Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pictures! A Childhood Retrieved

I heard my husband's car pull into the driveway, then the back door to the house crashed open and Ashley raced up the stairs. "Mom, Mom! I have a picture of D!" That was the first thing she said, but the picture of "D," her biological father who left the family before she was old enough to form strong memories of him, wasn't the only thing she had. Erica, her biological mother, had given her an entire stack of photos from Ashley's early years, with a request that we copy them and return them to her.

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.

"Good memories?"


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!)


  1. That is so awesome! What a treasure! This post literally gave me goosebumps! We adopted my son when we was 15 months old and not many photos were taken prior to that (though it's an open adoption and we see birth parents fairly regularly, so new ones can be taken) and about 3 months in I randomly got a text from his grandmother with 3 pictures from my little guy in the hospital at birth. Such a treasure! It's probably the only ones they have of him too before then. I'm so happy they shared them too. For that reason, I send about 30 photos a month to them! Overkill, I'm sure, but I know they appreciate them.

  2. I was riveted reading this. I am so glad she has real pictures to remind her of happy times as a child. Great story!

  3. Sooo beautiful!! loved hearing all of this! What a treasure receiving the pictures and what a treasure she has in you!

  4. Love it!!! Our girl's case worker contacted former foster parents on our behalf and was able to scrounge up a few pictures of our girl from when she was around 4 and first in care. None from then until we got her at 9, except a few that were taken for photo listings. The pictures are really crummy quality, but they are such treasures! She also found a polaroid of her at 3 years old during the investiagion. It's so sad. She's wearing clothes that are way too big for her (probably an older sisters) and is sooo thin. She LOVES that picture as it's the closet thing to a baby photo she has.

  5. I was so happy while reading this post! It has always bothered me that we lost so many pictures of Ashley, I'm extremely grateful that we were able to recover some of them! I'm so glad she connected so intensly with you after this visit, you are an amazing mother and I love you!

  6. Thanks! She's been in a great mood all around since the visit. She has even been cheerful about doing her homework and eye exercises. Wow -- whatever you did, it was great! LOL.
    We've scanned all the photos, so when we return them to you we will give you a CD of them for your computer.
    Love you, too!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for your kind and thoughtful comments!

  8. I am so blessed to have pictures of my girls growing up in Ethiopia with their parents. I know a lot of international adoptees do not have this. It does make a difference with how they remember, cope and deal with things! I'm so happy for you and your little one!

  9. This is awesome! I don't have any pictures of myself before two months old. I can't imagine losing pictures from my entire childhood. I'm so happy that Ashley was able to get some of her history back!


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