The Winter Baby

By Susan Strempek Shea, November 2008, Updated February 2015

Baby Bisquick

You can time the moment you fall for your next puppy as much as you can time the moment you fall for anyone. Thus, Bisquick joined my family last November.

He is our first winter baby. The six previous dogs who blessed my life were chosen—or, in the case of the first of three consecutive childhood Luckys, won at a raffle—in warmer weather. Their training took place during the first warm breaths of spring, or alongside riotously blooming gardens, or on paths made golden by autumn leaves. In those milder seasons, even the requisite nighttime forays into the backyard held payoffs for the wee hour during which nature called. I stood present in pajamas witnessing not only progress in bladder control, but overhead miracles including a questioning owl, the Milky Way, the aurora borealis.

The realities of the New England calendar meant Bisquick was shivering even on the sunny afternoon he was placed into my arms. I didn’t know how to break it to him that temperatures would not climb significantly for a good six months. Nor did I know how to remind my husband—or myself—of that same fact.

We hadn’t had a puppy for nine years. The last one arrived in late summer, around the time Princess Diana departed this world. Pup Leo’s 3 AM walkabouts ended with a check of the latest, saddest update from CNN. Upon Bisquick’s arrival, our region was gearing for its cruelest months, during which I nightly pre-heat the bed with a fleet of five hot water bottles nestled beneath thick flannel sheets, a woolen blanket, two cloudlike comforters and, finally, a fat retired sleeping bag zipped open for maximum coverage.

Suddenly, in the deepest parts of the night, from a crate situated three feet from my side of the mattress, an English Setter the size of a rolled-up pair of tube socks was making a freight-train-sized racket, commanding Tommy or me to emerge.


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And so began what we soon had down to a science. At the first scratching on the crate’s wire mesh door, one of us would spring up and dress from layers laid atop the box: neckwarmer, watch cap, gloves, insulated Wellingtons, my late father’s giant hooded parka.

With pup released and charging ahead, it was then down the stairs and into any combination of weather: sleet, snow, hail, a frozen crust coating it all and a nasty wind pushing.

When it was my turn, I’d lead Bisquick to a patch of yard on the far side of the driveway and walk a small sleepy circle while he spiraled in his own. I’d hug myself, pull the neckwarmer up to my eyes, yearn for the warmth inside the house and its solitary glowing window. I’d praise the pup for delivering the goods, then coax him back inside for a few more hours of sleep for all.

In keeping with the rules of puphood, some of these forays had to be unnecessary, no more than an opportunity to explore a snow bank previously unscaled, to stand and sniff the mystery-bearing wind. And during one of Bisquick’s for-the-heck-of-it rambles into the dark, when he paused in his sniffing to stare into the woods, I did the same. I saw nothing, but that nothing was the start of something—of my finally looking around. Listening. Despite the late hour and the low mercury, consciously taking in the moment. So big was the sky. So electrical the constellations. So quiet the neighborhood. So symphonic the creaking trees. So small the puppy at my feet. So slow the realization that these outings were for me, as well. My reverie ended only because Bisquick had become the one raring to go inside.

These days—and nights—Bisquick has more or less mastered a grownup schedule, but it still can have its surprises. I can’t say that my waking words aren’t curses some mornings when he heads for the door at 2:50, but when Tommy later asks me what it was like outside in the middle of the night, I am honest when I answer “Absolutely beautiful.”

You can stand in one place and wish to be somewhere else. Or you can, as the wise man said, be here now. Puphood is fleeting. Take it as a gift. Even when it’s wrapped in snow.

Susan Strempek Shea's eighth book, Sundays in America, tells of a year of Sundays she spent worshipping at Protestant churches nationwide.