Originally posted on 12/25/12
He nuzzled his gray snout into the inner curve of my knee. Then he scooted his whole body a little bit tighter against me and let out a long, deep sigh.
I ran my hand from his oversized, perfectly shaped chocolate brown head down his warm, rounded body to the base of his tail. His big front paw contracted, not unlike the toe curl I experience when being well kissed.
My mind drifted back to when this ritual began. He’d just come home with us, a puppy alone for the first time, separated from his siblings — his pack — and his mother.
We quickly developed a routine: he’d eat his food fast and furious, in true Lab fashion. I watched him while sitting cross legged on the floor.
When he was finished he’d crawl into my lap, curl up, and I’d pet him to sleep.
The phone could ring, my legs might stiffen up, or I’d have to pee, but I never moved until he woke up.
It was the nicest part of my day. Like the magic I imagine a first time mother must feel with her newborn asleep in her arms.
But as he grew, our little ritual gradually dwindled. He no longer fit into my lap, and he preferred the couch where he could stretch out. I had no idea how much I missed it until one Christmas day.
It was the first year I’d spent the holidays alone with my Jewish husband — a man for whom Christmas embodied all of the discomfort he felt growing up in the southern Bible belt, one of a handfull of Jewish kids in a private, Christian school.
Needless to say, he wasn’t excited to celebrate the holiday.
I, on the other hand, had grown up a heathen. I loved Christmas for the thrill of the gift exchange, shiny ornaments, glittering lights, and the occasional theatre of midnight mass. It was my favorite holiday, and I eagerly looked forward to it each year.
But try as I might I couldn’t convince my husband that my Christmas was fa la la, tinsel, and presents — not at all religious.
Further complicating the issue was the fact that his family didn’t really exchange gifts, whereas mine specialized in gift giving of Olympic proportions, the kind that could drive you to distraction in the quest for the perfect item, along the way buying everything under the sun. It was over the top and in need of adjustment to be sure.
So we compromised.
Each December we’d agree to various combinations of Hanukah and Christmas, all of which worked to a degree, but none of which completely satisfied either of us. Sometimes we’d have a menorah, sometimes a tree, sometimes both.
One year we’d skip Christmas altogether to visit his extended family in some exotic locale, and the next we’d do stockings and Santa Claus with my family in the Midwest. One year we opted out and attended a professional basketball game on Christmas day.
Finally, we decided to just stay at home together with our pets.
So there we were on Christmas day, not really doing Christmas, as per this year’s compromise. I was trying to be loyal to our agreement and keep a stiff upper lip as we watched TV – my husband on the couch, me sitting cross legged on the floor – but truth be told, I was feeling a little sorry for myself, a bit deprived.
Just then our 70 pound Chocolate Lab ambled over. He looked at me quizzically, stepped one foot onto my crossed legs and pulled it off again.
A small spark ignited in me – he was trying to get into my lap!
This hadn’t happened in years! Excited and hopeful, I encouraged him to try again, patting my lap and giving the command, “lie down.”
He’d step on gingerly, turn his body this way and that, look puzzled, quickly step off, and then at my urging, try it all over again.
Finally, he stopped and looked at me reproachfully — my lap was clearly too small. We were both frustrated, but I was unwilling to give up.
In a flash of inspiration, I asked my husband to throw me a blanket. I made a loose circle of my legs on the floor and covered them with the blanket. I hoped my lap would look bigger, more inviting.
And it worked! To my extreme delight my big beautiful Lab walked onto the blanket, circled once, and settled down, snuggling in and bumping up against the circumference of my legs.
With a deep, satisfied sigh he closed his eyes and relaxed completely. And with tears in my eyes, grinning from ear to ear, so did I.
Merry Christmas to me – best present ever!