Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions... or life long ambitions?



 Like many of us, as a New Year dawns, I am prone to make resolutions – promises, both small and grand, that I make to myself to be better, do better, do more.  As I look ahead to 2012, I decided to look back to this time last year and share what I wrote at the dawn of 2011.  It makes just as much sense now as it did then.  And for the record, I survived turning 40 but still long for a weekend away… all of which will make sense after you read this…

This year, as I teeter on the edge of 40 and ponder what 2011 may hold, I’ve decided to rethink my resolutions. I’ve decided that since there’s an undeniable pattern in my annual goals (exercise more, save more money, find time for date nights!), why limit them to a calendar year? Why not think of resolutions as long-term ambitions? Maybe it’s a cop out. Maybe I’m letting myself off the hook by lifting the 12.31.11 deadline but, on the other hand, maybe I’m giving myself the chance to truly be a better person and lead a better life. It is with this hope, intention and optimism in mind that I share with you my goals for 2011… and beyond.

 I would like to yell less and listen more. I’d like to really listen, to actually hear what my children and my husband have to say. To take the time to digest and respond to their comments, thoughts and requests with more than my typically breezy “yup, uh-huh, sure” or “what’d ya say, hon?”

I’d like to be more present and less distracted. To live in the moment. To savor the moment. To recognize that it’s not always necessary (or productive!) to fold the laundry while helping with homework and assisting with puzzles and Lego creations. To realize that the homework, puzzles and Legos matter far more than neatly folded towels! To remember that multi-tasking has its limits and ultimately, gets in the way of really listening, being present and living in the moment.

I’d like to be more grateful for what I do have rather than longing for what I do not. I’d like to truly appreciate the little things that matter and stop yearning for the big things that don't. I’d like to start each day with a smile and end it the same way. I’d like to be a better wife and more patient parent. I’d like to instill my children with a sense of confidence in themselves and respect for others.

I’d like to set a good example – something I’m not always prone to do, especially toward the end of the day when I’m as tired and hungry as my five little “Cubs”; I’ve been known to try to outshout them just to be heard and trust me, this doesn’t work. Not to mention, it does nothing for your esteem to know that you’ve stooped to the level of a pre-schooler!

Come to think of it, perhaps I’m resolving to simply stop acting like the many pre-schoolers who inhabit our home. All I need to do is be a better listener, focus on the task at hand and take time to appreciate (rather than sweat!) the small stuff… including, for example, all the arts & crafts projects our little Cubs create.  If I’m lucky, this year’s projects will include a few nice birthday cards wishing me a Happy 40th and I'll be perfectly happy with just that. Although, of course, the party and weekend away would be nice too!  :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas reflections: The good, bad and merry!


In the days leading up to Christmas, people often said things like "It must be great to have all those kids on Christmas!" Or, "Wow, Christmas in your house must really be something!"  It is great to have "all those kids" on Christmas (and the other 364 days of the year!) and this year, our Christmas really was something.  Something like this.

It started at 5:15AM because little Mac couldn't find his "Wawa" and was wailing like a madman.  That smelly, soggy "Wawa", as it turns out, was right underneath him the whole time.  With that crisis solved, we sighed, rolled over and said a prayer that we would fall back asleep until sunrise.  No such luck.

At 5:30, Liam appeared in our room. You might think he was there because of the excitement of Christmas and anticipation of opening his gifts but alas, that was not the case.  As it turned out, the reason for his pre-dawn appearance was a bloody nose. A very bloody nose.  

It was about 6:00 when that nose stopped bleeding and Ciara got up to pee... and ask if it was time to open presents yet.  This reminded Liam that it was indeed Christmas and started the frenzied repetition of "Did Santa come? Can we go downstairs? Did Santa come? Can we go downstairs? Did Santa come?" You get the idea.

We managed to hold them at bay until about 7:30, which was no easy task.  Liam and Ciara took a peek downstairs and scampered back up announcing, as if with a megaphone, that "Santa came! Santa CAME!  SANTA CAME!"  These whoops of joy awoke the triplets -- all of whom, until then, had been peacefully slumbering with their respective WaWas.  

What happened in the next two hours is unclear.  Perhaps because my husband and I were so tired, we couldn't see straight -- not to mention the fact that it was especially hard to see through the flying gift wrap, bubble wrap, boxes and tissue paper that blew across our living room much like last year's Christmas blizzard blew across the Northeast.  It is also possible that our memories of the gargantuan gift opening are vague because our camera batteries died at roughly 7:32, just as the kids were coming down the stairs. I'm not sure how it happened, but Christmas Day dawned without a single AA battery to be found in the Lyons Den; next year, I'm putting batteries on my list for Santa!

At around 10:00, we were putting away dishes from our Christmas Eve dinner and getting ready for breakfast; as I reached up to get the silver chest out of a cabinet, a stack of dessert plates came careening down onto my head, shattering on the floor around me.  Needless to say, this just about shattered my Christmas spirit.  And, my scalp.

With that mess cleaned up and pancakes and bacon on the table, we all enjoyed a merry breakfast.  All of us except Ciara, who suddenly looked flushed, dazed and confused.  Out of nowhere, the poor girl spiked a fever of 102 and was whisked off to bed.  Where she slept for two hours.  Leaving me to wonder, "any chance I could spike a fever and get a two hour nap out of the deal?!"

By around 1:30, Ciara was up (and pumped up with Tylenol) and we went over the river and through the woods (well, over the river, anyway!), to my parents house, where we had a truly wonderful time.  It was a remarkable, memorable and magical Christmas with generations of family visiting and exchanging gifts.  It was really very Norman Rockwell.  The fire was crackling, the music was playing, the kids weren't fighting, it was all good.  Very good. And very much the way Christmas should be.

Of course, this little reverie was abruptly broken when we returned home; Declan had a fit because he couldn't find his Hexbugs, Kevin peed on the rug and a quick glance in the mirror informed me that I received a zit the size of Texas for Christmas.  Oh well.  Such is life.  And I will take it.  All of it.  The good, the bad, and the merry.  Because really, on Christmas and every other day of the year, life with "all those kids" will undoubtedly have ample bits of good, bad and merry.  And I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Keep it Simple

With the Christmas spirit still lingering, I am reminded once again of the simplest of tips for dealing with simple little minds. I mean no disrespect to the keen curiosity and growing intellectual capacity of our little crew of kids now seven, five and three (times three!) but, when it comes right down to it, we would all do well to remember these sage words "Keep it simple stupid!"  If you have convinced your kids that "stupid" is a bad word, as I apparently have, well then, "Keep it Simple" will do the trick.

Consider, for instance, Christmas presents.  I struggled, as I have for years now, to find the perfect gifts, in the perfect quantities, carefully wrapped and perfectly presented in stockings and under the tree.  The reality, as any parent knows, is that it's all over in the blink of an eye  -- and the kids don't care how it's wrapped, if it has a ribbon or even what's inside.  While our children have outgrown the days when an empty box would suffice (note to others: this just might be the perfect gift for 12-18 month olds!), they seem to be equally pleased with puzzles and pajamas.  I suppose my oldest, Liam, does aspire for gifts of greater magnitude (like the 3-DS, for example, which he didn't get but, managed to have a Merry Christmas anyway), but for the most part, they are happy just to have a present.  And small presents are just as good as big ones.

Then there's Christmas dinner.  I give my Mom and Dad a lot of credit -- not only for having us all over (again!) but for creating a crowd-pleasing meal for all ages.  We had a traditional Christmas ham, my Dad's "famous" potatoes, my sister's equally famous mac & cheese and a hearty helping of green beans on the side.  I've never seen my kids gobble down so much so fast.  Simple, as it turns out, is extremely satisfying!

Last but not least, there was today's adventure into the city to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and their two tiny tots.  My husband had to work so I was flying so solo and admit to being slightly intimidated by the notion of dragging our five tykes across town, downtown and through the park to the Central Park Zoo.  In the rain.  So we came up with Plan B.  We would go to the Children's Museum of Manhattan.  Also in the rain.  And farther away.  So then there was Plan C.  Gymboree had "free play" until 3:00.  But it was already 1:30 and would be hardly worth our while once we got there.  So, Plan D was a trip to Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street, which has a great children's reading area.  You know what ended up happening?  Plan E.  Staying put and hanging out in my sister's apartment, where we read books, played trains and Legos, and  ate more of her famous mac & cheese.  The kids were thrilled... and warm and dry too. 

The morale of the story?  When it comes to tots, simple truly is better.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Holiday Sanity Savers



With five days until Christmas, here are five stress busting sanity savers.  Think of it as your holiday survival guide courtesy of the Lyons Den and feel free to pass it on!

  1. Drink. A lot.  Though it's tempting to toss back the eggnog and mulled wine, I'm actually referring to copious amounts of coffee.  At this point, strong, hot, freshly brewed coffee may be the only way you can cross every last item off your list.  Since too much coffee may give you the jitters, be sure to follow each steaming cup with a big glass of water.  And, if you're heart is still racing by nightfall, well, maybe it's time to resort to the eggnog and wine after all!
  2. Make a run for it.  While you will undoubtedly be making a last minute run to the mall or the grocery store, I strongly suggest you tie on your sneakers and hit the road running.  It will clear your mind, burn off some of that caffeine, alleviate the eggnog guilt and surely leave you in a better mental state. If you run far enough, it may actually land you in another state altogether, prolonging your break from the mayhem at home.
  3. Fake it. My to-do list currently includes baking five types of cookies, two kinds of bread and planning a Christmas Eve dinner for 25.  My calendar currently includes four days of back to back meetings as we wrap up the year at work and then attempt to squeeze in a year's worth of merriment and socializing at night.  So, this year, the cookies may come from a local bakery and the lasagna might be store-made. My holiday motto is quickly becoming "Fake it, don't make it."
  4. Be a quitter. We just spent our evening addressing what seemed like a zillion Christmas card envelopes. By hand.  The home printer is on the fritz and we were hellbent on getting it done tonight. You know what? We didn't. You know what else? I forgot to order those cute return address labels and I'm outta steam.  I refuse to write our return address on a zillion envelopes. I quit.  If you don't get your card, I'm sorry but I think you'll still be my friend and if you're family, I know you're stuck with me. So, that's it.  When it comes to Christmas cards, I quit... and suggest you find something to quit too.  It feels great!
  5. Enough is enough. With five kids, it's easy to go overboard.  While the family budget is always an issue, I find it difficult to resist filling the stockings and stacking oodles of gifts under the tree.  I drive myself crazy making sure each kid has the same amount of gifts from Santa and from us; if one gets socks in their stocking, all of them need socks in their stockings.  With five days to go, I've made a good attempt but really, enough is enough!  If the gifts aren't even-Steven, that's going to be Santa's fault, not mine!  It's time to call it quits (see point 4), settle in and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine (see point 1).
Happy Holidays! 

Twas the weekend before Christmas...


The countdown is on.  It’s official.  There are now only six days until Christmas.  I had hoped to cross a lot off my list this past weekend but instead, I found myself doing something most unusual – actually enjoying the holiday season. 

It started on Thursday night, at our office Christmas party.   I’m very lucky in that I really like my job and I really like the people I work with -- which I suppose is why I stayed out far too late and opted for that extra glass of wine instead of scurrying home to wrap gifts. 

On Friday night, my husband and I went on a date.  It had been planned for a while and, as you likely know, dates are mission-critical to a good marriage  -- which is mission-critical to raising five (hopefully good!) kids so, although that pile of gifts was still begging to be wrapped, out we went.  

On Saturday, we had not one but TWO local Christmas parties to attend. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but we were off the social circuit for a few years.  I think people just assumed that we wouldn’t be able to leave the house with three newborns and two toddlers in tow– or, worse yet, afraid that we would!  Either way, we spent several Christmas seasons searching the mailbox for invitations that never came.  Now that they have arrived, so too have we; after a brief hiatus, we are back on the social scene and very happy to be there!

The merriment continued on Sunday at our church’s annual pageant; our oldest, seven-year old Liam, was cast as one of the three kings.  Poor Liam had perhaps enjoyed too many Christmas cookies at the aforementioned parties and spent much of late Saturday night and early Sunday morning praying to the porcelain god; the poor fella was so sick that we considered rewriting history and suggesting the pageant go on with only two kings.  But alas, like a Christmas miracle, Liam perked up, popped on his costume and marched down the aisle, bearing those gifts as this weepy Mom was overcome, once again, with emotion.

What is it about children singing Silent Night or Oh Holy Night that starts the tear ducts flowing?  Is it their youthful innocence? Was it the fact that I was surrounded by our other four kids, my parents and grandparents and thinking of just how lucky I am – we are – to have each other this holiday season?  Or was it the knowledge that the clock was ticking and I was now in a race against time to finish wrapping those darn gifts, writing the cards, baking the cookies and planning our Christmas Eve dinner?!

I think the was the former, not the latter.  I think it was the realization that with less than a week before Christmas, I already have what matters most.  Family, friends, yes, even a small suburban social life!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Easy weeknight dinners

I'm constantly asked how I get dinner on the table for our brood -- especially after a long day of work when tension is high and energy is low... speaking for myself, anyway!  The answer is that sometimes I do it better than others; tonight was kind of a low point.  The main entree was "Dinner Eggs" -- your basic scrambled eggs served with a side of toast and vanilla yogurt as dessert.  Last week, we fared much better -- we had the kind of plan we strive for, which included making a double batch of Giada's chicken stew on Sunday night and repurposing it over the course of the week -- one night we had it over rice, one night we added kale and one night an extra can of beans and egg noodles made it a hearty meal our hungry clan.

A gameplan is often the key to our success and I shared some of my plan-ahead tips in an earlier post that you can check out here:  Lyons Den Tips for easy weeknight dinners. 

As much as I would like to prevent "picky palate syndrome" and expose our kids to a broad range of meals, tastes and flavors, I admit to having a few tried and true staples that I go back to again and again.  I was raised this way myself.  In the O'Connor household in the late 70s and early 80s, you could count on Meatloaf on Mondays, Shake and Bake Chicken on Tuesdays, Meatballs and Spaghetti on Wednesdays and some sort of chicken casserole made with Campbell's Condensed Mushroom soup on Thursday.  On Fridays, it was pizza or fish sticks. Saturday was often burger night and on Sundays, my Dad would cook -- often an Irish stew or other "meat and potatoes" meal.  It seems pretty clear that my Mom had some standards she relied on and the reality is that I do too;  you can find them here: Quick friendly weeknight meals.

As much as we all appreciate and rely on the standards, it's always good to branch out and try new things.  With that in mind, here are some of my favorite family friendly sites for simple, crowd-pleasing dinners:
  • Check out The Food Yenta for an amazing archive of recipes for both everyday and entertaining... including her famous apple chips for a healthy kid-friendly snack.
  • For great recipes, amazing stories and a side portion of user-friendly gardening tips, check out Donuts, Dresses and Dirt -- the cornflake crusted chicken has become of of our family's favorites
  • Jodi's Kitchen and Home is another great resource. In her own words, Jodi is raising a kid in the kitchen and writing about it. With the winter chill setting in, her Braised Short Rib and Potato Pot Pie is a must try.
I'll continue to share my go-to solutions for the inevitable weeknight mayhem and hope that you will too!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 10 Signs the Christmas season has arrived



There were several moments this week when I knew the Christmas spirit had officially entered the Lyons Den.  Granted, if you were to go by the store windows, the Christmas season actually started the day after Halloween but, we like to take things a bit more slowly around here... or, perhaps better put, we have to take things a bit more slowly. Between birthdays and work days and play dates and sick days, it's hard to even find the time to trim the tree.  And, as I recently discovered, sometimes the spirit of Christmas sneaks into the most unsuspecting of places.  Here are my Top 10 signs that it's officially Christmas in the Lyons Den.

  1. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.  Well, perhaps not with all that much care but, they are definitely there!  All seven of them plus one for the dog that still needs a hook.  Hopefully that hook will arrive before Christmas. 
  2. Our porch is glistening with twinkly Christmas lights. I'm a white light gal myself but, after spending the better part of an afternoon searching for the one in a million replacement bulb on our ten year old strand, my poor hubby tossed in the towel, hightailed it to Home Depot and purchased the brightest lights you've ever seen.  The first night they welcomed me home from work, I thought there was a cop car or disco ball on our porch. So much for a "white" Christmas!
  3. The kids have all decided what they want from Santa... and the triplets have once again confirmed that "identical" only goes so far.  One wants a teddy bear and Pokemon cards (I suspect his big brother planted that seed!), one wants puzzles and much to my husband's dismay, one wants a "baby and a stroller."  Got it Santa? 
  4. The aroma of Christmas is in the air.  In addition to a fondness for white lights, I also have a keen appreciation for Christmas candles; I've always loved the welcoming smell of cinnamon and that seasonal sniff of evergreen.  I appreciate it even more now that my house is a urinal.  With three three-year old whizzers freeing willy whenever and wherever they can, our house typically stinks like a city subway in the summer heat. In a word: piss.  Thankfully, eau de pee has been replaced by Mrs. Meyer's long-burning scents of the season and I for one am thrilled. 
  5. The dog is wearing reindeer antlers.  That poor pet whose stocking has yet to be hung has been temporarily transformed into a reindeer.  What amazes me most is that he actually puts up with it.  I swear he knows we're laughing at him yet he just hangs his head and tolerates it.  If that stocking ever gets hung, it really should be filled with a whole lot of dog treats!
  6. The kids are wearing Santa hats.  Well, two of them are anyway.  The other three are miserable because they don't have Santa hats but, well, Christmas is coming!
  7. We had -- and survived -- the annual Christmas tree debate. The whole "it's too fat/thin/tall/short/crooked" altercation never gets old for us.  We just can't agree on a tree.  So this year, we decided to let the kids pick it; this way, if it's not absolutely perfect, we can blame them. And we did.  Our goofy tree is as crooked as can be and looks like someone took a hacksaw to one side. Next year, we pick the tree!
  8. We had -- and survived -- the annual family Secret Santa ritual.  Needless to say, there are very few secrets but the names have been chosen and the shopping is underway.  Credit to my sister for finding this great site if you're in need of some Secret Santa logistical assistance: www.drawnames.com
  9. I cried. I don't what it is about Christmas-time but it makes me super-sentimental.  The songs, watching my kids watch the classics of my childhood (Rudolph, Frosty, etc.), it all gets the tears flowing.  Fortunately, laughter often follows -- especially when my tots ask things like "what we watching for?" in response to the opening line of "Santa Clause is coming to town."  My feisty fella had a point, what are we watching out for anyway?!
  10. I had a moment when I felt truly blessed and grateful for all I have and, in particular, for my family.  And, in particular, for my sister.  This is the one that happened in the most unsuspecting of places -- a dressing room in the lingerie department of Lord & Taylor while she breastfed her three week old daughter.  There we were.  Three girls surrounded by bras, just having girl talk.  It was that simple.  And that awesome. 
I was suddenly filled with the spirit of Christmas which, for me, is more than those garish lights that grace our porch or the stockings that grace our mantle or the hats or antlers that grace the heads around me.  It's what's in those heads that counts.  And what's in mine, for the moment at least, is a sense of wonder for our incredible family.  I'm going to enjoy while it lasts because I'm pretty sure this wonder will fade once the house smells like a urinal again! :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Surviving the Trying Three's

The good news is that you survived the "terrible twos."  The bad news is that no one really tells you about the "trying threes" -- the age from roughly 36-48 months when your toddler makes the official transition to a full-blown kid and in the process, tries everything -- especially your patience!  He will try potty-training... and keep trying until he finally gets it right.  He will try to climb out of the crib... and keep trying until you get him a big boy bed.  He will try dumping water out of the bathtub, coloring on walls, throwing food, resisting the car seat and insisting on having virtually everything his way. Through all of this, you will be trying very hard not to lose your mind and, if you're at all like me, you will find your gray hairs multiplying at an alarming pace!

Fret not though, this too shall pass. Since I currently am dealing with a trio of three year-olds and have two other tykes that have survived and made it to five and seven years old respectively, here are a few tips that help me maintain my so-called sanity during this "trying" time.

  • Stoop to their level.  Literally. Get down on the floor and look your three year old in the eye when they are misbehaving. Whether they are screaming, crying, yelling, kicking or whatever it may be, they seem to respond well to people on their own level.  They seem to appreciate the effort it takes for a "big" person to look them in the face and treat them as an equal, if only for a moment.  So get down there, look them in the eye, speak in soft tones and try to have an "adult" conversation.  You'll be amazed at how quickly they quiet down and then eventually climb into your lap.  This is your moment. Seize it. Explain what was wrong with the outburst and then hug, cuddle, snuggle and enjoy having this small person in your lap while they still fit there!
  • Make 'em laugh.  Whether you're dealing with a three year old or not, laughter is often the best medicine.  Be silly.  Show them how to make light of a tough situation.  Maybe they are frustrated by a puzzle. Perhaps their Lego tower just crumbled to the ground, taking their sense of achievement down with it.  Whatever it may be, silliness and laughter is a great way to create a diversion, to literally turn that frown upside down. Get a giggle out of your tot and before you know it, they'll be happily on to the next thing.
  • Be consistent. I feel like I say this a lot but I truly believe that consistency is the key to success and harmony in a house full of tots!  They like to know what to expect and they need to be taught consequences.  My guys expect 2 M&Ms every time they poop on the potty and they hold me to it. A few M&Ms seems like a small price to pay to avoid changing poopy diapers!  
  • Take a break.  I am truly blessed because even with five kids and a full time job, I do get to take a break now and again; I think it's critically important.  As the saying goes, a happy mom makes a happy family.  Be sure to take time for you and find the time to do what makes you happy -- whether it's a morning run, evening bath, glass of wine, the latest issue of People or a Girls Night Out, just do it.  You deserve to take a break and you'll be a better Mom for it... for the "trying threes" and all the parenting adventures that follow!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Birthday wishes for our seven year old



Our firstborn Liam turned seven years old this week.  As my husband and I wrapped his gifts the night before, we recalled that night seven years ago... the night we left our apartment on the Upper East Side in New York City.  I was clutching my pillow, he was clutching my hand.  We were both petrified.  We were about to become parents.  We weren't ready.  We didn't know what to do.  We got into a cab and got out at Lenox Hill Hospital, knowing we would leave a few days later with a baby.  Our baby.

As it turns out, our baby wasn't all that eager to meet us.  He didn't want to come out.  He went into distress.  The nurses and doctors went into distress. I was distressed! Before I knew what hit me, I was swept out of the lovely labor and delivery suite and into the blinding lights of an operating room for an emergency C-section.  In mere moments, I was handed a baby boy.  A big baby boy.  Liam weighed  9 pounds, 1 ounce and I swear he smiled up at me as I looked down, wondering what to do this brand new, rosy bundle of joy.

Seven years later, I still find myself wondering what to do.  And he still smiles up at me.  As  I think about the past seven years, I realize that we've learned a lot -- as parents and as people.  When Liam was born, my husband Des had two wishes for him:
  1. That he be Catholic
  2. That he be a Yankee Fan
 
These wishes have come true.  Our little guy goes to church every Sunday and like his Dad, thinks of Yankee Stadium as a cathedral in its own right.  His seventh birthday gave me pause to think about my wishes for our little boy. For our firstborn... and, in fact for the four that followed him as well...
  • I want them to be happy, well-adjusted, confident.  To accept who they are.  To leverage their strengths and acknowledge their weakness.  To smile. A lot. From the inside out.
  • I want them to be humble and helpful. To be grateful for what they have and to help those who have not.
  • I want them to do all the things those cheesy posters say -- to laugh loud and laugh often, to dance with abandon, to love with all their hearts.
  • I want them to be honest, with me and with others. I want them to treat others with respect and kindness, do the right thing, set a good example.
 
I think one of the hardest parts of being a parent is realizing that in having these wishes for our children -- these lofty ambitions and big dreams -- we need to set the right example ourselves. And it's not always easy.  In fact, when faced with sleep deprivation, cranky toddlers, stressful jobs and everything else that life throws your way, it can be really hard.  But, when those little faces smile up at you, it is so worth it.  And really, they have no clue you don't know what you're doing.  They believe in you... and they have from that very first moment they gazed into your eyes.  Personally, I’m not quite sure why but, I’m going to go with it.  All in all, our little Liam has given us an amazing seven years and a lot to look forward to in the years to come. Happy Birthday to my sweet sweet seven year old!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Tip: A plan for tiny Santa Skeptics

Tiny Believers in Santa
As a mom of many, keeping the mystique of Santa alive and well is a priority for me this Christmas season.  My oldest turns seven today (stay tuned for some thoughts on how those years flew by so quickly!), the next in line is five and the three little fellas pictured above are now three years old.  They all have a healthy curiosity about pretty much everything and, while the bigger two can be skeptical at times, they more often than not believe what I tell them -- especially as it relates to the things they want to believe in, like the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and, of course Santa Claus.

Keeping the magic alive gets harder when the grammar school years arrive.  If your kid isn't a skeptic, they will meet a kid on the bus or playground or classroom who will tell them that "Santa isn't real" or "only babies believe in Santa."  When your wee one comes home with this news, it will break your heart.  Here are a few tips to get (or keep) things back on track -- to keep the faith in Santa this year and hopefully, for many more to come!

  1. Santa has a LOT of helpers.  Once they hit a certain age (somewhere between three and six for my little clan of elves), kids will start to question how Santa can be at the mall AND the Christmas tree lot AND on every street corner ringing a bell AND on TV.  This tricky line of toddler interrogation can be easily navigated by introducing the notion of Santa's helpers.  I mean really, how is ONE guy supposed to make and deliver all those toys? Read all those letters?  Pose for all those pictures?  It's just not possible.  Santa has been in business for ages and, like any good businessman, has learned the fine art of delegation.  All those pseudo-Santas roaming the streets are his A-team, the front line, the guys who assist him as he makes his list and checks it twice.  Given how literal kids of this age can be, they seem to accept that Santa needs helpers.  And, may even understand that not all helpers can grow a good beard, which is why some of them are saggy!
  2. If disbelief continues after the conversation about Santa's Helpers, it's time to talk about believing... as in, "if you believe in Santa, he will bring you gifts and if you don't, he won't." It sounds harsh but it's simple and straight-forward; it's also remarkably effective because the fear of waking up on Christmas with no gifts under the tree is enough to spur most skeptical tykes into at least a modicum of belief... and that's all it takes for the magic of Santa to seep back into a doubting heart.
  3. Show that you believe in Santa too.  Write him a letter. Talk about what kind of cookies you liked to leave him when you were a kid. Share the story about the time you tried so hard to stay up all night to see him, only to nod off just as you were sure you heard reindeer on the roof.  Kids thrive on these tales... and, they are fun to share.  In fact, sharing them could just be a new family tradition that could be as magical as Santa himself.
Truth be told, there's a small part of me that still believes... not necessarily in a guy with a white beard and a red suit but, in the magic of Christmas, the joy of the season, and the gift of sharing old traditions while creating new ones... like leaving half-eaten carrots on the front porch to convince any would-be naysayers that not only did Santa come and nibble on a few cookies on Christmas Eve but, his reindeer enjoyed a snack as well! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving, getting and giving thanks

We had a great Thanksgiving.  It was the rare event when two families collided (mine and my husband's) in a truly harmonious manner.  My parents were kind enough to host us ALL... the seven residents of the "Lyons Den"(eight if you count Finnegan, our 90-lb. lab!), my sister with her husband, toddler and newborn, my brother with his girlfriend, my grandparents and my two sister-in-laws with their families.  It had all the ingredients for the fireworks of family events past but, this year, the sparks weren't flying.  We've been through a lot in the past few years and I think we all had a new-found appreciation for how lucky we are, how important family is and how essential it is to pause and give thanks.

In the afterglow of our spectacular feast, the ultimate buzz kill was the omnipresent urges to "Buy now!", "Save 40%!", "Start early!"  I've never been a big fan of Black Friday.  In fact, the idea of spending a gorgeous fall day in a mall goes against my every grain; I'd much rather play outside with the kids, walk the dog or go for a run or family adventure.  Malls in general are just not my thing.  I suppose that's why I do a lot of online shopping but even so, I can't get caught up in the Cyber Monday hype for a few reasons.  For starters, I have a job to do and it doesn't include the free time to make my list, check it twice and check out numerous online retailers offering their deal of the day.  When the work day is done, the job that matters most begins -- tomorrow night I will be making dinner, reading stories, folding laundry, and wrapping birthday presents for my little fella who turns seven on Tuesday.

As much as I enjoy a good deal, I just don't have the time (or money!) to participate in shopping as a sport.  And, being a bit of an idealist (in case you hadn't noticed!), I'd rather focus on the "Thanks" and the "Giving" for the entire holiday season rather than on just one Thursday.  The notion of "giving" seems to have been replaced by the ambition of "getting" -- getting a deal, getting more, getting up early for the super-saver discounts, getting, getting, getting.  

I admit it, I love to get as much as I live to give.  I love finding the perfect gift for my sister, my mom, my husband, my kids.  But, as Thanksgiving demonstrated once again, sometimes the best gift of all is time spent together.  And that's something I'm going to put on my list this holiday season. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Teaching Gratitude to Tykes



 It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again.  The “holiday season” has arrived. It snuck in under the cover of darkness, taking over radio stations with “holiday classics” and replacing pumpkin-strewn windows with twinkly lights and mistletoe.  It seems to me that we have a retail-driven tendency to fast forward through the month of November in favor of the merriment and frenzied consumption of December. 

The problem (in my humble opinion) is that we gloss over one of the days that matters most.  A day that isn’t mired in trick or treating or gift-giving or even religious obligation but rather, a day that is all about gratitude.  About giving thanks. About taking a moment to pause with family and friends and reflect upon all we have to be grateful for.  As a parent, it’s tough to hit the pause button between Halloween and Christmas and teach our kids to truly give thanks on Thanksgiving.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the Black Friday mania, in making a list and checking it twice, in the cookie-baking, Christmas-card making and general shopping-centric hysteria of the season. 

My hope is that I -- that we -- don’t get too caught up in it all.  That I find a way to impress upon our five kids just how lucky we are.  A recent poll of the Lyons Den would suggest I still have work to do.  Upon asking one of our three-year old triplets what we celebrate on Thursday and why it’s important, he replied enthusiastically “Chicken!”  Yep, it would appear I have a LOT of work to do with that one!

Liam and Ciara, now in kindergarten and second grade had better answers.  One said “On Thanksgiving it’s important to be thankful for our family,” and the other noted “Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful for the roof over our head and food on our plate.”  As lovely as these answers are, they sounded fairly well rehearsed; while I am grateful our local grammar school is doing such a good job instilling these lessons, I think we can do even better as a family.

I don’t actually have a set of prescriptive tips for teaching gratitude at home; if I did, I’m pretty sure that one little fella wouldn’t have mentioned chicken.  Although, who knows, the kid is a huge fan of chicken nuggets so perhaps he has coined his own unique way of giving thanks.  As for the rest of them, I think the best we can do is lead by example. To show gratitude each and every day. To express how we are feeling in clear, simple terms the kids can understand.  To let them know how eternally grateful we are for healthy happy children, a supportive family, amazing friends, rewarding jobs and yes, of course, the roof over our head and the food on our plates. 

In addition to talking about gratitude throughout the year (not just on the third Thursday of November), there are a few other things I think go a long way toward helping our children realize just how fortunate we are.  We can donate toys and clothes to the needy; bake brownies for a local shelter; make cards for nursing home residents.  These are all things we can do now and I hope to do before Santa comes down our chimney.

When our kids are older, I hope to volunteer in a soup kitchen as a family; to deliver food to the sick and elderly as a family.  If we start now, while they’re young, they just might think it’s cool to spend a day with Mom and Dad helping those who really need it.  As for me, I will always be grateful for the time we spend together as a family -- for those days are truly the best days of my life.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A (working) mom's quest for sleep



This week I spent two nights away from home for business.  I only travel occasionally for work so, on the rare occasions I do, it's a bit of a respite.  The preparation is brutal - leaving five kids, a dog and a sweet, tired husband behind for 48 hours is no easy task.  There are meals to be planned, playdates to be confirmed, backpack notes to be written and lists to be made.  But, when all is done and I find myself at 30,000 feet, I have to admit, it's kind of nice to get away.  And the number one reason why is SLEEP.  Hours and hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The way I see it, I've been sleep deprived since I first found out I was pregnant in March 2004.  Back then I couldn't sleep because my (extremely small, in fact, completely flat-chested!) boobs hurt.  A habitual stomach-sleeper, I was in total agony and truly stunned that at just a few weeks preggo, I was being robbed of one of my favorite pastimes.  Sleep.  As weeks turned to months, my formerly peaceful slumber was routinely interrupted by trips to the bathroom and extreme discomfort -- between my sore boobs, full bladder and swollen belly, there was no rest for the weary.  And that, of course, was just the beginning.

Having Liam really threw me for a loop.  I'm not a night owl; I'm a morning person.  Liam was the opposite.  Like many newborns, he had his days and nights mixed up... and before I knew it, I did too.  I was a basket case, a walking zombie.  And it only got worse when Ciara was born.  I remember one morning, I went to pick up the dry cleaning and they asked for my phone number.  I stood there, racking my brain, searching in the deepest corners of my mind and could not for the life of me remember my phone number.  When I finally blurted something out, I had to rescind it as I proclaimed with embarrassment, "Oh wait, that's my friend Steph's number!"  

Then came the triplets. Believe me when I tell you, sleep is elusive when you have three babies growing in your belly and a one and three year old still routinely howling in the middle of the night.  As my belly grew bigger, the nights grew longer.  I would wait for sunrise, only to nod off as Liam and Ciara, active toddlers at the time, started clamoring for breakfast.  Perhaps not surprisingly, when the triplets were born, it only got worse.  We were feeding three babies every three hours around the clock while doing our best to provide Liam and Ciara with three square meals a day.  I don't think I'd be exaggerating to say that I didn't get more than 2-3 hours of sleep at a pop for at least three months.

That was three years ago.  Now the triplets are three, Ciara just turned five and Liam is on the verge of turning seven.  They are great kids.  They are great sleepers. But they are still kids.  And there are five of them.  The odds of at least two waking up in the night because "I have to pee," "I lost my WaWa," "My tummy hurts," "I'm thirsty," or "I had a bad dream." is about 100%.  This is why my husband and I now play a little game in the middle of the night.  A little game called "Playing Dead." We are both wide awake, listening to the cries, the sniffles, the coughing, the whining, whatever it may be.  And we lie very very still.  Pretending to sleep.  Keeping our breath shallow and low.  Hoping, praying, yearning for the other one to get up and tend to the tots.  Is this wrong?  This game of Playing Dead? I don't know.  I suspect there are other overtired parents out there who play dead too.  Because they are tired.  Really, really tired.  And that is why, every once in a while, it is really nice to travel for work.  Because I don't need to play dead in the middle of the night.  I am dead. Dead asleep! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Age appropriate chores for tots six and under

 
Last week my six year old, Liam, asked me what happened to his allowance... which prompted me to ask him what happened to making his bed and putting his dirty laundry in the basket!  In our house, an allowance has to be earned and, while our savvy six-year old is slowly but surely beginning to understand that if he wants a new Hexbug or more baseball cards, he needs to save up for them, everyone in our house understands the need to pitch in and pick up.  

I'm a strong believer that it's never too early to teach good habits and put the peanuts to work.  I suppose it's the way I was raised.  I remember making my bed every day before school and washing the dishes every night after dinner... yep, I'm that old.  We didn't even have a dishwasher.  Well, I suppose we did; it was me. In any case, I know I moaned and groaned about doing my chores just as my kids do today and generations of kids did long before me.  But, I think there's great merit to teaching kids to making a contribution in the home, now matter how small. I'd like to think that by creating responsible citizens here in the Lyons Den, I'm creating a mindset that will lead them on to be good world citizens, good corporate citizens and one day, instill the same morals and work ethic in their own offspring.  Gee, that sounds pretty grand for making a bed, doesn't it?!  

Keeping in mind that our triplets just turned three, Ciara just turned five and Liam is on the brink of seven, here are a few of their routine chores... that frankly, if they would do more routinely, they would get that allowance after all!
  • Put dirty laundry in the hamper; this is one all five are capable of but, since I still pick up my husband's dirty socks, well, let's just say it's a work in progress!
  • Set the table.While it wouldn't meet with the Miss Manners rules of etiquette, it gets done.  I may eat dinner with a cake fork and they might scoop it up with a soup spoon but still, it gets done!
  • Clear the table. Liam and Ciara scrape their plates and put them in the dishwasher and the three little ones just put plates on the counter... typically dropping a few scraps for the (very happy) dog along the way!
  • Make the bed.  The triplets are still in cribs (and I fear the day they get out) but Liam and Ciara are perfectly capable of making their beds... granted, not the way I would make them (even my husband struggles with the "hospital corners" that I was taught) but, they can pull up sheets, toss on the comforter and pile on the stuffed animals.  And that's good enough for now.  As an FYI, this doesn't typically happen in the Monday-Friday morning on mayhem but on weekends, it's a requirement. 
  • "Carry in, Carry out."  The National Parks made it famous and I've made it my own.  This simple rule can relate to bookshelves, toy chests, the art box, the backyard, the front porch and even the mini-van.  You carry it in, you carry it out.  Or put another way, you take it out, you put it away... Legos, puzzles, Candy Land, Lite Brite, you name it.  All five kids understand this one.  It requires daily reminders but it's well worth the effort.  Even though there's almost always an errant Lego or Matchbox car that ends up under my bare foot eliciting a primal howl of pain, it still beats playing 52 pick up by myself late at night!
Beyond these basics, they also like to help with yard work which, depending on the season, may include watering plants, raking leaves or shoveling.  They aspire to help with laundry but for now seem to get more of a kick from playing in the laundry baskets.  They would love to "help" in the kitchen and when time permits, I let them... they can quickly unload a bag of groceries and Liam and Ciara have even been known to crack an egg now and again -- a source of great pride for them.  Which, at the end of the day, is another great lesson to be learned from a few simple chores -- taking pride in the work that you do, no matter how big or small.  And, if you can earn a few bucks doing it, well then that's all the better!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Traveling abroad with kids? Learn from our mistakes!


I recently had lunch with a friend who I last saw before our trip to Ireland.  She wanted to know how it was.  She really wanted to know how it was… not just the glorious green scenery and fabulous family time but the nitty gritty of how we managed to fly overseas and spend ten days in a hotel with five children aged six and under.  And so I told her.  It was HARD!

It was much harder and much more expensive than we anticipated. The logistics of navigating a city – not just Dublin, but any city – with two strollers and five jet-legged kids (not to mention two exhausted parents with short tempers!) was hard. She asked me how Liam, our six-year old, held up while the other four were pushed in strollers.  She assumed we had brought two double strollers with us which, if I had to do it all over again, I would.  But, we didn’t. We had a double and a single stroller, which enabled our trio of two-year olds to ride like kings and left our four and six year old whining, moaning and groaning in our wake. 

In sharing our adventures with my friend, I suddenly recalled a dark moment my mind must have blocked out:  the image of our four year old melting into the worst sort of “MY LEGS WON’T GO, I’M TOO TIRED” tantrum as the doors of Dublin looked down on us and the rains of Ireland fell upon us. 

We were at least a mile away from our hotel with no cab in sight and darkness moving in – in every sense of the word. The solution required our typical all hands on deck approach --  I pushed the double stroller, we put our overtired six year old in charge of the single stroller and my husband put our tired and tormented daughter on his shoulders as the rain poured down and the triplets cried “Rain on me!  Wanna go home NOW!” 

It was ugly.  It was about as far from a Kodak moment as you could possibly get. That said, we did have plenty of true Kodak moments that I will forever cherish and I learned a few things for the next time... if there is a next time!

1.     Rent an apartment; don’t stay in a hotel.  Aside from the cramped quarters, the downside of the hotel was, well, breakfast, lunch and dinner – all of which had to be consumed in a restaurant or the hotel lobby.  Neither is a great option with a jet-lagged clan of tots and, it gets very pricey very quickly. While the upside of a hotel is someone who makes your bed in the morning, there’s another significant downside: no washer and no dryer.  Let’s just say that with a trio of potty-training tots, one really needs to be able to do laundry!  So, the next time, the Lyons Den will be staying in a short –term rental with kitchen and laundry included!
2.     Kids under five needs strollers.  Heck, kids over five might even need strollers if your sight-seeing plans are as aggressive as ours! We literally covered miles each day.  My legs were tired.  In retrospect, it’s really no surprise that our four and six year old were exhausted and miserable… and really, when one thinks of a vacation, “exhausted and miserable” shouldn’t be the descriptors!  Poor kids!  Next time, strollers all around!
3.     Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  We tend to cram a lot in a day.  Sometimes it’s a fact of life with five kids.  Sometimes it’s just plain foolish.  We were looking at pictures from our trip the other night  and as we reminisced about the National History Museum, double decker bus tour and Guinness factory, we realized we had done it ALL in ONE day!  Now that is just plain crazy with five small tots in tow! No wonder they were exhausted and miserable… not mention, wet – from both the rain and the potty-training setbacks! I think “less is more” will be my approach for our next family adventure, wherever that may be.

In the meantime, I'm working on an album with hundreds of smiling Kodak moments that will forever be a reminder of our trip... it may not have been a typical vacation but it was still a pretty stellar trip!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Be Nice to your Husband

Sometimes I struggle to come up with a meaningful tip to share.  Sometimes I feel out of tips and like I could use a few myself.  Sometimes I'm so tired or so overwhelmed with work that I'm not tuned in to the tots around me to take in the daily observations that turn into weekly tips.  This is one of those times.  As I sat here wondering what to write, I turned to my husband and said "Hey hon, help!  I need a tip!" And he responded in jest "Always be nice to your husband."  He meant it as a joke but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is perhaps one of the best tips of all.

Be nice to your husband.  It sounds so simple and yet it's not always easy to do.  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm routinely or deliberately not nice to my husband but, I'll be the first to admit that I could be a whole lot nicer.  I don't think I'm alone in confessing that when the going gets tough, the fella to whom I said "I do" can sometimes be made to feel like a great big "I don't."  Not in a I don't love you type of a way but, in a I don't have time for you, I don't have energy for you, I can hardly even muster up a smile for you and I at would rather fall into bed (by myself!) than talk to you. Now that's not good, is it?!  This is not at all what we envision when we stand at the end of the aisle waiting for our fairy tale to begin.

The reality, as we all know, is that a good marriage takes work.  And, raising kids is hard work.  And, with two working parents... well, it can lead to all work and no play. So a part of this week's tip is to make time to play -- not just with your kids but with your husband too.  An official playdate.  What the hell, make it an official date.  And try to do it frequently.  Like many couples, we have an ebb and flow, a feast or famine approach to finding time for each other; when we sense that famine approaching, we're quick to make amends and find some quality time together that isn't focused on paying bills, yard work, scheduling or meal planning.  And yes, my guy helps with all of that stuff, which is yet another reason why I should always be nice to him!

It sounds corny (and ok, I guess it IS corny), but knowing how hard (and expensive!) it can be to find a sitter and how precious our time together is, we've been known to squeeze in some quality time and a good laugh in the most unexpected ways -- for instance, there was the mid-day, mid-week trip to Costco, where simply tackling this dreaded chore together and sans kids made it more fun.  There are the nights we tuck the tots in early and try out a new recipe together -- something that was routine when we were dating and reminds us of those carefree days.  Once in a while, we pull out our old photo albums and a bottle of wine... just looking back at the fun we had and adventures we shared is a great way to ease the tension of the daily pressures we have today.

I suppose being nice is about much more than date nights and quality time though.  It's about thoughtfulness and caring.  I hate to admit it but in our house, my husband often comes last.  When I come home from work in a tizzy and get tackled by five crazy kids (and one 90 pound dog!), I sometimes forget the guy who made them and the amazing life we lead all possible.  The guy who is my rock.  Who reminds me not to sweat the small stuff.  Who makes me laugh.  Who makes me dinner!  This is a guy who deserves the best of me, not the leftovers.  So, with this in mind, I hope to live into this week's tip for many weeks, months and years to come.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Halloween Hangover

I don’t know about you, but this week was a rough one in the Lyons Den and I attribute a lot of it to what I’m coining the “Halloween Hangover.”  It’s not pretty.  It can be scary.  It is the aftermath of the sugar-induced carnage we call Halloween… ironically enough, the Catholic Church recognizes November 1st as All Saints Day but inside our humble abode, our offspring have turned to demons.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Halloween.  I definitely liked it as a kid… except for the year that my Mom decided I should be a “Jar of Jellybeans.”  How?  By putting one of those plastic dry-cleaning bags over my head and filling it up with balloons.  Today, she’d probably end up in jail for such a thing; back then, the greatest offense was that I literally popped on the way to school, had to walk home full of deflated balloons and then was sent back as Miss New Jersey – a title that was never exactly aspirational and was next to impossible to pull off as a fifth grader with glasses and a retainer.  But I digress…

Halloween is a big deal in our town.  A very big deal.  There are jack-o-lanterns aplenty and a big parade; it almost feels like Christmas except that the lights are orange and Santa has been replaced with the fire department handing out treats.  There’s a lot of pressure – pressure to create your own personal haunted house, to turn out tasty Halloween treats and to come up with crafty, creative costume ideas.  None of these are my strong points.  In fact, given that our family has four birthdays (five if you count the dog!) and our wedding anniversary between October 5th and 12th, I really don’t have the mental energy to consider Halloween until the week before.

That’s why this year, the kids wore musty old costumes from the basement and once again, our amazing neighbors came to the rescue and affixed an eight foot spider to our roof.  This is true; we came home from grocery shopping last Saturday and there it was.  And there is still is.  And there it forever may be.  Because much like the weeks before Halloween, the weeks after don’t provide much of a respite from the treadmill we call life and I have to prioritize…. Plan Liam’s 7th birthday party or remove that spider? Do another load of laundry or remove that spider?  You see where I’m going right?  That spider just might be wearing a wreath, some holly and twinkly white lights before long.

As for the kids, Halloween reckoned them unrecognizable.  And not just because it was hard to tell the triplets apart when they abandoned our color-coding scheme and went all Spiderman, Blues Clues, and Fuzzy Lion on us but, because they literally went so coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs -- or, more accurately stated, for Reese’s, Hershey’s, M&Ms and Starburst -- there wasn’t a trace of the sweet children I know and love.  The sweets they consumed turned them sour and their sugar-fueled antics turned me into the Wicked Witch of the West.  No costume required. 

In the past few days, it’s been impossible to drag them out of bed; they have one track, candy-focused minds; they have opted out of all our family rules and let’s just say that I’m the one left cleaning up the mess that all that sugar has wreaked on their delicate little digestive systems.

I really think they have Halloween Hangovers and sadly, they haven’t had the time to sleep it off. I’m hoping that this weekend will provide the ample rest and sugar detox they all need; until this passes, I will do my best to channel my inner Glenda the Good Witch… and I know that my kids will be as happy to sing “ding dong the witch is dead” as I am!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Surviving the annual physical

In the past two weeks, I've taken four of our five kids for their annual physicals; our daughter Ciara turned five four days before the triplets turned three.  How's that for funky math and a stunning family statistic?!

The month of October is always a hectic one for us and the flurry of physicals can be challenging not only in terms of scheduling logistics (we send the poor pediatrician's office into a tailspin this time each year!) but also in terms of managing the kids, their expectations and their fears.  Here are some of our tactics for tackling the annual trek to the doctor... and the many visits that will surely come in-between...

1.  Be honest.  Even when our kids were newborns, I'd talk to them and let them know what to expect.  They may have been only months old and not had a clue what I was saying but I'd like to think that mama's words are soothing, whether they are understood or not. These days, my kids are old enough to understand what's going on and I'm not going to sugarcoat it -- shots hurt!  But, they don't hurt for long and they are followed by a trip to the treasure chest... not to mention the added perk of a flu-free winter and freedom from a host of nasty diseases.  This is what I tell them.  It is simple and it is true.  Kids like things to be simple and true.  

2.  Be prepared.   I'm not sure if this is sanctioned by the American Academy of Pediatrics or not, but I have a dim recollection of giving our newborns Tylenol as a preemptive strike against the potential nasty side effects of shots. While this may not be recommended, it certainly can't hurt... well, I don't think it can... you may want to check with your pediatrician on that!  Something that certainly won't hurt and most definitely will help is to bring a few of your tot's favorite things to the annual exam -- a blankie, a stuffed animal, a lovey, anything that provides comfort.  Put it in your bag.  You should also be sure to include a bottle or sippy cup since these are sure ways to soothe small sobbing souls. A favorite book can be a good distraction and favorite toy can be a great way to turn their frowns upside down. A few other reminders:  bring diapers, wipes, a change of clothes and all your usual basics.  I once fled the doctor's office with a kid in a pumpkin costume (it was October!) and nothing else; don't let this happen to you! 

3.  Be Proud.  You survived another year of motherhood.  As you note the milestones -- the pounds gained, inches grown, head circumference charting just right, the transition from breast to bottle, from bottle to sippy cup, from crawling to walking, from cooing to talking -- take a moment to consider all YOU have accomplished in the weeks, months, years that have gone by far too fast.  Give yourself a great big hug, a pat on the back, a glass of wine (not 'til you get home though!), whatever makes you feel good.  Because really, raising kids is hard work and the annual physical is as good a time as any to celebrate not only your children's growth, but yours as well.  You did it.  They did it.  And another year will fly by before you know it so, you might as well take a moment to relish in the joy and wonder of it all now.