Home Healthcare The Pandas on the Nationwide Zoo Turned A part of My Household

The Pandas on the Nationwide Zoo Turned A part of My Household

The Pandas on the Nationwide Zoo Turned A part of My Household


In the summertime of 2014, I used to be sitting at my desk once I acquired an electronic mail from my mother. “She was being so naughty at the moment,” Mother wrote. “She was leaping off a platform onto Mommy’s head.” The “she” on this message, I knew, was referring to the large panda Bao Bao, who had been born on the Nationwide Zoo the summer season earlier than and who had been the topic of our emails, textual content messages, and adoration for almost a yr.

On the time, I used to be 28 years outdated, constructing a profession in Washington, D.C. My mother was 58 and nearing the tip of a second profession in labor advocacy in Oklahoma. Her first had been to boost me and my brother. However an irregular chest X-ray was a harbinger of tragedy for our household. Three years later, she would bear a lung transplant. She died from issues simply two years after that.

However again then, sitting at desks half a rustic aside, we every stored the Smithsonian Large Panda Cam on our pc screens and despatched commentary forwards and backwards all through the workday. “Poor Bao Bao! Nonetheless can’t get her butt up within the air,” learn one message my mother despatched me. “Bao Bao is making an attempt to eat bamboo!” learn one I despatched to her.

Pandas turned our factor. We despatched screenshots and movies. We used a set of panda-specific iMessage stickers in our texts. When my mother would name me, the photograph that I had programmed to pop up on my telephone was not of her however of Mei Xiang, the panda mother. Once I referred to as her, a photograph of Bao Bao appeared on her telephone. It was the type of easy, ritualized communication that subtly deepens relationships over time. If we had nothing else in our lives to speak about, we at the very least had the pandas.

[Read: The aftermath of a mass slaughter at the zoo]

Later this month, the pandas will go away the Nationwide Zoo to return to China. The bears who turned a part of my household will now be half a world away.

In our messages, my mother recurrently expressed concern for Mei Xiang, that she appeared exhausted and overwhelmed caring for a small creature by herself. However Mother additionally took enjoyment of Bao Bao’s antics. The younger cub would act like a human toddler, utilizing her mother’s spherical physique like a jungle health club. Then, as she grew, Bao Bao sought her personal area by climbing up into bushes within the panda enclosure, even when it was not clear how she would get down. As we went forwards and backwards concerning the pandas, I noticed motherhood by way of my mom’s eyes for the primary time, how rewarding and depleting it was, how ungrateful and unaware a toddler could possibly be. I noticed how her concern for Mei Xiang mirrored the issues she’d had for herself as a younger mom, the hundreds of instances she’d put her kids’s wants earlier than her personal.

My brother was with us once we lastly visited the Nationwide Zoo and noticed Bao Bao in particular person. The cub sat on a rock proper in entrance of the viewing window, and we had been capable of see this furry movie star ourselves. I bear in mind feeling like hours of watching her develop up gave us some type of kinship along with her. My mother referred to as her “our child”—and he or she was.

For us, Bao Bao and Mei Xiang served as stand-ins, a pair on whom we may undertaking issues that we both didn’t have the phrases to say or that we discovered too exhausting to say on the time. I see how a lot work it’s to be an excellent mother or father. Thanks for the whole lot you gave up for us.

In 2017, Bao Bao was despatched to China as a part of the settlement that allowed pandas to dwell exterior the nation. Any panda born exterior China needed to be returned earlier than they reached 4 years outdated. My mother and I had been unhappy but in addition blissful to see “our” panda grown up and heading out into her grownup life. I took solace that Mei Xiang was nonetheless close by. Tian Tian, the sire of Mei Xiang’s cubs, additionally remained on the Nationwide Zoo. Extra panda cubs adopted, first Bei Bei (and a twin that didn’t survive) in 2015, after which, miraculously, Xiao Qi Ji in 2020, through the pandemic. I adopted every cub faithfully, however by no means had the identical connection I had felt with Mei Xiang and Bao Bao.

After my mother died, the duty of sorting by way of her stuff fell largely to my father and me. Together with the fabric objects of her life—the scarves, recipe playing cards, and Ebook of Widespread Prayer—a lot of what I’ve of hers is digital messages, a lot of them concerning the start and progress of a large panda, and all of the work that went into elevating her.

On the primary anniversary of my mother’s dying, I commemorated her with a tattoo of Mei Xiang on my leg. The panda is fortunately crunching on bamboo, as she had within the days after Bao Bao had been transferred to her personal enclosure, the work of motherhood accomplished. There she is, having fun with a time of bliss and relaxation—what I needed for my mom.

It’s exhausting to elucidate how a lot the pandas have touched me. They’ve left an indelible mark on my life, my coronary heart, my pores and skin.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here