Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

Do you ever lie in bed at night unable to fall asleep? For the last few weeks, since I discovered that none of my children would be coming home for Christmas, I've been counting Christmases at night instead of sheep. Thirty of them since I've had children.

Some are easier to remember: the twins' first Christmas in Hawaii, 1977. They were 6 months old and oblivious to the presents. They preferred to sit on the bench of my old piano in their diapers, banging on the keys, looking up at me with big smiles. That's one of my favorite photos.

There would be three more Hawaiian Christmases if you count 1980 when we boarded a plane in Honolulu on Christmas afternoon and flew to Portland, Ore. All our earthly belongings including our Dasher wagon had been shipped in a container to the port of Portland. We spent the day after Christmas at the sales in Lloyd Center buying jackets, boots and gloves before driving to Grants Pass to find a home for us and our stuff.

Our first Christmas in Grants Pass the twins were 4 and a half and I

was 5 months pregnant with their baby brother. Dana's first Christmas

was the following December. I still have his "Baby's first Christmas,

1982" ornament. There would be eight more wonderful Christmas mornings

at that house before we moved across town. We now had a home with a

huge picture window perfect for the grandest Christmas tree and the

three handsome young men growing taller each year in front of it.

I spoiled the boys when I could. Toys, train sets, bikes, video games

and clothes with the Nike swoosh. It was much different than my

childhood experience. My parents would ask me what I wanted for

Christmas. One thing. If it was reasonable I got it, like my first

transistor radio in 1962. Mom and dad always said they would rather

give me "one nice gift rather than a lot of junk." And every year my

parents begged, "Please don't get us anything this year. We already

have everything we need."

This year I bought practical gifts. I went up north earlier this month

and brought Matt and Val cheeses, jams and home-baked goodies. Dana and

Holly got canning jars for next summer's harvest and torches to light

up their patio. Collin and Pattie, who love to cook, got kitchen

gadgets with their subscription to Cooking Light.

"Please," I told each of my children when I visited them, "don't get me

anything. I already have everything I need. Just send me a mushy card."

I'm fighting off feeling sad about us not being together this

Christmas. I remind myself the weather's awful and I'd be worried sick

about them coming and going. We'll get together when we all have a few

days off in the new year and the roads are clear.

While I've been counting Christmases, I couldn't help but count my

blessings, too. I am not like some moms I know who will never enjoy

Christmas with their children again. It was not my son who was struck

down on the highway that cold January morning; it was not my daughter

who was savagely thrown over a bridge; it was not my son who took his

last breath far from home in Afghanistan. For those moms the sadness

never ends.

I have nothing to be sad about this Christmas. My mushy cards are on

their way and although I was not expecting any gifts, one arrived

Saturday. While I was straightening up a stack of my cookbooks, a piece

of paper floated to the floor. The plain white stationery was covered

in neat lines of perfect penmanship. I have not seen that handwriting

in years, but I recognized it instantly. "My favorite pineapple upside

down cake" was the title of the recipe.

Mom showed up like she sometimes does, when I least expect it. This

time she wanted me to find her tried and true cake recipe - the one she

baked for every special occasion and holiday, including our last

Christmas together in 1988. When the boys come to see me next year I'll

make Mom's cake for us.

Merry Christmas.