An unexpected holiday gift of time travel

Over the holidays, we shared a restaurant meal with my daughter and her family, including Patrick, who at age 12, seems to change every time we see him now. His face is settling into more adult lines, and there are other hints about the man he will become, subtle and yet whimsically revealed in changing interests and developing talents.

We asked Patrick about his dog, Shadow, who is nearing the end of her cocker spaniel life and exhibiting all of the challenges of an ailing, aging pet.

“She was sick recently,” he said, “but I made it better for her.”

“He sure did,” Summer said, encouraging her son to tell us more.  

Wakened by someone in the family snoring too loudly at 1 a.m., Patrick went downstairs to sleep on the couch. He found the dog on the lower level, hovering by the basement rather than sleeping in her bed. He lifted her onto the couch, but she soon returned to the basement door, whining. Though somewhat spooked himself (Patrick very much believes in ghosts and spirits), he carried her down the stairs to reassure the dog there was no monster in the basement. Then they again settled on the couch together.

“About 2, I heard a rumble in her tummy and I knew she was going to be sick,” he said, so he let her outside as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, she had a distressing accident on the stoop, and he ran inside to get something to clean it with. Shadow took that same opportunity to wander off … toward a very busy Chicago intersection several blocks away. Patrick grabbed his boots and coat and gave chase in his pajamas, eventually capturing her before she could dart into traffic. He carried her home, gave her water, calmed her down, and again deposited her on the couch to sleep with him.

“She kept pawing my shoulder and licking my face real gross like,” Patrick said, “but I couldn’t turn away from her because I figured she was sick and she needed reassuring, so we did that until she finally felt good enough to fall sleep. Then I snuck outside to clean up her mess with some Lysol so nobody would see it or step in it in the morning.”

Though he was talking about a boyhood experience with a dog, I saw in my mind’s eye Patrick as a young father in the future. I knew then how Patrick would react if his child was ever frightened by a nightmare or suffering from a sick tummy. His sharing the story with us this Christmas was a gift of sight for which I’m grateful, as I never take it for granted that I’ll share his mundane or even adventuresome moments when he’s an adult, as I am often blessed to share them now.



At the end of the story, his younger brother announced that he had to go to the bathroom and Patrick offered to take him. When they left, my new son-in-law remarked how well Patrick has settled into his new role of older brother following the blending of families via marriage this year.

“He’s growing up well,” Summer remarked. The proud smile on her face at that moment was as beatific and as precious as the first one she ever gave me. I mentally superimposed her emergence over the years from her own little girl cocoon; I saw her tending to her dolls and dreaming about the prince who now partners with her to raise the next generation.

“We’ve all reason to be proud of our children,” I answered, winking at her.

One might say that I was visited by ghosts of Christmas Past and Future this year, and that was the greatest gift of all. You see, I’ve come to know that the best presents are not material purchases wrapped in shiny paper; they are fulfilled wishes presented to you wrapped in a smile. 

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