I pushed aside the laundry I was folding so Ashley could spread out the photos on the bed.
"Here's me on my second birthday! And here's me in a tutu. And brushing my teeth. That's me and H. And those are my brothers. And that's me wearing my grandma's slippers."
We went through the whole stack and somehow missed the picture of D, so we went back through.
"There he is, the one in the red shirt. I don't look like him."
"True," I answered. "You look more like your mother. Still, it's neat to have the picture. I have the same situation. I only have one picture of my biological dad, and I don't really look like him, but I'm glad I have it."
I've written about visit backlash and how Ashley responded to a visit in October by pushing me away afterwards. But that's the thing about open adoption ... you just never know what you are going to get; the adoptive parent needs to be adaptable, ready to respond to whatever comes up for the child. Ashley's response to this most recent visit was on the opposite end of the spectrum from that October visit. This time she wanted me -- intensively -- to help her process. After sharing the photos, she asked me to come into her room on some pretense, shut the door, and proceeded to talk for almost two hours while I listened, nodded, and, when appropriate, verbally reflected back her thoughts and emotions. Some of it was about her birth family, but a lot of it was about seemingly irrelevant things: her friends, school work, our adoptive family. She even shared a rare verbal expression of her feelings toward me: "It's really hard for me to say 'I love you,' but that doesn't mean I don't." A lot of it was about identity; she's figuring out who she is and how she wants to show up in the world.
The next morning I drove her to school. It was just the two of us because her sister was with my husband on the way to an appointment. Because we didn't have the scanner set up yet, she had taken pictures of the photos with her iPod and she was happily looking through them in the back seat.
"Look at this one, Mom," she kept saying, holding up the iPod. "Wasn't I so cute?"
"Yes, Ashley, you were adorable, but I really need to keep my eyes on the road when I'm driving."
But I also added "I'm so glad you have those photos now." And I meant it. I'm aware that a piece of her childhood has been returned to her. This is something that people don't often think about, but when kids enter foster care, they not only lose their families, they lose many of the things that connected them to those families: the homes, the furniture, the photos, the shared verbal memories. The photos give Ashley a part of that back.
"These pictures are bringing up so many memories," she said to me later that day.
We tend to think of kids who enter foster care as having nothing but negative experiences prior to removal, but that's not always the case. It's not true for Ashley. Her mother's addiction began to spiral out of control near the end of Ashley's time in the home, and those were bad times, but there were plenty of good times prior to that, and the pictures attest to this. These are happy, smiling kids in these photos.
My kid is amazing. She's been through so much and has shown so much resilience. I'm so happy that she now gets to experience the simple pleasure that so many of us take for granted, of looking back at photos of her earlier years and saying, "Hey, that was me. Wasn't I adorable?" (And for the record, she was!)