My stepdaughter Piper is a seven-year-old professor of logic. When I told her that I planned to marry her mother, she thought for a moment, then said, “So my mom’s name is going to be Phoebe Beebe?” Well, yes, it was—Phoebe and I had gotten a good laugh out of that—but Piper just rested her forehead in her hands and muttered Phoebe Beebe a few times.
We’ve been married for several months now, and Piper and I get along pretty well, I guess--when I remember to pass up Barbies for books and to treat Piper like a miniature adult. I usually get it right. (There was a Hello Kitty incident that’s best left unmentioned.)
So…Christmas is problematical, with a kid like Piper. Forget Santa and Rudolph, of course--Piper figured them out when she was barely out of diapers. And when other parents of seven-year-old girls are buying things like EZ Bake ovens, Piper just says to me, “That’s a ridiculously small cake, Bob. Why not bake a real cake in the big oven?”
See what I mean? She’s a prickly little girl, and I’m a marshmallow.
It’s just a few weeks until Christmas, and tonight Phoebe and I were enjoying a quiet evening when Piper called from her bedroom. Phoebe squeezed my hand and went to her daughter, then returned with a bemused smile. “Piper wants a bedtime story,” she said. “From you. Have fun with that.” She rested her warm hand low on my back as I mentally reviewed Storytelling 101.
Piper was sitting up in bed, surrounded by books, when I entered her room. “Hey, Pipes,” I said. “A bedtime story, huh? One of these books?” I picked up the nearest one: All About Reptiles. Great.
“No, Bob! A real bedtime story…about a Christmas tree.”
I looked around the room for the real Piper. Finding none but the little girl before me, I sat down beside her bed and cleared my throat. “Okay, then…ummmm, Timmy Tree was the tiniest tree on the hill, and one day he said, ‘I wonder if a family will ever pick me...’”
“Trees don’t have names, Bob! And they can’t talk, either.” Piper’s eyes were solemn.
“Riiiiight. Let me think, then…” I immediately rejected the next few ideas that came to me…the mouse under the tree…the cricket under the tree…the angel on top of the tree… “Okay, here we go. Once upon a time, a family went out to find the best Christmas tree ever. As they walked in the woods, the snow was falling in huge, soft flakes…” I stopped when I heard Piper snort. She was pointing out her window, where a large palm tree stood in the still-80-degree weather. Yeah…Piper’s lived in Florida all her life.
“No snow, huh Pipes? Hang on, I can do this….” I was not at all sure I could do this. “Okay, ready? Just outside the stable in Bethlehem stood a tall and magnificent pine tree. Its branches shaded Mary as she…as she…” Piper was shaking her head, but now her eyes were smiling. I was beginning to suspect—was she playing with me? “Let me guess. No pine trees in Bethlehem?”
I had no reason to doubt her. “Piper, you tell me. What kind of Christmas tree story do you want?”
“Welllllll….could it have ice cream in it? And turtles?”
Ice cream and turtles. And Christmas trees. Piper settled into her pillow, and several books slid onto the floor. I saw Phoebe at the doorway, looking ridiculously like an angel, and started one more story.
“Once there was this guy named Bob, who had an ice cream factory. His little girl named, uh, Peeper, was his best helper, but they hardly ever sold any ice cream…” I looked at Piper, who wasn’t even trying to hide her grin. She rolled onto her side and slipped her thumb in her mouth. I didn’t realize she sucked her thumb. “…And the reason they hardly ever sold any ice cream was because it came in flavors like Turtle Toothpaste and Dead Christmas Tree, which looked like mint chocolate chip, but it contained pine needles and pieces of bark.” A noise from Piper’s pillow sounded suspiciously like a giggle wrapped around a thumb. Encouraging. “So Bob and Peeper decided to search the world for new flavors. They took Peeper’s mother, ummm…”
Piper was whispering now. “Phoebe Beebe...” she murmured, as sleep settled on her like a…well, like a blanket of snow.
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