"Oh isn't that just the sweetest thing?" Sophia's mother cooed over little baby Addy, smiling her ruby-framed grin as the baby wrapped her tiny little fingers around the woman's bigger, perfectly manicured digits.
Sophia's little sister, Elizabeth, had given birth just a few days ago to her first child with her husband Mark and it had been all the family could talk about ever since. Sophia's mother, Julie, had been particularly vocal in expressing her excitement over her youngest daughter's new bundle of joy. The social media posts had been relentless and Julie had been quite insistent that the new parents bring Addy to the holiday gathering. There wasn't much a child of her age could do just yet, but that hadn't stopped Sophia's mother from turning each little gurgle and hiccup into a groundbreaking achievement.
Sophia couldn't help but send a silent apologetic glance over to where her boyfriend was sitting next to her, watching the whole scene unfold with a bemused expression coloring his face. Charlie was nothing if not tolerant. Sophia reminded herself to find some way to thank him for sitting through Thanksgiving with her family. Before she could give his reward much thought, however, Sophia was suddenly aware that her name had just come up in the rest of the family's conversation.
"Just last month I was saying to Sophia how I hadn't really known who I was before I became a mother," Julie was saying, bouncing Addy's rattle in front of the little girl as she spoke, "I mean, I just felt so complete when I held Sophia in my arms for the first time, and when I first saw Liz I finally felt complete."
"My mom said that when she first saw me, she felt queasy," Charlie quipped with a light chuckle, "Apparently they hadn't wiped me off quite enough for her liking."
"Oh, nonsense," scoffed Julie, "Babies are the most beautiful things in the world, no matter how clean they are. They're our reason for living and a little blood or afterbirth shouldn't change that."
Something about her mother's words was niggling uncomfortably in the back of Sophia's mind. The way she spoke about her devotion to her children made it sound like she hadn't allowed herself to have a life of her own, and Sophia secretly hoped that Elizabeth wasn't planning on modeling her own parenting methods after the ones they're mother seemed to have used. Surely Julie understood that Charlie had been joking, right?
"I am just so happy that my girls have finally started having kids of their own," Julie trilled in a sing-song voice to the smiling baby, then throwing a wink over her shoulder to her eldest daughter. "You're next, Soph."
That caught Sophia off guard. She wasn't sure she appreciated the assumption that she was chomping at the bit to have children, but she was quite sure she didn't want to draw any more attention to herself than necessary. She hoped the smile she offered in return looked far more sincere than she felt.
"I can't wait until Sophia has her first baby," her mother continued, "She'll finally have a chance to drop everything and take a break from all that writing to get in touch with her motherly instincts."
Shifting in her chair idly, Sophia was aware of several pairs of eyes in the room that had suddenly latched onto her. She didn't return their gaze, but it felt like they were silently judging her and that just made her fidgeting worse. When she felt Charlie's hand slide into one of her own, she felt a little better. It was short lived.
"I'll have so much fun sharing my motherly wisdom with her," Julie barreled on, apparently oblivious to her daughter's discomfort, "We'll go shopping for all the supplies she'll need and all the little clothes we can dress the nugget up in."
Sophia was certain she'd dropped every bit of her calm facade by this point. She hated when her mother assumed the future was going to go exactly the way she wanted like this. She'd even talked to Julie about it (in private, of course), but her mother had just laughed it off. It had hurt in the moment, and Sophia had to admit it was starting to hurt now, as well.
"Maybe she'll even name a little girl after me," Julie was giggling, "Wouldn't that be swee—"
Sophia had always been rather quiet. Somewhere along the way, that had come too mean that she wouldn't stand up for herself or would allow herself to be talked over. Not anymore. Sophia elected to ignore the stares of everyone else in the room and took a deep breath.
"Mom, I know you have this sweet little picture of exactly how you hope the future will turn out," Sophia began, grateful that Charlie's hand was still holding hers, "I get that you want both of your girls to follow in your footsteps and have the same goals and values as you, but, to be honest, I'm not really sure I want kids."
"You mean you don't want kids yet," her mother cut in with a smile, but Sophia wasn't giving up that easy.
"No, Mom, I mean I might now want kids ever," she clarified gently but firmly.
"But you'd be missing out on your purpose in life as a woman," her mother gushed, having forgotten the baby sitting beside her entirely, "You would miss the chance to give your life so much meaning."
"Your children might be what gave your life purpose and meaning," Sophia conceded thoughtfully, "But my life's worth will be defined by far more than my ability to have a baby. I create characters and give them life on a daily basis, Mom, and that's enough for me."
"But what about Charlie?" Julie looked lost now, grasping at any thread she could find to bolster her argument once again. "What if you end up together? Don't you think you should discuss it with him, at least?"
"We have discussed it, actually," Sophia answered, turning to gaze at her boyfriend and returning his fond smile, "And, as it turns out, we're on the same page. Kids weren't a must for him, either."
"Well, I must say I'm a bit shocked, Sophia," her mother rebuked her, "You've never expressed any of this to me before."
"I have, or I've tried to," Sophia corrected, surprised to find her sister nodding in agreement, "You've just never really been willing to listen."
Her mother appeared to deflate a bit at that. She looked intently at the table, as if searching for the support she had not received from the other people in the room. Finding none, she stood from the table and excused herself, muttering something about "needing a minute."
Sophia's first instinct was to go after her mother and apologize, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized she didn't really have anything to apologize for. The light squeeze Charlie, the soothing hand her sister was rubbing along her shoulder, and even the sweet smile baby Addy was giving her from her carrier were all Sophia needed to assure her that she didn't have to be sorry about having a plan for her life that differed slightly from the one her mother had imagined. In fact, she was proud that she'd spoken her mind, even though she was certain her voice had shaken more with every word. That didn't matter. What mattered was that she'd found a little spark of courage within herself, and she wasn't about to let it go.