I have known Sophie since she was about 5 years old, and even then I knew she was a special kid. Her mom Alaine and I worked at the same hair salon in California, and I was pretty much obsessed with Sophie from the first day I met her. This tiny little girl would come in with big, Caribbean-blue-green eyes and a shy disposition, which I interpreted as "playing hard to get," so of course I strived to win her favor. Sophie lived with Alaine full-time and with her dad part-time, so the stronger my friendship with Alaine became, the more integrated in Sophie's life I became. I can't remember the tipping point, but I finally won her over, and she embraced me as a surrogate aunt, accepting my love and affection and undoubtedly my teasing.
Then, in 2004, everything changed. My younger sister Vanessa, whom I am fiercely devoted to, and my best friend Alaine became girlfriends. To further the existing stereotype, they moved in together right away, which means my 22-year-old kid sister found herself living with a 7-year-old "daughter." Both families had their strong opinions on the matter, with my conservative Christian parents at the helm, alternating between sorrowful tears and angry preaching. And when the preaching proved to be ineffectual at mind persuasion, they would turn to the issue of Sophie, and what this would do to her childhood and upbringing. I can't speak much for Alaine's family, but my own family had this way of ending every argument with, "But what about Sophie?! Is anyone thinking about Sophie?"
And the thing was, of course they were thinking about Sophie. Despite her cartoonish innocence (think Boo from Monsters Inc.), she was no longer a baby. On the other hand, she was not really old enough to fully comprehend what was going on. It was easy enough to understand that she now lived with Alaine and Vanessa in a new apartment, but how to convey that her mom and Vanessa were lesbians? And was that a necessary detail to lock down? Alaine wanted to be open and honest with Sophie, and she did her best to make sure she knew what was going on. I also sat Sophie down and asked, "Do you understand that your mom and Vanessa are now together? Like, together, together?"
And she replied, "Yeah. I get it."
"They are together like boy and girl are together, dating, in a relationship. Like your mom used to be with Scott."
"I know," she said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
I wrapped up our talk (and yes, it really was this concise) by assuring her she could ask me anything, or tell me anything, and to feel free to come to me at any point. I was her aunt, after all, more so than before, and I wanted to protect that little small cub of a girl. I told Alaine I wasn't really sure if Sophie truly understood, but that she seemed OK with her new circumstances and had promised me she would come to me with any questions. Over the years it became quite apparent that while Sophie may not have fully "gotten it" at age 7, it didn't take her long to figure it out and she was never anything but comfortable as a daughter to two moms, and one dad and stepmom.
Six and a half years later, Vanessa and Alaine were married. I officiated the ceremony, and aside from the glowing brides, Sophie was the most beautiful girl at the wedding. It was a special day for all of us, and many speeches were given about the importance of family. With over 100 people present, there were quite a number of family members reveling, blood relatives and close friends acquired over the years. But it was the three girls, the three women, who shined and showed everyone present just how beautiful "family" actually is and what it means. And Sophie's dad and his wife were present, and her maternal aunts and uncles, and seven of her eight grandparents were there, as well. My parents, once so concerned about Sophie's welfare, long ago realized that she was not only a special light in all of our lives but one blessed little girl. She has more family in her life, more people to love her and love on her, and more people to turn to than most girls her age. The wonderful thing is that she actually realizes how lucky she is to be in such a position. I have always been an aunt to Sophie, and it is so special that I now hold a legitimate claim to that title.
While I was in California over the holidays, I asked Sophie to go on film for a brief interview. This was a completely unscripted interview, which is pretty obvious, and our surprise emotional outbursts were uncontrived. This is an excerpt from our impromptu talk, and a glimpse into the stunningly beautiful soul that is my niece, Sophie.
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