For many parents, the Christmas holidays are the happiest days of the year. The children are home from college, everyone is in a good mood, and we learn what family celebrations are really about.

And so it is for my friends, Joene and Bill Gessner, who spend all of December counting their blessings - and talking about seeing them again.I stopped by to invite Bill and Joene to see a show "Tommy" with me, but Joene said, "We'd love to, but Cameron, Grant and Katie are home from school and we get so little time with them that we're not making any appointments for the next two weeks."

"I can understand that," I told Joene. "Where are the kids now?"

Bill said, "Katie is skiing in Sugarbush, Cameron went to visit his girl in Fort Lauderdale, and Grant is upstairs sleeping."

"At 1 in the afternoon?"

Joene tried to explain. "He didn't get in till 4 in the morning. We know because we watched old movies on TV all night waiting for him."

"Were you worried about him?"

"No, we just wanted to see what he looked like. Kids change so fast, you have to grab them while you can."

"Maybe you were hasty when you tore up your social calendar to spend time with the children. They don't appear to have much time for you," I suggested.

Bill sounded defensive. "That isn't true. Grant came down this morning at 10. He soon went back to bed."

Joene added, "We even talked for several minutes, and he told us many things about his life and what his hopes and dreams were for the future."

Bill turned to Joene and said, "Did you hear something? I think he's up."

I said, "I guess this is a big moment for me. I am rarely around when a college student is on his feet."

I then asked, "What are you guys doing New Year's Eve?"

"We're keeping it open in case the kids want to spend it with us. Last year they all went out, but perhaps this year we'll just build a lovely fire, roast chestnuts and sing `Auld Lang Syne' with their friends."

Bill told me, "They would never forgive us if we made plans for ourselves when they were home, even if they wanted no part of them."

"Out of curiosity, what do you talk about when the kids are home?"

"It's never happened," Joene confessed. "The minute they come in the door they throw their bags in the hall and are off to see their pals. We know that they're OK because we call the parents of their friends and they give us a full report. In turn we do the same for them."

"Well, if you change your mind about the show, let me know."

"We can't. We haven't heard from Cameron in a week. We have to stay here on the off chance that he could come through the door at any minute."