we bought a zoo

Reflections on the movie We Bought a Zoo

We had a super busy week and weekend. In fact, I didn’t write any blog posts for the Ultimate Blog Challenge on Saturday or  Sunday. I was so grateful for a couple of free hours yesterday to lie on the couch between loads of laundry and watch the movie We Bought A Zoo with my eleven-year-old daughter. I am a big Matt Damon fan, love Scarlett Johansson and dig zoos. Even if it was just an okay movie, I figured we would enjoy watching it together. I was in the mood for a feel-good movie with a happy ending.

Last week was busy and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. On Thursday, we all appeared in juvenile court to support my brother and sister-in-law as they formally adopted a 3 year old boy they have been fostering for 7 months. It was touching and emotional and super exciting to be able to embrace our nephew and know that he is here to stay. I was so impressed with the judge, he was tough on the adoptive parents and asked hard questions. It was clear that he had the interests of the child at heart and it made me feel good about the foster care system and about this judge who sees more than his fair share of difficult, sad and tragic cases. He did not look at our middle-class white family and just assume that my brother and his wife would be the best parents for this child. He made sure they understood the level of commitment they were making to this child and that they were not taking it lightly. It was a powerful moment to see them so clearly articulate why they want to commit to this child and to parenting.

As I was watching the movie with my daughter, there were equally powerful moments of commitment and connection among the characters. I thought the movie was charming and more thought-provoking than I had expected. The message that I resonated with the most was the main character Benjamin’s attitude towards adventure, and how his attitude evolved throughout the movie. At the beginning of the movie, we discover that Benjamin and his two children have lost their wife/mother. Previously, Benjamin was an adventure-seeker and journalist who traveled the world in search of a great story. Now he finds himself attempting to manage the day-to-day life of single fatherhood.

He decides they need a fresh start and buys a zoo, thinking it will be a grand adventure. The story is more involved than this, but he buys the zoo with the same attitude with which he has approached the rest of his life, “It will be an adventure.” He quickly runs through his money trying to save the zoo, is saved by money his wife had socked away knowing his penchant for rash decisions and opens the zoo with determination, hard work and enthusiasm. At one point in the movie when he is at the point of deciding whether or not to go forward with the zoo or take the nest egg his wife left and start over again, he realized that the people and the animals are the adventure. Life itself is the big adventure, full of risks, rewards, challenges and successes.

As I watched his family learning to communicate and connect with each other after the trauma of their loss, I thought about my own family and our life together. Not just my wonderful nuclear family of four but my parents and sibling as well. Adopting this beautiful boy is an adventure that we are all embarking on, although I love being the aunt who gets to enjoy this active, high-energy little boy and send him home at the end of the day. Now I know why grandparents love being grandparents so much! Last year we moved our family to California from Texas, uprooting my two kids from the only home they had known and all of their friends, schools, safety net and familiar routines. We have spent the past year feeling, like Benjamin, that our life is this wonderful adventure. There were many obstacles on our journey: moving was so stressful and there were so many unknowns. It would have been easy to give up and stay put.

When you look at life as an adventure rather than a trial, you learn to see the beauty and the excitement. You learn to expect fun so that when obstacles appear, you know that you will move through them and survive. We survived the leaving, the drive across country and the settling into our new home. The movie was also about survival, about building community and learning to connect to ourselves and to others. We cannot heal alone, we need other people. While we may not always need to do something as drastic as buy a zoo or move our families across country, sometimes we do need a dramatic change to remind us that adventure is a good thing.

When was the last time you went on an adventure?

If you are feeling disconnected from your family and friends and thinking that adventure seems impossible right now, consider joining my HeartWise Sister Circle, a safe, supportive group for women who are looking to rediscover the fun in their lives, connect with other women and create a vibrant new  vision for their lives. We are having so much fun on our weekly coaching calls and finding that we are all on the same path of healing and finding joy in our lives. Come join us!