We’re on a break over at piperism. We’re sleeping in, splashing in pools, gorging on library books, and traveling. We’ll be back soon. With even more laughs. Promise.
Piper and Piper’s Keeper
We’re celebrating summer birthdays in Piper’s class today. She’ll be 6 in July, so I volunteered to bring in the (non-dairy, peanut free) treat. Piper knew exactly what we needed.
“You should bring donuts, Mom. Krispy Kremes,” Piper specified.
Turns out Krispy Kreme donuts are in fact non-dairy and peanut free. Oh, and they have a drive-thru, which moms like me adore.
“Anything else?” I asked. I really shouldn’t have.
“A disco ball. Yep. We’ll need a disco ball.”
“Really? A disco ball? For what?”
“For making all my dreams come true. It’s my birthday, you know.”
This morning at breakfast, Sissy, Daddy, and I told stories of baby Piper.
We told her how she liked to sit in a doll stroller and make us push her in endless loops around our house in Illinois. If we stopped, she’d simply point her finger in the direction she wanted to go and grunt. We obeyed.
We told that she did the Ting-A-Ling Silly Circus clown dance 4 million times. One of our hands was the buzzer she had to hit to do her silly dance again.
We told her that she didn’t talk much because the three of us were there to anticipate her every need. Why speak with this kind of service?
“We’re your biggest fans, Piper. The three of us adore you,” I said.
“Make that four,” Piper said, “I am a big fan of mine, too”
I made a berry pie for dessert tonight. It’s cooling on the countertop. The crust is flaky and brown. Blueberry and blackberry juices have seeped out a bit at the side. The house smells delicious.
It would be a Norman Rockwell moment really except that I have to yell “PIPER, GET AWAY FROM THE PIE!” every other second.
She sniffs it. She pokes the pie. She tries to slip a finger into the berry juices.
“If you don’t get away from the pie, I’ll…I’ll…stuff your face in it!” I yell. Not my best parenting move, I’ll give you that. It just came out.
“Well, Mom,” Piper said, “that’s kind of what I was hoping for.”
“Mom, have you seen my sock?”
“What’s it look like, P?”
“It’s small and it fits on my foot.”
“Thanks. I meant what color is it? Where did you take it off?”
“Oh. I was dancing in the kitchen and some of my clothes flew off.”
“They flew off, Piper?”
“Sort of. I was dancing pretty hard. Wait. There it is. It’s up on the bird art on the wall. Silly sock.”
Piper is known for her play. She has an incredible imagination. She can make a game out of anything, anywhere. Her best material, though, probably comes from life.
Right now she’s in the living room sorting through the leftover plastic junk that we often toss into the footstool, which is supposed to be a toy box. Our cleaning is sporadic and mostly of the quick-hide-as-much-as-you-can-there’s-someone-at-the-door variety. You can imagine the footstool bits. You may even remember that I once found Piper stuffing her dirty socks in there in her best hoarder move yet. (You can refresh your memory here)
Her game today involves a wooden doll, three Legos, a dishtowel, a stuffed chihuahua, and seventeen pieces of broken Happy Meal plastic parts.
“You guys want to play all day?” the wooden doll yells.
“We do!” the chorus of bits replies.
“But what about your chores?” prods the wooden doll, raising her voice. “How come I have to be the bad guy?”
The chorus has no good answer. If the wooden doll could move her wooden arms to her wooden hips, she would.
Piper’s voice is now shrieking. “Don’t you think I want to play too? But no. I’m the bad guy. You know you have chores to do. Why do you always make me be the bad guy?”
The chorus throws themselves one by one back into their foot stool. Piper makes the wooden doll mumble loudly to herself about how she has to tell everyone around here everything to do when they really should be doing it themselves. Grumble. Grumble.
It doesn’t sound like make believe anymore.
I’m short. On a good day, I may reach 5’2”. When I’m in front of a classroom, I usually have on three inch heels. But you’d never know how short I am unless you stand next to me. I give off that assertive alpha vibe that says you probably shouldn’t stand next to me.
Sissy will probably be short, too. It’s hard to fight genetics. She comes from a long line of short, bossy Sicilian women. At least she’ll be able to cook. When Sissy was little, people would say thoughtless things like “Look at little you!” and “Oh, you’re so tiny! Are your bones hollow?” (I’ve found that we like to begin damaging body conscious comments in the U.S. to little girls at an early age). From the time she could talk, I taught Sissy to answer with “I’m just the right size” and we both meant it.
Piper put on a size 13 shoe this morning. She’s five. That’s not gargantuan by kid standards, but it’s an achievement in our house. Piper stands tall at Sissy’s shoulder, inching her way up. There are five years between them but a lot less in inches. It creates some tension, you can imagine.
Before school today, we were all at the door for the daily shoe, backpack, water bottle, homework scramble. Piper was flourishing a new pair of hand me down turquoise tennis shoes with just a few scuffs. Sissy was remembering that she wore them last year. Oops. Then Sissy checked the tag on the back of Piper’s hand me down shirt. “But I wore that LAST summer!” Sissy protested.
“Looks good on me!” Piper said. It wasn’t that helpful of a comment, you can imagine.
“Can’t you give her a reverse growth hormone or something?” Sissy asked.
“You’re both the right size for you. You’re wonderful just as you are,” I said. Blah, blah, blah is all they heard.
Sissy changed the subject. Sort of. “Did you know that there is a dwarf community in Ecuador that is immune to cancer? Scientists think that the same gene that creates the shortness may be the key to a long life.” We all stared at Sissy.
“Huh,” Piper said, “Is that what happened to Mom?”
When Piper grows up I want her to be like Katie. This is Katie.
Photo by Grant Ross.
Katie is fierce and strong. She’s beautiful and kind. She’s the most positive woman I’ve ever known. She’s grateful and gracious. She is beloved. And Katie may die very soon.
I met Katie in childbirth class when I was pregnant with Sissy, Piper’s older sister. Katie’s laugh and her smile drew me in. She was hopeful for a natural birth. She was sure her plan would work. Katie went into labor first. When her son Will was born, we went to visit them in the hospital. I stood teetering nine months pregnant, waiting for my turn. Katie grabbed my hand and said, “Take the meds! Take everything they’ll give you!” And we laughed and laughed at the control we thought we’d have over birth and life and death.
Katie’s laughter and light are contagious. Her heart is huge. She was the friend Piper’s dad needed when he needed a friend the most. Piper’s dad, Joe, and Katie were stay at home parents together for a year after Sissy and Will were born. They were in the trenches together, navigating library story hours, bottles, diapers, and growth charts. Katie invited Joe into a circle of moms that didn’t really want to have a dad around. That’s what Katie does. She reaches out. She brings you in. They braved their mutual diagnosis together, Katie with cancer and Joe with multiple sclerosis, with babies on their hips. And they took care of each other’s babies when doctor’s appointments and treatments and life got in the way.
Last year, after a roller coaster ride with cancer, Katie and her husband came to visit. Katie wanted to see D.C. before her next round of chemo. She wanted to walk around the monuments and visit the White House. Katie loves her country and God. She wanted to see us, too. So we spent a glorious night together eating, laughing, and loving maybe for the last time.
Yesterday, Katie’s husband, who has been writing about their battle to save Katie’s life, asked us simply to pray for peace. He feels like the luckiest guy in the world to have had the chance to love Katie this long. You should read about Katie’s Story here.
If I could hope for anything for my daughters, for Piper and Sissy, and for Katie’s kids, Will and Jessica, it would be that they have Katie’s courage and capacity for love and laughter, that they are brave and bold, and that they find strength, friendship, and peace along their path.