No Simple Gifts

640px-juletraeslysAh, holidays. They are thorny for most people over the age of five on some level, I imagine. Between family and travel and scheduling, there are many pitfalls. Today, despite the fact that my husband and I made a deliberate decision to avoid all of these potential stressors and decided to stay home and relax, I am feeling a trifle taxed, and also a little sad — perhaps precisely because we avoided them.

We have a new puppy, we said. We’ll enjoy being at home, we said. We’ll see you in the new year, we said.

His family has issues; so does mine. He has issues; so do I. Traveling is taxing. The puppy is real — and while adorable, genuinely high-maintenance. And we are really homebodies. We like visiting family more at off-times, when there isn’t so much pressure. Still, I miss them all an awful lot right now. A lot more than I thought I would. I can’t deny it.

Despite the booking of plane tickets way in advance or driving through bad weather, the financial pressure of buying presents, the great food that makes you eat far too much, the not-so-great food that challenges your politeness, the tiredness that comes from running around seeing people, the topics that must be avoided, the awkwardness of opening certain presents from that one relative whose intentions are so good, the forced smiling, and the small talk, there’s a reason so many people do it.

It’s been a very long time since Christmas Eve was so thrilling that I lay in bed, wide-eyed with excitement, unable to sleep, thinking about what Santa would bring or not bring, sneaking trips out of my bedroom to tiptoe past my parents’ bedroom and peek down the carpeted stairs all the way into the living room where the tree, alight and magical, waited like a beacon of all things good to be surrounded by shiny presents. Today, at age 43, I understand why having a kid around would help my spirits.

It’s not like we’ve been totally un-festive. White lights are strung around the porch outside and the wreath my dad and stepmother send each year is hung on the front door. We’re doing what we planned: last night we ate pasta on the couch while watching Elf, tonight it’s take-out pizza with It’s a Wonderful Life, and fish chowder tomorrow likely accompanied by A Christmas Story. I may watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas a third time. We’ll open a few presents and take the dogs for a walk.

It will be like a special weekend. Which it is.

But had to give my dad a call this afternoon, just to hear his kind, baritone voice, to ask about the carols he and my stepmother will sing tonight at midnight mass, to find out what presents he got her, to tell him I miss him. Mom’s next. Then I’ll be texting my brother.

Next year, I think I may need to sign back on for complicated — since keeping it simple seems like it may be an impossibility.

Photo from Wiki Commons/ author: Malene


paw-prints-583794_960_720A fresh snowfall makes me conspicuous. Suddenly, my once invisible footsteps are evident, making my path easily traceable by the marks I leave. My size seven boot soles, fatly imprinted into the powder, illustrate my route and the slightly open stance of my gait, which I observe behind me, as if tracking a stranger in reverse.

The dogs leave their own distinct traces along the sidewalk as well, pristine dotted toe prints, perfect as any symbol for “paw,” wider and shorter distances between them based on leg-length. The wavy lines of their steps give away their tendency to veer, as they regularly curve off the pavement and onto lawns toward compelling scents. While I know from experience that walking a straight line is not their nature, it has never been so apparent. When they pull me, tether-bound, around a tree in a full circle, I laugh thinking what this would look like to others, our mess of footprints orbiting the trunk like a lopsided halo.

For once, I can see what the dogs “see” with their noses. They avidly follow a line of smaller, clearly feline, prints, and I wonder whether they are actually sniffing or looking, and guess at the former, as the power of our senses are opposite, at least to the best of my understanding.

I am pleasantly surprised when I recognize rabbit tracks: sets of two long parallel impressions followed – or preceded? – by two small, round, offset ones. I know the rabbits live here despite the somewhat urban setting. Occasionally, I see one scamper under the fence in our backyard or catch the flash of a white tail on a neighbor’s lawn. But it’s been some time since I had a good look at one, it’s round little brown body frozen still, pretending that it doesn’t know that I am having a staring contest with it.

I notice how many other dog prints are already here as well, along with the accompanying human prints, each in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. An odd sense of community comes over me, despite my lack of knowing who these steps belong to, and my being alone in the cold. The owners of these marks and I have a common habit.

Tomorrow, wind will blow the snow across our trails, rendering them invisible again. But tonight, the sidewalk tells stories.

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