Tuesday, June 18, 2013
A Birthday Cake for a Birthday Pie
Less than two weeks after Thomas graduated from high school, a certain Dingbat I know celebrated a milestone birthday. Pie turned ten years old today.
In the short term, of course, the birthday doesn't mean much. She still wants to marry Niall Horan (of One Direction fame), she's still obsessed with soccer, she still loves Call of Duty--while I still hate that our parents let her play it--and she still thinks playing reckless games of dodge ball in the living room is the best way to spend her time. She still likes to cuddle with me.
But I've noticed little things, here and there, things that have been in the works for a while but have only now captured my attention. Her height, for one. One day she was this hysterical little midget and the next she moseyed on into the kitchen at nearly five feet tall.
"Der-Der," I said as I knelt before her. "You're taller than me now. When I get down on my knees, you're taller than me."
Her growing stature, combined with a face that is transitioning from adorable to pretty, has given me some startling glimpses of the young woman she'll be. And she'll be beautiful. I don't say that because she's my sister, but because it's true. Pie will be a lovely girl. Is it wrong that that gives me secret relief? Life is so much easier for women who have beauty.
Not that she will particularly need that to fall back on, as the transformations of the last year or so have confirmed what we knew all along: Pie is one smart pastry. I've regaled you before with tales of the disarmingly deep issues she was pondering when she was only seven years old. I ought to have known--and, indeed, I did--that the kind of girl who questioned the nature of mortality in second grade was headed for some good things, cognitively speaking, and along with the subtle changes in her physical appearance have come changes in interest.
One Direction still reigns supreme, but the boxes of Hot Wheels have been replaced with stacks of books (including, to my great delight, the first tome in the Harry Potter series), and the bedtime story requests have gotten a little more complicated.
"Tell me about Rome again," she asked the other night.
"That's a pretty broad subject, Pie."
"About the emperor. The one who fed people to the lions and sat in his palace while the city was on fire."
"Ah. That was Nero."
"And what about the Persians? What about them?"
Her perception, always uncanny, has heightened significantly in the last year and a half. This has had some great benefits; the girl who by nine had developed at least a cursory interest in politics now ignores the Tea Party-inspired racism that she used to imbibe as gospel from her father.
There are, though, as you might imagine, drawbacks as well.
"Thomas is drunk, isn't he?" she asked following an argument between my parents and eighteen-year-old brother.
I looked down into her knowing hazel eyes. She loves me. She trusts me. She doesn't think I'd mislead her.
"No, Pie," I lied. "They just had a dispute. That's all."
She won't believe these deceptions for much longer. I'm trying to be the one she can count on. This influences so many of my decisions; the decision I made recently to pursue other professional avenues (you'll get to hear about that one soon) so that I can help Pie and Thomas if need be; the decision to drink wine in front of her frequently so that she can see an adult responsibly consuming alcohol; the decision to remain calm and fair even when I am angry so that she knows every argument doesn't have to turn into a competition for who can strike the lowest blow.
Tonight I was sitting on her bed, stroking her tired head, thinking that her little-girl years were in essence done.
"I think it's really cool that you turned ten today," I informed her.
"Well, I don't."
"It's a bigger deal than you think. Before, when you were five, you still had little-kid time. But three years from now you'll be thirteen. Five years from now you'll be fifteen. Eight years from now you'll be Thomas's age."
Each year a little bit more grown up, each year a little bit more adult.
"In the next few years you'll get to try new things and discover a lot about yourself. It's a really exciting time. I'm happy for you."
And then, for reasons I could but don't much care to identify, my eyes began to well with tears. And because she hadn't seen, and because I didn't want her to, I stood up, pecked her on the head, and turned to leave.
"Goodnight, Pie. I'll tell you about Caesar tomorrow."
"Okay," she mumbled.
And then I said a quick prayer to a God whose existence I've struggled with for years but whom I have to believe, specifically because of Thomas and Pie, is actually there and actually listening. I'm not stupid, you see. I know that no matter what I do, my efforts to protect them can only cover so many bases, and the idea that the gaps I can't fill would be left to chance is too terrifying for me to accept.
Please keep her safe, I begged. Please.
I left unspoken the corollary He would have to know was there.
Please be real. Please, please be real.
My sister is a small child no longer, but I don't mourn for that. The whole point of my being there now is to give her the tools she'll need to, one day, stand on her own as a well-equipped adult. And it's happening. At the edges of her still-soft face, I can see the outline of that phenomenal young woman almost ready to emerge. I'm not going to try and block the way. It wouldn't be right.
And besides--I can't wait to meet her.