As usual this time of year, I often think about all the things for which I feel thankful—of course, family always comes to mind first. I’m especially grateful my children had the opportunity to meet their great grandmother.

My mom has a sign outside her kitchen door that says “Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your kids!” I know she feels lucky to have 10 (!) grandchildren. Grandparents can play such a significant role in a child’s life, and I wish my children could have more time with my parents. They were relatively young when my dad died; my mom and stepdad live too far for regular visits. (Fortunately, my in-laws live closer and the boys have had some time at their home, too.) My children know how truly lucky they are to have grandparents and other special people in our extended family who would do anything for them at the drop of a hat.

So many kids move far from their homes now—whether they’re going off to college, finding a job or getting married. Not everyone lives close to their family and honestly, those of us with grandparents nearby are  the lucky ones.

Growing up, I don’t know what I would have done without my grandparents. I was seven when my parents split, and my grandfather became the father figure I needed on a daily basis. My grandmother—whose wonderful cooking my mother emulated—made us hot dinners as a break from leftovers when my mom had to work late. They lived nearby and their house was a refuge.

My grandparents had a successful business and made summer camp, youth group and even college a reality for me. We had a Florida vacation every year thanks to them. They were fun—and according to my mom, much better grandparents to me than they had been parents to her. I see that a lot. My own dad was much more comfortable with my children than he had been with me and my sister—though real down and dirty playfulness just really wasn’t his st‌yle.

My grandfather—who used to dig in the sand with me at the beach, and carry me on his back as he swam through the waves—was the first person close to me to die. I was 19 years old and so very fortunate to have had him in my life for that long. For me, it was tragic. I had visited him only a month earlier and he seemed just fine; he was taken much too soon from this world.

The good thing is that I will forever have this image of him etched into my mind: smiling while dancing with my grandmother in their Florida living room. My memories of him will always be of a happy, healthy 79-year-old man.

My grandmother lived much longer, until she was 90. She knew her great-grandchildren. But the last several years of her life were difficult—she had so many ailments and her quality of life took a downward spin very quickly. I hated to see the life drain from her.

At age 20, I became a “child” of a blended family. So rather than just one sister, I acquired another sister and two brothers. We never all lived together, but we became a family nonetheless. My parents—mother and stepfather—have ten grandchildren! Luckily for them, four of them live nearby. My two brothers live in the town where we all grew up and our parents take care of my nephews every Friday. They’re together at other times as well, though the weekly Fridays are a guarantee. It’s wonderful.

My in-laws live relatively nearby, so they used to babysit when our boys were little. But my husband is the youngest of four, and his parents are not so young, so regular caregiving wasn’t an option. Luckily for us, though, two of our nieces lived nearby when our kids were on the cusp of being alone after school—and it was cool to hang with older cousins, so they come over when we needed help… and even sometimes when we didn’t.

Grandparents, cousins, parents and more… As always at this time of year, I’m thankful for family—near and far.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Baby Fingers