When Piper walks to the park, she skips and dances. She frolics under cherry blossoms. She makes up songs and sings them loudly. She keeps her eye on me to make sure I’m following.
If she meets a dog along the way, she looks back for my permission. I look to the owner to see if we know them and to the dog for a sign of friendliness. If I nod, Piper crouches low and holds out her hand. She holds her body still. As much as a Piper can, anyway; stillness is not her default setting.
Meeting a dog on the way to the park is Piper’s favorite thing in the whole world. Suddenly, she’s not on a walk to the park. Piper is petting a dog.
A Piper is always on a journey. She often forgets her destination. There are cherry blossoms and dogs and songs. Maybe there is a park on the other end of the path. Maybe not, but a Piper is sure there will be an adventure.
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.”
Piper made her NCAA picks this week. She chose mostly based on the team’s mascots. She’s partial to birds, dogs, and cats, of course. After a lot of simulated animal noises to imagine the battles, Piper picked…Marcats to win it all. Meow.
Piper’s dreams are simple: she wants a dog or she wants to be a dog. She also wants chocolate for every meal. Oh, and she wants me permanently attached to her side. Just in case she needs some chocolate.
This morning at our church’s Christmas pageant, one of Piper’s dreams came true. She was transformed into a dog. She got to bark and sleep on stage and generally misbehave. She wore dog ears and a dog nose, which made dog noises when you squeezed it the right way. Just so you know dogs don’t behave just because Baby Jesus decides to make an appearance. Neither did Piper. Fortunately, misbehaving animals were in the script.
The innkeeper’s wife, otherwise known as Sissy, shoed the dogs, donkeys, sheep, etc. out of the barn to make room for Mary and her baby. Sissy called them “filthy animals.” It was in the script. She’s usually not so harsh. Piper the dog understood, even though she’s not used to Sissy speaking to her in such a manner. “It’s ACTING, Mom. I get it.”
A Piper loves dogs. Really. She’s been talking about dogs as long as she could talk. She’s never met a dog that she didn’t fall for. The bigger, the smellier, the dirtier, the better. She likes small, yappy ones, too. One of my favorite pictures of baby Piper is of her hanging on to the underside of our dear friend’s lab, Cocoa. Piper crawled under their kitchen table to cuddle with Cocoa. Cocoa tried to get some space, but Piper held on until she was covered with enough Cocoa to blend. And every night Piper sleeps on top of Junie, an enormous stuffed black toy of questionable breed. Junie doesn’t seem to mind the drool.
Our new neighbors have dogs. We’ve met dozens. They’ve all licked Piper’s face and rolled around on the ground while we exchange pleasantries and introductions with their owners. Daisy is the dog a few doors down. Tazmanian, a chihuahua (be still Piper’s beating heart!), lives across the row from our townhome. Then there are the matching poodles. The list goes on.
“Mom, I love our new place,” Piper declared. “It’s like dog heaven. But they’re still alive.”
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.
Piper took a piano lesson last year. Really. Just one. We have an actual live piano taking up half of our living room, so bribing Piper into lessons seemed logical. Her sister has been taking for years and fills our house with melodies. I wanted Piper to learn, too. She looks like a natural, doesn’t she? (Note the rainbow dress, once again)
I romantically imagined thirty whole minutes alone with each kid while the other took lessons. Okay, maybe I was hoping for an hour of reading in the car while parked in the piano teacher’s driveway but anyway…Piper didn’t want to go. Until she realized that the piano teacher had a dog in the house. For many kids this would be a deal breaker, but Piper has always been unreasonably obsessed with dogs. The bigger, the scarier, the better. She thinks barking and growling is cute. To get her to take piano, I did what any well-intentioned mom would do. I bribed her. 3 minutes with Fluffy in exchange for 30 minutes at the piano. I know. I know. But I thought if I could just get her to try, she’d fall for the piano. I believed I could manufacture motivation and increase her desire through exposure. I can hear you snickering at me from afar.
The first lesson actually went okay, but Piper refused to practice afterwards. Not even for M & Ms. Not even with the promise of more dog love. “I already learned how to play, Mom! Remember? I took a lesson.” I reminded Piper that her Sissy takes lessons every week and that she learns something new at each lesson. Piper ignored me and pounded away on the keys playing piano her own way. She refused to go back. I pushed harder. Bribed more. Failed. I kept hearing my grandmother’s voice in the back of my head reminding me that my job as their mother is to help make them the best them they can be not the best me I want them to be. But Grandma hadn’t bought that expensive piano in the living room. And what if Piper just needed a little encouragement to discover her inner virtuoso? So I gave her a choice. “What instrument would you like to play?”
“Violin!” she declared pulling a harmonica from the toy box.
“That’s not a violen, honey. It’s a harmonica.”
“Alright, then. The drums. I want to be a drummer. I love to hit stuff!” Then she flew through the house demonstrating her drumming technique on every piece of furniture and person.