Some moments from the weekend with our niece Piper:
~ When I arrived to pick her up, she ran up to me, huge smile on her face showing her four front teeth, top AND bottom, missing. “Look what I can do, Tee Tee,” she said, sticking the tip of her tongue through that toothless gap and then dissolving into giggles. “Wow! That’s cool, Peeps. I can’t do that.” I try to do it, fail miserably, and she just giggles some more.
~ It was hot and windy when we reached our place — where, luckily, no jibblies were in sight — so we took the short walk over to The Beanhouse to get a milkshake. Before we left, I grabbed some homemade streamers I had made for drama classes — basically just a length of crepe paper ribbon wrapped around the end of a dowel — and we paraded our way down the sidewalk and across our cool neighborhood bridge, pretending to be … rhythmic gymnasts, I guess, because I still secretly want to be a rhythmic gymnast … or a figure skater … or a ballerina. Shhhhh. Say nothing. It could still happen. Anyway …. the wind was just perfect for making our lovely fluttery loops and ripples. A couple cars drove by, people inside laughing, but that didn’t stop us. We just freely skipped and cavorted. I found that if I ran a bit ahead of Piper, I could wiggle my streamer just so and tickle her bright, flushed face. This I did repeatedly, of course, because her giggle literally IS the best sound in the entire world.
~ When we walked into The Beanhouse, Piper was fawned over instantly. Coworkers know her from my stories, as do you, and they were all just so sweet to her, shaking her hand, treating her like a little lady, offering her grapes, fussing over her toothless gap. And then …. the gay men came flocking to our table. The vast majority of The Beanhouse customers are gay men and some Christians have given me grief about working there and I absolutely HATE that and, trust me, I WILL rant about it at another time, but this isn’t about that right now. These guys, so many of them have such big hearts and they were just so sweet to her. One stopped dead in his tracks and said to his parter, “Oh, Rick, just look at her! Oh. WOW. She’s precious. Is she your daughter, Tracey?” “No, my niece.” “What’s your name, honey?” he said. “My name is Piper,” she answered and waved to him. He’s two feet in front of her and she waves to him. It’s a thing she does all the time. I always think of waving as something that’s normally done with distance involved. You know, you’re either waving hello to someone as you’re narrowing the gap between you or you’re waving goodbye as the gap increases. Or you’re waving to get someone’s attention. Okay, whatever. There’s that one, too. But for Piper, it’s just how she greets you. You’re in her face, basically, and she waves to you. It’s just ….. her thing. So she did it and the guy cracked up and said, “Well, aren’t you just beautiful? Your smile lights up the room.” Piper smiled and blushed. “Tank you,” she said. As we were leaving, we passed the patio and saw another guy I know with his two sproingy miniature greyhounds. Piper wanted to pet the dogs, of course, so I told her she had to ask first. She did and Greyhound Guy was just so attentive, answering her questions about the dogs, praising her gentleness with them. None of this was anything creepy or weird, in case anyone is thinking that. The whole tone was one of sweetness and patience, with all the guys.
~ We sat there for a bit drinking milkshake and eating free grapes and playing “Memory.” She is very good at “Memory.”
~ When Unca Beloved came home, we packed her in the car, telling her we were going someplace special. “Where? Where? Where are we going?” she kept asking from her perch atop that very vexing half-carseat thingy that I do hope she grows out of soon. Seconds later, MB and I launched into a vibrant falsetto duet, sung to the tune of “Funky Town”:
“A-we are going to … Puffy T-OWW-N! A-we are going to … Puffy TOWW-NNN!”
And if I do say so, we executed the vocal slides on “TOWWNN,” both up and down, with a perfectly insane aunt-and-uncle brilliance. Piper, of course, doesn’t know the song, and at first she was just wide-eyed, looking back and forth from her aunt to her uncle, dumbstruck. But we just kept singing, more feverishly now —
“A-WE ARE GOING TO …. PUFFY TOWWWN !! A-WE ARE GOING TO PUFFY TOWWNNN!!”
…. til she could no longer stand it and just laughed and laughed and laughed.
Finally, with our destination in sight, she gasped and squealed, “Are we going DERE??”
“Well, we could go there or — OR — even better, we could go home and eat some vegetables and pull your loose tooth out and then go straight to bed. We could do that.”
“No! No!” She giggles and chokes it out.
“Well, vegetables are yummy,” I say.
“No! No, Tee Tee! Let’s go dere!”
“Hmm. All right. If you’re sure.”
“I sure! I sure!” She cannot stop laughing.
“Okay. So I guess this means thaaat ……. A-WE ARE GOING TO … PUFFY TOWWWNN! A-WE ARE GOING TO … PUFFY TOWWNNN!!”
And we started up again.
Now, Puffy Town is just our pet name for a place in the corner of the local Target parking lot impressively called “Inflatable World.” Someone’s gotta be making a mint off this thing. Puffy Town is basically a bunch of giant inflatable slides and mazes in different shapes and themes and characters. Several slides, for example, seem to feature the theme of digestion with you, the slider, being part of a giant toothy creature’s upset tummy moment. The giant saber tooth tiger. The giant shark. The giant football player. So you enter the inflatotunnel, climb to the top using a kind of rope ladder, focus on a happy place to stave off your claustrophobia, reach the top, sit down, fold your arms across your chest, as per instructions — you are now basically in the butt area — contemplate your imminent death, and then ssssllllliiiiiiiddddde down, oh, about 50 very steep feet or more til you land in the creature’s mouth, between the giant inflatoteeth, a mere bit of fatty, undigested mammal, I guess.
It was awesome.
~ Socks were required for Puffy Town and, of course, none of us was wearing socks because this IS Southern California and it IS about 1300 degrees outside right now, so we had to buy some damn socks at a buck a pair. Okay. Fine. I realized, though, after we were off and running that I was wearing the little kid socks and Piper was wearing the adult socks. “Piper, do you want to switch socks? Yours are kinda loose and dangly.” “No, Tee Tee! I fine! I fine!!” She was in inflatoheaven. I mean, she absolutely whirled around that place, floppy socks and all. The three of us had been there for probably 30 seconds when she had already climbed inside the giant shark, screamed her way down, plopped out of his jaws, and rushed over to me, announcing, “Tee Tee! Guess what?! I hab a new friend!!”
30 seconds, people. I kid you not. She’d made a new friend on the rope ladder or in depth of the shark’s butt, basically. I suppose if you’re stuck in a shark’s butt, it’s nice to make a friend.
And sure enough, seconds later, out plopped little Amanda, fully intact and undigested and adorable.
She pounced over to us and Piper introduced us and we all ran to take on the giant saber tooth tiger slide. We had an utter blast. Some of the bigger slides had two slides, side by side. So we’d sit at the top, Piper or Amanda would “Ready, Set, Go” and we’d race to the bottom. I screamed every single time. Every single time. You know those split seconds on a ride where you’re not sure anymore where your stomach is? It’s squished to the side or the top or the very very bottom of your chest cavity, somewhere wrong and exhilarating? Those seconds where maybe, just maybe, you’ve left your body and taken flight, until the sound of your sustained shrieking proves you are still some kind of unified whole? I love those split seconds …..
And we just kept going back for more.
~ Piper and Amanda were instant fast friends. The two of them walked about hand in hand wherever they went and MB and I would poke each other and nod our heads, as we watched one small hand reach out for the other. Amanda’s father was there with her, sort of. He sat at one of the many tables scattered about the place, a buttery lump of disinterest. He saw us from a distance, raised a lazy hand, went back to his reading. At one point, we passed by his table again and he was gone. I asked Amanda, “Where’s your dad, honey?”
“Oh, I dunno. Probably just sitting somewhere.”
I wanted to scream, for different reasons now. I don’t understand people like The Buttery Lump. They enrage me, actually. As a childless woman, I can barely think straight about them. I mean, you have this adorable little girl, this gift, and it’s not too late for you to be a dad to your kid or for you to be a kid with your kid, and you sit there, uninvolved, letting her roam around a huge playground full of nooks and crannies, alone. Things could happen to her, but dammit, you’re at the good part of your book, right? Do you always just rely on the kindness of strangers, hoping someone will keep an eye on her for your fat ass? Why do I get the feeling that this scene plays itself over and over and over again in your life? I get if you’re not in shape enough to climb up the rope ladders, but, for God’s sake, watch your kid. WATCH her. Go with her. Be excited with her. Show some spirit. Some life. Show you actually give a damn about this gift from God you did absolutely nothing to deserve and do absolutely nothing to deserve to KEEP.
Sorry. Sorry ….
You know, when we were leaving, Amanda lingered a bit. Her dad was now slumped at a table not far away, but still detached, buried in his book. We waved goodbye to her and her little face crumbled a bit. It took everything for me not to march right up to that jerk and let him have it. I’ve done it before — to little effect, sadly. It turns out that random strangers can’t really make jerks be better parents.
So we all just said, “Bye, Amanda! Thanks for hanging out with us. It was really fun!”
I watched as she turned and wandered off in the general direction of her dad.
(Part 2 still to come.)