Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Triplets Turn Three

Last week I took our trio of identical tots for their three year old physical.  It's stunning to me that three years have flown by so fast and that my babies are no longer babies.  When they ask with sincere hope and anticipation "is me big yet?!", I have to admit that yes, much to my dismay, they are.

My little guys are no longer the little peanuts they once were -- not that they were ever unusually small; they were born at quite a healthy weight for triplets... which resulted in a not so healthy weight for me!  In any case, when I reflect on the past three years, it's truly a blur.  I remember bits here and there -- moments and memories that have collected in a vivid slideshow in my mind...

It begins with a surreal appearance on The Early Show followed by paparazzi snapping our pictures when we left the hospital.  After that it's a whirlwind that includes...
  • Neighbors and friends welcoming us home with outstretched arms and months of meals
  • The feeling of despair the first time I had to change three tiny diapers, got peed on three times and wondered how we'd ever survive the first few years
  • The feeling of defeat when I got bronchitis, pumped green breast milk and ultimately had to retire the pump... and the breasts
  • The awesome sight of three tiny rumps up in the air as they sweetly snoozed in their cribs
  • The feeling I could conquer the world the first time I slept for six hours straight 
  • The feeling that the world would conquer me after months of sleep deprivation (I still sometimes feel this way!)
  • The amazement of finding three little fellas sitting/standing/singing/bouncing in their cribs
  • The fear of the day they leave those cribs behind -- as our six year old put it: "that will be a total disaster Mom"
  • The joy of having one, two, three little boys jump with joy and into my arms when I get home from work
  • The angst of having one, two, three little boys throwing up in the middle of the night
  • The sense of accomplishment the first time we left the house in the stroller, the minivan, the wagon, and then finally, on foot
  • The mental checklist of diaper bag requirements - bottles, sippy cups, diapers, wipes, snacks and so on!
  • The written checklist for weekends away, when we carted pack and plays, high chairs and strollers without batting an eye
  • The black eye that they got one by one while learning to walk
  • The perils of the tub, the pool and the beach when water was our worst enemy as we juggled three slippery tots
  • The struggle of wrestling three wiggly tykes into snowsuits and snow boots; 
  • The wonder of hearing them talk to each other in a secret language only they can understand
  • The wonder that they are here at all.  Happy, healthy and truly against the odds.
People talk about how hard it is to have a newborn, and indeed it is.  They also talk about the terrible twos, which in my experience have been closer to terrific.  They talk about time flying by too fast and while it's a cliche, it's true. I wouldn't want to go all the way back to the days of leaky boobs and sleepless nights but I sure wouldn't mind the nuzzle of a newborn snuggled up against me.  Since that won't be happening, I will instead snuggle in with my three year olds while treasuring the time we have together and the days ahead... days that I'm sure will still be a bit of a busy blur but, like the past three years, will include moments and memories that will never fade.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Mama Mia and other discipline tactics for tots

With so many tots toddling around my house, I’m constantly asked “how do you do it?”   I suspect the truth is that we don’t do things all that differently from other folks; in our house, discipline and routine reign supreme.  Here are our Top 5 tactics for maintaining a semblance of sanity when things get insane:

1.     Anticipate:  Like most things in life, anticipation goes a long way toward prevention.  This holds especially true when it comes to tiny tykes who are prone to melt down when they are tired, hungry, overwhelmed or all of the above.  Since I also tend to melt down under these circumstances, my solution is to plan accordingly and be prepared – much like the good Girl Scout I was back in the day.  Pack snacks, plan outings around naptime and know your limits. As long as you’re ready for whatever the day (and quite possibly your kids) throw your way, you can anticipate yelling less and enjoying more.
2.     Be Calm:  I’ve learned the hard way that your tone sets the tone.  I’ve tried to outshout five titans having tantrums more times than I care to count and have yet to win.  When the times get tough, I try to channel my daughter Ciara’s kindergarten teacher; she is the ultimate champion of 5-year olds.  When chaos prevails, she uses a quiet, sing-songy voice.  “Stop, look and listen,” she sweetly croons and much like a mystical snake charmer, she regains control of the classroom.  It doesn’t always work in our house but it does tend to diffuse the situation, allowing us to regain the upper hand we regret having lost in that failed shouting match!
3.     Consistency is King:  We have a rule in our house -- we make one dinner and one dinner only.  Despite the kids asking if I’m a waiter (yes, this has happened), they know with certainty that I am not a short order cook.  If pressed, they would likely say I’m not much of a cook at all but that’s not the point – the point is consistency.  What are kids if not little soldiers in training? They desperately want to be good little soldiers and it’s our job to show them how.  Consistency is one good way to do it.  Kids like to know where they stand and what the boundaries are.  Unlike soldiers however, they will continually push the limits.  Alas, that is part of their job as a kid.  Just as part of your job as a parent is to bring them back in line.  Consistently!
4.     Diversion:  It probably won’t come as a surprise that most kids have a very short attention span.  We often find ourselves frustrated by this but in times of trouble, this is one tiny tot trait that you can – and should – take advantage of!  In our house, we can calm most storms by simply changing the subject. Or game. Or room.  A Lyons Den Peace Treaty – or at the very least a truce – can be easily achieved just by blasting the stereo.  My husband is somewhat humiliated by this but, if our three-year old triplets are fighting over a truck or the “big kids” (now five and six) are arguing about who has more Legos, all I have to do is blast Dancing Queen or Mama Mia.  Before you can say ABBA, our war-torn living room is transformed into a Solid Gold dance-a-thon.  Mission accomplished!
5.     Exhale:  Just do it.  Take a really big, deep breath and then let it all out.  Maybe do it again.  Perhaps a third time.  You will feel better. If your kids are at all like mine, you may need to lock yourself in the bathroom just to take those three big breaths but, you’ll be glad you did.  It will allow you the presence of mind to see that no matter how out-of-control things may seem in any given moment, it is just that, a moment.  And when your tots have toddled off to school and you’re wondering how the time went by so quickly, I’m quite sure these won’t be the moments you remember. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Top Attractions for Dublin with kids

We've been back from Ireland for two weeks.  I'm still tired.  I don't know if jet lag gets harder to kick with age or if the whirlwind of returning to my demanding job and hectic routine have just worn me out.  I do know that when I look back at the pictures, all of the effort (and resulting exhaustion!) was totally worth it.  

As you may know, there was a lot of emotion tied up in our decision to take five relatively tiny tots to Ireland.  A big part of why we went was to honor the memory of my brother-in-law, Conor -- a fine fella who died far too soon and we miss more than words can say.  I'm not quite ready to articulate and share the emotional aftermath of our experiences but I can't resist sharing some of the highlights of our trip -- the great times we had and sights we saw that absolutely should not be missed.  Here are a few of our personal favorites...

Playground at St. Stephen's Green
In case you can't tell by the five smiling faces (which is a rarity to catch on film!), the amazing playground at St. Stephen's Green was a hit.  We visited on numerous occasions en route to or from our daily adventures.  I think this is a great tip for traveling with tots; if you can work a playground into your daily routine, you'll be guaranteed some smiles -- and, the added benefit of tuckering the little ones out!  Speaking of added benefits, another perk of this fantastic park in the center of Dublin is the opportunity to feed the ducks... and swans!  It's just beautiful and a crowd pleaser for all ages.

The National Museum of Ireland, also known as the "Dead Zoo" was another top destination.  The first floor is full of Ireland's four-footed and winged creatures of days past; they are beautifully stuffed and displayed with a few "hands on" opportunities for those who just can't resist.  The second floor has a whole host of animals arranged in evolutionary sequence for those who are bright enough to notice; I admit, I was not! It  includes life-size rhinos and giraffes which our kids observed with that wide-eyed wonder I absolutely adore and would bottle if I could.

While the "Dead Zoo" had our kids enthralled and is a great way to spend an hour or two on an overcast day, it naturally pales in comparison to the real deal.  The Dublin Zoo is one of the best zoos I've ever been to... and I've been to a LOT of zoos!  We spent Ciara's 5th birthday here, taking in the sights, sounds and yes, even the smells of Mother Nature's most amazing creatures.  We laughed at the monkeys, pretended to be penguins, roared at the lions and got much closer to the elephants than we did on our honeymoon adventure to   Kruger National Park -- we even got to see an elephant take a bath, which was a highlight not only of our trip to the zoo, but our entire ten days in Ireland.  If you've never seen an elephant submerge itself in a watering hole, kick up a leg and then shower himself with his mighty trunk, I'd highly recommend it.  I'd also recommend you do it with a trio of two year olds, who can't help but make comments like "where his towel, mama?" and "I think his mom's gonna get him some lotion and pajamas now."  

In the weeks to come, I'll share more of our adventures. For now, I'm just so glad for the time we had, the warm welcome we received and for the memories, which I know will last a lifetime.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finding time for the "Me" in Mommy

Do you struggle finding time for yourself?  Me too.  I've often noted that one of the perks of being a working mom is that work is the only place I get to pee without someone sitting on my lap.  Gross, but true. 

The funny thing is, I've found that having more kids than most (five of them, with the oldest being six) has actually made me better at finding time for me.  Maybe it's because I know my limits now; I know I NEED time for me to be a good Mom.  And I know when I don't find a way to squeeze in some me-time, I'm more like Mommie-Dearest than the dear Mom I'd like to be.

While I'd like to say that I enjoy a weekly manicure, monthly massage or even a haircut every three months, I don't.  These are indulgences of not only time but money that frankly isn't in the budget right now.  I'd also like to say that I enjoy a sweet-smelling bubble bath a few nights a week but, since we only have one tub and I know of at least three tiny tykes who routinely pee in it, well, the bubble bath dream has lost its allure.

My "me-time" happens in other ways.  Often before sunrise.  It may be a cup of coffee while checking in with facebook friends. It may be an early-morning run with a group of gal-pals who advise, inspire and motivate me. On occasion, it's diving into a mindless magazine and glass of wine after the tots are tucked in.  Once a month, it's my book club meeting... even if I haven't found enough me-time to actually finish the book.  Sometimes (though nearly often enough!), it's a girls night out -- a few hours with a few friends goes a long way toward recharging my battery and reminding me that I'm not alone; the challenges we face as Moms are universal -- including the challenge of finding time for yourself!

The point is, with just a bit of effort, it is possible to carve out a few minutes just for you.  I still have a long way to go... one day I would like to get that manicure on a Sunday afternoon while the triplets are napping and big kids play in the yard with Dad. For now, I'm actually happy to participate in all the kid moments I can when I'm not at work and squeeze in all the me-time I can while the kids are sweetly snoozing.  

How do you do it?  Would love to hear your suggestions here, on facebook or twitter!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Plane travel with kids

We recently returned from a ten day adventure in Ireland and I continue to be amazed that the number one question people ask is "How was the flight?" They don't ask "where did you stay?" Or "what did you see?"  They seem more interested in the details of the six hour flight to Dublin and seven hour flight home.  

Like our fellow passengers, they have a preconceived notion that the flight might be hell.  With five kids, it's no wonder people are curious as how we made it work but really folks, the flying was the easy part.  Anytime my five kids are strapped down is a good time for me -- and  it's even better when the law requires it!

I've written in the past about tips for surviving flights with kids and I have to say, it's easier than you might think.  For starters, it's a novelty and an adventure.  If you happen to be two, or four, or six, as our kids are, flying is fun.  I don't know about your kids, but when ours are having fun, they are an absolute delight to be around. They are filled with wonder and excitement -- and it's contagious.  So, first and foremost, if you decide that flying is fun, it will be.

Part of the fun is the freedom to enjoy all the perks the friendly skies have to offer -- and yes, I did call the skies "friendly" (on AerLingus they are especially so) and there are indeed perks to be had.  For our clan, these perks include seat-back entertainment and a plentiful supply of pretzels and apple juice.  It doesn't take much to make them happy and happy kids tend to be quiet, well-behaved kids -- at home and at 30,000 feet.  So, let them watch a movie and have a few extra snacks... if you're as lucky as I was, you just might get to watch a movie yourself... although, I admittedly made a bad choice in selecting Bad Teacher.

Last but not least, do your best to stick to your routine.  We tried to keep our kids on their regular schedule... which both to and fro included a snack upon boarding followed by some coloring and reading (and that movie as an extra perk!) before dinner.  Then it was time for dinner, a story and lights out.  Literally.  After we marched them all to the bathroom (for about the 12th time; this was admittedly NOT fun!), we turned off the seat-back entertainment, switched off the lights, got them their blankies and tucked them in. I recall whispering into one little guy's ear "Sweet dreams, sweet boy. When you wake up, you'll be in Ireland."  And indeed we were.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ireland with five kids under six? Here's why.

As many of you know, we recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Ireland with our five (relatively) tiny tots.  For those of you who are wondering why we embarked on this grand adventure, here's the background -- as initially published on the  New York Times Motherlode blog.

Ireland, You've Been Warned

While most folks are back to school, back to work and generally back in the swing of things, I’m gearing up for a vacation this fall, when we will embark on a ten day trip to Ireland.  When I say “we” I don’t mean my husband Des and I on a romantic trip to the Emerald Isle.  To the contrary, “we” includes me, Des, our six year old Liam, four year old Ciara and two year old triplets, Kevin, Declan and Cormac who, by the way, are identical and may or may not be accurately represented in their passport photos!

The very notion of lugging five relatively tiny tots across the big pond to our ancestral home raises several questions.  A few I’ve heard repeatedly include, “Why now? Why not wait until they will really appreciate it?”  “How will you survive that overnight flight?”  And my personal favorite, “are you crazy?!”  The short answers are “Why not?”  “Will they ever really appreciate it?” “By sleeping!” and “I don’t think so but I’m not totally sure.”

To provide some context, let me share our family history and how this trip came to fruition.  As you probably guessed from our impressive selection of “Top 100 Irish Baby Names”, we’ve got a lot of green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name is O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons” – needless to say, that didn’t work!

My great-grandparents hailed from County Clare and County Mayo.  Des’ Irish roots are more recent; his Dad was a “Corkman” – born, raised and educated in County Cork.  Des’ Mom was Scottish.  As a kid, Des spent many summers visiting aunts, uncles and cousins overseas.  He claims that kids flew free back then – a perk that I’d like the airlines to reconsider although, it’s too late for this adventure.  Our tickets are booked, our seats are confirmed and that brings me to the rest of my story.

Des’ brother Conor was a great jazz guitarist, a proud Irishman and a gentle soul with a giant heart.  His gifted musical hands never held a child of his own but often held ours, especially when the triplets came along and we were so dramatically outnumbered.  For those first few months, we had five kids under four.  During the long days and longer nights, Conor was a constant presence.  He could burp a baby with the best of them and though he drew the line at changing diapers, he was truly a Godsend. 

As we fed, rocked, burped and soothed three tiny tots late into the night, we’d talk about Ireland.  We discussed all going together one day -- sooner rather than later so that the triplets could fly free (the airlines still don’t charge for kids under two) and the aging aunts and uncles would have the opportunity to meet our kids and hear Conor play.  We decided that we would buy Conor’s ticket and in return, he’d have the pleasure of cuddling Kevin, Declan or Cormac on his lap for that overnight flight.

Our plans were grand and our dreams were big but then everything changed. Conor was diagnosed with lung cancer last February and lost his valiant battle just five months later.  On July 13, 2010, the choirs in heaven received a great jazz guitarist and all around good guy; we know the music up there is sweeter since he arrived.

As for us, we’re still here.  With holes in hearts.  Until recently, the sound of the music Conor loved so much and gave us all such joy quite literally made me sick.  We never know how children digest the death of a loved one but we know that Liam in particular feels a keen loss; just a few months ago he started sobbing and when asked why responded, “Conor was going to teach me guitar and now he can’t.”

So why are we going to Ireland?  Why now?  I suppose because we have seen firsthand that life is just too short.  We could wait until the kids really “appreciate” it but what if that day never arrives? 

As for you Ireland, consider yourself warned.  The Lyons Den is coming to town and we’re going to make the most of it with five tots, four suitcases, three backpacks and two strollers in tow!  When we hear our first true Irish reel, we will know Conor is with us in spirit.  When we see the sights, we know he will be looking down upon us.  And, as we dwell on our heritage, we will be eternally grateful for the time that he dwelled here among us. 

As for me, I hope to come home with a sense of peace and renewal, not to mention a suitcase full of Irish knit sweaters and a lifetime full of fond memories… except perhaps for that overnight flight which I remain optimistic we will all sleep through!  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Keep Birthdays Simple, Small and Fun

You may have noticed that my last “Tuesday Tip” was as much a confession of feeling overwhelmed and pressured by multiple life events (work, a trip to Ireland and four kids birthdays in a week, just to name a few!) as it was a suggestion to keep it simple when it comes to kids birthdays.… this week’s “tip” is an affirmation and reminder of that advice.

1.     Keep it simple.   Yesterday, our triplets turned three.  The night before, we arrived home from our adventures in Ireland.  As the sun rose on the third birthday of our trio of tots, our house was full of jet-lagged inhabitants, dirty laundry, strewn luggage and several stink bugs that unfortunately made themselves at home while we were away.  The fridge was empty and the entire scene was far removed from the idyllic awakening one would hope for as their children ushered in a new year.  You know what though?  None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that we were all home, all together and greeted our “Cubs” in their cribs with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” that they joined in while literally jumping with joy.  Sometimes simply being together and being silly is the perfect gift.
2.     Less is more.  In thinking about our trio turning three, I fretted about what to get them, when I’d find time to go shopping,  and how I’d have the energy to wrap it all up upon our return from Ireland. So here’s what I did:  the week before we left, I stumbled upon some pajamas I’d gotten at Costco last spring in one of our hand-me-down bins.  I bought three little footballs and three cars at the checkout of Old Navy, where I’d gone to ensure the little fellas would have pants that fit while we were away.  I wrapped it all up before we left and decided that was that.  And they were thrilled.  They loved their new pjs and played with their new low-budget toys while happily chattering “This IS my birthday!  Me IS three now!”  It was all good.
3.   Family = Party.   I had also worried about how I’d pull together a party in the midst of the post-vacation mayhem. To address this dilemma, we decided that pizza and cake with my parents and my sister and her family would count as a party.  And it did.  Given the unseasonably warm weather, we opted for hot dogs on the grill instead of pizza but it was still simple, small and fun.

I suppose that’s really the heart of this Tuesday’s tip… your children are simple, small and fun and I think the key to eliminating the birthday stress that so many of us experience is to cater to their whims on their level… keep it simple, small and fun – just like them – and everyone is bound to have a Happy Birthday. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dublin with the family: a few observations

We've been in Ireland for almost a week.  I'm as tired now as I was when we arrived... I'm not sure if it's getting harder to shake jet-lag with age (I never used to have a problem with it!) or if it's traveling with five tots six and under that lends itself to a state of perpetual exhaustion.  I imagine the truth lies somewhere in between.  

We've had a stellar time thus far and I will save the bulk of our adventures for a later post.  For now, I just wanted to share some random observations before they slip my mind, as things are ever more prone to do... again, leaving me wondering, is the issue age or exhaustion?!  Without further ado...

  • There is no doubt that I have consumed more ham and bacon in the past week than I have in the past year.  Given this, I can't help but be surprised that there hasn't been even a single sighting of a pig.  There are cows and sheep aplenty but where oh where are they keeping the pigs that supply the bacon?!  Perhaps it's better if I just don't know...
  • The bathrooms here are universally slippery.  It may be because it's always raining and the floors are slick and wet.  It may be because I'm usually in the bathroom with at least three tots who may slick the floors themselves with urine, soap, water or a combination of all three.  Regardless, the bathrooms are like slip and slides and should be treated with caution... especially after a pint of Guinness!
  • Which leads me to my next observation.  I love the Guinness here!  It's great!  Why is this surprising?  Because at home, I wouldn't touch a pint of Guinness with a ten-foot pole.  Here though, a pint at lunch is mighty tasty as it washes down and grilled ham and cheese... again, the ham!
  • I think I now know why the doors of Dublin are as lovely and colorful as they are... they break up the grey monotony of the drizzly days.  Don't get me wrong, I am a newfound fan of the Irish mist... it is refreshing and I daresay, is already doing wonders for my skin.  But one must admit that it gets a bit dreary and the bright-colored doors are like a ray of sunshine... a ray that I hope will appear before we depart!

Last but not least, I have to admit, this adventure has been tougher than anticipated... the world at large is not prepared to cater to a family of seven so rental cars, hotel rooms, taxis, restaurants, pretty much anything you can think of is a bit more challenging.  Even so, we're all enjoying ourselves, we haven't lost anyone yet and we look forward to the days to come.  More to follow, to be sure... :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A million welcomes as our family arrives in Dublin

We made it. We have arrived in Ireland with all five kids, our luggage and our sense of humor still in tact.  We have heard repeatedly, "Wow, you sure have your hands full now, don't ye?" from numerous well-meaning onlookers, who can't help but be surprised and mildly alarmed as we take up the sidewalks with our strollers and strolling tykes.  

It's been a bit of a blur so far given that the jet lag has yet to lift and the whole experience seems a bit surreal.  Did we really just take an overnight flight to Ireland with five kids six and under?  Have we really arrived in Dublin?  Are all these smiling, friendly faces and offers to help really directed toward us?  How could we possibly be so lucky?

I have to say, it's true what they say about the Irish... we have been greeted with "Cead Mile Fialte", a million welcomes. It started on the AerLingus flight, where instead of gasping with horror at the notion of tending to five tots on the overnight journey, they embraced our family with a warm welcome before we even left JFK.

"What's your name love?  Can I get you another pillow my dear?  Ah, and look at the eyelashes on this one!  Would you like another juice love?  How about you Mum?  Surely you can use a glass of wine... you've earned it!"  And so on and so forth.  They oohed and aahed and fussed over the lot of us the whole way over, making that overnight flight a true delight... or, as delightful as possible given the sheer exhaustion of it all!

The warm welcomes continued as we connected with both family and friends.  We are truly grateful to be here, touched by our million welcomes and owe special thanks to the total stranger who offered to give us his umbrella yesterday as the rain poured down.  Thank you Ireland for the warm welcome and adventures that await!