Showing Up

We had our annual ChristmaHanukkah party this past Saturday (someone said a word, it stuck, now that’s its official title…)

I have this “thing” about getting people together and feeding them- my grandmother instilled it in me. So every year I get all choked up as I look around and see everyone filling their plates, telling stories, mixing cocktails…it makes me happy.  Depending on how strong the cocktails are (I’m looking at you, Jon), it makes me happy and slightly sleepy.

But this year isn’t just any year- this is THE year. I knew I was going to be struggling to keep myself together (you read that right- I’m such an emotional person that I actually ANTICIPATE my level of emotion at future times…I’m a big ball of fun, people). This is the year Pat and I have dreamt about since we signed the lease on our basement apartment- that beautifully damp, moldy gem of a dwelling. This is our first Christmas in our own house!

Buying a home is an expected, natural step for many people- we’re not those people. We lived in 6 apartments before we excitedly signed the next 30 years of our paychecks away, giddily slid the key into the lock and bounced into our dream home (a cape cod with plumbing from 1952 and a hallway ceiling light so high and awkward that it can’t ever be changed without risking “certain death,” according to the previous owner- but it’s all ours!!!). So on Saturday, as I straightened the boughs in the doorways and fluffed the homemade snow in my Christmas village (oh yes, I am THAT person), I prepared to completely lose my cool before the appetizers were even ½ eaten.

But I didn’t lose it.

As the last few guests hugged us and headed home, I realized I hadn’t made my usual “thank you all for coming/we love you guys so much” speech. I hadn’t gotten choked up watching my friends share stories, parenting tips and laughs at my dining room table. I hadn’t even sighed like a Little House on the Prairie character as everyone gathered around the tree to open their gifts. Why hadn’t the magnitude of this year turned me into a weepy mess? Was my “over-react” button malfunctioning??

Then I realized something.

This was our first year in our home… but not really.

Our friends have been there when we lived in a smelly basement and we could only afford a $5-$10 grab bag gift.

They’ve been there when we could comfortably fit 30 people in the dining room of one apartment, and when I had to squish 12 people into the dining room of another apartment.  They used my washer and dryer and my coffee table as a dining room when we didn’t have one.

They’ve been there when we lived 20 minutes away and when we lived 90 minutes away.

They’ve been there for everything from turkey dinners to pumpkin lasagna to burrito pies to Thai curry to taco bars to sandwich platters.

They’ve been there when ChristmaHanukkah was eating, drinking and acting ridiculous until 2am, and they’ve been there when it was an early dinner, sippy cups for the kids, and talking quietly after my toddlers’ bedtimes.

They’ve been there when we were so broke that we had to ask everyone to bring food with them.

They helped me take everything out of the oven when I was newly pregnant and too sick to look at the food I had just cooked. They stayed late to help us clean up when I realized that being newly pregnant made me pretty damn tired.

They showed up with more love than I ever thought any one person could handle when I had to face my first Christmas without my grandmother.

They’ve shown up for birthday parties in the backyard where the bees we didn’t know were residing in the siding of Rental #5, decided to join us in the tents.

They showed up to and never complained about last year’s party in Rental #6, where they had to run up and down the stairs because our dining room was on the first floor and our living room was in the basement.

They’ve shown up to and played along with every surprise birthday party I’ve ever planned for my husband, even though it’s ridiculous of me to plan a surprise party every year as though he doesn’t remember he has a birthday, or that his wife has the mentality of an 11 year-old and needs to make a big deal out of everything.

They’ve come to Christmas parties, football parties, ugly sweater parties, New Year’s Eve parties, birthday parties for our dog, countless barbecues, and most recently, a Beerfest that ended up having awful catering.

They’ve shown up with appetizers, desserts, wine, champagne, beer, bourbon, hostess gifts, and presents for our children, and the most sincere hugs and smiles I’ve ever gotten from anyone.

So many of them have shown up at the hospital with food and presents after each baby was born, that I got scolded by a nurse (she was a charmer, that one).

They’ve come back to the hospital and endured having cafeteria macaroni and cheese hurled at their faces by an agitated, feverish toddler so that I could take a shower.

They’ve shown up when they had other places to be; they’ve shown up when they weren’t feeling 100%; they’ve shown up when the weather wasn’t so great and we lived in the middle of nowhere; they’ve shown up when they had to fight for parking and walk a block and a half to get to our door.

This is technically our first year in our house. But it’s not our first year in our home.

They- these friends that long ago became our family- they have made every place- the basement, the 2-floor apartment, the bee house from 1876- into a home.

So, since I forgot the speech that you all so patiently sit through every single year:

Thank you for always showing up. Thank you for coming during any season of the year, in all kinds of weather, and eating whatever food we put on the table. Thank you for always filling our rooms with laughter, a few drink stains, and memories that carry us through the best and worst of times.

Thank you for always turning our house into a home.

(…you thought you escaped the speech this year- HA!)

Marty

I’m not really one of those “let life happen” people. I currently have my bill payment dates set through March. I make dinner menus two weeks in advance. I begin mentally planning the appetizers for my Christmas party in August. The most wild behavior I ever exhibit is when I put anything full-price in my cart at Target.

And then I met Sandy.

I strolled into Petco on that fateful Sunday afternoon full of holiday cheer, jalapeno turkey burger and garlic rosemary fries. Everyone had enjoyed our yearly pilgrimage to the Christmas Ice Caverns to see little animatronic elves dancing around with polar bears. Both kids had been not only well-behaved but, dare I say, downright delightful at the restaurant (when you have small children, Smashburger counts as a restaurant). Thanksgiving was just a few days away. Life was good.

But my heart still hurt.

Exactly three weeks prior, I had failed tremendously. I had given back a rescue.

I promise I had done all of my homework. Lined up my ducks so very neatly. Spent weeks before we met him having conversations with Ricky’s owner to help ease the transition for both him and our little old man, Rocco.

And yet, over the month that Ricky lived with us, his odd behavior worsened with each passing day.  Lengthy conversations with three different trainers produced mixed results. And then, early one Friday evening, the dog that I had agreed to take in; the dog that we had prepared so meticulously for; the dog that was coming into my home to help ease some of my son’s worsening anxieties…bared his teeth and lunged at Vince’s unsuspecting and stunned face.

Luckily, there was no physical damage. It had been a “warning,” for what we’ll never know. Apparently watching Vince put on a sock was a trigger of some sort for this poor soul. An evaluation revealed that the dog whose previous owner assured me was 6 years old, gentle, and an absolutely perfect addition to a family with a jittery little boy, turned out to be 9 years old, consumed by a canine equivalent of PTSD, and had no place being anywhere near a child.

So, needless to say, my heart dropped into my stomach when my eyes caught a local animal rescue’s banner hanging at the entrance of the pet store.

“I’ll just grab some Christmas tree cookies for Rocco and be on my way. These rescues only ever bring cats to their adoption events anyway,” I told myself, just before a little black puddle of fluff came out from behind a display and collapsed in a pile of wiggles at my feet.

And that’s how I met Sandy.

Now, it’s very hard to resist a puppy.  Now imagine a homeless puppy. Now imagine a homeless puppy who is doing her best to fit into your daughter’s lap or your son’s coat pocket. Now imagine a homeless puppy who somehow makes your ridiculously stoic husband drop to his knees, eyes all aglow, and practically coo, “Who is thiiis?”

Are you imagining all of this? Do you see what I was up against?

I still said no.

I explained to the rescue that we had  waited years to adopt another dog, and we had been rejected by 5 rescues because of our older dog, Rocco, and our private adoption imploded, and we had done our research and we can’t have a puppy because we work too far away to take it out every 2 hours, and a black lab/hound mix would be far too energetic for our dachshund, and, and…I concluded my rambling monologue by sincerely wishing them the best in finding wonderful homes for both Sandy and her 10 brothers and sisters- but we definitely could not be one of them.

An hour later, my husband handed me a glass of wine and said, “Fill out the application.”

I did, partly because it was white wine and white wine goes straight to my head. Then I let it go. This would be rejection #6 and then we could move on with our lives.

Marty Maraschino, Sandy’s twin sister, arrived at my doorstep 3 days later.

Marty is a 35-lb tornado.

She has peed on every hardwood and carpeted surface in my house. She licks the toilet tank and runs around with the bowl brush in her teeth. She tries to hurl herself into the bathtub with the kids. She puts her head on my lap when I’m trying to pee.

She has learned to clear a gate like a championship show horse. She bit off the corner of one of my kitchen tiles. She’s under the impression that our water dispenser is, in fact, her water bowl. She thinks the mat in front of my sink is a claw sharpener.

She gleefully pounces all over the vicinity of my 127 year-old dachshund.

She has so little control over her limbs that in the past two days alone she has crash-landed into my china cabinet, knocked over my mail table (it was literally raining bills in my living room- my worst nightmare), and slammed into a door so forcefully that I was afraid her head was going to go through it and get stuck in my linen closet.

She has a wicker basket stuffed with toys- and chooses to eat the wicker basket.

She thinks the 5ft lighted snowman on my front lawn is someone to play with and engage in conversation.

She requires constant supervision, and is no longer allowed in either of my kids’ rooms after the crayon-eating incident, and what she did to that poor stuffed pink bunny (we do not discuss it).

And yet…I knew the moment she waltzed into my driveway that we couldn’t live without her.

She would permanently attach herself to Pat if she could. She noses her way into Grace’s room each morning to lick her face through the crib bars. She flings herself to the ground so Vince can gently scratch her belly while he watches television; she sits next to him so he can scratch her head while he does homework. She brings her blanket and sprawls at my feet when I’m on the couch, and naps behind me while I’m cooking.

She even tries to pre-clean all the dishes for us when we’re filling the dishwasher!

So Marty was unplanned. The ducks were not in a row this time- they were drunkenly swinging from the ceiling. But in the two weeks that she’s been destroying- I mean living in- our house, she’s managed to calm my son’s fears, give my hopelessly stern husband a reason to smile, and- added bonus!- heal that tiny gap in my heart that I thought only Baby #3 could fill (“All part of my plan,” said Pat with an evil grin).

So I guess there’s something to be said for flying by the seat of your pants every now and then.

Welcome to the family, Marty Maraschino.