When I was 7 or 8, there was a toy that was aggressively marketed to little girls like me around the holidays called "Puppy Surprise." If you're not familiar, it consisted of a plush "mommy" dog ripe with a litter of puppies- but how many were inside her velcroed womb you didn't know until you opened her up. It could be anywhere from 3 to 5. They could be girls or boys. Mystery. Intrigue. Pink bows. Oh my.
At first I wasn't crazy about it. The mom dog's Pebbles-style top-of-the-head shitzu pony tail was unappealing and I wasn't really sure what I would do with her. Her face was made of hard plastic and what was the point of a stuffed animal that you couldn't cuddle?
Despite my disinterest in the toy itself, the jingle was whole different story. It was infectious in a way that only TV theme songs, commercials, and Disney tunes can be. It went, "...How many puppies are there inside? There could be 3, or 4, or 5! And they're all different! Surprise! Surprise! It's Puppy Surprise!" and after maybe 1 viewing lodged itself in my mind's turntable for all of November and into December ("... how many puppies are there inside... la la la la...") and finally I got to wondering. If I got Puppy Surprise, how many puppies WOULD there be inside?
Puppy Surprise fever began.
That Hanukkah... or Christmas (I don't remember which and I celebrated both- which a traveling Rabi recently told me sounded like a "very confused childhood.") I got a Puppy Surprise. Dreams do come true. But once I finally had it, I was afraid to open it. What if, I wondered, the puppies weren't just toys, but plastic-faced bean-bag-bodied messages from the universe? How was the amount and gender of puppies decided? Was it random? Were certain mom dogs fated for certain children? If you got 5 puppies rather than 3 was it because you deserved more? If you got 3 were you a bad person? If you got more boy puppies was it because you were a "tom boy"? Were the people who packed the puppies the same people who picked the messages that went in fortune cookies? Did this have to do my "karma"? Was this related to my horoscope? I was born in July, would effect my puppy count? Was this more than I could handle??
I opened the cottony abdomen of my mother dog and reached into her womb. I had 3 puppies. Only 3.
I've been thinking more and more about Puppy Surprise lately. It pops up in my head about once a week subconsciously to pull my life into a shape I understand (ugly stuffed dog.) Example: I think, 'Which part of my life should I focus on right now- music, writing, work, or education?' ("How many outcomes are there inside?") Dave tells me he's making me dinner, and what we're eating is... A SURPRISE. ("Will it 1 potato dish and 2 green vegetables?") and finally, the one comparison that made me realize how fucking much I think about Puppy Surprise: my Aunt's cancer.
My Aunt was diagnosed with cancer 3 or so weeks ago. After hearing that it was inoperable, my Mom and I decided to drop everything and make a road trip up to see her. As I sat with my Aunt through her first chemo session, I asked the nurse loads of questions and dutifully took notes (so I could research side effects of the medicines and learn more about lung cancer.) I asked what stage my Aunt was in. In response, the nurse gave me a string of code and told me what webpage I could go to decipher it. As I wrote down the mysterious digits that stood for tumor size and lymph node infection and thus, my Aunt's fate, I thought to myself,
"Oh my god this is JUST like Puppy Surprise."
How much cancer IS there inside?
I was never upset that I only got 3 puppies. I tossed the Mom Dog into my closet (after birthing my puppies she was rendered totally useless) and carried my 3 puppies with me everywhere. I loved them so much that I had convinced myself that their hard plastic faces were scented like candy. I slept with them at night giving them so much of my pillow that I used only 3 or so inches in the far right corner, afraid of making them uncomfortable. They weren't all I could have gotten, but they were what I had. Just like cancer is what my Aunt has.
So who knows? Will you play music and tour the world? Will you eat mashed potatoes for dinner? Will you find yourself hooked up to a chemo drip? Reach into the womb and find out. I don't know if it's fate, if some little girls are meant to get 3 puppies and some grown women meant to get cancer. I don't know if it has to do with their karma or their horoscopes. I'm unsure how July birthdays factor in. But I do know that we can't control where the puppies fall ("... there could be 3, or 4, or 5!") We can't always decipher their meanings ("And they're all different!") But we can rejoice in what we've been given, whether it's 3 puppies, or a long and happy life that makes it way, eventually ("Surprise! Surprise!") to radiation therapy.