Lead photo for page E1, with BERES, Dec. 24 ** NO CUTLINE **

The thing about being empty nesters — a prospect that once upon a time seemed so sad and lonely — is that it becomes enjoyably comfortable rather quickly. Rooms once cleaned, stay clean. The laundry no longer overflows with clothes waiting to be washed or folded. There’s no tripping over shoes left lying about.

No more yelling, “Pipe down,” to kids who keep vampire hours. No more turning off every light because some mysterious genetic malady has apparently rendered all of our offspring’s fingers incapable of the downward motion necessary to flip a switch off.

When it’s only the two of us, we don’t set the dining room table or put food in serving bowls and platters. (Why, when there are no extra hands to do the table-setting and the dishes?) Our evening meal is often enjoyed in that once verboten spot — plopped right in front of the TV. Yep, when it’s just me, my husband, and our 13-year-old beagle, life is pretty relaxed. Sometimes I look back on those earlier days and wonder how we ever survived — much less managed — five kids, two dogs, and two full-time jobs.

But it’s Yuletide, and to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, they do come home at Christmas. As I write this, we are excitedly preparing for all five to be home, plus a daughter-in-law, a grandson, and two more dogs. All will be home for three days. They’re coming from as far as Florida’s sunny climes and New York’s frosty Finger Lakes.

***

This is going to require some serious operational readiness to avoid a complete melee. We’ll both need to draw on our military training for Operation Christmas.

A storage room must be reconverted to a bedroom and single beds need reassembling. And where in the world did we put the extra leaves for the dining room table? A high chair, crib, and toys have to be retrieved from the attic and thoroughly cleaned off.

Our grandson is at the age where a desiccated, long-dead stink bug will either terrify him or end up in his mouth. Thank goodness those 25-year-old Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, and plastic green Army guys survived three boys and the test of time better than my husband and I did.

Our local grocery store can count on a nice bump in revenue over these several days. We’re going to need food, lots and lots of food. As I review an ever-growing shopping list, I notice “wine” somehow appears on the list more than once. Apparently I’m not the only one thinking a little Chardonnay or a nice red blend will help keep spirits bright.

***

Yep, the next few days are going to be hectic — and not just because of the logistical challenges. These aren’t children coming home. They’re young men and women. They have their own outlooks on life, their own political philosophies, and their own views on religion.

Despite our best efforts, some of them have had the audacity to develop different opinions and world views than my husband and me. One or two are at that necessary stage in life where they question everything they’ve learned from Catholic schools and teachings. (At least I’m telling myself it’s a stage.)

Dinner table conversations will be ... lively.

The politics of some sibs are diametrically opposed to what some of the others think. Around the dinner table, the decorations may be red and green but the politics are definitely red and blue.

Hopefully no one will mention that man — or that woman — who has caused so much divisiveness since 2016. But who am I kidding? It’s best to just sit back, smile placidly, and ignore. A rosary in one hand and a glass of wine in the other can be a crisis management tool for any situation. Maybe we’ll need more than just a little wine ...

Yes, it’s going to be bedlam, mayhem, and pandemonium under this roof. But it’s also going to be wonderful. It’s probably the last time all of my chicks will sleep at home at the same time. I’ll cherish that.

And we’re going to have an 18-month-old here for Christmas. A funny, happy delightful little imp, who when he tires and grows cranky or starts to squall, can be lovingly returned to his mother’s or father’s arms.

The keys to surviving and thriving this hectic time are love and humor and gratitude in near-equal doses. And, of course, good crisis management tools.

Yes, they do come home — and thank God they do. Merry Christmas!

mberes@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6305

Twitter: @RobinBeres

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