It’s that time of year and they are everywhere: dogs wearing tacky Christmas sweaters and plaid flannel shirts; dogs dressed as chefs and posed in front of flour-dusted wooden cutting boards, their dog-shaped gingerbread cookies right there in front of them on the floor (how are they not eating them all??); dogs opening their Christmas presents; dogs sporting reindeer antlers draped with Christmas lights (how is that not a fire hazard?); dogs facing each other in mirror-image perfect sits, tongues touching under mistletoe, forming the shape of a Christmas tree, the mistletoe the shining angel on top. These Christmas canines are all over Instagram and Facebook and I’m just not sure how I feel about it all.
Honestly, I am really, really tempted to join in, but I resist the urge to put my dog into silly outfits that she will undoubtedly hate just so I can photograph her and get a million (or at least a few more than five) “likes” on the photo. I resist doing this in part because it seems cruel to Maisie and in part because I’m too Scottish to spend money on Christmas dog attire. But mostly I resist because I cannot fathom, for even one second, successfully getting her into one of those get-ups and then successfully getting her to cooperate for a photo shoot in one of those get-ups. Even though the cuteness factor would likely be through the roof, we remain without a Maisie Christmas photo.
Still, I feel the need to somehow celebrate Maisie’s first Christmas with us. She doesn’t seem terribly excited about the holidays, at least no more excited than she is just waking up any given day; she’s a dog, after all. But it does seem like a little milestone to acknowledge. Her presence in our lives alone seems something to celebrate, because oh, what a difference a year makes.
Last year we were already deep into a brutally cold winter and so of course we had a white Christmas. This year we are having what seems like record amounts of rain, and so our grass is still green. And in spite of how cold it was in November, since just after Thanksgiving it’s been downright balmy.
But the biggest difference a year has made is that with this Maisie milestone comes another milestone, and that is our first Christmas without Henry and Bella. This time last year, the energy in the house was decidedly more somber, the days leading up to Christmas seeing us live in a state of suspended breath, wondering every night if Henry would be there in the morning, wondering if Henry would be here for one more Christmas. The notion that we would lose Bella before Henry never, ever even entered our thoughts.
When I think back to last December there is so much bittersweetness swirling around in my heart. We are not big holiday people and spend most of them quietly on our own. In our twelve years together we can probably count on one hand the number of gifts we’ve given each other, birthdays and anniversaries included. It’s not a Scrooge kind of thing; we just try not to give in to the consumer lifestyle and are more apt to buy something for each other on a Wednesday in March than we are at Christmas, are more apt to buy something when we are inspired or when we see something we know the other would love. Or just because it’s a Wednesday in March.
Still, we seem to surprise each other in small ways, and since last winter was so hard on me, my husband went out of his way to make Christmas a little happier for me. Unfortunately, I thwarted his plans. One night, in a fit of sheer exhaustion-frayed nerves and nearing a complete melt down, I walked out of the house at 9 p.m., when it was in the single digits but felt bitterly colder than that from the wind. I walked out in that weather because he was tuning the drums and I had no emotional reserve and I couldn’t take one more second of it. I walked and walked and walked because I was so emotionally worn down, so exhausted, so on the cusp of crying all the time, but mostly I was so angry that he couldn’t wait until I would be out of the house in a few short days — all day long, playing the obligatory annual performance of Handel’s Messiah — to tune the goddamn drums.
I returned home from my walk a little calmer, the bitter cold somehow soothing my aching heart, the knowledge of how good hearted my husband is coming back to me with every step. I came home to find out he was tuning the drums that night because he was planning to use the time I’d be gone all day to surprise me with a house decked out in Christmas lights. Because he knows that in spite of my take-em-or-leave-em attitude towards the holidays, I love all the houses with their pretty lights, love how they brighten up the darkest days of the year. And then I just cried at how sweet my husband is and how awful I was acting because of how heavy my heart was feeling.
The lights did get put up while I was off playing the Hallelujah chorus. And even though I blew the surprise, I still had my breath taken away when I came around the corner to see our house shining and glittering and telling me, it’s okay, everything’s alright, there is still good in the world, even if it’s just in the form of bright lights on our sweet little cottage.
We woke up last Christmas morning with an aging, failing, blind, deaf dog who was nonetheless there for yet one more December 25th with me. It filled me with such a sense of gentle sweet relief, such gratitude for all he was to me, for all of the Christmases we’d shared. I knew he wasn’t long for the world. I knew this day meant nothing to him. But it was another way to mark his long history with me, our 15th Christmas together. My heart was so full and so grateful and so sad at the same time because I knew with absolute certainty that it was also our last Christmas together.
And so here we are, a year later, getting ready to celebrate our first Christmas with little Miss Maisie Mae. Having this little ball of piss and vinegar, this feisty little sweetheart of a love bug, is a blessing for which I couldn’t be more grateful. There isn’t a day I wake up when I am not so happy to see her little face. There isn’t a single challenging emotion for which her liquid gold, sable-lined beautiful eyes looking up at me can’t provide some balm.
And my husband, my dear sweet husband. Our family looks a little different this year, with Henry and Bella gone, and Maisie here instead. There are no Christmas surprises this year, just the gift of another year together, the blessing of playing music with each other, the joy and love that is bestowed upon us each and every day by a seventeen pound rescued mutt. And that really is enough, is more than enough, and these things in my life are perfect reasons to celebrate.
Oh, and lest I forget to mention — the house is adorned with a few more lights this year. Maybe we added some. Maybe it is just the light from our gratitude-filled hearts.
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So, lovely readers, how do you celebrate the holidays with your animal companions? I love hearing from you, so feel free to use the comment section below. And Happiest Holidays to you all. For your companionship and conversation and willingness to come along for the ride, I am truly blessed.