Just the Right Size

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?”

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The Call of the Piper

I was raised with wolves. Okay, maybe not wolves. More like Shelties and German Shepherds. We had more than a dozen roaming our property in the woods of rural Missouri.  My baby pictures mostly feature me in a puddle of puppies. I know pack behavior, and I’ve always known that I was an Alpha. Until Piper joined our family. She often challenges my Alpha status. She’s also drawn to four-legged friends. Piper has never met a dog she didn’t love. In one of my favorite baby pictures of Piper she is curled up under the belly of our friend’s dog, Cocoa. Piper had climbed under their kitchen table to cuddle. Cocoa was trying to get some space from her, so Piper held on like a baby kangaroo trying to climb into its mama’s pouch. Cocoa just swept the floor with Piper attached.

Last weekend we went to visit our friend’s farm house in rural Maryland. They brought along their dog, Leo, and Piper spent most of the day trying to be his best friend.

She got to feed Leo his dinner, which she hasn’t stopped talking about since. Leo took a run through the cow pasture and smeared himself good with manure. Piper thought it made him more attractive. When I suggested that she give Leo a little space, Piper growled at me for the first time “Back Off, Mom!”  I was stunned. Piper has a strong will, but she’s never asserted herself so vehemently against mine. A part of me wanted to cheer her on. Another part of me wanted to hump her back into submission. Leo raised his liquid brown eyes to watch. I opened my mouth to bark back…then stopped. She was right. Leo and she were fine. I didn’t need to intrude. An Alpha doesn’t have to fight every battle. Just the right ones. Piper and Leo let the porch door snap shut behind them as they went off to explore.