Sharon Randall - A house abloom with family and flowers

By SHARON RANDALLScripps Service Published:

The sunflowers that smiled for two weeks on my kitchen table stopped smiling today.

Actually, it wasn't just a single bunch of flowers. I'd been picking out the ones that faded and buying fresh ones to add to the vase as needed to keep them looking happy -- like me.

But today, after the oldest of my three children hugged me goodbye and drove away, I went back inside and looked at the sunflowers.

Their heads were bowed. Their stems were bent. Their petals littered the table.

They were done. So was I. Lucky for me, only one of us ended up in the trash.

In the six years since a job change forced my husband and me to move to Las Vegas, we've made countless trips back to California to visit our children and other family, including in recent years, three grandbabies.

We also issued an open and standing invitation for them to visit us, and have been delighted each time they've done so.

But coordinating the visits takes a bit of an effort. It's a little like herding snakes.

Before the grandbabies came along, my three and their others would come see us all at once, piling in like a litter of pups, sleeping anywhere they could, fighting for the bathroom, eating everything in sight.

My husband's two boys and their others did the same at other times of the year.

Talk about fun. We wouldn't take anything for those visits.

But adding babies to the mix changes things considerably in terms of schedules and space and sleeping arrangements.

So this time we tried to stagger the visits one family at a time.

While my husband's boys plan to see us in August or early fall, my three all showed up in July, arriving in reverse birth order: First, my youngest, his wife and 2-year-old Randy drove 10 hours from California to stay for a week and celebrate the Fourth of July.

Then last week, my daughter, her husband and 10-month-old Henry flew in for five days. And finally my oldest drove from L.A. for a long weekend.

I spent two weeks hanging on all their words, listening to their stories, watching them play like trained seals in the pool, seeing the light in their eyes, laughing and talking and cooking and eating and just being together.

And, oh, the babies. I wish you could see them. I got to feed them and change them and rock them to sleep. I read to them, sang to them and taught them silly rhymes. I even made them laugh just by shaking my head.

If being a mama is the hardest job I've ever known, being a nana is by far the easiest. But both are equally rewarding.

For two weeks, I soaked up my children and grandchildren the way the sunflowers on my table drained the water from the vase.

And then, one after the other, they had to go. With so little time between departures and arrivals, I didn't get a chance to miss them, didn't hear that awful sound -- the silence of a thousand empty spaces they left behind -- until this morning, watching my oldest drive away.

Then I heard it loud and clear.

But my husband, bless him, coaxed me out of the pit, so to speak, to help put the house and our lives back in order.

We pulled the sheets off the beds. Washed three loads of towels. Packed up the high chair and the porta-crib and enough great memories to hold us over until, please God, next time.

Then we went out, just the two of us, to float in the pool and talk about how blessed, how happy, how exhausted we were.

Tonight before I sleep, I'll give thanks for two fine weeks and the people, big and small, who filled them.

And tomorrow, I'll buy some more sunflowers.

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