Dancing With Dogs

It’s a rooty-tooty time of year for a lot of people (vacation, holiday food, kids’ joy, more food), but for many others it’s a blue season (memories of things and people past, no money, no job—the list of why/how this holiday can be painful is as endless as the number of people who feel this way).

At my office—an ophthalmology practice —we go all out for the holidays. We hang wreaths, burn cinnamon-scented candles, and play seasonal music non-stop. So when I heard Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of the Flowers” the other day, I said aloud, “That was Boo’s song.”

It will always be Boo and Katie’s song. . . .

Boo was a slender chocolate-colored dachshund with a serene disposition, like a little buddha, brought home from a shelter at the age of eight years, meant as a companion for my two-year-old Katie, a rescued miniature pinscher with über attitude and energy (aka min pin ADD).

I’d no intention of falling in love with Boo. I was already in love with Katie—I just wanted a playmate for Katie while I worked. And it had yet to occur to me that one can love two of anything equally, or, put another way, differently but just as intensely.    

Which is something a friend and I talked about yesterday.

We compiled a list of things and people we love, but maybe not exclusively or the same, but just as intensely, like best friends for instance. We can have more than one best friend, and often do; different personalities who tap into varying aspects of us and vice-versa. And people can even fall (more or less equally) for two people at the same time . . . *ahem, spoil alert: problem with the love triangle, of course, is the drama and sometimes irreparable hurt. Great fodder for novels and film, but not so great for real life.

The first thing Boo did right was fall in love with me. Who can resist being the center of another’s universe? Sometimes, after writing for long stretches of time, I’d scoop Boo up and whirl her around the living room to “Glory Days,” working the kinks out, or to some old Beatles or Stones—and always, at Christmas, we’d dance to Tchaikovsky.

Katie preferred “dancing” to slower pieces, which was surprising given her need to be constantly moving at breakneck speed. We’d “waltz,” her sleek body stretched lengthwise against my chest, head tucked under my chin—perfect happiness.        

I’m smiling writing this. My little buddha girl Boo and my incorrigible Katie are now part of my history, equally loved and unbelievably missed. They lived long lives, long enough to know Baby Rae, the abused cattle dog from Mexico who now shares Christmas with me, and who is also greatly loved. Differently from Boo and Katie, but with comparable intensity. Baby Rae, though, is too big to dance around the living room in my arms.

But, dang, can Baby dance on her own.

Surfacing from a round of “hunchdom” at my desk, after being in my head for long periods of time, writing, it’s usually The Boss who jump-starts me back to real life.

And when the The Boss starts in, “The Babe” swings into full dance mode, becoming “everywhere dog,” bouncing on her hind legs, front paws, well, pawing the air, because she wants me to grab hold, and I do—and then we dance. Do we ever. It’s a weird kind of canine lindy hop—Ellen DeGeneres need not worry—but we dance hard, and we dance fast.

We dance because we can. Or at least we think we can. We dance for the joy of moving. We’re good partners, well-matched by a shared determination to live well. 

Christmas is different this year. . . .

This holiday Baby Rae and I dance in front of a “surprise” Christmas tree. Surprise, because I briefly (like for one second) considered not putting one up this year. Those who’ve been following me know my husband is ill, and we haven’t been all that festive lately.

But of course I did hang stockings and I did put up the tree, and spent a gazillion hours making it just as perfect and lovely (I think) as my mother’s, who adored the tradition of Christmas and passed that love of tradition on.      

My husband can’t enjoy the tree this year, but this tree, decorated with ornaments he’s given me through the years, and my mother’s ornaments, and even my grandmother’s, and ornaments from many best friends, is beginning to feel right.       

Though life is different, some things remain the same.

Every ornament on my tree has a story; it’s the story of the person (or dog) who gave it to me, and where we were at a particular stage of our relationship. I cherish those stories—and so of course I had to put this tree up to hang these stories on.     

Last night, on my way upstairs, I paused and looked at the beautiful tree shining like a beacon in my living room, and I suddenly understood that the tree and the light mean that nothing is going unrecognized or wasted, even as life shifts and changes time and again. This tree not only symbolizes a continuation of loves different but equally intense, but it validates and honors them. 

It’s a little like deciding to dance.

Joy, that is. As an adult, I now understand just how hard my mother worked to make our happy childhood holidays seem effortless.  

How hard my husband worked it.

Baby Rae doesn’t work it, though. Joy is as instinctive to a dog as breathing (which is why it’s good to have a dog: joy is also contagious).    

So when Baby and I finish wrapping presents and baking goodies tonight, we’ll rock out to Springsteen. We’ll dance BIG. She’ll go overboard, of course, because she always does, and I’ll probably look stupid, but she won’t care.  

And after we finish with The Boss, when Baby’s exhausted, we’ll dim the lights—except for the Christmas tree—and turn on Tchaikovsky and we’ll dance for my husband who used to do a jive like nobody’s business, and for my mother whose legacy still works magic (as in making me put up a Christmas tree when I didn’t want to).

And we’ll time everything just right, so that when “The Waltz of the Flowers” begins, we’ll both be ready.      

Then Baby and I’ll dance for Boo and Katie too, for the stories they left and a love shared there as well, different for each, but just as intense.