Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Jam-Packed Day in our Nation's Capital

For anyone who has been patiently waiting for DC adventures/Part 2, I’m sorry for the wait and here goes!  Last Thursday was our only full day in DC.  With just one full day to bask in the glory of our nation’s capital, we naturally decided to cram in as much as humanly possible.  It started something like this:  Look Kids, Big Ben, Parliament!

Recall that great scene from European Vacation with Chevy Chase where they drive in circles for hours.  Well, that was us -- just replace Big Ben and Parliament with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial and you'll have a pretty good sense of how we spent most of Thursday morning.  It was almost lunchtime by the time we found a parking spot but dammit, we would not be deterred.  We were going to get up close to those memorials no matter how many other overwhelmed tourists were in our path.  We loaded the triplets in strollers, loaded our bag with snacks, unloaded everyone from the car and were on our way.

“Big tower!  BIG tower!”  That was the triplet’s assessment of the Washington monument.  You may call it an obelisk and that would also be true but, from the perspective of a trio of two year olds, it is indeed a big tower.  As for Lincoln’s memorial, well, I think Ciara put it best – “we saw this chair that was GINORMOUS!!!!!!”.  Yep.  Never mind that big guy sitting in it and all that he accomplished, that chair is huge!
Children enjoying/escaping Lincoln Memorial
Children agreeably posing on Lincoln Memorial, artfully framed with Washington Monument in background (& sun in eyes!)

After trotting our tribe to and fro among the monuments, we did what any right-minded parents would do.  We took them to The Irish Times, one of the nation’s “top 10 Irish pubs” for lunch.  At 2:30.  Which I mention to illustrate that we were clearly WAY off our typical schedule and, I think even a two year old would need to be famished to truly enjoy the food at The Irish Times.  From what I can tell – and Des confirms – they pour a perfect point of Guinness but, while I enjoyed the Frito Pie I had for lunch (this is true!  Frito Pie!  Essentially nachos on Fritos – an indulgence that can and should only be enjoyed on rare occasions.  Like lunch with your five kids in a bar!), it was not exactly a culinary inspiration.
Proud papa with his pride o f Lyons Cubs outside National Landmark

With the pub-lunch behind us, we headed to our next destination – The National Zoo.  We did our best to drive by the White House en route so we could cross another Tourist Top 10 off our list but, I gotta say, they make it pretty hard to do a drive by of the President’s house.  I’m thinking this must be deliberate. 

We arrived at the zoo at 4:00 -- about two hours after our own little “Cubs” usually go down for a nap and two hours before it closes.  Time was of the essence and we needed to prioritize.  Those famous pandas were at the top of the list, followed by lions, tigers, elephants and gorillas.  Of the two pandas we saw, one was sleeping (leaving a skeptical Liam to wonder “are you SURE it’s not a stuffed animal Mom?”) and one was enjoying a stick of bamboo.  On his back, on a cement floor, behind a thick pane of glass, looking slightly tranquilized.  You just couldn’t feel good about those pandas.  

(only way to feel good about the pandas: photo op!)

By 5:30, we were eager to leave the zoo behind.  We were tired, thristy, cranky and in general agreement that as zoos go, well, we wish this wasn’t the “National” zoo. It just doesn’t represent the best our country has to offer in terms of caged animals given that so many of them were sleeping, missing or having their “houses” reconstructed!  That said, I will be forever grateful to the "Big 'Rilla, ate poo!" since this fun catch phrase sums up the kids fondest memory of DC.  I'm even more grateful that this neat little view into the dining habits of our gorilla friends wasn't captured on film.  I'm quite sure you are too!

It was 6:30 when we got back to the hotel.  While dinner, baths and bed would have been the sensible progression of events, we added in an evening swim (what was the point of a hotel with a pool if you’re not going to use it?!) and, get this, another pub!  Please don’t call child protective services – we just went out to meet one of Des’ pals for a beer so they could recall their glory days in DC almost two decades ago.  We had a drink, the kids had ice cream and we were all home by 10:00.  And asleep at 10:01, dreaming of our jam-packed day and what tomorrow might bring… more monuments?  Museums?  Stay tuned to find out…

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Impromptu Visit to DC: 5 kids, 2 days and no notice: Part 1

Last week was Spring Break in our school district and many others.  For our family, this meant that we had a "bored" first-grader and a pre-schooler with "nothing to do" whining from morning 'til night while Mom and Dad tried to get some work done while explaining that we too would like to "go to Hawaii like EVERYONE else" but it just couldn't be done.   "Why?  Why can't we go to Hawaii? or Florida?  or even Washington D.C.?!  There are THREE kids in my class going to see the Washington Monument and we NEVER get to go ANYWHERE!"  we were told. More than once.  Which started the wheels turning.  Hawaii and Florida were clearly out of the question but why not D.C we wondered?  

And so it was that we spent last Monday and Tuesday night searching online for a place to stay.  Trust me when I tell you that finding affordable accommodations for a family of seven during a week that encompassed not only Spring Break but Passover and Easter as well was no easy task.  But, always up for a challenge, we decided to give it the old college try.  I have to admit, at one point it was looking pretty grim and I made a reservation for a night in Conshohocken, PA, which is about 20 minutes outside of Philly, and 20 minutes away from Villanova, my alma mater... back in those days, we called it Consho'Rockin! (cool, huh?!) due to some fun frat houses that were expelled to the outer limits of campus life.  Somehow I was never able to convince the rest of the Lyons Den that the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross House were more alluring than the Lincoln Memorial and Air & Space Museum so, despite my most rational appeal ("But it's only a four hour round trip vs. a TEN hour round trip for 48 hours away!!!!!), we ended up driving south toward our nation's capital.  The events unfolded something like this...

  • Tuesday: 4PM:  My boss approves my request to take Thurs/Friday off
  • Wednesday: 2PM:  My Consho'Rockin dreams are dashed as Des confirms reservation for the Marriott Residence Inn in Old Town, Alexandria -- about 5 miles outside of DC
  • Wednesday: 4:30PM:  I arrive home from work.  I don't know if I'm sweating due to a panic attack or the packing frenzy that follows.  I am anal.  I am not spontaneous.  This trip defies the logic I live by:  plan, prepare, make a list and check it twice. There is not time for this.  I shove things in bags, kids in the car, and before I know it, we're on our way.
  • Wednesday:  5:15:  Our car pulls off our street.  In less time than it takes to prep for church on Sunday, we're headed away for 48 hours.  I'm officially frightened.  And still sweating.
  • Wednesday: 5:16:  The back seat requests for meal service and entertainment begin.  We are literally on Main Street in our town.  It's going to be a long ride.
  • Wednesday: 7:16:  We are in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike.  I am still sweating.  I realize it is because I never got the AC in the car fixed at the end of last summer and the outside temperature has reached 81. I can't help but think "if we were going to Consho'Rockin, we'd be there by now!"
  • Wednesday: 9:45PM:  We arrive at the Residence Inn.  It is good.  Although, much to my dismay, after i just spent almost five hours straddling the back two rows of the minivan disseminating goldfish, PB&J, juice boxes, grapes, cheese & crackers and fruit snacks, the kids are asking for dinner. Seriously.  Despite the temperate AC in our well appointed room, I start to sweat. Again.
  • Wednesday: 10:30 PM:  Kids are tucked in.  Des appears with a Corona.  Or, as I called it that night, dinner!  Even without a lime, it was stellar.  We settled in, exhaled, and passed out.  Vacation had begun.
Without days of planning and packing and prepping, we had somehow arrived in D.C.  I started to think that maybe I've been spending too much time sweating the small stuff. Or perhaps just simply sweating!  Stay tuned to see what the next two days brought and some key takeaways from our impromptu getaway.  Thus far, that old college try was well worth the effort and proved that if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish pretty much anything... including a last minute trip with five kids six and under during a peak travel week!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Can we keep the Easter Bunny?" and other Bunny funnies

Today is Easter Monday. The day after the big event. Easter is one of our most significant religious holidays and, in the eyes of babes, it's second only to Christmas. The Easter Bunny can't hold a candle to Santa but, the anticipation of what he may bring is enough to wake the tots well before sunrise... and, in our house, literally put the fear of God in them before they tucked into bed.

We spent Saturday night dying Easter eggs and reflecting on what the Bunny might bring, when the Bunny might come and why he might skip over our house if they didn't go upstairs to bed right NOW! With a trio of two year olds, a feisty four year old and a six year old who is at times seriously sensible, the evening provided a few moments worth recalling and sharing.

 For starters, we struggled with the set-up. Since we don't have enough stools at our counter for all five of our kids, we decided we'd put the triplets in their high-chairs for the annual decorating of the eggs. They were extremely excited and for some reason, we just assumed that at the tender age of two, they had a clue about what to do. We assumed they would instinctively know NOT to drink the egg dye. This, as it turns out, was a mistake -- the kind of mistake that fortunately did not require a call to poison control but did require a bit of bleach in the next batch of laundry.

We also assumed they would know NOT to eat their newly decorated hard-boiled eggs. This too was a mistake -- the type of egregious error that resulted in a half dozen pastel colored eggs being consumed rather than gracing their Easter baskets. If only you could have seen their gleeful faces as they smashed their newly dyed eggs on their high chair trays... I've seen that look before and it just might have been on Christmas morning. It was that good.

While the "Cubs" smashed and ate their eggs, Liam and Ciara were engaged in some healthy sibling bickering. "That's my egg." "No, it's MINE!" "Mom, why did she get more than me?" "Dad, it's not fair!" And so on. Then Liam asked, "How does the Easter Bunny get in the house? Does he come down the chimney?" I have to say, we were stumped by this one. How does the Easter Bunny get in the house? Does he walk (or hop?) in the front door? Climb through a window?

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, it was this line of speculation that ended up putting the fear of God -- or perhaps more aptly put, the fear of the Easter Bunny -- into all our kids. The notion of a six-foot bunny climbing through their bedroom window or thumpety-thumping on the roof above their heads was enough to send all of them scampering up to bed. It also led them to wonder "Does the Easter Bunny bite?" "Will he come into our room?" "Can we keep the Easter Bunny?" and, of course, from our little fella who "no like Santa", "NO LIKE THE EASTER BUNNY!"

The upside of the bunny hysteria is that unlike most kids six and under, ours slept until 7:30 on Easter morning. And, they were pleasantly surprised to wake up without rabbit bites but rather, to discover baskets brimming with jelly beans and chocolate eggs (the aforementioned hard-boiled ones having been demolished and digested the night before!).
Today, it's back to school. The baskets have been picked over, the church clothes are washed and the egg dying outfits now resemble funky new tie-dyes. I've always wished we celebrated Easter Monday here in the States but truly, I think it might have been just too much for the kids to take. Not to mention, if Easter Monday follows Easter Sunday, I'd just be left to explain why Easter Tuesday and Wednesday don't come next. And, well, since I'm still trying to figure out how the Easter bunny gets in the house, I'm done with answering questions. For now, anyway!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life Lessons as easy as 1,2,3

On Friday night, I had the privilege of attending a small business awards dinner.  I mention that it was a privilege for a few reasons...
  1. It gave me the opportunity to have a pint after work for the first time in a long time
  2. It gave us the opportunity to have a date night for the first time in a long time
  3. It provided the opportunity to mix and mingle with inspiring and accomplished people -- which isn't to say that our little "Lyons Cubs" aren't both inspiring and accomplished but they do have their limitations...
One of the night's honorees was a psychiatrist, who in accepting his award recalled three life lessons from his father that I think are memorable and worth sharing:
  1. Work hard -- as in harder than anyone else.  As in don't do the bare minimum to get the job done, give it your all -- every job, big or small.  Give it your all.
  2. Respect others -- as in be nice!  Be nice to people.  As in everyone from the mailman to the boss.  Treat others the way you'd like to be treated, whether you think of them as big or small.  In fact, whether they actually are big or small!
  3. Don't take yourself too seriously -- as in, don't ever get an inflated sense of self-importance and always remember to have fun. 
Sounds pretty simple, right?  I think these are great words to live by. I'd like to think I do a pretty good job with the first two... most folks would say I work hard and I think they'd say that I'm nice.  The area I'd like to work on is #3 -- not taking myself so seriously and trying to have some more fun. Lighten things up a little bit.  Yell less and laugh more.  Squint less and smile more.  I am generally good-humored but I know I have a tendency to get wrapped up in and stressed out by things that just don't matter in the big scheme of life... like organizing the hand-me-downs by season, size and color, for example! 

So, newly inspired by the accomplished folks I got to mingle with, this week I'm going to try to just lighten up.  To roll with it.  This doesn't come naturally to me since, in case you hadn't guessed, I'm an uptight Type A personality but, I'm going to give it my best.  I hope that one day, one of my kids (or maybe all five of them?) will be accepting an award and in addition to thanking Dad, they will also thank their Mom.  With a bit of luck (and a lot of hard work!), they will hopefully thank me for:

1.  Laughing. Often and freely. As in creating a happy home filled with laughter so they know they are loved and they know not to take themselves, or those little things that are inconsequential,too seriously.
2.  Accepting. As in accepting that you win some and you lose some and that's ok.   And importantly, for accepting people for who they are.  Type A or not.
3.  Organizing their hand-me-downs.  Ok, well, this may be a stretch but the day just might come when they are glad that good ole Mom took the time to ensure the bins were properly labeled and they could find that size 6 raincoat on a day they really needed it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Busy week = less words & more video!

Every once in a while I decide to entertain myself -- and hopefully you -- by writing to the tune of a well-known little ditty.  In that spirit, I share with you the following and encourage you to read with the tune of "Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?" running through your head.

Oh where, oh where has this busy Mom gone?
Oh where, oh where can she be?
A week has past since she posted last,
Oh where oh where can she be?!

To Chicago and back,
New York City as well,
She's oh so tired, looks and feels like hell,
Kids wonder, where can Mom be?!

To amuse you all when my writing does cease
There's new video here for you,
See the nav bar above and widget to right
Great HerChannel videos here morning and night!

Now I can't help but wonder where do the years go?
Oh where, oh where can they be?  
Here's a clip from back then and one from last week,
Hope they amuse you as much as they did me!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In defense of working moms -- this one, anyway!

“How was your weekend?”  It’s a perfectly normal question for folks to ask on a Monday morning.  The thing is, I’m pretty sure they don’t want to hear how my weekend really was.  And that’s ok.  Because the reality is, my weekend – our weekends – are often so exhausting that my husband and I are happy to see Monday morning arrive.  Monday morning means back to work.  A place that while challenging and stressful at times, also affords the opportunity to pee without anyone sitting on your lap and to eat sitting down… both minor indulgences  after 48 hours at home with our five little Lyons Cubs!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, people say a LOT of crazy things to me.  One comment I hear frequently goes something like this… “You have ALL those kids and you WORK too?!   Wow….”  Then they walk away, leaving me to wonder if I’m a terrible person because I have “ALL” these kids and leave them behind for roughly 40 hours a week or if there’s something in my appearance that suggests we are independently wealthy and therefore I don’t need to work.  Given that I’m cruising around in a minivan too beat up to even be called a "swagger wagon" and most of my clothes date from the 90s (at best!), I’m pretty sure it’s not the latter.  And, I know in my heart – and my checkbook! – that it’s not the former either.  Five kids (and one 99 pound dog!) are expensive.  And this past weekend was a real doozie in terms of dollars and sense.  Here’s a rough breakdown…

  • Trader Joe’s for groceries                               $170
  • Dog to Vet for annual checkup & shots              $175
  • Return trip to vet for antibiotics upon discovering dear dog has lyme disease   $275
  • Birthday gifts for upcoming parties                   $60
  • Oil change and inspection for minivan               $75
  • Car #2 to mechanic to repair failing brakes       $175
  • 2 cases of diapers                                           $70
  • Trip to Urgent Care for 6 year old with presumed pink eye      $50
  • Antibiotic upon confirmation of pink eye                                $80
  • Spring plants/soil/essentials for backyard clean up                   $100
  • Stop & Shop grocery delivery                                                $150
It’s a lot, right?  I don’t have the heart to add it all up but at a glance, a weekend full of essential expenditures (not even including Friday night pizza or a date night!) looks like it’s close to $1000.  Granted, this time around our lovable lab accounts for more than his fair share but, we’re not about to give him up – the entertainment he provides our kids is priceless.  And I don’t think we can give up the diapers yet either although trust me, we’re trying! 

As I assess this list, I’m reminded that my paycheck is pretty important to our bottom line.  And as I assess my aching limbs after a weekend of chasing, lifting, wrestling, battling, tickling, and twirling our kids well, I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together and, I’m glad that tomorrow is Monday!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five Hungry Little Caterpillars

Since having five kids is an anomaly these days and having identical triplets is literally a long shot, I am the recipient of a lot of unsolicited questioning and commentary.  From “How do you do it?” to “You must be EXHAUSTED!” and even “How DID you DO it?!”, I’ve heard it all.  An increasingly common remark is “You just wait; they are going to eat you out of house and home!” 

I just assumed this comment referred to when our "Cubs" will be teenagers; in addition to worrying about five kids learning to drive, rebelling against me and applying to college, I now have to worry about simply keeping enough food in the house!  Here’s the deal though – it turns out that the food issue has arrived early.  With a trio of two year olds, a feisty four year old and super-charged six year old, I can’t keep groceries (or diapers, for that matter!) in the house despite my weekly deliveries from Stop & Shop and Fresh Direct which are supplemented with monthly hauls from Costco and Trader Joe’s.  Every now and then, there’s a 48 hour window where I feel fairly smug and think I’ve adequately stocked the shelves.  The basement fridge will be full of milk, the cabinets brimming over with cereal, pasta and snacks and the fruit bowls full of fresh bounty.  Then, like some sort of fairy tale twist, BLINK! It’s all gone.

It struck me recently that dinner time (or breakfast or lunch!) in the Lyons Den closely resembles the story of a family favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Here’s a recap of dinner one night this week…

 I came home from work (not quite by the light of the moon)  to find not one, but five very hungry little Lyons Cubs waiting to be fed.  Since Des was working late, I opted for a quick kid-friendly meal. 

  • I served up THREE boxes of Mac n’ Cheese and ONE big bunch of broccoli, but they were still hungry…
  • So I gave them each a large glass of milk and ONE empty half gallon later, they were still hungry…
  • So I cut up, not one, not two, but THREE apples.  And they were still hungry…
  • So I peeled TWO oranges… and they were STILL hungry!
  • So I cut up FOUR kiwis… and they were still hungry!
In an effort to preserve what little food was left in the house, I drew the line and ended dinner before they ate their way through one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and so on.  Even so, much like the very hungry caterpillar in the story, one of my little Cubs was up at 4AM with a tummy ache.  And much like that famously hungry caterpillar, my little Cubs are no longer well, “little”.  They are bigger by the day and there’s an excellent chance that the princess among them fully expects to wake up one day to discover that she is a beautiful butterfly... as she well may be.

As for me, well, I’m considering buying stock in my favorite grocery stores, planting a vegetable garden, an apple orchard and possibly buying a cow – how else can I ensure that we’ll be able to feed these kids when they hit the double digits?!  Any ideas, let me know.  I’m all ears.  And, very accustomed to random remarks, suggestions and advice… at least this time, it is solicited!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Church on time?

When our firstborn Liam arrived, Des proclaimed "There are two things that are non-negotiable: he will be Catholic and he will be a Yankee fan."  I've always wondered if he sees these two things as equivalent and with each passing year, I'm more convinced that he does.   With baseball season upon us, there will be plenty of time to share my musings on raising five little pin-striped fanatics so, today I thought I'd dwell on raising five little Catholics.

For starters, we go to church on Sunday.  EVERY Sunday.  We're as reliable as the US Postal Service; we show up in rain or shine, showered or unshowered, with sick kids, cranky kids, and sometimes need a spanky kids. And now matter how early our day starts, we always show up about fiften minutes late.  Now that Liam can tell time, I'm pretty sure he thinks we attend the 10:45 mass when in fact, the rest of the congregation dutifully arrives at 10:30.  

Now, as you might imagine, there is nothing subtle about our arrival at church -- or anywhere else, for that matter!  When the triplets were babies, we would walk to church because it was easier than getting all five kids in and out of the car.  Our entry procession included two strollers - a standard issue double for Liam and Ciara and a front to back triple as long as a Cadillac for Kevin, Declan and Cormac.  Today, as Liam and Ciara bolt down the aisle and the triplets toddle behind them, our entry is less impressive but far more vocal. "I see Jesus!  I see Jesus!  I see Jesus!"  the triplets can't help but announce, sometimes adding additional commentary like "Why he has no shoes on?" 

Thankfully, our priest and our parish are both friendly and forgiving.  Our tardiness isn't looked down upon and we seem to get a fair amount of credit and goodwill for simply showing up, no matter how late we may be.  Given the antics that we provide (typically from a front pew since that's the only space left by the time we arrive!), it's a wonder they don't just lock the door at 10:44.  They continue to welcome the Lyons Family Circus and we continue to show up.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from our weekly 45 minutes of religious obligation and observation:
  • Cormac following the guy with the collection basket, taking a $20 and running for the door.  Hey, charity starts at home, right?
  • A lady who told me that "my kids just LOVE watching your family at church; it's better than reality TV!"
  • The day an elderly woman who had kindly settled down a distraught Declan suddenly dropped him back in my lap noting  "I think he has a present for you,"  as the stench from his diaper nearly knocked us out.
  • The time that Kevin ran to the altar to check out the Nativity scene but left his pants behind. Turns out that I shouldn't have ingnored him when he said "pants too big Mama!"
  • Advent.  Between the Nativity scene and Toys for Tots collection, our kids provided a lot of comic relief... which, granted, isn't why most folks go to church but it never hurts to have a good laugh, right?  Some highlights were the attempted removal of toys from the altar, failed attempts to "wake up" the Baby Jesus and the near demise of one of the wise men (courtesy of a wobbly triplet).
I clearly recall looking for diversions at church when I was a kid; now my family is the diversion.  It started when Liam was just a tot himself, clapping along with the choir and shouting "YAY!" when they finished a song.  I'm not sure if or when it will end but, until it does, I plan to just embrace it and enjoy it.  While I may not always hear the message of the gospel and while we may never get to church on time, at least I have 45 minutes a week to sit down (when I'm not shooing tots off the altar!) and reflect on just how lucky I am -- lucky to have happy, healthy kids; lucky to be embraced by our community and, well, with the season in full swing, lucky to have so many little Yankee fans... more on that later, to be sure!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Eight is Enough!

It all started out simply enough.  Let’s have a baby.  And so we did.  Two years later we thought, well, this is fun, let’s have another one.  And so we did.  Two years later we thought, well, this is fun, let’s have another one.  And then we got three more.  And then, with five kids under five in the house, well, let’s just say we cooled our jets for a bit.  Apparently, not long enough.

Here’s the deal.  They say that as you get older, the odds of having twins or triplets increases.  They also say that once you’ve had twins or triplets, the odds of having them again increases substantially.  In our case, they said that the odds of identical triplets are about one in a hundred million.  I wonder what they will say when they find out I’m pregnant again.  With triplets.  Yikes, right?!

Well, clearly I’m not getting any younger so, I (we?!) should have known that the odds of a “singleton” weren’t in our favor.  Even so, I have to admit, it’s a bit jarring.  Eight kids?!  Seriously?!  Wow.  This was not part of my master plan.  Frankly, five kids wasn’t part of my master plan.  I suppose I should have learned with our first set of triplets that I am clearly no longer on MY master plan.  I feel like lightening has struck twice.  Seriously, how could I possibly have ended up naturally preggo with triplets not once, but twice?!  What pray tell will we drive?!  A school bus?! 

With the notion of eight kids under seven looming ever closer, I have to admit that I’m at my wits end.  The formula and diapers alone will cause yet another financial setback – to say nothing of where we’ll put these little people, the pending sleep deprivation and the challenging physical transformation that my poor bod is about to endure.  Again. 

I wouldn’t have thought it possible.  And indeed, neither should you.  Ha!  Gotcha!  APRIL FOOLS!  Believe me, five is enough… for now and forever.  :)