Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Parenting lessons from Jimmy Buffet

Sometimes it’s hard to resist admiring our brood in an admittedly annoying and self-congratulatory way. “They really are GOOD kids,” my husband and I tell each other with more than a hint of self-accomplishment.  And then, just as we start to get a bit too smug, we have a Saturday when we’re all screaming before breakfast followed by a Sunday that has us praying for Monday so we can get back to work and away from our evil spawn!

OMG, did I just call our dear children "evil spawn"?  Well, please forgive me but, last weekend, it really was that bad.  Ask the neighbors.  They will tell you.  They heard it all.  All of the screaming, yelling, crying and whining.  They were also witnesses when I packed up the car Sunday morning and said, “That’s it, we’re outta here!  We have to get OUT OF THIS HOUSE before someone gets hurt!”  Such is a lesson I’ve learned time and again.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Going outside, that is.

Jimmy Buffet might have put it best when he sang, “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude.”  For most parents in the throes of toddler tantrums and general kid rebellion, a change in latitude isn’t necessary but a change in environment will do wonders.  Head to the park, the beach, the aquarium, the pool, the zoo.  If those seem too ambitious a plan, go for a walk around the block.  Really.  A simple change of scenery provides enough of a distraction for heated tempers to cool down.  The world outside is a wondrous place.  There are flowers to smell, birds to watch, clouds that double as creatures and creatures that I might pass by but the kids can’t help but notice… ants, spiders, even squirrels are fodder for the musings of little minds.

Getting out – near or far – opens your eyes and theirs to the world around you.  It’s a neat fix for the flaring tempers that occasionally erupt in all of our homes.  And, I suppose, when all else fails, Jimmy Buffet offers another solution… a little elixir called Margaritaville.  Maybe we’ll try that one next weekend…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Kids need downtime too!

I've written a lot this summer about creating and following rules and aspiring to raise children who are self sufficient.  Even so, I feel like we've been battling more, I've been nagging more and honestly, that the kids are just driving me crazy!  

Truth be told, we've all been struggling with the rules; the challenge for the kids, of course, has been following them and the challenge for us as parents has been enforcing them. It's not easy to threaten "no ice cream" or "no TV" when I would love some ice cream myself and relish the peace and quiet our kids occasional TV time provides for me!

A little TV can be some quality downtime - for kids & parents!
Why oh why has this summer been so hard?  I think, perhaps, we are ALL hot and bothered.  And tired.  Really tired.  Why?  Well, let's consider what tomorrow will bring... the triplets (now 3 1/2 years old) will walk all over town -- to the library, the park, a friend's house and home again in ninety degree heat.  Our two older kids, now seven and five, will start their day at 7:00, be hustled out the door at 7:45 and find themselves in a pool for swim team practice at 8:00.  At 8:45, they will be dragged out to quickly change clothes before being delivered to day camp, where it is really big, much anticipated day; they are headed to Rye Playland, for some fun in the hot sweltering sun until they are brought back to camp for 3:00 pickup... which gives them just about an hour for a snack, changing clothes again and piling into the car to get to a swim meet which will last from roughly 5:00-7:30.  I am tired just thinking about it.  And I am 40, not under 10.  And, I will spend the bulk of my day working in air conditioning while they are out in the heat and humidity!

So, why can't they follow the rules?  Why are we so often at our wits end, yelling and nagging?  Perhaps because our kids are exhausted.  And whose fault is that?  Mine.  Mine for succumbing to the barrage of "What are you doing this summer?" questions that started before the snow even melted.  Well, ok, this year we didn't have much snow but, you get the idea! 

Society, it seems, has decided that those hazy, lazy days of summer I recall so clearly and fondly -- days I spent reading books in a tree (for real!), swimming with friends, or simply lazing about -- are for the weak. Or unambitious.  Not true.  Not true at all and, shame on me for not realizing it sooner!

Our local day camp ends in early August.  The whole town is abuzz with making plans, filling days and structuring every moment for our children.  Not me. Not this time.  For August, at least, I'm going to let my kids be kids.  I'm going to try to take a few days off of  work to just be with them.  Not "do", but "be" -- relax, see where the day takes us, be content if it takes us nowhere at all.  This "being" vs. "doing" does not come naturally to me but, I think it's worth a try.  And, while it may or may not improve the general respect for rules around here, I'm pretty sure it will dispense with some of the nagging and yelling and hopefully, ensure that we're all far less hot, bothered and tired when the school year begins once more. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Establishing (and keeping!) ground rules for kids

School’s out for summer and there has been an unauthorized, not so subtle shift of power here in the Lyons Den.  In the blink of an eye and a few hot, muggy days, the kids seem to be ruling the roost and I don't like it. Not one little bit.

There are shoes strewn across the living room, clothes all over the bedrooms, popsicle sticks on the porch and lollipop sticks on the dining room rug.  On the rug!  To make things worse, my demands to pick up and clean up either fall upon deaf ears or are met with some combination of "No.", "Not now Mom!" or perhaps most infuriatingly, "What?  What Mom? WHAT? Did you say something?"

Well kids, yes, I have something to say: I hope you enjoyed your brief reign of power because it is over. Over!  And how, you might wonder, do I plan to reign them in?  By putting them to work for me. By having them think about, articulate, write and enforce our house rules. That's my plan and here they are:  

To begin, I had a quiet, one on one meeting with our seven year old, the leader of the pack.  I had a few things in mind. For starters, I know I'm always more prone to remember things if I write them down so, I had him jot down our family rules after a nice, calm discussion about why they are so important to the happy, healthy functioning of our household.  And, knowing that our little ones think he walks on air (and, in fairness, they've been playing a really great ongoing game of "school" where he is the teacher), I decided that he would be the one to present the rules to rest of the kids. Truth be told, we did it together to ensure there wasn't an uprising and, it's really too soon to tell if this approach is working but I have to say, we're off to a good start.  I didn't trip over any wayward shoes or misplaced toys as I settled in to write this and that, my friends, is progress.  Should you wish to read the specifics of our rules or perhaps adopt a few as your own,please read on...
  • No jumping on beds:  Well, if you ask the kids to help write the rules, it's no wonder this is at the top of this list. They hear it a lot. Especially since our three-year old triplets recently made the move from cribs to beds and have been unofficially dubbed the "mattress monkeys."  For the record, it is "jumping" not "juping" but again, if you ask the kids to write the rules, you have to expect a few spelling errors! 
  • No balls in house:  Pretty self explanatory, right? This is another one they hear a lot and I'm hoping they finally start paying attention to!  
  • Be a good listener:  This is perhaps my #1 gripe.  They just don't listen.  But, in fairness, they pointed out that I'm not such a great listener myself. Looks like we’ll be working together to improve our listening skills for the rest of the summer. 
  • Put away your laundry.  They can do this.  At 3, 5 and 7 years old, they are well equipped to put their laundry in their drawers. It saves me time, gives them a sense of accomplishment and is good for all of us! 
  • Make your bed every day. See above. This is an age-appropriate task they can all tackle.  Especially since the triplets’ “beds” are actually crib mattresses on the floor.   
  • No yelling.  If you look closely, this might be read as “Mo” yelling but, that is most definitely not the intention. I suspect “no” yelling is going to be a tough one – especially since I was reminded that I am guilty of excessive yelling myself. One more area of improvement for all of us!
  • No hurting others (including feelings).  This was born from the premise that “hands are not for hitting”, “teeth are not for biting”, etc.  But, I applaud our little ones for recognizing that words can hurt too -- and that it’s important to consider and respect other people’s feelings.  Gee, it seems like maybe they are listening… sometimes, anyway!  
  • Eat your meals.  If your house is anything like ours, you’re familiar with the whole “am I finished yet?”/“do I have to eat that?” routine.  Our response is consistently “you are finished when your tummy is full and there is no food left on your plate” and “yes, you have to eat it. It’s what we’re serving for breakfast/lunch/dinner and there are no substitutes.” Which, I’m kind of glad to see translates to “eat your meals.” If I could add “without complaining”, I would but, beggars can’t be choosers! 
  • Put your dishes in the dishwasher.  Ok, they don’t load the dishwasher like I do but, let’s face it, NO ONE loads the dishwasher like I do. I have to remind myself of that and just be grateful they are clearing their places!
  •  Don’t ask for more.  This is apparently how they translated “be grateful for what you have.”  We talk a lot about gratitude – for the roof over heads, the food on our plate, our family, our friends and our health.  I hope that one day it sinks in a bit more deeply than “don’t ask for more” but for now, I’ll take it! 
  • Say your Ps and Qs.  Or, put another way, “please” and “thank yous.”  As in, “Kids, if you will please pay attention to these rules, I will listen more, yell less and promise to thank you for making your bed, putting the laundry away, loading the dishwasher and more importantly, treating each other and all you meet with kindness and respect."  

What are your house rules?  I'd love know -- especially since I know this is an imperfect and incomplete list... like most parts of parenting, setting (and sticking to!) the rules is a work in progress! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parenting lessons from a trip to the vet

Finnegan, our "rejected" Guiding Eyes for the Blind "glab" (part Golden/part Lab!)
It was a hot, HOT Friday.  The thermometer on the car read 105.  I returned from work to discover our dog with an oozing head wound.  The kids were hot and bothered.  So was the dog.  So was I.  The husband was nowhere to be found.  Apparently his golf game ran long.  I wasn’t sure if I should pity him for being out in the horrid heat or be pissed that he was somewhere, anywhere but home, leaving me to deal with four whining kids (thankfully one was on a playdate!) and one injured dog.

A quick consult with a neighbor and call to the vet confirmed my suspicions; our loving family pet Finn was in need of some medical attention.  So, while the sun beat down and the kids whined on, I loaded three 3-year olds, one five year old and one ninety pound dog into the minivan and over to the vet.

There we stayed for almost two hours.  TWO hours!  Admittedly, that is inclusive of transport time but still, I spent 5:30-7:30 Friday evening surrounded by furry things and clingy children rather than enjoying the cool glass of wine I had envisioned on the porch.  You know what though?  It actually wasn’t so bad.  In fact, it was kinda fun. 

I love furry things.  I love our kids.  And, I don’t often afford them the opportunity to be clingy.  I was totally surprised, as I often am, by the twists and turns of motherhood.  For a night that started out hot and bothered, it ended with the realization that these unexpected detours are often a good thing.  A very good thing.  Here’s why if it happened all over again, I just might choose the trip to the vet over that glass of wine…

  • The vet has air conditioning. Our porch does not.  For that matter, neither does our house.
  • There are dogs at the vet. I love dogs. My kids love dogs. My dog loves dogs. The vet is actually is fun for all!
  • There are cats, fish and a bird at the vet.  All provide ongoing entertainment for the kids and none will have a place in our home anytime soon; a visit to the vet is a great way for everyone to get their "fix" of other creatures - creatures that I am very fond of but just can't care for at the moment!
  • I get to brag about Finn at the vet. “What a beautiful dog,” they say. “And so good with kids! Where did you get him?”  This is a story I like to tell.  Finn is a reject from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  They “rejected” him at eight weeks, claiming he lacked confidence.  I’ve always thought he just didn’t want to work for a living.  He seems extremely confident when he jumps on our bed every morning! And, lounges on the couch, as pictured above!
  • Perhaps most significantly, I got to see and appreciate just how good my kids really are.  They ask before petting other people’s pets.  They listen when they are told to stop tapping on the fish tank or heckling the bird.  They want to know what the vet is doing. Why? Why? Why? They ask.  And as their questions are answered, I find that I learn something too… I learn once again how precious the time with our kids actually is and that there is delight to be found in even the most mundane of tasks – including taking the dog to the vet!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Moving your child from a crib to a bed

I'm pretty sure this picture was taken yesterday:

Newborn triplets: Kev, Dec and Mac snuggle up together

But, it wasn't.  As it turns out, this picture was taken over three and a half years ago, when Kevin, Declan and Cormac first came home from the hospital.  They were four days old.  They shared a crib.  For months.  And, in what feels like the blink of the eye, they now sleep here:

"Big Boy Beds" aka crib mattresses on floor!
They made the big move last weekend and I have to say, it was a long time coming.  Not in the literal sense -- it's not like I spent months prepping them for the big move, reading books about the transition or frankly, designing the ideal sleep space or investing in the perfect bedroom set (as the picture will clearly attest!). When I say it was "a long time coming", I mean that our little fellas have been climbing out of their beds for a long time.  They have been asking for beds. They told us they were ready and finally, we listened.

Don't get me wrong.  They weren't unhappy in their cribs. Quite to the contrary, they loved them.  They had all their stuffed animal "friends" in there -- many of whom they played catch with from crib to crib.  They would climb out in the morning, enjoying the independence and freedom to get their own Cheerios but, much to our surprise (and delight!), they never climbed out at night.  When they were in, they were in for the night.  And we all had sweet dreams.

Then, on Saturday night, everything changed.  We set them free.  We broke down those cribs, made their "beds" with new sheets and pillows, said a prayer, and hoped for the best.  This is what happened:

If you watched the video, I hope it gave you the laugh out loud it gives me every time I look at it.  And if you didn't, you may want to.  It is pure joy.  Three little fellas, 3 1/2 years old, pushing the limits as little fellas are prone to do. They are free and they are happy.  There is no doubt they have outgrown their cribs and are ready for beds.  Just as there is no doubt that for the next week or so (or possibly more!), the bedtime "routine" will be anything but.  On Sunday night, they were so tired that they were all sweetly snoozing by 8:00.  Last night, I had to shut down a rather rowdy game that was a cross between Hopscotch and Three Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed at 9:00.  So, I suppose if I have a few tips to share on the overall transition from cribs to beds, they would be:
  1. Listen to your children, they will tell you when they are ready. (Note: this same nugget of wisdom will work for potty training as well!)
  2. Don't stress out about it.  If you do, they will.  And if you don't, well, did the fellas in the video look stressed out?
  3. Anticipate - and embrace - a change in your bedtime routine.  Just as you did that night long long ago when your wee one first came home from the hospital and looked oh so small in that great big crib.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What I learned on my summer vacation

Main Beach, East Hampton: My Happy Place
 We recently spent a glorious week on the beach.  Was it relaxing?  No.  But, given that we have five kids seven and under and were away with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew and aunt, relaxation was never one of my expectations.  And, neither were any of the following observations and insights that just happened along the way --  in the midst of lazy, hazy days filled with sand, sun and newly hatched freckles on our fair-skinned flock…

  1. Few things in life are more pleasurable than walking on the beach holding hands – be they the small sandy hands of a toddler or the strong, supportive hands of a spouse.
  2. There is still much to be learned from my Dad – including, surprisingly, the ability to boogie board. Yes, at the age of 40, I finally caught a wave. And, it was amazing.
  3. Showers are overrated.  As are baths, soap, shampoo, razors, combs and brushes.  For better or worse, we abandoned many of these personal care items for the better part of a week and emerged no worse for the wear.  Smellier and hairier perhaps but truly, no worse for the wear! (Outdoor showers, on the other hand, should be right up there with the seven wonders of the world!)
  4. My sister is a great mom.  Whereas I ran my kids until they stopped, dropped and rolled (over!), she dutifully left the beach for naptime and did her best to serve dinner before dark.  Well done little sis!
  5. Mother Nature must be respected; consider her the Mother of all mothers and obey or risk her scorn – which, while we were away, took the form of a violent storm and waves that threatened to wipe us away.  Mother Nature, I hear you and I will obey.  Now, if only the kids would treat me with the same courtesy! 
  6. Ice cream and Italian ice aren’t just for dessert anymore.  If you ask my amazing Aunt, they are for breakfast too.  And if you ask my kids, they will enthusiastically agree.
  7. Collecting seashells never grows old.  And decorating seashells – with markers, glitter glue and other small treasures from the sea – can keep kids entertained for hours.  This should be a “must do” on any summer “to do” list!
  8. I belong by the sea.  When I see the ocean, my mood lifts, my head clears, and my troubles fade away.  I now know where I want to be when I am old (or frankly, anytime between now and than since I am officially on the brink!) – by the sea. In a rocker. Perhaps with a blanket and some lemonade. Ah, bliss… 
  9. A rainy vacation day is a great excuse to go to the movies. Enough said! 
  10. My mom, who is far more flip and funny than saccharine and sentimental perfectly summed up our family vacation with a rare display of nostalgia -- “All that matters is that we are together.”  And she was right.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Packing the family for summer vacation

I just realized that I haven't posted in two weeks. TWO WEEKS!  Why?  Well, I suppose one week was so chock full of end of school activities that I hardly had time to breathe (let alone write!) and the following week, our family took a much needed and totally unplugged week off.  Totally unplugged. I was so unplugged that when I returned to work today, the universal greeting seemed to be, "Wow, you really took the week off!  You weren't even on email!" Comments like these completely validated my need for a vacation -- and just might inspire me to start planning the next one.  But, before I do, I thought I'd share some packing tips to help you bring what you need -- and leave behind what you don't -- on your family's summer getaway.

As you might have read, I have officially declared this summer The Summer of Independence.  It's time that our kids started pulling their weight in the most literal sense.  If they want it, they have to carry it.  That's why for our summer vacation, each kid got one bag and one bag only.  One small bag that contained all they needed (and could carry themselves!) for a week at the beach.  In case you're wondering exactly what a kid needs for a week filled with sun and surf, well, it's not much.  This is a lesson I've learned the hard way over many years of overpacking.  Another thing I've learned is that Mother Nature is unpredictable and it's best to have a sweatshirt and jeans or sweatpants (affectionately called "cozy pants" in our house) in addition to the swim basics.  So, in short, here's all you need to know as you plan to pack up and hit the road this summer:
  • Less really is more.  Everything our kids needed for a week fit perfectly into the little bags pictured above:
    • 2 pjs
    • 2 bathing suits
    • 2 swim shirts
    • 3 pairs of shorts
    • 4 t.shirts
    • 5 pairs of underwear
    • 1 sweatshirt and 1 pair of sweatpants
    • 1 foldable rain slicker
    • 1 lovey blanket (or a "WaWa" if you ask us!)
    • 1 pair of sneakers & socks (Crocs were worn in the car and truthfully, the sneakers were never worn but, if my man Liam had been called into a pickup baseball game, he would've been ready!)
    • Toothbrushes/toothpaste/sunblock/shampoo/water bottle (Note: these items were shared -- except the toothbrushes! -- and carried in my bag)
  • Laundry is inevitable.  Between the sand, salt, chlorine, sunblock and the possibility of throw up and/or an accident involving gallons of pee, I accepted long ago that a "vacation" does not include a break from the laundry. And that's ok.  If you approach your getaway with this mindset, you'll avoid the overpacking and perhaps even go home with clean laundry! 
  • Showers are overrated.  What does this have to do with packing, you wonder?  Well, less showering or bathing means more time swimming.  More time swimming means more time in a swimsuit.  More time in a swimsuit means less time in any other type of clothing -- quite possibly eliminating the need for anything else.  But, should Mother Nature decide to grace you with a cold snap or violent storm, you'll be glad you packed those aforementioned change of clothes!