Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

Like the newest version of a Barbie doll, 6-month-old Kayla came to Grandma's house complete with a trendy wardrobe, bags of accessories and a smile that could melt the heart of any curmudgeon. My granddaughter Kayla led the parade of family members who arrived last week to celebrate my birthday. Saturday night, as I sat at our dining table and looked around at the people I love most, I couldn't help but remark, "This must be how Ma Walton felt."

My family came to see me and they came to eat. They looked forward to our "little" meals that took a week to plan and prepare. To them it all looked easy, an act I've managed to pull off with my kids their entire lives. Rick and I were the only ones who knew how much effort it took to decide on the menus, shop for the specific groceries and produce multiple "wow" breakfasts, lunches and dinners for eight adults, one infant and four dogs at just the right times.

Our grand-dogs Layla and Catalina are high-energy, high-maintenance, affectionate (lots of licking) pets. During their stay Rick was nicknamed the Dog Whisperer for his patience and willingness to take charge of anything dog-related. He fed them, watered them and picked up after them. When the two visiting dogs jumped on our bed at 5:30 a.m. Rick managed to quiet them down so we could get another hour of sleep. Our own dogs remained aloof and appalled, distancing themselves from their hyper relatives.My boys were in good form, obviously enjoying each other's company as well as all the food. The three of them ganged up on me, joking about things I said and did when they were little, and I found a deep laugh inside of me that I have not heard in a long time.

Sitting pretty in the high chair I got her for this visit, Kayla had her sleeves rolled up as she clutched the organic sodium-free, low sugar teething biscuits I bought her and alternately gummed them and dropped them on the floor. It seemed perfectly natural to have this beautiful little girl at the table chiming in with giggles and grunts. And I soaked in every magical moment.

Meanwhile, back at the office and at our printing plant, new hardware installations and software upgrades were keeping my crew busy. My Blackberry buzzed and beeped in my pocket. I chose to rely on the good people I work with to hold down the work fort and managed to stay away. There are times andndash; and the week you turn 60 is one of them andndash; when you put family first no matter what.

From the moment my first son arrived until the last one left, we had five fabulous days together. There were spurts of sunshine for a little golf, multiple beach walks and Saturday afternoon in my back yard watching Kayla discover fuchsias for the first time.

I had expected to be sad when they left, but sadness wasn't what I felt when my children drove away this time. I felt special and loved. I felt grateful and fortunate. I felt like I had just stepped into my next decade with the best send-off party I could have ever hoped for.