"Upon a Star"

As she made her journey from orphanage to foster home to our home, our daughter felt a special connection with the movie Pinocchio.

A night sky of stars, symbolizing journey from orphange to foster home to forever home

Emma, my 3-year-old, has exceptional taste, for a preschooler. While she is bored with most of the newer Disney flicks, such as Pocahontas or Aladdin, she is drawn to the classics, especially Pinocchio. Unlike the recent Disney films featuring heroes and heroines with cookie-cutter good looks, Pinocchio, as everyone knows, has a quirky cast of characters: a lonely old clockmaker, a feisty cricket, and a gullible wooden boy.

Pinocchio‘s biggest fan, Emma, was adopted at 14 months, and I venture to think that some of the quasi-puppet’s joys and trials speak to her at a visceral level. When learning of Emma’s love for Pinocchio, most parents I know offer comments like, “That scared me as a kid” or “Oh, that’s dark!” A tiny half-boy, buffeted by rascals who exploit him for their own evil purposes, a painful separation from a dearly loved parent, disobedient boys morphing into donkeys, and a treacherous journey home — dark it is. Still, how could Emma not relate?

Pinocchio has all the sweep and drama of The Odyssey — and of Emma’s own unstable early life. Bounced from birth mother to orphanage to foster home to our home in Colorado long before she turned 2, she has already made too many momentous journeys of her own. Too many unanswered needs, typical in an orphanage setting, have left a definite mark on our little girl. Emma avoids kisses and saying “I love you,” and prefers to remain “in charge,” with a characteristic bossiness. After all, the trusted adults she knew in the past were here today, gone tomorrow. Better to rely on herself.

Still, what is learned can be unlearned. A hundred faithful responses to cries in the night, a thousand morning smiles and hugs can melt even the most reticent little girl’s heart. It appears that Pinocchio, too, is helping this process along. Amidst the tale’s shadows and terrors, Geppetto’s relentless search for his son might give Emma an inkling of our utter devotion to her, and seeing the clockmaker’s eventual embrace of his long-lost boy may help our child fathom our vast, unconditional love and our joy at finding her. I have noticed with delight that she tends to snuggle a hair’s-breadth closer to me when Geppetto and Pinocchio reunite.

I am betting that Emma will request a Pinocchio viewing tonight. We will sit side by side — Emma riveted to the screen — and hear “When You Wish Upon a Star” once more as we meet the scrappy Jiminy Cricket in Geppetto’s workshop. We will gaze in wonder as the transcendent Blue Fairy grants Geppetto’s wish for his puppet son to come to life. We will watch helplessly as Pinocchio tries in vain to get to school, and we will witness Geppetto’s grief at Pinocchio’s disappearance. The dark figures will snatch away the miscreant boys as they horrifically transform into donkeys, and we will cheer as Jiminy and Pinocchio make a narrow escape. We will rejoice when Geppetto and Pinocchio find each other in the whale’s belly and Pinocchio uses his heart and wits to solve their dilemma. At last, we will accompany Geppetto to Pinocchio’s bedside, marveling with him as the sleeping wooden boy wondrously transforms into a “real boy” before his eyes.

I fervently hope that each time Pinocchio loses his puppet’s hinges and wooden sworls, Emma, who has, in a sense, been born anew as our daughter, lightens her burden a little, too. She won’t feel it consciously, of course, but at the same visceral level where Pinocchio appears to reach her to begin with.


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