Late Christmas Eve, my two children were fast asleep. Even my husband, Evan, had turned in nearly an hour before. But I was still downstairs, arranging and rearranging the packages under the tree. No matter how I stacked them I couldn’t get them the way I wanted.
When the kids were small Christmas Eve was filled with so much anticipation. I couldn’t wait to see the excitement in their faces the next morning as they tore through the wrapping paper to see what Santa had left them. But now they were growing up. It seemed nothing amazed them anymore.
So this year I had arranged for a really big surprise. A surprise I now worried wasn’t such a good idea. Lord, I wondered, have I made a terrible mistake?
I glanced at the sugar cookies, the glass of milk and the carrots that we always left on the end table for Saint Nick. I remembered all the Christmas mornings Aaron and Audra had taken the missing treats as absolute proof Santa had visited. Now the kids played along with the cookie game more out of tradition than belief.
Long gone were the days when LEGO sets and baby dolls set off shrieks of joy and the story of Jesus’ birth was still new and suspenseful to them. Was that why I’d decided to surprise them with a puppy this year? Was it just me wanting to recapture that excitement?
All I knew was our new dog would be here in a few hours. I hoped it would bring some of that old magic with it.
I had gotten the idea of getting a dog on the first day of school. I’d just put Audra on the bus when a woman came by walking a sheltie.
“What a beautiful dog,” I said.
“Thanks,” she replied. Then her voice lowered, like she was letting me in on a secret: “She’s having puppies in a couple of months. Would you like one?”
“I’d love one,” I said. The words flew out of my mouth. Then I hesitated. “But I’d better check with my husband first.”
“I hope you told her no,” Evan said that evening when I told him. “We don’t have the room or the money for a dog.”
I knew he was right. We already had a cat and two guinea pigs. But still…
“Can’t you just see the kids getting a puppy for Christmas?” I said.
The puppies were born in early November. I went over to see them one morning right after I got the kids off to school.
There in a small pen was the mother dog nursing six tiny little things. They looked more like rats than dogs, but they were beautiful all the same.
“Would you like to hold one?” the breeder asked. How could I say no? I held a squirming ball of fur against my face and he softly kissed my cheek with his tongue. I felt a tingle all over, like when the kids rushed downstairs to their presents.
“You would be the best Christmas present ever,” I said as I returned him to his pen. In early December I took Evan to see the puppies and he gave in to my pleas.
But now I was having misgivings. The kids are growing up, I thought as I headed up to bed. I can’t turn back the clock. And a dog isn’t going to bring back the old magic. It seemed forever before I drifted to sleep.
I awoke to shrieks of “Merry Christmas!” Audra climbed under the covers next to me. Aaron pushed in beside Evan.
“Can we open the presents?” they shouted. The kids were in their Christmas jammies. Evan and I got on our robes. I made coffee and we headed down to the family room and the tree.
Audra’s eyes went from the presents to the half-eaten cookies. “He was here all right, Mommy,” she said.
“Yes, dear,” I said. Maybe Audra was humoring me, but she was still a great kid. Lord, I should be grateful for the blessings you give me, I thought, and handed Aaron a present.
Aaron unwrapped the bowling ball and shoes we’d gotten him. He’d joined a league that fall.
“Cool!” he said. “It’s blue, just like I wanted. Thanks, Mom and Dad.”
Audra was ripping the paper off her Barbie Beetle when there was a knock on the door.
My heart skipped a beat. It was my big Christmas surprise. Suddenly I felt silly. Did the kids even want a puppy?
“Who could that be?” I managed to get out. “Stay here and I’ll go check.”
I ran up the stairs and opened the front door. “Merry Christmas,” the breeder said. “And good luck.” I put the puppy inside a big box I’d wrapped in green and red paper, then put the lid on top of it. Immediately he started whimpering. Maybe I shouldn’t bother with the package, I thought. But since I’d already gone to the trouble…. “Shhh,” I whispered. “It’s only for a moment.
“Kids! Come look!” I cried out. “Santa just left another pres—”
They were there before I could get the words out of my mouth, Evan right behind them. The lid inched upward on the box and I gently held it in place.
“What is it?” Audra gasped. She was shaking she was so excited.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s find out.”
Ever so slowly Audra lifted the lid. “It’s a puppy!” she screamed. Arf, the little dog barked. Audra snatched him out of the box and held him tight against her chest. He licked her face. Audra squealed.
“What do you think we should name him?” I asked.
“He has a bit of reddish brown on his nose,” Aaron said, reaching over Audra to pet the little guy’s head. His eyes were shining. “I think we should call him Rusty.”
I looked over at Evan, but he only had eyes for the puppy. And he’d known about the surprise all along. That’s when I realized I was grinning too. Grinning from ear to ear, like a kid on…
“This is the best Christmas ever,” Audra said. I agreed. Thank you, Lord. I’d thought the years of magical Christmas mornings were over. All it took to bring them back was one small puppy. Turns out you’re never too old to believe in the magic of Christmas.