This story is by Abigail Hamann and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Lizzy flounced onto her bed with a huff. She was not a child. 13 years old was plenty old enough to decide to go to a friend’s for dinner, to decide who her friends were. Peering out the window, she watched Mike and Hailey racing their bikes down the street. They weren’t grounded for going to Skyla’s house. After a cold, dreary week, the sun was finally out and she was inside. Life was so unfair!
She heaved a sigh and looked away. Her gaze caught on the old dollhouse in the corner. Frustrated, she saw that her sister had been in her room. Again. Her mom would think that Lizzy had been playing with it; she was much too old for such things. Rolling her eyes, Lizzy, stomped over, prepared to sweep it’s contents into a storage bin. She crouched down. The wooden Sarah-doll sat on a kitchen chair. A mother-doll stood at the stove, her back to her daughter. Somehow, the Sarah-doll looked so…restless. She mirrored Lizzy’s own emotions.
Lizzy picked up Sarah disdainfully. At one time, it had felt magical to reason out her frustrations by playing them out in the dolls’ lives. But not today. Not…today.
“It’s my body, mother!” Sarah explained with especial patience as her mother prepared dinner. “I’ve just finished university; I have a life to live, a career to enjoy, a boyfriend!”
Her mother turned away and walked to the fridge. Sarah fumed. “Mother, all my life you’ve made me do things! It’s not fair; I want to live MY life for a change!”
Her mother straightened. She looked at her daughter’s abdomen, then gazed coolly into her face. “You seem to have been doing a lot of that lately.”
Sarah’s face reddened. “I don’t care what you think; I’m getting an abortion, and you can’t stop me!”
Lizzy started as someone knocked on the door. “Lizzy, are you all right in there?”
“I’m fine, thank you!” Lizzy snapped, dropping the dolls in embarrassment.
“May I come in?”
Lizzy paused. “Do I have a choice?”
The door opened, and Lizzy’s mother entered. “I thought I heard you yelling in here. In fact, I heard you all the way down the hall.”
Lizzy’s cheeks were on fire, and her mother’s words were a poker.
“What did you hear?” Lizzy asked slowly.
Her mother considered. “Well, I heard the word abortion, for one. Lizzy, is this about Skyla’s sister?”
Lizzy clenched her fist and remained silent. She knew her mom didn’t agree with her on this issue. But, she thought, shouldn’t each person have a right to make their own choices? Skyla’s sister should. Lizzy should.
Lizzy’s mother felt her daughter’s frustration, but knew it had to do with more than Skyla and her sister. Lizzy wanted to make her own choices. She wanted to be her own person, just like Skyla.
For a moment, her mother’s gentle eyes bore through Lizzy’s anger. As her mother lowered herself painfully onto Lizzy’s bed, Lizzy felt a stab of guilt. Her mother worked so hard for her family. The least that Lizzy could do was tell her mother where she’d be for dinner. But then she changed her mind. It was her mother’s own choice to have a family. She could have been an independent woman, dependent on and responsible for no one. Just like Lizzy would be, as soon as she had the chance.
Her mother was rubbing her back, still looking at Lizzy. Her mother’s eyes fell on the dollhouse. She stood and walked over to the antique wooden toy, then knelt and picked up Sarah.
“Mom, I’m finished my undergrad. I don’t need to be a doctor. I want to be home-maker, like you.” Sarah followed her mother around the kitchen, pleading. “Is that so wrong? To become a wife, a mother?”
Her mother violently chopped the onions. She growled, “After all the time and money we’ve invested into your education–” She swept the onions into a frying pan. They sizzled threateningly. “I just don’t understand why you had to marry in the first place. You graduate at the top of your class, you get into top medical schools, and then in one summer you decide that it’s not enough to love a man, you have to marry him and have his children too.” The cutting board dropped into the sink with a splash.
“Just because you and my father divorced doesn’t mean we will!” Sarah shot back.
“Oh, no, of course not. You won’t get pregnant and, not knowing what else to do, have a child. And you won’t go to the food bank, because heaven knows you can barely afford rent and electricity and daycare. And you won’t marry a dreadful man, supposedly for your child’s sake. But after I’ve slaved away for two men and their children and everyone else without a word of thanks; no, not even from you, here and now, do you think I’m tired or not?” She wheeled about. “If you have any wisdom whatsoever, you’ll get that abortion so that you can never regret having a daughter like you!”
Lizzy stared. Her mother was crying. In some vague, dim corner of her mind, she knew her mother had just laid bare her heart to her. But all Lizzy felt was embarrassment.
The tears didn’t last. Wiping them on her sleeve, a doll still in hand, her mother sighed. “You weren’t my first pregnancy. You should have – did have– an older brother or sister.
“I took my mother’s advice. I had an abortion. Went to medical school.
“But I began my ER career feeling drained. I loved school, and I loved work; yet I envied my friends as they walked their children to the bus stop, or drove them to soccer games. They all admired me. They all said I was so lucky to go to medical school and have a career.
“l made myself agree with them. Yet I felt so empty. I missed the child I never met. I wanted children, and I felt I could not admit that to anyone.
“I stopped taking birth control. When I got pregnant, I quit work. Everyone but your father thought I was crazy. At first I felt so guilty for leaving my job, a job that saves lives. But I knew, deep down, that raising a family is just as important.”
As she listened, Lizzy tried to understand. Her mother’s face spoke to her in a way that words could not. Somehow, her mother’s face was softened, not hardened, by the weariness and pain, by the ever-present drain on courage and strength, that is motherhood.
Lizzy spoke hesitantly. “Skyla’s sister thinks she’s limited if she can’t have an abortion. I guess…I guess you felt limited by being told that you should have one, that you had to have a career and stuff.
“And your mom – well, she wished she had a choice, like Skyla’s sister. But really, neither you nor your mom had a choice. Your mom didn’t know she could have an abortion, you were told you had to – .” She stopped, silent, pondering.
“Mom…” she said slowly, “it seems we’re all expected to do something. By family, or by everyone else. We’re all – all limited by what everyone expects. Like – like in the past a woman had to marry and have kids, and now she has to have a career.” She paused. “Will you be disappointed if I, well, if I don’t marry and have kids, like you?”
“Of course not, sweetheart!” her mother said. Then she laughed. “Well, yes, if I’m being perfectly honest, maybe a little. I would love to spoil your little ones.”
Lizzy sat down beside her mother. Her mother slipped her arm around her daughter and drew her close. Her mother spoke again. “I guess one has to ask: is it limiting to do what you were meant to do? We’re each meant for something. But while God has a plan for your life, He gives you the freedom to choose that plan, or to ignore it. Sometimes He lets you choose between several right options. Choosing an option that suits your special talents, whether that involves having your own children or not; whether it involves caring for your ailing neighbor, or helping the needy overseas; whether you are married or single, rich or poor– when you live in love, when you live selflessly-“ She kissed her daughter’s head. “Wherever you are, whatever you do, if you strive to become the best you can be, and to love others wherever life takes you – that is what I hope for you.”
In the fading evening light, in a small, wooden kitchen, a doll-sized mother and daughter sat at a table. They talked to, listened to, each other. Sitting on a bedroom floor, wrapped in each other’s love, a mother and daughter looked into the doll house kitchen at those small, wooden mirrors.