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They rarely ever call before they show up. Most of them stopped knocking months ago. They just walk right in and make themselves at home.

They come from everywhere. They range in age from five to twenty. They are our children, a niece, a nephew, and the son of my cousin. Some of them are friends from school and some of them live down the road. A couple of them are the girls that used to babysit for us, and of course, their boyfriends.

They are football players, cheerleaders, choir members and cello players. One of them is the little girl that recently quit ballet to play flag football (she’s one of ours)! Last weekend, nineteen of them showed up at once. Twelve spent the night.

This house has seen the best and worst of them. The kitchen is like a grazing pasture for cattle. There are places in the yard where grass will never grow again. I mop at least three times a day. Because, if social workers show up here, they will never believe that I “just mopped this morning.” Last summer, we decided not to repaint the hallway again...after we finished the sixth coat of paint.

To maintain order, the house rules are written on a big poster board in the hallway. Everyone has read them, signed them and then reread them again … twice. But sometimes, we still break the rules. Every now and then, we watch a movie that’s not so “age appropriate.” Then, we sleep with the lights on.

I know everything there is to know about their lives. I know who got grounded for a bad report card and who got straight A’s. I know who was voted “hottest girl in the sixth grade.” Unfortunately, I know whose dad didn’t show up for visitation last weekend...again.

Most of the time, they come here to have fun. They play, hang out, gossip and sit up all night, giggling into their pillows.

Other times, they show up when their heart needs to heal. This is where they come when dads and girlfriends break their hearts or the world had become too much to bear. I have watched them fall apart. But, I’ve also watched them pick up the pieces and move on.

Someday, they will all grow up. They will go away to college or get jobs. They will get married, start families and probably buy a home of their own. Some of them may even move away. They will probably forget to send Christmas cards. They will most definitely forget about the cars they promised to buy us when they sign their contracts with the NFL.

Then, we will repaint the hallway and buy new carpet. We will finally be able to use the gazebo for something other than a little girl’s playhouse. We may even downsize to a smaller house.

But for now, this is home. It is our home. It is their home. And quite honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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