The tree has been taken down. There are still a few dozen chocolates to get through before I go back to healthy eating, but Christmas is officially over. This year was particularly lovely as all the girls were back for the first time in five years. It was truly wonderful to feel that buzz in the house when all four sisters are home. It’s a low frequency hum (half hugs, half bickering, all laughter) that fills the air and mingles with the smell of baking, turkey and pine that defines Christmas for me.
I got a lot of lovely presents this year (It’s one of the many delights of having grown-up daughters. They know you so well.) Many, like the books, Kindle and new laptop will be with me for many years to come. One present changed my life for the better.
The day before Christmas Eve I knew that something was up. There were secret huddles forming in the hallway; hushed giggles and attempts at obfuscation. It was obvious that something was up and that it had been cooked up for me. Then my daughters left, saying they’d be back soon. I honestly thought they had gone to pick up a surprise visitor.
They walked back into the house a couple of hours later wearing sheepish grins and carrying a box. Inside was a collie puppy, complete with a large red bow.
I cannot express the horror I felt when I saw it. 2014 was a tough year in every way. 2015 was shaping up to be another hard slog. The last thing I needed was a puppy. May I note at this point that the house had recently acquired two kittens. As I looked into the puppy’s liquid brown eyes I could not for the life of me see why I would want it. One more mouth to feed. One more small animal to get caught up in my feet and to tidy up after. House training! I even considered telling them to take it back for about a millisecond, but that would have definitely spoiled Christmas…So, we called her Lyra, and I settled into an uncomfortable mix of anger and delight that was unsustainable. I gave into puppy love by day two.
We had a lot of visitors over the holidays and every single one gave into puppy love the minute they saw her. Puppies elicit the widest smiles, the broadest grins, and the truest chuckles of delight. Grown men get down on all fours to growl and play. The puppy’s antics, as she chases the kittens, provoke laughter and joy every time. It’s messy and loud, but it increases the love in the room many times over.
Daughter #1 (who lives in Australia) is big into oxytocin. That’s the ‘love hormone’, or ‘feel good hormone’. It’s produced by our bodies and helps with human bonding, trust and general happiness. You can increase your oxytocin by hugging someone. If you are producing more oxytocin you’ll feel more loved and more loving, which is a great way to maintain mental health. I recently read that the best thing you can say to someone who is depressed is: “You are lovely. You are loveable. You are loved.” Puppies are little oxytocin producing factories. I am not very good at getting up in the morning. In fact, you’d be well advised to leave me to my own devices until I’ve had a cup of coffee. Grumpy is too weak a description, unless you’re describing a sleepy fire-breathing dragon. These days as my alarm rings, my first reaction is still to groan and bury my face in my pillows. My second reaction, however, is to get up and let the puppy out of the porch, where she’s been for the night. Her delighted, excited reaction at seeing me is the best anti-depressant I know. Her cheerful welcome (a dozen times a day) is a puppy version of “You are loved!” Petting a puppy is a shot of oxytocin that goes straight to the heart. I’m smiling before I’m awake. I am totally smitten. This little bundle of wriggling fur has put more laughter and love into our lives than I could have ever imagined.
We only had five days all together. Work commitments meant that we started saying goodbye on St Stephen’s day. When I drop off a daughter at the airport after a visit, I always feel a great lump land in my heart, as I drive away and head back to West Cork, and there’s been many a tear shed on the drive home. I dropped off the last daughter to leave in a raging gale on January 1. I was feeling pretty glum as I walked up to the house. Then I opened the door and was hit with a yapping, jumping bolt of puppy love and all was well with my world.