My daughter got her school pictures back this week. Even with her sweater unbuttoned (I reminded her at least six time to please, please button it before her picture) and her hair mussed from one thousand gymnastic stunts practiced on the playground, she is still the most beautiful child that I’ve ever seen.

When I was in elementary school, I remember exchanging pictures with my friends at school, but this was not what she had on her mind as she eagerly surveyed the envelope. “Mama,” she said, “I hope we have enough.”  She then began counting on her fingers all the people whom she knows will want a copy of her picture:

Her brother. The one who shares her eyes and her history. Her foster parents. The ones who taught her how to tie her shoes and ride a bike. The ones who taught her that love doesn’t run away.

Her social worker. Talk about going above and beyond.  Although her case has been closed for three years, we still get texts asking how things are going. She still spends her days off hanging out with us at the zoo because for her, this little girl was never just a job.

Nannie, of course. The one we can call, day or night. Words or no words. The one who will drop everything and be there with no questions asked.

Papa. He might want two she figures—one for his wallet and one for his office. Ever since he laid eyes on her, you see, Papa has been smitten.

Her aunt. The one who came to all the foster care classes with her mama. The one who brings us salted caramel ice cream when we’ve had a bad day.

Her uncle. The one who bought her flowers and took her to a daddy daughter dance right along with his own little girl.

Her teacher. The one who knows her challenging behaviors and chooses to see the good in her. Who chooses to encourage her and expect greatness.

Mama’s friend. The one who sends real notes in the mail for her just to say hello, I love you,  I am proud of you. She keeps all of these notes, every single one, in a special box. And she reads them over again and again.

I will be the first one to tell you that adoption is not all rose petals and happily ever after. It is joy and pain, bitter and sweet all tangled up together. Always. Every single moment. But this too is adoption.

A mama and her little girl together in the kitchen, counting school photos inside an envelope. Worlds expanded. Without this little girl, you see, I wouldn’t know all of these people. The ones who share her eyes and her history. The ones who held her before I could.  Hearts have been enlarged. Before this little girl, you see, I would have told you that nurture trumps nature. That our past is not as important as our present. This is not true. We need them both. We need them all.

This too is adoption:

A little girl who knows she is loved. Who knows her picture belongs in so many frames, so many wallets, so many offices. A little girl who knows she is treasured in so many hearts. A little girl whose only concern in this moment is whether her mama ordered enough pictures.