This video captures the moment in question
After we sang "Happy Birthday" to my son, our little Kung Fu Panda, an old friend of the family, Uncle Squash, asked me, "So when does he stop being Kung Fu Panda?" My response: to squeeze KFP close to me and declare "Never!" And then, more seriously, I answered, "Whenever he starts to mind it." Of course, this response was swallowed up by more joking from the guests.
There is no truer way to answer the question than this split response. He became our Kung Fu Panda because of something that happened in the hospital (which I never tire of retelling). A big boy from birth, at 9 pounds 7 ounces, he was also strong, alert, and with arms and legs that never stopped moving and exploring. When I was feeding him for the first time, he pulled out the IV nurses had positioned in a vein in my hand (my arm veins being notoriously difficult to find)! I immediately made a joke to The Gryphon about our son's "Kung Fu action grip," an allusion to the GI Joe commercials of our childhood.
Then, after our baby was taken to the nursery for his first round of tests, the nurses returned him in a blanket covered with pandas. His online nickname sprung to life.
For years, I have used nicknames to refer to friends and family in my blog, in part to protect people's privacy. While it is possible to view pictures and figure out the real names of people, it's not searchable in any practical way on "teh Internets." I also often omit real place names, and when I do use them, I omit street names unless it's a place of business.
So for practical reasons, "Kung Fu Panda," or "KFP," as friends shortened it soon after I started using it, will continue to be used on my blog until, as I said, he starts to object to it. Or until I feel the need to change it, for whatever reason. (I have occasionally changed people's nicknames; sometimes by request but sometimes because the original one no longer fit them.)
Typically, I use real names on Facebook, but following in the footsteps of a number of friends who even use pseudonyms there, I used "Kung Fu Panda" on Facebook, as well. This is why many people, upon first meeting him, call him "Panda."
The nickname continues to suit him: like his namesake, he is unfailingly optimistic, good-humored, and self-confident about his awesomeness. He's a dreamer and an adventurer: always seeking out new challenges. And yet, also like his namesake, he has moments of weakness, when the smallest thing makes him lose his stuff. This typically happens when he's tired. For example, on Saturday, he was cranky and difficult but refused to nap. I read him a book to distract him, and the minute I'd finished, he began wailing, as if the book was his best friend and had abandoned him in a snowstorm with no skis.
Names have power. This is a truth recognized across cultures. I often think about KFP's nickname and the uneven way it's applied. While I call him that online, his real name slips into the videos I've uploaded to YouTube. And when strangers compliment me on my baby and ask his name, I weakly tell them the truth, although I wonder whether this is wise. Should I give them a dummy name? Or say, "We call him Kung Fu Panda or KFP"? If so, how do I decide who gets the real name? Only the moms at the library storytime and similar locations? It's impossible sometimes to tell who's going to be significant in your life.
That is why I was incapable of giving one answer to Uncle Squash's query. I will never stop wanting to protect KFP, in my clumsy way, of at least overuse of his real name. And, no matter how old he is, I'm sure I will still see in him the bright, strong baby I met a year ago, the baby with the Kung Fu action grip.
Nicknames are complicated, especially for mothers.