Monday, February 28, 2011

The Struggle with the Juggle: A working mom's musings and tips

I recently started a new job. It is a good job, a job that I’m really excited about. It’s challenging, it’s interesting and it’s close to home. It checks all the boxes I so carefully identified at the inception of my job hunt. Even so, here I am, less than a month in and once again struggling with the juggling.

 I know I’m not alone here. I know most working moms struggle with the juggle and that these feelings ebb and flow. I’m just suffering from the tidal wave of starting something new. For better or for worse, most folks think I’ve got it all together. “How do you do it?” they ask. “You look so refreshed!” they say, wondering what my trick is. The truth is, I have no trick.  And if I happen to look refreshed, I probably owe it to a good run, a strong cup of coffee or an unusually stellar application of mascara and under-eye concealer!

As we all know though, looks can be deceiving and the reality is that working while juggling five kids isn’t easy. In fact, It’s really hard to explain to my first grader why Mom isn’t there to pick him up at the bus or to my pre-schooler why the nice neighbor across the street will be dropping her off a few days a week. It’s hard the leave my little guys in their cribs with wet diapers as I sail out the door yelling “Sorry guys, gotta run! It won’t be long… I love you!”  And it can be even tougher to walk in from a long day at the office to find five needy souls who are hungry, tired, and just looking for love (and I'm not even counting my poor husband!) -- by that time, I feel the same way. The good news is that the love is there in abundance; the bad news is that dinner may or may not be!

With a new week dawning, I’m making a conscious effort to be a better juggler. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve picked up some tips along the way and when I actually follow them, well, none of those proverbial balls will drop. Here they are in no particular order…

Get some sleep! Though I’m often tempted to stay up late on Sunday night to “get ahead of it all”, I find this often backfires and I end up starting the week tired and grumpy – obviously not the best way to start! So, take it from me and try to tuck in early when you can.

Plan ahead. I’m guilty of being not just a planner but,  an avid over-planner. I have to say though, when you’ve got a lot on your plate, planning can be your best friend. I really do try to lay out the kids clothes, pack up lunches and snacks and make a week-long meal plan… this ensures that even if your day is crappy, at least you’ll have something to put on that plate when you get home!

Just say yes to online shopping – groceries, diapers, snow boots and more, I get it all delivered right to our front door!

There, I feel better already. Just knowing that I’ve got some survival tactics in place leaves me ready to take on the week ahead. If you’ve got some tips that help you with the juggle I’d love to know… especially if you could recommend a good under-eye concealer… truth be told, mine just isn’t working as well as it used to!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

President's Day: Roadtrip & friendship

What did you do this weekend?  It's a perfectly natural question, especially on the heels of a long weekend.  Around here, it's school vacation week, so many folks are away for the duration... off skiing or to Florida or some other sunny destination.  As for us, we had the good fortune to visit friends in Boston... which seems to evoke a fair amount of awe from most folks.  I'm pretty sure they're not stunned to discover that we actually have friends (I'd like to think that we're a fairly affable bunch!) but rather, that we packed up five kids six and under for a four hour car ride for a three day weekend; I think it's our sheer numbers that send most folks into a tailspin.

But this trip was an easy one.  In fact, it's the lightest I've packed since long before Kevin, Declan and Cormac arrived on the scene.  A typical weekend away relies on the following checklist:
  • One Swagger Wagon packed to the gills
  • Two strollers -- either two doubles or a double and a single, depending on our destination and available cargo space
  • Three pack & plays (with sheets) and three portable high chairs
  • Four DVDs (At least -- our passengers have grown accustomed to "in-flight entertainment")
  • Five kids (a frequent head count ensures they're all present and no one gets left "home alone")
  • Six varieties of snacks (to ensure that "in-flight service" can be maintained from our front door to arrival at our destination and account for potential traffic jams)
  • Seven water bottles -- one for each of us. Yes, even Mom and Dad get to drink water!
The list goes on and on... diapers and wipes, blankies and "wawas", books and games and on occasion, even Finn, the family pet, who weighs in at 90 pounds and likes to travel with a stuffed dog as big as he is. 

But this past weekend was different.  We didn't bring the highchairs -- at almost 2 1/2, we figured the triplets could get by without them for a few nights.  We didn't bring the pack & plays -- our friends borrowed them (and had them assembled awaiting our arrival!).  We didn't bring two strollers -- we knew we could borrow one if we needed it.  And, we left Finn with Aunt Fiona for the weekend, which really freed up some room in the minivan!

All we packed was our bags... which were admittedly overflowing over with onesies, pull-ups, pjs, jackets, boots, Liam's entire baseball collection and more than a fair share of Ciara's "babies"... but, even so, this was nothing given what we're accustomed to.  What might typically be ten trips to and fro with tots and bags was reduced to just a handful.  This past President's Weekend, we were treated like royalty and couldn't be more grateful to our friends and their extended family for taking us in. 

We arrived in the midst of a violent thunderstorm -- which, in the middle of February in the Northeast is not only unusual but just didn't feel like a good omen!  Alas, all worked out in the end though -- for us, anyway.  I swear that our kids finished off at least a gallon of milk, several boxes of cereal, several dozen chicken nuggets, a couple of pizzas, pancakes galore and pasta aplenty.  While the thunderstorm subsided, we left a torando of crumbs and toys in our wake.  We didn't even pack away those pack & plays! 

I guess I'm not stirring up a lot of positive PR for the Lyons Den as houseguests but ,that's not the point.  The point is that we are truly blessed to have friends who lighten our load both literally and figuratively.  And, friends who against all odds have offered to have us back again.  I have to say, I'm looking forward to a return trip and Aud, if you're reading this, next time I'll do my best to remember to pack socks and a coat!  Needless to say, I left these crucial items off my own packing list and was lucky enough to borrow them... because hey, that's what friends are for right?  May we always be so lucky!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Life with 2 year old triplets: the rest of the story

As I mentioned in one of last week’s post, life with a trio of two-year olds tots most certainly has its ups and downs. Kevin, Declan and Cormac are as jolly as the day is long but, sometimes the day can be very long – and those are the days that tend to be the toughest. In the spirit of honoring my promise to share the “horrid” and dispel any myths that I’ve been brainwashed or medicated into believing that my children are truly cherubs, here are a few glimpses into the darker side of life in the Lyons Den.

You may recall the cherished moments I went on about last week… the sweet snuggles, the fantastic firsts, the belly laughs and how amazing it is to experience them all times three. Well, the same rationale applies to the downsides that you’d rather not recall – the spit up, runny noses, exploding diapers, temper tantrums and tiny tyrants – we’ve got all of those times three too! I get through the day by focusing on the positive – the smiles, the hugs and yes, even those snot-nosed sloppy kisses. But, I’d be remiss - -and downright dishonest – if I didn’t reveal some of the more trying times that our triplets provide.

For starters, there is the noise. The cacophony of three screaming toddlers (often amplified by their arguing siblings in the background) is sometimes just too much to bear. It gets insanely loud. There is just no more articulate way to put it. It is deafeningly, horrifyingly, maddeningly LOUD! And naturally, when the trio gets going, I’m not usually in my best form. I might be hungry or tired or ornery or stressed out (who wouldn’t be?!) and to my own dismay, often find myself screaming above the din just to be heard. Needless to say, that doesn’t work. You know what worked? The night I took the trash out and didn’t come back. Truth be told, I just didn’t come back as quickly as they expected. I deliberately took out the trash to get away from the noise, to clear my head, to get some fresh air. And I stayed outside long enough to do just that. Long enough to take a few deep breaths, look at the stars, pray for patience and brace myself to address the din inside. It was just a few minutes, less than five, I’d say. But you know what? When I walked in, it was quiet. You could hear a pin drop. This is a strategy that I’d highly recommend – I think it’s why they say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” – they just forgot to mention that it’s good to go back again!

Then there’s the mess. The “mess” can fall into any number of categories – food (in the form of literally “mashed” potatoes, flying hot dogs, spaghetti face and numerous other iterations), bodily functions (including but not limited to boogies as hair gel, poop as an art form and our home as a “Vomitorium”), toys (ranging from the piercing pain of Legos underfoot to the “wall as canvas” approach to arts and crafts). All of these “messes” are a natural part of having kids – or at least that’s what I tell myself to remain at least partially sane. But, when they are multiplied by three, well, let’s just say that even a Magic Eraser can’t help. Trust me, I’ve tried! Here’s the thing about the messes though – when we first thought about having kids, I had some real reservations – a fair amount of them rooted in the fear of the mess – sticky hands, runny noses, constant drooling – I really didn’t think I was up for any of it. But, it turns out, I am. There have been many things about parenting I didn’t think I was up for (most of it, in fact!) but, the many messes have shown me that learning to roll with it, to accept things as they are, is one of the best things about having kids… whether they arrive one at a time or in a bundle of three!

So, while it’s true that when they are good, they are very very good and when they are bad, they are horrid, Kevin, Declan and Cormac have taught me a lot about myself and that, I have to say, is very very good.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tips for surviving flights with tykes

With many folks preparing to fly the “friendly” skies for the upcoming school break, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped us (and our fellow passengers!) survive our recent cross-country trip to San Francisco.

Allow extra time. It seems obvious but, when I travel for work or on the rare occasion I get away with Des, we’re always down to the wire. Sweating as we repeatedly check our watches, wondering if we’ll make it through security and dashing to the gate just as they’re about to close the door. Do NOT take this approach if you plan to take tots onboard. The one time we did, we missed our flight. This is true. It is why we now build in an extra hour before take-off and I’d suggest you do the same. This way you won’t be foiled by a long security line or unexpected diaper (and outfit!) change (or changes!).

Keep ‘em busy. Fortunately, children are easily entertained. This is extremely good news as long as you have a plan; this is extremely bad news if you don’t and your mischievous tykes decide that in-flight entertainment means kicking the seat in front of them.  Admittedly, your kids will find this highly entertaining but, your fellow passengers will not. So, a few things to be sure you carry in your carry on include crayons, stickers, pipe cleaners, PlayDough, matchbox cars, mini etch-a-sketch... you get the idea. And, of course, if you can fly an airline with seat-back TVs featuring the most recent episode of Junior’s favorite show, all the better!

Flying time = feeding time. If you have a baby, have a bottle. If you have a toddler, a sippy cup or lollipop will do. In fact, a lollipop will work wonders for kids of all ages – and maybe for Moms and Dads too! Having something to suck on during take-off and landing  will minimize your little ones discomfort. Once airborne, we’ve had great success with serial snacking; after all, snacking is just one more way to keep kids busy and it happens to be one of our kids favorites! Cheerios, raisins, goldfish, all the standards will do – although, if you up the ante and offer HoneyNut Cheerios, yogurt covered raisins and Rainbow Goldfish, you just might feel like a hero. Until the plane lands, anyway!

Don’t travel light. It pains me to suggest this but, since you just never know if your flight will be delayed or if your kid will be the one they leave those paper bags on planes for, I think it’s best to be prepared. For me, that means extra diapers, wipes, provisions and outfits. Do I feel like a pack mule as I load our brood on board? Yes. But do I want to land in Florida in pee-soaked khakis? (Again?) NO. So, while packing your carry-on with outfits for your little ones, please toss in a change of clothes for you too. I hope you won’t need them but trust me, if Buster has a diaper blow-out, you’ll be really glad to have them!

Oh, and one last thing: velcro!  It will be much easier to breeze through security if you're not struggling with shoelaces.

With these tips in mind, you just might find the skies a bit “friendlier” than you imagined and you’ll be sure to arrive at your destination with a sunny disposition. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life with 2 year old triplets: A love story

People often ask what it’s like to have a trio of two-year old tots at home. The short answer is reminiscent of a classic nursery rhyme – when it’s good, it’s very very good but when it’s bad, it’s horrid. Fortunately, while I’ve seen a few horrid glimpses of the “terrible twos”, life in the Lyons Den is for the most part very, very good. It is so good in fact that my husband and I have occasionally remarked we feel sorry for all the folks out there who only got one baby at a time… mind you, that was us (twice!) before we got the surprise of a lifetime and discovered that we were having these three little guys!

Think of all those tender baby and toddler moments that are probably part of your fondest memories… the precious warmth of a snuggly newborn, the infectious belly laughs, the wonder of the first tooth and first step, the humor of the “do it self!” phase of burgeoning independence… now imagine it all times three. All those endearing moments and memorable milestones – imagine them multiplied and intensified by three and that is life in the Lyons Den. Since we're still basking in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day, it seems especially appropriate to focus on all that is very very good… we will save the horrid moments for a later date!

Since he is the firstborn triplet, let’s start with Kevin. With the admittedly unfortunate nickname of KooKooBear, (often shortened to just KooKoo), Kevin is a consistently good natured little fella. We liken him to Winnie the Pooh; this sweet guy started happily humming in his crib when he was about six months old and he hasn’t stopped. He is always singing and never in a hurry. This is a guy with no sense of urgency, just a laidback sweetheart of a two-year old who likes to do things on his own time. A brisk walk to “school” would never occur to him; there’s just no need to move quickly when there are snowplows to watch or birds up above or perhaps a cat across the street. One day this week, my KooKooBear told me I looked like a princess which, of course, melted my heart. Until my husband suggested that he wasn’t actually saying “princess” -- he was saying “pants on.” Whether he was referring to his diaper-clad self or suggesting that I should trade my skirt for pants, I’ll never know. In my mind, I’d much prefer to believe he thinks his mama is a princess. And so I do.

Next there’s Declan, born as “Baby B.” I think Declan (sometimes referred to as “Duckling”) might be a genius. Really. I know every parent thinks their kid is a genius but, let’s face it, I’ve got a lot of kids and if I had to pick just one genius out of the group, it would be Declan. He was the first to roll over, sit up, walk and talk. He has a quiet, introspective side and can often be found on the couch “reading” a book with the “big kids” while Kevin and Cormac are spinning in circles until they fall down dizzy. Our “Duckling” is an avid animal lover and can also be found reclining on Finnegan, our 80-pound lab; he has a certain kinship with Finn and is naturally drawn to animals of all sorts – as am I. Though he can be a tad serious, he’s got a laugh that lights up the room – an infectious laugh that comes from the heart (and belly!), is filled with joy and can make a bad day good. Interestingly, Declan seems to exist on milk and milk alone. He might nibble on a meal now and again but he can down a sippy cup of milk in a minute – often hands-free, which is just another of his firsts. Genius, right?

Last but not least, Baby Mac. Cormac was the smallest of the litter when they were born and from the moment he arrived, seemed determined to defy his “Baby Mac” moniker. When they were newborns and it was difficult to tell them apart (they are identical, after all!), I would tell people that I thought Cormac’s eyelashes were “curlier”. Now, that’s really grasping for straws, isn’t it?! Curlier eyelashes? Who in their right mind would notice such a thing? I now know that what caught my attention; it wasn’t his luscious eyelashes (which all my kids have) but rather, a glint in his eye. You know what I mean… that impish, charming glint matched by a similar impish, charming smile. This is the guy to watch. If we say zig, he zags; if it’s time to go, he wants to stay; if we say no, he wants to play. He is as charming and contrarian and conniving as a little guy can be and he will lead his brothers down the path of destruction if given just the hint of a chance. If asked, he may tell you that he is “KooKoo” or “Duckling” but when you see that glint (and chronically running nose!), you will know it is “Baby Mac.” Ladies, you have been warned. And you should also know that he gives a great hug – a really big, tight, cling-on kind of a hug that can only mean “I love you.”

I am so lucky to have these little Valentine’s in my life; they may be identical but they are each an original and so far, it’s been a delight to watch them grow. And, lest you think I’ve been heavily medicated or just completely lost my mind, tune in again next week for the “horrid” part of the story!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Working Mom Once More

Last week it happened, my stay at home sabbatical came to a close. With mixed emotions I said good-bye to my tots and hello to the next phase of my so-called career. While I was (and still am!) excited for the opportunity, it was harder than expected to bid adieu to the more relaxed pace I’d become accustomed to over the past few weeks. Yes, that’s right, I said it was “relaxed” – staying home with my five little “Cubs” was somewhat relaxing as compared to the mad dash back to the rat race.

For starters, there’s the personal upkeep that I now must, well, upkeep! During my days at home, there were occasions when I jumped out of bed, into my running clothes, and stayed that way -- regardless of whether or not I actually ran more than errands. Then there were the days I did actually run a few miles and still stayed in my workout wear. Both scenarios were shower-free and most days were makeup free. Not that I’m proud of it but, it really simplifies the morning routine when showers and mascara are optional!

While the morning exit strategy can be a bit of a challenge, the return to the Lyons Den is often far more dramatic and tonight was about as bad as it gets. Des got home at 5:30, having picked up both groceries and Liam from a playdate. The sitter left at 5:45. I got home at 6:00 to a scene that went something like this…. “Helloooo! I’m home!” followed by “Bye hon, sorry, gotta run, meeting tonight, started to put the groceries away but… ok, see you later!” “I HATE MY DINNER!!” “More milk please!” “I DON”T WANT this dinner!” “No like this dinner!” “I want Daddy!” “Where Daddy go?!” “I WANT DADDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Confused? Perhaps wondering who said what? Well, I was too. I was also wondering if these were the same sweet cherubs that I’d been so distraught to leave as I went back to work just last week. “Good God!” I thought, “These kids are a NIGHTMARE!!!!!”

Honestly, it was just one of those nights and it went even further downhill after the disaster that was dinner. I always put out the kids' clothes the night before; it really simplifies our morning routine. However, now that Ciara has such strong opinions about what she wears, it really complicates the evening routine. I think I visibly cringed while envisioning the teenage years as she scowled at me tonight “I just DON’T LIKE fancy things and anything that looks good to YOU!” Anything?! Yikes! I was simply suggesting she wear a pair of jeans! Help!

Then, after Liam was tucked in, he got up proclaiming that he needed to change his PJs because he was just too hot. Too hot? It’s like twenty degrees outside and as the resident heat miser, I keep the heat at 64 when I’m feeling charitable so trust me, it was not too hot. As he changed his PJs, he asked me to “put Kirby’s pants on – with the hole in back for his tail, not in front for his pee-pee.” Really, like I thought his bear had a hole for that purpose?! What next? Well, of course, Ciara was now too hot in her PJs even though just the other night she literally went to bed wearing four pairs. FOUR pairs! I kid you not!

Meanwhile, down the hall, the triplets were in their cribs whooping it up. The little fellas who just moments before had taken turns on the potty (admittedly with limited success) had now filled their diapers with such a stench that it literally stopped me in my tracks. After changing three nasty poops, helping Ciara put PJs on her doll and convincing Liam that Kirby’s pants were indeed on properly, I wearily headed downstairs to get myself some dinner.

It was about 9:00 when I wandered back up, expecting to find five sweetly snoozing Lyons Cubs. Alas, it was not to be. While Liam and Ciara were in the Land of Nod, Kevin, Declan and Cormac had taken their kickin’ crib party to the next level. I found them wearing nothing but unsnapped onesies with a mountain of discarded items in the middle of the room -- pjs, blankies, books, toys… and DIAPERS!!!!! Wow. Did I ever lose it. Especially when I noticed that two of three cribs were soaked with pee. Not a good way to end the day although, nights like these do make it a bit easier to kiss them good-bye in the morning!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Working Mom's Stay at Home Sabbatical

I recently took a few weeks off between jobs. I was burned out, needed a break and really yearning for some quality time with our little Lyons Cubs. Having only known the life of a WM (Working Mom), I always wondered what it would be like to be a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom).  I officially joined the workforce as a gift-wrapping teenager back in the 80’s and since then, my only time off has been maternity leave… nine weeks when Liam was born in 2004, sixteen weeks when Ciara was born in 2006 and twenty weeks when the triplets were born in 2008.

I had mixed emotions about my maternity leaves… perhaps because I had mixed emotions about motherhood. With Liam, I was petrified of this little human that I had no clue how to care for; I was honestly surprised that they thought me capable enough to send us home from the hospital together!  With Ciara, I just couldn’t imagine how I’d juggle this sweet little rosebud of a newborn with the always active almost two-year old that Liam had become. And with the triplets, well, needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed!

As any WM knows, a maternity leave is far from the blissful break some folks suggest it may be. It is a daunting time full of sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, saggy body parts and for me, an occasional sense of isolation. I never thought that having a baby (or three!) could be a lonely experience but it was. It was very lonely to be awake with a hungry newborn at 3:00AM with swollen boobs that just wouldn't work. Or mid-day when my pals were out having fun and I was home with a crying soul I was trying so hard to understand. Of course, these feelings are not the sole territory of the WM, I’m quite certain that SAHMs experience the same range of emotions from fear to anxiety to yes, even the wonder of it all. Because it is indeed a wonder -- the fact that your body produced this little person (or, in my case, people!) who stare into your eyes with such adoration… I'd like to think it was adoration although, I know quite well those meaningful glances could have certainly just been gas!

My point is that any time I’ve ever taken off from work has been filled with the sleepless nights and unpredictable days of infancy. So, taking a few weeks “off” to be a SAHM with three two year olds, a four year old and six year old was a completely different – and dare I say, much better – experience!

My stay at home sabbatical has been a dream come true. In a way, it was kind of a test… can I really juggle all these crazy kids without escaping to the grown-up work world that I’m accustomed to? Will l like it? Will I still like them? Will they still like me? These are the questions that ran through my head as I embarked on my six week stay at home. And, in short, the answers are yes, yes, yes and thankfully, yes!

I was finally able to participate in the many activities that I know (from a very good friend!) get to be a drone for the full-time SAHM but were a thrill for me… the preschool pick up and drop off, the meet and greet at the school bus, the ability to go to the pediatrician in the middle of the day, the chance to take some kids to the grocery store, host playdates, pick up from CCD and dream up random things to do – many of which focused on cooking or baking so, I fear this stay at home sabbatical has resulted in a slightly rounder me but, c’est la vie! I’ve loved every minute of it. And I’m prepared to admit that perhaps the reason why is because I always knew it would be short-term.

I always knew I was going back to work; it was just a question of when. These past few weeks have essentially been a maternity leave without the sleep deprivation, isolation and post-pregnancy hormone horrors. It was like a dream come true to have this break and, like most dreams, it is coming to an end. I will soon cross the line and head back to the place I know best, back to my role as a WM. I am truly grateful for the time I’ve had – for baking cookies, playing in the snow, walking the triplets to school, taking Ciara to gymnastics, meeting Liam at the bus, finding the time to quietly read to them all, cooking dinner without the post-work angst and mayhem, snuggling in PJs on weekdays, all of it. It has been stellar; it has truly been a gift.

And, it has helped me to see that the grass really is always greener on the other side… I now know what I have as a WM that I wouldn’t as a SAHM. Beyond benefits and financial stability, working gives me the opportunity to pee when I want to and to eat a whole sandwich without sharing, if I so desire. It gives me intellectual stimulation and constant adult conversation that rarely wanders into the land of potty-training or discipline.

Thanks to my stay at home sabbatical, I will no longer wonder “what if” because now I know -- I am glad to have a career and even gladder to know that should it all come crashing down, I have five little people at home who will always be glad to have a SAHM.