I was sick. Really sick. The kind of sick that gets you locked up in Oxygen Tent Quarantine Hell. I was 4 years old and I had a serious case of pneumonia. My immune system has never been particularly great. My insides go to war with each other on the regular and I am the one that ultimately loses. I don’t know why all my internal organs and blood cells can’t just settle the f*** down and call a truce. – Where was I…? Oh yes. Pneumonia, four years old, oxygen tent.
What might seem like a harmless plastic cover to an adult is actually like a gigantic, never-ending, plastic bubble of doom to a 4 year old. Imagine being stuck inside a plastic dome with virtually no escape, no physical contact (very limited) with your parents, hardly any toys allowed inside with you, all while being hooked up to machines and an IV (aka the Sharp Metal Devil stuck inside your flesh that gets caught on every god forsaken object known to mankind). Clearly this is an experience that stays with a person. I mean, it’s only been 25 years. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant time. Really, the only comfort I had was when my mom would reach in and hold my hand or stroke my hair. Pretty sure she never left my side.
Then, my great Aunt Helen showed up. Aunt Helen lives in California. I can’t be sure if she traveled all the way from Cali just to visit me in the hospital but we are gonna go with that theory. She traveled all the way across the country just to see ME. My great Aunt Helen is exceptionally kind, soft spoken, and always classy. I’m not kidding when I tell you she is a mix between Audrey Hepburn and Princess Diana.
So here she is, gracefully gliding into my hospital room when I see it: A stuffed Panda Bear. I had never seen something so soft or so precious in my 4 years of life. And it was for me. They had to get approval before allowing me to have it in my bubble, but once it was a go, Panda and I were inseparable. I was truly in awe of this stuffed animal. He was my friend. The only one allowed inside my plastic prison.
I got better and I was released from Hospital Hell. Panda went everywhere with me. No place was off limits for Panda; bed, car, park, rainy day outside. He was literally my world. I can’t really explain the bond I had with that stuffed Panda but I can only guess that having him with me when I was sick and scared brought me a sense of comfort and normalcy. The day my Aunt gave me that Panda is the day they would forever become my favorite animal. That stuffed Panda helped get me through a sad time and even as I grew older and entered into adulthood, every time I would read Panda news or see a Panda in a movie/zoo, I would immediately be filled with feelings of love and affection. Panda’s rock. Literally.
My dogs name is Panda. When he was first born he resembled a baby panda and I started calling him that for fun but it just stuck. Real life. Here is my precious boy:
Washington D.C. is home to the Smithsonian National Zoo. The National Zoo is home to real Panda Bear’s and I am soooooo lucky to live close enough to actually see these beautiful bears in person. While I have seen mama bear and papa bear on many occasions, I never got the chance to see one of the baby cubs in person. In August of 2013, Bao Bao was born. I was glued to the live web cams the zoo has on their website. Coworkers-turned best friends for life- can attest to the fact that I had the web cams up on one of my desk monitors literally all day. I watched Bao Bao on camera for months waiting for her public debut. The anticipation was killing me.
I waited at least a month after Bao Bao’s public debut before begging my husband to take me to go see her. I figured it would be crowded but not so crowded that I wouldn’t catch a glimpse of her. I anticipated that day like it was my wedding day. Lol. I was like a kid who had never seen snow before. The line was long. Really long. There were Asians everywhere. I am talking hundreds, possibly thousands, of Asians. This is not a bad thing and I totally get it, but DAMN! It was like we stepped out of D.C. and were dropped right in the middle of Shanghai. I was impatient and irritable. I just kept watching groups of 15 get escorted into the Panda House thinking I was never going to make it inside. But then, the moment I had been waiting months- no years- for; we were next! FINALLY!!!!!! The second I got up to the window one of the zookeepers announced, “Bao Bao has just retreated to her private den for her nap.”
I looked at my husband and all but burst into tears. Who knows, maybe I did cry. I was filled with such rage and sadness and disappointment. I’m not sure if y’all know this or not, but Pandas are sleepy fucks. Those little black and white balls of fur don’t take “naps.” They hibernate. Their nap is like 4 hours long. They basically wake up to eat, play for five minutes, take a poo, and sleep the rest of the day. So I wasn’t seeing Bao Bao that day. We went back once Bao Bao was given access outdoors. She wasn’t a tiny cub anymore and I only got to see her from a distance. It was still magical.
On August 22, 2015, Bei Bei came into this world with a twin. Sadly, the twin passed away but Bei Bei is a very healthy 5 month old cub. And his public debut is this Saturday! I haven’t asked my husband yet…. The Panda House opens at 10 and I am wanting to be there at 7 a.m. to get a place in line. Do you know how rare it is for a Panda to not only conceive but to then also carry to full term, give birth to a healthy cub, and have the cub survive?!?! We have had two cubs in less than two years born here at the National Zoo! This could very well be my last time ever to see a panda cub in person and not on a computer monitor. I am willing to stand in 30 degree weather for 3 hours if it means having the chance to see Bei Bei. However, convincing my husband that this is, in fact, a once in a lifetime opportunity that is just as important as seeing Superbowl XLVII in person may be difficult.