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:
  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!