The tree stood proudly in the corner, tiny lights casting a twinkly glow on glossy balls and finely detailed wooden decorations. The popcorn and cranberry strands had, despite the presence of half a dozen small children, miraculously remained intact. Donna's swift glance took in the gifts under the tree, the music waiting on the piano, the couch, TV and bookshelves free of toys and books, the extra dining table set up in the middle of the room with another smaller one beside it for little people. Five-month-old Mikey was asleep in his baby seat at the end of the couch. Her husband, Jeff, was down in the basement, looking for more chairs.
"Mommy! Daddy! They're here!" The chorus of excited voices came from the top of the stairs.
"Okay, you kids can come on down now. And don't wake up the baby!" Donna's voice was lost in the thunder as five pairs of feet pounded down the bare wooden stairs from the attic bedrooms.
Suddenly the house was swarming with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, all from her husband's side of the family. Donna found herself embraced from all sides as they greeted her.
"That one yours?" Jake bellowed, nodding toward Mikey, who was now wide awake and gearing up for some bellowing of his own. "How many's that now? Seven? Eight?" Without waiting for an answer he clomped down to the basement, hollering for Jeff as he went.
"Six," Donna said to no one in particular as she bent to unbuckle the baby.
"Is there room in the oven for the sweet potato casserole?" Evelyn asked, her pleasant bulk filling the doorway.
"Where do you want the jello salad?" Jen called from the kitchen.
"Would you like the buns warmed up too?" Susan asked.
"Here, I'll take him!" Mom Bryan appeared out of nowhere, reaching for Mikey. "Looks like you're needed in the kitchen.
"I was just going to sit down with him. He needs to nurse," said Donna as she reluctantly handed him over.
Half an hour later everyone was seated around the tables, enjoying turkey dinner with all the fixings. Mikey, his tummy full, sat quietly in his mother's lap, his eyes following every movement. Donna savoured the moment of quiet as everyone filled their plates and began eating. She had intended to sit in the living room next to the small table where she could keep an eye on her children, but Evelyn had insisted on sitting there. Oh well... Tonya and Brandon could take care of their smaller siblings.
Mikey began to fuss and squirm, reaching for the food on his mother's plate.
"No, Mikey!" She spoke quietly but firmly.
"Here, let me take him," said Jen. "I'm done eating."
"No, I'm fine, really."
"You hold that baby far too much," said Dad Bryan from the opposite end of the table. "You spoil him like all the others. Give him to Jen."
Donna complied, with a glance at Jeff, who was deep in conversation with Bill and Bob.
"Hey!! Tonya, don't you drink out of Annie's cup! You should know better than that!"
"But Auntie Evelyn, it's too full. She'll spill it."
"I don't care! You don't drink from someone else's cup. And Brandon, for goodness sake go change your socks! Your feet stink."
Donna peeked into the living room in time to see Evelyn slap Tonya's wrist and give Brandon a shove in the direction of the stairs, with a comment to her husband about "too many kids" and "them being spoiled rotten." Knowing it was far from the truth, but that it would do no good to intervene without Jeff's cooperation and backing, Donna went back and sat down at the table.
After everyone had left, Jeff and Donna snuggled on the couch and watched the lights twinkle on the tree. The baby slept in his little seat, and the other children played with their new toys.
"Mmmmm, the house seems so quiet now that there are only eight of us here!" said Jeff with a laugh. "My family just sort of takes over, don't they?"
Donna thought of the many times Mikey had been taken from her against her will... the times her children had been scolded, and even slapped, unjustly and with her right there... and she knew it was time to tell Jeff just how she felt.
"Yes, they do. And I think it's time we had a little talk about that."
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