Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Lessons From The Lightroom

Recently, I got a copy of Adobe Lightroom. (Well, technically, I've downloaded the trial version but it's so fabulous that I'll be getting the real thing as soon as my trial expires). I got some free presets - also fabulous - and was thrilled to find that I can finally get some decent black&white conversions of my colour pictures. Call me stupid, but I've never been able to get the hang of doing this properly in Photoshop Elements - my black&whites were always annoyingly flat. But now: 

Yay, right? This is Pink against a brown wall - look at how well it brought out all those lovely midtones with just a few easy clicks! So, buoyed by this initial success, I shoved my big memory card into the computer and started looking for other pictures to mess around with. I don't know about you, but I use my primary memory card as an extra backup  for some of my favourite pictures.  I download photos to the computer, and delete most of them off the card, but I always leave a few from each session saved, just in case the house burns down or the computer and external hard drive both expire on the same day. (You know, but my camera is somehow miraculously okay. Whatever. It makes sense to me). Anyway, the card I'm currently using is absolutely huge, so it has about two years of stuff on it, ranging in time from this:

April 2010

To this: 

This last weekend, June 2012. I love the way he sticks his tongue out when he runs. In fact, I love everything about how he runs.  Remind me to tell you about the cat stuck down the front of his Tshirt some other time. 

Two years worth of Us, all appearing in front of me at once. And wow, it brought back a lot of memories. Some of the time I just kept catching my breath because wow those babies were cute. I mean, seriously:

So squishy. 

But one of the weird things about seeing all the photos in front of me at once was seeing what wasn't there. When they were small (not tiny-floppy-infant small, but the next size up) there is not one. single. photo. of Blue looking relaxed and happy in my arms. His father, yes. Me, no. 

There are a few awkward photos of me trying to get us in that kind of pose - which I will spare you, for the sake of our dignity - but nothing that worked. And seeing those awkward photos - me smiling tightly, him turning away - brought it all flooding back to me, how when he was little, he didn't want to snuggle. He didn't want to burrow his head into my shoulder. I don't mean that he never did it, but it wasn't his default. Not by a long way. He liked me a lot - he loved me, in his little baby way, I think - but I wasn't a totally safe space for him. He wanted to interact with me, but he wanted to do it on his terms, often at arms length. 

I knew it wasn't normal. I had seen enough infants and mothers together to know how that particular dance goes. He never rejected me, but I knew that he didn't think that we were a part of each other, either. It was sad.  

And it seems so strange to remember all this now, because things are so different. How long has it been like this? I can't remember. But now, just when all of his friends have begun to separate from their mothers, he has drawn nearer. Much, much, much nearer. I used to say 'oh, I know what you mean' when friends would moan how their babies wanted to go to the bathroom with them, and couldn't bear for them to be out of sight. I was lying, though - I really didn't know what they meant, although I didn't want to admit it. My children were pretty much happy for me to go to the bathroom alone, and some days I wondered whether Blue would notice if I never came back.  But now - now -  Blue stands outside and says 'Come too? Come too, Mummy?' and I'm yelling 'No! This is Mummy's private time!' and wondering if I can have a two year old arrested for stalking. 

 This is something I wasn't really prepared for. I suppose I thought that his early attachment issues meant that he would always be less close to me than an average child of the same age. But that's not how it has worked for us at all. Instead, he seems to be making up for lost time. It seems that he is eager, now, to get all of the intimacy we missed when he was a little baby. I can't put my finger on when this started - it was a long time ago, I guess - but I feel like our relationship is playing out backwards.  In so many ways he is closer to me now than when he was an infant. He has a deep need for closeness, for physical touch. This in itself isn't quite normal either, but I can give it to him anyway. That's something I can do. Given the choice between this year's borderline-anxious and last year's borderline-avoidant attachment, I would choose anxious every. single. time. (But nobody does get to choose, do they? Not the children, not the grownups. That's partly why this all feels so hard).  

In some ways, at nearly-three, he's a bit like a baby, my snuggleupagus. He's like a different child. Has it really taken this long for him to build up the trust to let himself need me in this way? Once again I'm amazed by how deeply his early life has affected him, by how differently it has affected his sister. 

Today, after his nap, Pink was still sleeping and Blue and I went and played on my bed. I tickled him (he's always, always loved to be tickled) but we lay there with our arms around each other, too, him babbling away about bubbles (his current obsession) and me nearly falling asleep in the afternoon sun - still unable to believe that this boy wants to be close and be hugged, that this boy sees this mother as a physical refuge, at long long last. 

I think what I am trying to say is: take heart. If you are a new adoptive parent, and you know in your heart that your child is holding you at arms length - take heart. It can get better, and I think that it usually does. I'm not saying that everything is going to be easy from here on in, but sometimes it does my heart good to look back and see where we've come from and say: we've come a long way, baby. 


  1. Stunningly gorgeous photos of your gorgeous children. The post is just, as always, so touchingly deep for me. Thank you.

  2. bravo. so true. so very true. and not just for the wee wittle ones either.

  3. well, i'm pretty sure that last paragraph was just for me. so thanks. i'm always in need of an extra dose of hope.

  4. Thanks. You wrote this post just for me, right? I think our attachment is going pretty well, but sometimes I just wonder. And worry. This really helped. A Lot. Thank you :-)

  5. The first photo needs to be entered in a photo contest asap. It needs to be the cover of TIME magazine. Or at least PArents magazine! And as for the rest....I am glad for you. And for blue. Nothing like a little boy and his mama right? (So they tell me) :)

  6. Beautiful photos and thanks for the encouragement. We have about 2 more months before we are placed with a 3 or 4 year old and attachment is definitely on our minds. thank you.

  7. Yes, yes, amen! Mostly I think of attachment as a spiral sort of process, but sometimes the image of a bungee cord stretching away and snapping back seems more apt. Two was very, very hard for us. Three has been much better on all fronts. Something just seemed to click and the attachment stuff has picked up pace.

  8. beautiful, beautiful photos and post. But... I have no idea what flat b/w pics look like. I'm now 100% sure mine are flat :)

    Also, can't WAIT to hear about that cat on Blue.

    My friend mailed me to RSVP for our party. Said she's buying K a doll since her mother deprives her of being girly (LOL) and what would C like. I said, well, probably a doll too since they both run around the house with two teddies each because they think all babies come in pairs :)

  9. Even when they come home big enough to do all kinds of things by themselves, they will regress as part of the attachment process. So I came home with a four year old who could dress himself, feed himself, clean up after himself, walk from point A to point B without being carried, etc., but after we were home two months, suddenly he was as helpless as a baby. Your attachment therapist, if you had one, would be cheering your development. It seems like you are going backward, but they need to go backward before they can go forward. So, hooray! You are making great progress!

  10. Shaking my head yes. My 15 month old came to me as a very independent child and I thought Hooray! She's so feisty and fearless and independent! But an adult adoptee pointed out to me that this was actually pseudo-mature behavior typical of post institutional children and this was not very good at all. I was shocked. It took a long time and a lot of work for her to decide I was someone she could trust to hang around long enough to depend on. The she became obsessed with me. It signaled the beginning of trust. Insecure trust, but trust none the less. The rest will come. :-)

  11. and the opposite can happen too...a baby that seemed totally unscathed by early trauma can grow more anxious and more disregulated over time. And it can kick the living crap out of you because you realize it's only the tip of the iceberg.

  12. I'm normally a lurker. I read all of your posts, but never comment (Mainly because I read them through a reader), but today I felt compelled to comment. These pictures are gorgeous. Really and truly. Your words made me smile and brought a lump to my throat because I've read about your difficulties and my heart went out to you. So I just wanted to say that your family is lovely. Your children are beautiful and I'm glad that these children found you.

  13. Beautiful photos! You are so talented in SO MANY WAYS!
    And I think sometimes we are living parallel lives (except you're a gifted writer and photog and I still barely know how to back my iPhone photos up much less take great pictures!) because I feel that our son is just starting to let us in, notice when we aren't there, etc. etc. And I secretly love it! In the fiftieth hour that my daughter cannot let me out of her sight, well, that gets a little old because she's always done that for the most part but our little guy...it's new.

  14. I love this. Thank you. And your photos are simply breathtaking.

  15. Oh,this is beautiful. And oh-so-true.


Over to you!