolers, but sometimes I wish I could just break through and find out what she is thinking.
Last week, I took her out of camp for a few days to go visit her birthmother, sister, and brother during our annual birth family reunion. Before the trip, I got one sentence from her about how she was feeling. “More excited than nervous.”
The trip went well. I made several attempts to find out what my daughter was thinking and feeling, asking each night in our hotel room if she wanted to talk, but she always answered with a shrug and a steady, “Everything’s fine,” and then returned to her music or the book she was reading.
Just in case she needed to hear it, I told her again and again that I love her, that her dad and sisters love her, that her birth family loves her. “I’ll always be here for you, and so will Daddy. Wherever you go, we will be here, and we will always be your parents. We will never give up on you,” I said, as we sat in the airport, waiting to board our flight back home. She nodded and smiled, then touched me on the nose. No more was said.
And then we found ourselves in the darkened, cool theater on Sunday afternoon, along with hundreds of other families, watching Finding Dory. As we all learned in Finding Nemo, Dory is a kind-hearted, resourceful fish that suffers from short-term memory loss (and quite a bit of long-term memory loss, too.)
SPOILER ALERT FROM HERE ON OUT:
Early in the film, we learn through Dory’s flashbacks that her parents devoted their days to helping their tiny daughter learn how to get back home, in the very likely event that she forgets where she is and becomes lost. They continually practice techniques with her to jog her memory and help her regain familiarity. Since baby Dory loves pretty shells, her parents lay out paths of seashells leading back to their home, telling Dory again and again to follow the shells home. Dory apologizes again and again for getting lost, and they reassure her that it’s okay. But one day, little Dory got lost in a big way, and after a while, she forgot that she even had parents, much less a home.
Years pass. Dory meets up with Marlin, Nemo and the familiar characters from Finding Nemo. But one day, her memory gets triggered, and she remembers the location of her original home. She sets off on an epic journey to find her mom and dad, accompanied by a reluctant Marlin and an enthusiastic Nemo.
At times funny, at times agonizing, Dory swims through a dozen loopholes and plot twists as she searches for her parents. Finally, finally, she makes it home. But they aren’t there. And they aren’t there. She doesn’t know how to find them or what to do. She gets separated from Marlin and Nemo, and we see Dory, losing hope, alone and scared, just as we saw her the very first time she lost her parents.
“Just keep swimming,” Dory tells herself. She uses positive self-talk – what we are always trying to teach our kids!! -- and, combined with her natural resilience, she avoids a total meltdown. And then she notices a pretty shell and decides to follow it. Another pretty shell. And another. Suddenly, Dory remembers how her parents always told her to “follow the shells.” She begins swimming faster and faster.
Dory follows the shells to the end of a pipe, but when she gets there, her parents aren’t there. The scene pans out, and we see long paths of shells in every direction leading back to the pipe. And then we see two fish swimming toward Dory, two fish who have spent all day, year after year, building paths of shells out in every direction, in the hopes that one day, one of the paths would lead Dory home.
At this point, my husband noticed that our oldest girl was sobbing. Tears streaming, hiccupping, crying with happiness as she watched Dory’s joyful reunion with her mom and dad. My younger girls were smiling and relieved when Dory found her parents, but our big girl was profoundly moved. It touched something deep in her core.
Last night, she whispered to me, “Dory’s mom and dad never gave up on her.” Through the movie, my daughter was able to access all the feelings she cannot discuss. The fear of abandonment, the fear of disappointing others, the missing of family, the joy of her parents’ unconditional love for her – all of it grabbed my daughter’s heart and let her feel the feelings. Thank you to a little fish for helping my daughter find her way.
Read about Carrie's adoption experience here: Deep Thoughts On The Eve of The Birth Family Reunion
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