This is Elli's:
I remember exactly where I was, what was going on, what the room smelled like and how I felt when I took this picture:This photo was taken in our hotel room in Hefei, China. Just a few hours earlier we met this kid for the first time. She was wearing a red and black plaid dress with cherries on the top. She had a cute red bow in her hair and some dirty pink shoes. She was the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen.
I remember how I felt about her. I was captivated. It was instantaneous love. A deep, committed and compassionate love...that was one-sided. I loved her, but she didn't love me. If I had been pulling petals off a flower it would have sounded something like this, "I love her. She loves me not. I want to hold her. She loves me not. I want her to look at me. She loves me not. I want to see those beautiful eyes. She loves me not."
This picture captures the initial struggle of our adoptive relationship so vividly. She is coloring in a coloring book and she is preoccupied with her work. But her preoccupation is not just with coloring. She is preoccupied with ignoring me. She won't look up at the camera. She is preoccupied with trying to be strong and hold it together. She is preoccupied with trying not to be scared. She is preoccupied with not showing her eyes.
At one of the adoption conferences we attended before we met Elli we were told by adoption experts and parents alike, "Attachment is in the eyes." Many adoptive children will not show you their eyes due to things like shame, fear, distrust, lack of confidence...you name it. And it's easy to understand why. For their entire lives they've been told "no" or "you're not wanted." They don't look you in the eyes until they begin to feel any sense of attachment to you. This picture reminds me that Elli felt that way.
A couple of weeks ago our friend captured this picture:
Study this picture for a moment. Can you see the difference? Look at her eyes. Do you see it? There's no shame, no fear. There are no walls up. She is confident. She is happy. Her face is at ease. She feels loved and she feels safe. Nothing makes me happier. Well...almost nothing.
So I have this thing I do with Elli where I say to her, "Elli, let me see your eyes." She will look at my eyes and I will say something like, "You're beautiful...you're daddy's girl...I love you." I've done this hundreds of times since that first day in China.
Recently I said to her, "Elli, let me see your eyes." She looked at me and those big, beautiful brown eyes met mine. I was captivated all over again and I was taken back and given pause. In that pause, before I could say anything, she said to me in the sweetest voice you could ever imagine, "I love you, Baba."
I hugged her tightly and the final two petals fell: "I love her. She loves me."