When my kids were little, they were terrified of animals. All animals — even baby chicks and bunnies. For years I struggled to protect them from puppies, kittens and birds flying overhead.

Until one day they weren’t. It was like a flipped switch with my oldest daughter. While over at a friend’s house, she had the life-changing epiphany that their beloved family dog wasn’t going to eat her. She was very suddenly no longer scared of animals. The rest of my kids followed in bravery quickly after.

And since that day, they all decided they didn’t only tolerate animals but they loved them. They have begged for a dog, a cat, a bunny or whatever mom and dad could be willing to give them.

While life was made easier now that we now longer had to deal with terrified children anytime a docile animal wandered too close, we weren’t ready to commit to a household something that required care. We have five kids; that felt like enough of a zoo. We didn’t want to add actual animals to the mix.

But as the kids persisted, something else began to grow inside me. A desire to stop filling our house with meaningless toys that are forgotten and abandoned. A desire to simplify our possessions and give my children the more meaningful gifts of experience.

As Zach and I looked toward this Christmas season, we found ourselves dreading the present-giving portion of the holiday. Honestly, what could we give them that they didn’t already have? What could we give them that wouldn’t be trampled on their bedroom floor before they even headed back to school after winter break?

And then it hit me.

Instead of presents this year, we could give them a puppy! We could not only give them the gift they’ve been dying for, but responsibility and the opportunity to love something and take care of it.

Things moved quickly after that. On a Wednesday evening in mid-November, I pitched the idea to my husband, who was far from sold on the idea. Could we really handle another thing in our already-crazy-busy lives? But by the time we left our puppy visit the next day, we'd somehow decided one puppy wasn't enough. We needed two. We were afraid one pup would be overwhelmed with the love of five kids, and since we were already house training one animal, another couldn’t be that much harder. Besides, my husband reasoned, they’re pack animals. They need each other.

On Friday, I sent an email saying we wanted the puppy we’d originally looked at, as well as the second, slightly older puppy who had stolen our hearts within seconds of being introduced to her. On Saturday morning, Zach and I walked in our garage door, each of us carrying a puppy, and watched our children explode with joy.

Christmas made. In the best possible way.

Sure, there won’t be much to open Christmas morning, but every day so far has been an exciting journey in puppy ownership. Our girls are learning to get up before 6 a.m. and take the puppies outside and then feed them. They also take them out again before school. The boys are learning how to nurture and care for something alive. All of them are pitching in to feed and water the pups. And Zach and I are learning far more than we ever bargained for, especially with two of them. Still, it all seems worth it when he and I are cuddled up on the couch late at night, a pup in each of our laps, sweet and snoring.

We went from being a family who only tolerated other people’s pets, to being hardcore dog people overnight. But somehow it seems right. And it’s definitely given us the best Christmas yet — even if we’re still weeks away from the actual holiday.

***

Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.

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