I’ve been shooting for the Heart Gallery for a long time now, here and there, whenever they need someone in my area. At first I felt mostly hopeful. Hopeful that these kids would find forever families, that a photo I took could make a difference. And I still feel that way, but over time I’ve realized there are more kids than I imagined and there’s fewer people adopting these kids than I imagined and some of these kids are right here in my back yard – and it seems like no one even knows it. I would have never known it. So it’s something that has been weighing on my heart, heavier and heavier with time. Now when I meet them I ache for them, I save their pictures and I pray for them and I come home and talk to my husband about the possibility of adopting. After a recent shoot, I wrote about the experience because sometimes it just helps me to write things down, plus I didn’t want to forget. Then I started thinking that I could leave out the names, post this to my blog and maybe raise some awareness.
I share this with you today in hopes that it might spark something. Please pass it on, to everyone you know or to someone specific you think might consider adoption. I can’t show you the pictures for privacy reasons, but I can give you a link to the Heart Gallery’s page (see bottom.) Also, I’m not an expert – I’m writing based simply on my personal experience, the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart. I’m not suggesting my thoughts are right/wrong/whatever and I am in no way formally representing the Heart Gallery, their views or opinions.
It’s our second time meeting for pictures. Their oldest sister has aged out of the system since the first shoot so we needed an update with two instead of three. They don’t remember me but they seem happy, hopeful, to be having their picture made again. I’m thinking to myself how good this is, since it’s not always the case.
Before we get started, she tells me matter-of-factly that she made a mistake last time – the way she dressed made her look older. So this time she made sure to dress nice but not older. “How old do I look? I want to look young.” I’m trying to wrap my head around her statement, wishing I could tell her not to feel that way but I know better. Well, I said, how old are you exactly? “Fourteen.” Her older sister is quiet. I tell her she looks perfect.
We start taking pictures, things are going well and the girls are warming up. Then out of nowhere this shadow comes over her and she’s distracted, so I put the camera down. “I just really want to be adopted,” she says “and last time we weren’t. And it’s HARD not being adopted. I’ve been in the system since I was SEVEN and my sister since she was TEN and I just keep WAITING.” Her words are so full they could burst. I can tell she’s not happy with me. Maybe it had been my fault, maybe I failed her? It’s common for kids to think I’m a case worker of some kind so I tell her gently that I don’t know anything about the adoptions, that I only take the pictures but that I can imagine how hard it must be. Waiting. Well I can’t really imagine but I can try to. I know it must be so hard. I’m stumbling over my words because I want so badly to have something to say that might make an ounce of difference. But what she needs is a family and I’m feeling like who am I to stand here talking this way when real compassion would DO something. I want to tell her I’ll adopt her right now, today. It’s just not okay that children are growing up without families, without the love of a parent. And then, becoming adults and navigating life alone. Who do they call when they get that promotion? Where do they spend holidays? But I’ve only just begun thinking seriously about this recently and I know there’s a long process ahead and she’s not the only one and I can’t take them all home. My thoughts are running a mile a minute. She breaks in, “I’m just trying not to lose my hope.” And I can see her, right in front of me, FIGHTING for it.
We get back to work. She’s trying so carefully to smile just right, to look young, and I know I’m not capturing the real person so we talk more between shots. Who’s your best friend? “Alice, she lives with me.” Tell me about your best ever birthday. “The time I got to go out to dinner.” What’s your favorite movie? “Home.” This helps and her eyes start to clear; I can see her now.
The sisters hug each other for their photos together and I finally get them laughing when I invite them to laugh at me – my hair blowing all over the place, my clothes, that big freckle on my nose, whatever. They get a kick out of that. The laughter’s a relief.
Leaving, we walk past happy families playing on the beach and I wonder if that’s painful. We talk some more. We hang on to hope.