This year xmas has been hard for me, harder because the shock of Fred's passing is gone and I get to feel the loss full force. Let me tell ya, this once xmas elf was just not really feeling it at all. I normally decorate the day after thanksgiving. Normally I'm on a high while trying to find the perfect gifts, wrapping them up in perfection, the whole works. This year? I had trouble drumming up umph just to shop. I didn't decorate until like 3 days ago; and I didn't even put up most of the decorations. It does not help that xmas eve is an anniversary for Fred and I. I'm used to not only the flurry of last minute xmas prep but spending the day with him doing special little things we did together on that day. I waited to wrap until the 23rd for pete's sake and if Travis hadn't been front and center to help........it would not have gotten finished. Then Katie texts me that the kids are sick, won't answer my texts back to her.......and I'm like oh, well do I go get her or not? Then easy child phones me and tells me Connor tossed his cookies during nap time and Brandon isn't feeling so hot and do I mind her bringing them over in jammies? Gee add 2 more sick people......... So not feeling it today either. Katie responded when I called her, thankfully. I went to pick her up as planned. Discovered 3 super excited children who were about to explode with pride because each of them had either helped bake gifts or made them all by themselves for everyone. Not to mention the dessert for dinner. They were dressed nice and Katie had been surprised Kayla wanted to wear a dress (for me I'm sure lol ) when she "hates" them now. As I pulled into the drive Nichole and family arrived from her in laws. I had to get busy on my part of dinner..........so got busy doing that while gifts got added to other gifts and kids did what kids do and Nichole and Katie visited. Then easy child and family showed up........man that packs my house. lol We visited for a short while but it was either open gifts or starve.......because swear to god they were all over the house. Adults bought / made gifts for everyone. Children bought, made or baked gifts for everyone. When you have 15 people total.......that is a LOT of gifts. And while I tried not to "go crazy" because I was broke......well, Nana is not one to pass up either a serious bargain or a freebie. Grandkids wound up with one brand new special gift of something I knew they wanted, then 5 of these serious bargain or free gifts (which were like new, just with no boxes) Like the Harry Potter books I got for Darrin and Alex for .50 cents each were a major hit. We literally piled into the livingroom.......passed out gifts, which took forever. And something happened while I sat there watching my family. I'm not sure they were aware that while I was enjoying myself as clan matriarch I was also silently observing them closely. The love in that room warmed my heart and I thought to myself that Fred must be there with us and be so proud of his family. Grandchildren both excited over the magic that is xmas (especially xmas at Nana's house) and just as excited to be with extended family and cousins. Although income levels among the adults range from darn good down to nothing........not a single person, adult or child, thought twice about a homemade gift or a "cheap" gift or a 2nd hand gift. They were just as thrilled as they were with the brand new items, often more so. I watched Even jump up and down in utter delight as he opened his 2nd hand Toy Story playset and figures. I saw Brandon's eyes light up when he opened Handy Manny that he'd "helped" me carry to the cash register in a 2nd hand shop (hugging and kissing him) and he found out that it was for HIM. I watch 2 boys hug those Harry Potter books I found for them. I heard Kayla squeal in delight with the black velvet purse with the scotty dog on it I'd found her. I heard the sincere thanks my grandchildren gave over gifts made/bought for each other. I saw Aubrey hug (literally) the beautiful embroidered cardigan sweater I found her at Good Will........... Not just the children. I was thrilled to discover the peppermint candy pillows Nichole worked so hard to crochet as her first real project were for ME. I was so surprised! Katie was so happy to get the really nice 2nd hand but beautiful wooden recipe box I'd found....and to discover I'd included a packet of index cards AND some of the easier family recipes to get her started. I think easy child was shocked when she opened a surgical kit from Nichole and her husband. lol Just the thought that went into each gift.......you could see it. You could see it in the recipients reactions. Didn't matter if that gift was free or cost 50 bucks. Manners abounded. The genuine appreciation. The laughter. Yes, something happened to me while I sat there watching them today. There is nothing any mother could ever want more than to see that her children have learned what she spent a lifetime trying so very hard to teach, and that those lessons were recognized as valuable enough to be passed down to her grandchildren. My kids are "getting it". I'm not sure I can even put what "it" is into words per se. We're family. Strong bonds of love that might be tested often, but can't be broken. We are a family made up of difficult children. I'd venture to guess we probably have more than our fair share. Not that it matters much. I was raised in a family/extended family full of difficult children of varying degrees of severity. In this family you'll be accepted regardless. We don't expect perfection. Instead we do our best to love each other for the people we are and to enjoy each other. We don't focus on material things that can be fleeting, we focus on each other and the time we have to spend together. Whether we're dirt poor or well to do, we're generous nearly to a fault. We can have our difficult child drama and move past it and keep right on loving regardless. I had to bite my tongue when I saw the look of shock on Katie's and her kids faces when she discovered there were presents for her biomom as well. Oh, not a lot, but we didn't forget her. I picked her up a little something nice and Nichole made her some of her favorite xmas candy. I even debated on doing so for M, but I thought better of opening that can of gfgness right now. This is just what it's all about. And I don't mean xmas. Christmas is just a holiday that reminds us (sometimes only briefly), put it's in our faces of what the true meaning of our lives here are about. Katie and her children have lived through I don't know what all hades on earth. They need this so very much. I knew Katie felt accepted today. I knew she felt the love of her family. I know because I could see it in her eyes and her body language. Kayla, Alex, and Evan were soaking it up like a sponge. They all need to know that no matter how hard life is or what you face, family is always there in some way to make it better to ease the burden, to accept and love you regardless. (even when you might think they aren't) I suspect the deal with "the kids being sick" was M giving Katie hassle over coming to dinner and whatever else. (kids seemed to have no knowledge of being sick) I was proud of Katie for coming regardless. Sometimes it is learning it's worth it to fight and win the little battles that gives you the confidence to fight the big ones. I was missing Fred something terrible this month, with a burning intensity on xmas eve especially. For the first time in my life, regardless of what I've been through, I understood how someone could think of xmas as bah humbug or painful or just plain not worth it or whatever. Today my kids and grandchildren reminded me of why it's so important, of why I am here, of what my job is while I'm here. I know Fred was with us today feeling just as proud as I am. I received some wonderful gifts today. But that was the best gift of all. With this sentimental and a bit sappy post, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.