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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Katie, Heroine

When Piper grows up I want her to be like Katie. This is Katie.

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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.

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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.

Doggie Cures

Piper has decided what she’d like to do with her life. Those of you who know her animal loving ways won’t be surprised much. Piper’s never met a four-legged stranger.

This morning while I was braiding her hair, Piper asked, “Mom, what would you do if you had a lot of money?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Seems like we have most of what we need. Maybe help other people?” It was 6:02 a.m. and I hadn’t had coffee. Forgive me for neglecting a teachable moment.

“I’d open a mall just for dogs. Then I could let them go to the doggie spa all day. There would be parks for playing and fresh water bowls everywhere. In fact, I’d hire one person just to go around cleaning and refilling water bowls.”

“And what would you do at the mall, Piper?”

“Oh, I’d cure cancer. Nobody deserves cancer but especially not dogs. I’d have my own lab with a big window so I could watch the dogs play while I worked. Then they’d bring in the sick ones and I’d make them better.”