“Really? Still?!” I always think this will be the year that grief won’t even knock once during the holidays. Always. Wrong. As we crested that first week of December I was surprised to feel its pull.
“OK -fine. I acknowledge you. There!”
I let myself settle into the grief for a few days. It was small, persistent. I chose the path of nostalgia, it led me back to Terry and her Christmas habits. She was never about the presents, always about bad Hallmark movies, holiday food and holiday cheer. We had parties, surprised my brother by showing up on his doorstep dressed as Elves on Christmas, buried the children in celebration and play for days. That did it. I just needed to bow to Christmas past. The grief eased and then disappeared.
What remained to deal with was only the mountain of single-parent-Christmasing I still had to climb. Truly is deeply immersed in the magic of Santa, caution must be taken with every step. The shed is out as a storage for incoming gifts, Truly and a friend were using it to practice their home decoration skills, now it’s basically their clubhouse. I eventually had to pull the car roof carrier off to put a Christmas tree on the Subaru. That became the new hiding place, stored conveniently in the garage.
Truly discovered Elf on the Shelf – THANKS INTERNET! Now there’s ANOTHER thing I have to wake up at 4 am to deal with. The Tooth Fairy and Elf on the Shelf ran into each other one night. The Elf mugged the Fairy who coughed up a lot more cash. Truly’s gifts were coming from China, three weeks turned out to be barely enough time to get them to our doorstep. Tadg was ready with his list a month ahead of schedule, complete with internet links. Because, you know, “supply chain issues.” He’s redesigning his entire gaming setup. We are a contrast of Amazon orders, Elves and bleeding teeth popping out just before bedtime.
I know we’ll do OK, I just wish there was more of me to create more Christmas warmth.
It’s really the mood, the feeling of Christmas building over the weeks, that’s’ missing from our holidays. We lack the sheer mass of family members needed to generate the kind of warmth I want for us. No guests coming over for a Christmas eve party (Becky had a fall and needs to stay at home.) One child is in the world of Santa, one child out – not good math. Sledding was not really great yet, the weather was as chaotic as it’s ever been. Down to 1 degree one day, back up in the high 40s the next. Plus things were tight from having been sick a month ago, which meant I had to push hard on work even during the kids first week of winter break. I was more Grinch than Santa.
That is what grief was teaching me, that we’re still missing something bigger, something warmer at Christmas.
I’ve been with people who ache for that kind of warmth. My first serious girlfriend in college grew up without a lot of family warmth to spare. She loved to go on walks just around sundown so she could look into the brightly lit dining rooms of the families in our neighborhood. We would stop in the growing shadows as adults and children gathered around tables, passing around food, smiling and laughing. Her want seemed so profound to me back then. She saw their world of warmth, its edges and gravities. I took that world for granted back then. No longer.
In the first year of Terrys passing I noticed myself looking at other peoples wedding rings with jealousy. I felt an envy stronger than I had ever felt. Another sacrement made to her passing. I’ve never been jealous of other families warmth, but I have had crushes on that warmth. I’ve studied it, tried to imagine ways to seduce it into our new little families life.
Truly answered my need for warmth in spectacular fashion.
I’d been thinking about getting a new dog for months. Bella is nearing 15 and showing it. The life expectancy of our two cats would be a few days if Bella weren’t around to mark her territory. The group mailbox for our area is always populated with posts of missing cats, a major dietary staple of the local Coyote and Mountain Lion population. Around the end of November I edged further towards getting a new dog by letting friends know I was interested in a puppy.
“Just let us know if you hear of anyone with a litter. Truly wants a Husky, but we’re flexible. Looking for a medium to large breed.”
When Truly overheard me talking to her riding instructor she began a campaign of accelerating the process.
“Dad can we look on the internet for puppies?’
“I’ve tried sweetie, a lot of those dogs are really expensive.”
“Well, a Husky puppy can cost $3,000.”
“I have signed up with a group called the Humane Society. They have dogs that come up for adoption that are much cheaper. And there is a website called Craigslist where I look too.”
“Oh. Can I look too?”
“Uh…OK sure, I can show you how to do it.”
A ten year old on winter break with a single, working parent has a lot of time on her hands. From the moment she woke up until she went to bed, she checked those sites. Every five minutes, day after day. Any boundaries around my work meetings were ignored. Every animal available in Oregon or Washington is now burned into the back of my brain forever. And then –
“Dad, I found some German Shepherd puppies posted just an hour ago. They’re in Sisters!”
“See! I want that one!”
That is why, on Christmas eve, hours before I was going to perform my full Santa gig, I was driving to pet stores with Truly and our new eight week old German Shepherd puppy, “Dandelion”, looking for the right food, right collar, right treats, right everything. Why did I do this to myself on this of all days? Who knew if Bella would tolerate her, how our two cats would feel, and what if she ate the Guinea Pigs?
True and I wound up sleeping on two rollouts on her bedroom floor, Dandelion in her own bed under the desk. This gave all the other animals in the house the run of my room. Dandelion and True were instantly inseparable. She seemed deeply comforted by True’s relentless attention. Bella wagged for a while, then growled and snapped when Dandelion tried to rub her puppiness all over her. She trundled off to sleep in her dog bed in my room. The cats ignored her and Dandelion ignored the cats. Pip touched noses with Dandelion with little interest. Pretty much as good as I could hope for.
After True and Dandelion settled in I had just a few hours to stare at the ceiling, contemplating what I’ve done to myself before getting on the big mans red suit and making magic happen. And then I realized something: I was feeling a little puppy love myself. I was up for this. I was buoyed by the feeling of new life running and peeing and pooping everywhere. I’ve been through numerous puppies and several kids. I can do this. It might even be fun. Maybe this makes it the perfect Christmas for us. We have added a new family member. Our first big growth spurt after the horrible contraction.
The dial on our warmth meter has crept up a few degrees.
Christmas was good for all of us, even Bella. Tadg was especially sweet with his Sister, helping her set up new toys and video games. Dandelion found her way into everyone’s arms. We cuddled. We praised Santa and Momma at dinner. Dandelion found her way across our snow encrusted back yard to discover the edges of her new home.
It was the first Christmas with forward momentum in many years. Yay.
Thank you Dandelion.
Thank you daughter for the warmth you bring into our little world.
Thanks. And thanks. And thanks again.
Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change. I hope warmth is growing somewhere in your life too.
Dec 30th, 5:40 AM – small update: this morning I awoke early to tend to Dandelion. We had a good morning of potty training and me attempting to do some form of my morning practice. During my mini-yoga routine I felt a draft coming up my leg. At some point during my animal feeding and puppy wrangling I tore my PJ bottoms a giant hole. These are the Snoopy flannel PJs I got us years ago. That was a Christmas before Terry was sick. She, Tadg and I all had matching pairs that year. These bottoms are all that remain of that time, besides Tadg and I of course.
Some things are not meant to be mended, time to let these go.