The Christmas Puppy

Is it possible to drown in wrapping paper?

It's the night after Christmas, and down here in my basement hideaway there are scraps of wrapping paper, discarded boxes, assorted pieces of crumpled cellophane, and those white, crinkly plastic department store bags everywhere. It is a mess. A HUGE mess.

But then, it always is....

The kids are all asleep upstairs on the living room floor (their rooms are just too cold tonight - it is close to zero outside, and their windows are pretty drafty - I haven't gotten around to putting up the 3M plastic yet). At least I am hoping they have finally fallen asleep, watching "Oliver and Company," one of the new movies they got for Christmas. They were SUPPOSED to be watching the old "Scrooge," but it is in black and white, and they just can't deal with that. (It doesn't matter how good the movie is, if it isn't in color, forget it.)

But it was a good Christmas. And that in itself is a miracle. It didn't look like it was going to be that way.

First there was the dog.

I know, I know, you NEVER give an animal for Christmas. Yeah, it looks great in the Kodak (or Hallmark, or Maxwell House, or Tylenol) commercial when the ribbon falls away from the beautifully wrapped box and the puppy pops out and immediately starts licking the happy child's face.

Reality is another matter....

We had been promising the kids a dog for over a year now, and Christmas seemed as good a time as any to finally do it (or, as we were seeing it, as BAD a time as any - like we are doing such a bang up job as it is managing five kids, an aging cat and a gerbil).

But we have been kind of coming and going with the idea since this fall. We have WANTED to do it, but the kids have been acting so bad lately (one gut wrenching mini crisis after the other), it has been hard to say we OUGHT to.

So I don't know what possessed Dani to take Dionel out to the animal shelter the Friday before Christmas to look at puppies.

Dionel came in the door all excited because he had seen two dogs he liked. So I packed the rest of the kids into the van and we went to check them out...well, except for Pepe, who had been traumatized by all the big, barking dogs the first time we had been out there (I had been traumatized by the smell!).

We got to the shelter and both dogs were pretty cute. One was a quiet, sad eyed, Beagle. The other was smaller; a 3 month old, black German Shepherd/ Heeler puppy.

I told the kids there was waiting list, and if we wanted one of them we would have to wait to see if anyone else wanted them first. "We might not be able to get either one." I said.

But I was lying. While they were checking out the stray cats, I really had made arrangements to pick up the black Shepherd puppy Monday morning.

So now, How exactly do you surprise a kid with a puppy for Christmas?

It's not like you can wrap him up in a box and stick it under the tree for a couple of days. We had thought we could keep him at Dani's folks until Christmas Eve, but Grandma had pneumonia, so the last thing she would want is a dog banging around the house for two days. Bobbi (Dani's sister) has cats. Lots of cats. It wouldn't work to keep the dog there.

Finally I came up with an off the cuff plan. We could pick up the puppy Monday afternoon and bring him over to Dani's folks. Then when we got back home, I could sneak out to the front porch, knock on the door, leaving a letter from Santa. It would say he had left an early present at Grandma's. Ring and Run Santa!

It sounded like it might be fun.

Well, that is the kiss of death around here! Anytime something sounds like it should be fun, you can pretty well forget about it. And sure enough....

The boys have been practicing for adolescence lately - that is, generally being rude, obnoxious and contrary at every opportunity.

"Manuel, could you pick up your clothes?"


"Dionel, leave Pepe alone please."


So all Monday morning they were honing their skills. They couldn't get along with anyone. They couldn't find anything to do. Which meant I couldn't get anything done - except play referee all morning; constantly running upstairs to see who was crying now and why.

I asked them to get dressed.


I asked them to help pick up the living room.


I asked them to stop picking on Pepe (their favorite pastime).


Dionel even took the opportunity to stick out his tongue at him and give him a poke.

I had sent them to their rooms a number of times. When I finally did get them to brush their teeth and get dressed, Pepe came down with shaving cream sprayed all over his butt.

Oy. It was a long morning.

Finally Dani got home from work around 1:30. She had her coat on and was standing at the door ready to go pick up the puppy when she asked Manuel to help clean up the kitchen.

Nothing but whining and complaining. And throw in a little dig at the little brother besides.

Well, that was it. I had had it. I snapped.

"Listen you guys," I said before I really stopped to think about it. "Mom was about to go pick up your puppy. It was going to be a Christmas surprise, but forget it. You blew it."

A heartbeat or two of silence as a dark cloud filled the house.

And then,

"Nice going - MANUEL," Aracely cried as she stomped out of the kitchen.

"You didn't tell us we were going to get the dog!" Dionel whined as he sat slumped at the kitchen table, tears beginning to well up in his eyes.

This wasn't exactly the kind of surprise we had had in mind.

Of course now even if we relented and decided to get the puppy anyway the whole Santa Claus thing was ruined. In my mind I had already seen the bright smiles on their faces when they walked in the door at Grandma's and the puppy started jumping all over them. That's what I was looking forward to. Now it was gone, all gone - the Bumpus Hounds had struck again. I was frustrated, exasperated and angry. Why can't anything ever go right? (I am good at globalizing things. It is always "always," "never" and "ever"!). (See, I did it again!)

But maybe I had over reacted.

Okay... I HAD over reacted! Except now I was so angry - at the kids - at myself - that even if we got the puppy it would just remind me of how our big Christmas surprise had been ruined.


Except the kids were genuinely sorry for the way they had been acting... and maybe, just maybe, they had learned something from the whole thing.

I hate it when they do that!


by Paul Dallgas-Frey
Some time in 1996, must have been around Christmas!

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