“The Eagle Has Landed . . . “

“The Eagle Has Landed . . . “ December 29, 2006

. . . these were the words I heard furtively whispered over the telephone line about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 12.

Another Washington political scandal on par with Watergate?

Alas, no.

Instead, they were the words of our friend and co-conspirator, Katie Harvey, who agreed (to her eternal credit, I assured her) to pick up from the home of another friend, care for and paper train Mark’s Christmas present for a whole 10 days before Christmas.

It may not rank up there with Watergate, but for our family the intrigue has taken up most of our time, energy and attention, not to mention that of most of our friends and fellow church members in the days leading up to Christmas.

The plan was to surprise Mark with what we suspected was his ultimate Christmas wish, a tiny puppy with the potential for intelligence (please see our family’s past canine experience to understand exactly why this feature was important*) and utter adoration and devotion toward him (since that element in our family life is increasingly absent as the kids grow into teenagers and, actually, for some members of the family I believe that feature never actually existed . . .).

The one most annoying thing about Mark, which I have known since our first Christmas together, is that he is notorious about discovering his gifts ahead of time. Generally he does not engage in nefarious tactics . . . he just observes, listens and asks questions that sound innocent but inevitably lead the one being questioned down a path he or she never meant to go.

The kids and I were determined this time would be different.

Employing the help of various friends, we scoured the newspaper for breeders, searched the Internet for information, visited the pound, and held many family meetings to discuss our options.

We decided Mark needed a baby he could train as he wished.

I decided we needed a very small, absolutely non-shedding type of dog. (Note to those of you who don’t know me: I do not like dogs. Or cats. Fish are okay. I know this lowers my credibility in the eyes of some, but I just am not an animal person, and since we’ve been dogless for several months now and I’ve enjoyed that state so much, this was quite a compromise.)

With these specifications (including the intelligence part, see above) in mind, we spent hours and hours “researching”.

Every time we’d head out or return home from doing “research” Mark would quiz us extensively, trying to extract any information he possibly could. We practiced the same answer over and over, suggested by Hayden (age 12), who told us the cool thing to say in 7th grade when you don’t want someone interfering in your business is, “NUNYA!”–as in, none of your business.

We thought we were keeping Mark in the dark by saying “nunya!” over and over whenever he asked where we’d been.

We worked hard. After visiting and considering several strong possibilities we finally found the perfect canine for our family. We knew he was the right one because, despite his breed (poodle and shitzu mix–no shedding, small . . . perfect!), he did not appear to be a purse dog (which would have been completely unacceptable to Mark, unless, of course, the dog in question came with accompanying scantily-clad starlet. Give me a break; I’m not a magician!).

The puppy we found looked, actually, like a mutt, with pretty green eyes and a very cute brown nose. He passed the smart test (seemed to have the ability to get out from under a dish towel put over his head, something our previous canine could most certainly not do).

Plus, the cute fur ball factor was very, very high. We all fell in love. Even, I’ll admit, me. A little.

We managed to get the puppy to Katie’s (“the eagle has landed” and all that . . . ) and proceeded to engage in several home visits when Katie brought the puppy over and taught us various commands and all the skills we needed to welcome the puppy home.

We all employed our best efforts to keep the surprise under wraps (and believe me, Hannah keeping a secret is almost certainly a practical impossibility). Despite the improbability the kids, even Hannah, did not spill the beans.

And neither did I.

And neither did the approximately 36 other people who knew and participated in the subterfuge in some way, shape or form.

We said “nunya!” religiously.

But Mark still guessed.

The man is totally maddening.

On Christmas Eve, we all agreed to open one present each, even though we ALWAYS wait until Christmas morning. Mark (predictably–I knew he could never wait) chose the large, newspaper-wrapped box bearing his name. The box contained a book telling the story of our decision and explaining all the commands and scheduling details we’d learned from our friend Katie. Then, Hayden went next door to our neighbors’ house (they agreed to baby sit for an hour after I picked up the dog on the way home from Christmas Eve service . . . the drama!) and brought the puppy home.

We thought Mark would be happy. But we did not expect him to be as happy as he was. Watching him with the puppy was definitely worth all the craziness of the last few weeks.

And then, as I should have expected, after we gave him the puppy Mark gave each one of us a dog-related present (chew toy, etc.) with a copy of the receipt proving he suspected his gift . . . as early as December 12, the very day we picked the dog up.

Maddening, I tell you.

Since the drama of Christmas Eve, we’re all settling in nicely. Paper training is pretty well finished and we’re almost finished teaching the new baby how to go outside. He already sits, stands up and fetches (smart, I told you), and since the second night home he is sleeping all night long.

We’d had to choose a name for our friend Katie to begin paper training, but we told Mark he could change the name if he wanted. He didn’t want to . . . you see, since Mark knew what we were up to all along, he’d already decided on a name . . . and it was the same one we picked.

“Nunya”, of course.

I guess it was meant to be.

*Shortly after this post, Champ disappeared again and we haven’t seen him since.

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