Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Second Grade Field Trip to the Bronx Zoo

I am an animal lover.  I adore animals and have since I was a child.  Which is why last week was a truly superb week here in the Lyons Den.  For starters, we had three small chicks sleep over as part of a second grade science project -- little balls of fluffy cuteness that elicited smiles and squeals of delight.  And I'm not just talking about the kids! 

Does it get cuter than this? FYI, chick three was camera-shy.

As if the chick visitation wasn't enough, we also had Liam's class trip to the Bronx Zoo -- one of my favorite places and, always a joy to see through the eyes of a child... even in the pouring rain.  Here's a brief recap...

I left the house at ten past nine,
With another mom, we were the first in line.
We hoped and hoped it wouldn't rain,
Or be too crowded and totally insane. 

We arrived before the zoo opened at 10,
No kids in sight, it was truly zen.
Then the phone rang, the bus never came,
Our kids were back at their school, stuck at Dows Lane!

No bus, no kids, what are moms to do?
Well, we walked right in and toured the zoo!
Sea lions and polar bears topped our list,
When the second graders arrived,they were kinda pissed.

"No bus! Dirty bus! We're so late!" they exclaimed,
As the skies opened up and it started to rain.
Poor kids, poor teachers, poor parents soaking wet,
But not to be deterred, we went to see birds and didn't fret.

Birds of prey seemed really cool
The kids had learned a lot about them at school.
A snowy owl I learned is a bird of prey,
I really learned a lot that rainy day.

Puffins are cute, the Scarlet Ibis is pretty,
Fifty wet second graders can be fun and witty.
Environmental messages were strong and clear --
If you cut down the trees, the birds will disappear.

As the thunder boomed and the rain came pouring down, 
The teachers decided we had to get out of town,
Bye bye Bronx, bye bye zoo.
So long Aquatic Birds and Birds of Prey too.

Good bye to a day that was almost a disaster,
With a missing school bus and rain falling fast and faster,
But a disaster it was not as the memories will surely tell,
Second graders reflect fondly on a zoo day from hell!

And, for the record, I do too. 
I really was lucky to go to the zoo.
Sure I was hungry and tired and wet,
But a day at the zoo is as good as it gets.

A day with my fella who I can't believe is seven,
Is a great day for me, a little slice of heaven. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Summer Roadtrip Survival Guide

When I mentioned to people that we were headed to Boston to visit friends for Memorial Day weekend, I was met with a consistent chorus of "All of you?!"  I'm not sure if the stunned responses were aimed at us for being brave enough to battle holiday weekend traffic with five kids in a minivan or our friends, for being brave enough to invite the Lyons Family Circus to town.  Again.

These are very very good friends.  We have been visiting them once or twice a year for as long as I can remember -- including those dicey days when we had five kids under five and would roll in with a car full of pack and plays, strollers, high chairs and, more often than not, at least one smelly child who had been sitting in his or her own stink (from either a diaper or projectile vomit or both) for hours in the aforementioned traffic. 

How do we do it?  Well, for starters, we've gotten pretty good at planning and packing -- and, we've learned over the years that rarely do we leave when we plan to, arrive when we hope to or survive any extended road trip without pulling over at least once for a roadside bathroom or vomit break. That's just the way we roll.  Here are a few tips to help you roll to wherever the road takes you in Summer 2012.

  • Pack extra everything.  Or plan to do laundry. Or both.  Perhaps most of all, pack your sense of humor.  You'll need it when you're on the side of 95 with a crying kid peeing on your foot.  Or when the projectile vomit hits the back of your head. Or the bag of snacks in the backseat.  You get the idea. Family road trips aren't pretty but if you leave your sense of humor at home, they will be downright dismal!
  •  Learn to tune them out.  By "them", I mean the kids in the backseat.  Whether you have one of them or five or more, they make a ton of noise.  Ours start to ask for a snack before we turn off our block.  Then it's on to a relentless cacophony of "Are we there yet?" "He's kicking my seat" "She's bothering me" "I have to pee." "I think someone farted.' "Are we there yet?" and so on.  We've discovered it can be really fun to taunt them the way they taunt you.  A few of our favorites are to:
    • A. Put all the windows down when you're doing 65 on the highway so the wind literally knocks them silent or...
    • B.  Blast your favorite classic car tunes (for me it's Don't Stop Believin' by Journey; for my husband it's anything Led Zeppelin) and sing along at the top of your lungs.  They will be momentarily stunned into silence upon realizing that you have a repertoire beyond "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." You can and should use this to your advantage and feel free to keep it up until someone starts to cry - which in our experience is typically well into the last refrain.
  • Reset your expectations.  Remember when a bathroom break took five minutes?  Or when you'd stop for dinner and be back on the road in fifteen minutes?  Well, those days are gone.  If you've ever hit a roadside rest stop with your tots in tow, you know that it takes longer and is a far more menacing place.  Everything is dirty and everyone is a stranger-danger.  You will hold your kids close, your Purell closer and wonder how you lost a half hour of your life in a filthy bathroom. And you may only be a few minutes away from home!
So, it may take longer and there's no doubt that it's messier but, if life is all about the journey, I say go for it and enjoy the ride!  Happy travels! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: Savor it!

One of life's simple pleasures: Puddle Jumping!

I tend to find myself feeling a bit, well, schmoopy, this time of year.   As the seasons change and class picnics and school concerts fill the calendar, I am reminded daily of how fleeting this time with our children is; of how today's hardships provide tomorrow's humor and how, in the blink of an eye, these little ones who needed us move on, move up and move out.  

Ok, technically, with our oldest only seven, I know that no one is moving out any time soon but, I can't help but be struck by the fact that our seven and five year old are pretty much over me.  Sure, they still need me in some ways but, I'm no longer the center of their world.  Whereas they once thought I could do no wrong, they now know that I can and do.  They are smart, independent and savvy.  And that's the way it should be.

On the other hand, our trio of identical three-year olds still worship the ground I walk on.  They still occasionally cry when I go to work and routinely run to the door and jump into my arms when I come home.  They greet me each morning with a smile, filled with anticipation for the day ahead and asking as they rub the sleep from their eyes "Is today a Mommy day?"  Of course, every day is a Mommy day but in their world, a "Mommy Day" is a day I don't work.  Today, we had a "Mommy morning" and it made me realize how important it is not sweat the small stuff, but to embrace it.  Today, instead of yelling at them for jumping in puddles, I joined them.  Instead of stopping them from splashing in the tub, I simply shut the shower curtain and let them have at it.  And you know what?  It was awesome.  Small stuff; little moments; daily routines; shared secrets -- these are the wonders of parenthood.  And, as far as I'm concerned, they are passing by far too quickly. That's why I plan to seize every chance I get to...
  • Hold hands
  • Jump in puddles
  • Look at bugs
  • Snuggle and cuddle
  • Sing silly songs
  • Eat ice cream
  • Yell less and smile more

These are the things that make Mommy Days memorable -- and the reasons why it's just not worth it to sweat the small stuff.  In the end, the small stuff will be forgotten, your small ones will be big and we'll realize that little did we know, it was some of these small things that mean the most.  Hopefully, like the day that I took the morning off to splash in puddles!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lessons Learned on a Kindergarten Field Trip

Lesson One: Insects have six legs

This week I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter’s Kindergarten class on a field trip to our local Audubon Society.  I’m pretty sure it was all the more pleasurable because I got to ride in my own car (aka Swagger Wagon) drinking coffee rather than bouncing along in the school bus belching up breakfast. 

Transportation issues aside, I learned a lot in my few hours at the Audubon with twenty five-year olds.  For starters, I really learned a lot about bugs.  While I might have preferred to focus more on flora and fauna, insects were the topic du jour.  Did you know, for instance, that an insect by definition has six legs?  Or that monarch butterflies (technically not insects!) only lay eggs on milkweed?  Or that treasure troves of creepy, crawly bugs live under rocks and fallen branches?  That one wasn’t a total newsflash to me but some of the other tidbits most certainly were.

I happily picked up a neat new catch phrase for avoiding poison ivy (“Leaves of three, let it be.”) and rather reluctantly laid eyes on spittlebugs for the very first time. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this unique species for the past oh, forty years but, once you know what you’re looking for (hint: they look like nasty piles of spit on a plant stem), they are really hard to miss.

When I got back to office, I shared my newfound knowledge with my co-workers, all of whom seemed either A. grossed out; B. confused by my enthusiasm; or C. questioned why my mind was retaining such detail.  “Where are you ever going to use that nugget about monarch butterflies?” I was asked.

Where?  Well, for starters, beyond the little lady who I was lucky to accompany on this adventure, there are four boys at home, all eager for information and all amply impressed when I shared this truism: “You know, if you pick up a frog, it really will pee on you.”  Ok, so a frog isn’t a bug and that pee may be a mucous discharge that acts as a defense mechanism but still, this an impressive nugget of knowledge! 

Perhaps most importantly, I learned how important it is to simply show up.  To take a few hours off of work, leave the phone in the Swagger Wagon and focus -- completely focus -- on my little girl.  Hold her hand. Jump over puddles. Leap over logs. Peek under rocks.  Tune out everything but her… well, her and the poison ivy which is apparently prolific this time of year! 

I left the Audubon thinking about how happy it makes me to hold her little hand.  And, that I don’t hold it nearly enough.  My hands are often over capacity trying to hold the hands of her triplet little brothers as we cross streets, navigate stores and maneuver our way through the world around us.   Thanks to this field trip, I’m going to be holding her hand more often and, I see once again the wisdom in that adage, “everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten.”  I’d put holding hands at the top of that list. Although, if those hands recently handled spittlebugs, I’d much prefer they were washed first!  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Debunking the Mother's Day myth

Sometimes the best gifts come in hand-painted pots

I had a great day on Mother's Day.  In fact, in my seven years of motherhood, it was hands-down the best Mother's Day I've ever had.  Maybe it's because the sun was shining, it was unseasonably warm and we went to the beach -- one of my all-time favorite places.  Maybe it's because I went for a run with a good friend that morning and returned feeling energized and optimistic.  Or maybe, just maybe, it's because after several years of succumbing to the myth of Mother's Day, I've finally gotten wise to the commercial hype and colossal disappointments.  I've finally recognized that every day is Mother's Day and Moms really don't get a day off.  And, after seven years, I am finally ok with that.

Most moms don't get to sleep late, skip the laundry, overlook the dishes, or have three meals served up on a platter.  But, we do get incredible homemade cards and homegrown plants -- small seedlings in hand-painted pots designed by the same little hands that like to hold ours. These cards, plants and other pieces of handiwork are precious gifts, just like motherhood itself.  Sure it's messy, noisy, crazy, expensive, exhausting and at times, completely overwhelming.  That's why a one-day celebration could never do it justice.  After all, motherhood is a lifelong pursuit, an evolving practice, an enduring responsibility.  With that in mind, here are some tips to dispel the myth and embrace Mother's Day -- each and every day of the year. 
  • Accept that every day is Mother’s Day. You can’t turn off your kids or roll over and make them go away. Trust me, I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. So, on Mother’s Day (and other days as well!), I think it’s best to recall what the point really is… which is not to escape from your children and responsibilities but to embrace them. To give thanks for the small things we take for granted -- like ten fingers and ten toes or sloppy wet kisses or someone small who wants nothing more than an “Uppie”. And, if someone else offers to bring you breakfast in bed, well, that’s ok too – just don’t count on it... and remember, that any given Sunday is a good excuse for someone else to brew the coffee! 
  • Recognize that you deserve more than one day a year to relax. And, it’s up to you to make it happen. While I dream of long bubble baths with candlelight and a cup of tea (or better yet, a glass of wine!), it’s just not happening. If I were ever so lucky to find myself in a warm, sudsy tub, I’m sure I’d be joined by at least one small tot… or worse, one very large dog. So, I’ve found other ways to get in a bit of R&R on a regular basis -- a book club and occasional girls night out do the trick for me; they give me something to look forward to once or twice a month, rather than some mythical day off that only comes once a year.

This year, I didn't get to see my Mom -- you know why?  She was away with my Dad, enjoying one of their favorite places... a sunny beach.  As it turns out, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree and, with my new, improved "myth-free Mother's Day" attitude, I'm looking forward to a "Girls Day" with my Mom in the next few weeks.  It will be our way to celebrate mothers, daughters, friendship and life -- and we have every intention of doing it several times before Mother's Day returns again.  Might I suggest that you do too?


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday Tip: A Working Mom's Guide to Business Travel

I’ve been on the road a lot lately.  And, since I’ve had an almost year-long hiatus from business travel (and flying solo in general!), it took a few adjustments at home to get the gang I left behind geared up for a few days sans the Mama.  Here’s how we made it work and, should the need arise, you can too:

·      Ladies and gentleman, synch your calendars!  Organizing the comings and goings of a family of seven is never an easy task but never is it more critical then when Mom is out of town.  To make sure that the right kid ends up at the right party/soccer field/baseball game, I send my better half (that would be my husband Des, in case you were wondering!) calendar invites with all of the details.  For example:  "Sunday, April 29th.  12:30-2:00.  Ciara: Maya’s 6th Birthday Party.  Gift wrapped in home office. Car pool confirmed. Address as follows.”  No detail is left out, reminders are set and everyone ends up where they belong. Mission accomplished!
·      Take the easy way out.  Our typical dinners are homemade but when I’m not home, well, they are made elsewhere.  Like in the frozen pizza factory.  Or local burger joint.  Dinner in our house is mayhem on a good day but, with only one parent ruling the roost, it can be pure chaos.  These are the days when rotisserie chicken reigns supreme and pizza might prevail.  And that’s ok.  Stock the freezer, pack the pantry and away you go!
·      Love ‘em and leave ‘em.  It’s not easy to say good-bye to my five (relatively) tiny tots and one uber-patient, supportive, loving husband.  But, drawn out good-byes don’t do any of us any good.  What does us good is a lot of hugs, kisses and open communication about where I’m going, why I’m going and when I’ll be back.  Time permitting, I’ll leave a note on our whiteboard or a sticky note someplace unexpected (bathroom mirror!) with a simple “I love you” and constant reminder that though this Mama might occasionally leave ‘em, she always loves ‘em and always has ‘em on her mind and in her heart.

The kids know that my current trip to Chicago is the last one I’ll be taking for a while.  And they know that next week their dear Dad is headed to Atlanta.  And they know that we are all eagerly awaiting the month of June, when the business travel subsides and a family trip awaits. 

The trips we take together are the highlights of my life. And the trips I take alone remind me of how lucky I am to be so in love with the family I have and the life I lead… not to mention, provide a few moments to read a magazine without anyone climbing in my lap!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Communion, cardboard and cake: A Mom's musings on First Holy Communion

I didn’t know what to expect when our firstborn made his First Holy Communion.  Of course I knew that he’d be accepting the Host, the body and blood of Christ, during mass that day but beyond that, there were a few unknowns.  How would he feel about it?  How would I feel about it? What, pray tell, do you get your seven year old son when he makes his First Communion?  And how in heaven’s name would I pull off the post-Communion party in the midst of traveling for work and juggling our busy lives?

The answers, it turns out, are simple.  As they often are.  How did our sweet Liam “feel” about his First Communion? “It tasted like cardboard.”  Can’t argue with that!  And, such is the level of emotion routinely revealed by your average second grade boy.  Why I continue to expect a response akin to “I’ve been spiritually renewed. I feel like a man now Ma”, I’ll never know!

As for my feelings, well, let’s just say the tear ducts got a good workout that day.  For starters, in looking at my “baby” in a navy suit, I realized that the kid he is today bears a strong resemblance to the man he will be tomorrow – not literally tomorrow but, one day in a future that I know will come far too fast. As he posed for pictures with his pals, all shined and scrubbed and full of anticipation in their matching pint-sized suits, I knew I was looking at the same group of guys that are likely to appear when he is confirmed, graduated, and married.  The spectrum of life’s milestones passed before me as the tears welled up in my eyes.  And that was all before he walked down the church aisle with a lovely little lady Communicant in a white dress.  It was before I sat in a pew, sandwiched between my parents and grandparents, with our three-year old triplets climbing in my lap thinking of how lucky we were to have four generations of O’Connor’s witnessing Liam’s special day.  And then he said “Amen”, accepted the Host for the first time and beamed me a great big grin that really got the tears flowing.  Tears of joy for my little boy.

As for the gift, well, the foreshadowing was in my husband’s remarks the day Liam was born: “He will be Catholic and he will be a Yankee fan.”  As such, it was only fitting that we gave him a beautiful Celtic cross, straight from one of the Irish shops on McLean Avenue in the Bronx AND tickets to a Yankee game… a game to be attended by just the three of us – Mom, Dad and Liam.  Needless to say, the kid was thrilled, “Just us?! Not the little guys?! Not Ciara? Awesome!”  Which is not to say that Liam doesn’t love his sister Ciara or the “little guys” (his triplet brothers, Kevin, Declan and Cormac) but his response really underscored how valuable the time we spend with him and him alone truly is.  More surprising though, was the fact that he actually liked his silver cross.  He really liked it!  He put it on right away and even asked if he could sleep in it…  suggesting, perhaps, he has greater emotional depth about this right of passage than “it tastes like cardboard.”

As for the party, it came together, as parties always do.  It was a family affair, low-key and intimate, as the best parties often are.  I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to spend that Friday night ironing the tablecloth and prepping the salads but I’m glad I did.  I’m glad we did; my husband Des deserves at least as much credit as I do for the successful soiree we had.  It was as sweet and memorable as the cake that topped it off and the smile on Liam’s face as he dug in and remarked, “This is much better.  Not like cardboard at all!”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Be a Little Sneaky (Sneaky Chef!)

I have a kid who tends to be a little sneaky.  He often has something he's hiding behind his back and has been been known to act a bit like "Swiper" (that sly fox we've come to know through Dora the Explorer) as he swipes toys from siblings and scurries away with them.

As a mom, I don't like sneaky behavior.  Not one little bit.  But, I have to admit to being a bit sneaky myself at times -- like after dark, when the preschool drawings make their way to the trash bin! Awful, I know... you've never done that, right?

Well, I know one Mom who has sassed up sneaky into nutritious and delicious recipes that even Swiper would enjoy.  Meet the Sneaky Chef.

Missy Chase Lapine has a new cookbook that celebrates sneaky as veggies, fruits and power foods (hello flaxseed!) make their way into muffins, macaroni and even meatballs! Do you have a picky eater?  Do your mealtime mantras include exasperated exclamations like "but you have to eat your vegetables!" or "Just try it!"  If so, this is a book full of solutions for you.

Our kids are pretty good about eating fruits and veggies (most of them, anyway!) but even so, I'm all for getting in more of the good stuff when I can and I've been inspired by Missy's nutritional advice and time-saving, kid-tested recipes.  Perhaps best of all, the book includes many great tips for getting food on the table fast-- from suggestions for pantry stocking to a go-to list for grocery shopping, there are practical tips for alleviating the daily stress associated answering that omnipresent question "Hey Ma, what's for dinner?!"  Or breakfast... or lunch... or a snack!  

I think perhaps Missy put it best when she mused "It's not just about saving time. It's also about making the moments your family sits around the table more meaningful."  Amen to that!  

To try a few Missy's recipes for yourself, check out  The Sneaky Chef... and tell her that Swiper sent you. ;)