For today’s tip, I thought I’d share a recent post from Irish Central, where I write routinely about the whimsy of parenting — or, more accurately put, the ups and downs of life here in the Lyons Den… or any other humble abode that happens to be crawling (at times, quite literally!) with little ones.

Last weekend, I took several of our tots to the zoo and was reminded once again of the joy of visiting the zoo in the off-season; there were no lines, no crowds, and easy access to the things that matter most to us… animals, bathrooms and snacks — not necessarily in that order!  In a nutshell, the morale of this story is to take your tykes out and about when other folks are lazing about inside.  Sure, it might be a bit brisk but that’s easily resolved with a cup of hot chocolate and I can assure you that the simple pleasures of zoos (and aquariums, museums, parks and playgrounds!) are all the better when you can enjoy them without a crowd… and, without the fear of losing your children in that crowd!  Should you wish to read on, here is a tale of two zoos as I recently told it to my pals over at Irish Central…

I am a zoo-lover.  To me, one of the gratifications of having children is the ability to share my love of animals and wildlife and create little zoo-lovers to follow in my footsteps.  With five tykes seven and under, we’ve been quite busy exploring every zoo within reasonable — and not so reasonable –distance from our home in the suburbs of New York City.  To date, we’ve been lucky enough to visit the   National Zoo in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Zoo

The Bronx Zoo (on numerous occasions) and, on one stellar day, the Dublin Zoo.

Our visit to the Dublin Zoo was last October, during a whirlwind family trip to visit our roots in Ireland.  Since then, we have visited our “local” zoo in the Bronx twice — once on New Year’s Eve (yes, I did choose to ring in the new year with all our children and the sights, sound and smells of zoo animals!) and once this past weekend.   On Sunday, my husband Des took our seven year old, Liam, to see the Ireland vs. France rugby match and, given the choice of staying home alone with our four other tykes or heading to the zoo, I did what any other sane, tired 40-year old mum would do, I took them to the zoo!  Again!  And, once again, I was reminded of a tale of two zoos… 

“Our” zoo, the Bronx Zoo, is the zoo of my childhood.  The zoo I visited on class trips.  The zoo I first shared with my children.  But “your” zoo, the Dublin Zoo, is truly a zoo of many wonders.  It is the zoo where my one and only little lady turned five.  It is the zoo where I could swear we experienced four seasons in a day as the wind blew and the weather turned from sunny to cloudy to rainy to frigid to sunny once again.  It is the only zoo (and, as I’ve now established, I’ve seen many a zoo!) where we saw an elephant take a bath, a herd of giraffes happily mingle with several zebras, and truly, more animals than people!  

Don’t get me wrong, I love our zoo here in the Bronx and am pleased to report that membership has its privileges; last Sunday, we parked, visited and rode the merry-go-round for free, thanks to our annual family membership.  We got up close and personal with tigers, gorillas, sea lions, a polar bear and more than a few “friendly” peacocks.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to say which zoo would win the battle of the zoos… personally, I just feel blessed to have visited them all and to have five fab kids to share them with.

I recently had lunch with a friend who I last saw before our trip to Ireland.  She wanted to know how it was.  She really wanted to know how it was… not just the glorious green scenery and fabulous family time but the nitty gritty of how we managed to fly overseas and spend ten days in a hotel with five children aged six and under.  And so I told her.  It was HARD!
It was much harder and much more expensive than we anticipated. The logistics of navigating a city – not just Dublin, but any city – with two strollers and five jet-legged kids (not to mention two exhausted parents with short tempers!) was hard. She asked me how Liam, our six-year old, held up while the other four were pushed in strollers.  She assumed we had brought two double strollers with us which, if I had to do it all over again, I would.  But, we didn’t. We had a double and a single stroller, which enabled our trio of two-year olds to ride like kings and left our four and six year old whining, moaning and groaning in our wake. 
In sharing our adventures with my friend, I suddenly recalled a dark moment my mind must have blocked out:  the image of our four year old melting into the worst sort of “MY LEGS WON’T GO, I’M TOO TIRED” tantrum as the doors of Dublin looked down on us and the rains of Ireland fell upon us. 
We were at least a mile away from our hotel with no cab in sight and darkness moving in – in every sense of the word. The solution required our typical all hands on deck approach –  I pushed the double stroller, we put our overtired six year old in charge of the single stroller and my husband put our tired and tormented daughter on his shoulders as the rain poured down and the triplets cried “Rain on me!  Wanna go home NOW!” 
It was ugly.  It was about as far from a Kodak moment as you could possibly get. That said, we did have plenty of true Kodak moments that I will forever cherish and I learned a few things for the next time… if there is a next time!
1.     Rent an apartment; don’t stay in a hotel.  Aside from the cramped quarters, the downside of the hotel was, well, breakfast, lunch and dinner – all of which had to be consumed in a restaurant or the hotel lobby.  Neither is a great option with a jet-lagged clan of tots and, it gets very pricey very quickly. While the upside of a hotel is someone who makes your bed in the morning, there’s another significant downside: no washer and no dryer.  Let’s just say that with a trio of potty-training tots, one really needs to be able to do laundry!  So, the next time, the Lyons Den will be staying in a short –term rental with kitchen and laundry included!
2.     Kids under five needs strollers.  Heck, kids over five might even need strollers if your sight-seeing plans are as aggressive as ours! We literally covered miles each day.  My legs were tired.  In retrospect, it’s really no surprise that our four and six year old were exhausted and miserable… and really, when one thinks of a vacation, “exhausted and miserable” shouldn’t be the descriptors!  Poor kids!  Next time, strollers all around!
3.     Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  We tend to cram a lot in a day.  Sometimes it’s a fact of life with five kids.  Sometimes it’s just plain foolish.  We were looking at pictures from our trip the other night  and as we reminisced about the National History Museum, double decker bus tour and Guinness factory, we realized we had done it ALL in ONE day!  Now that is just plain crazy with five small tots in tow! No wonder they were exhausted and miserable… not mention, wet – from both the rain and the potty-training setbacks! I think “less is more” will be my approach for our next family adventure, wherever that may be.
In the meantime, I’m working on an album with hundreds of smiling Kodak moments that will forever be a reminder of our trip… it may not have been a typical vacation but it was still a pretty stellar trip!
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.