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.


Last week the kids had off from school for Winter Break so, we planned a family getaway to give ourselves a break too.  Given that we have five children and airfare to a sunny spot in Florida or the Caribbean would be cost-prohibitive, we opted instead to load up the minivan and head north to Manchester, VT

Back in the day, my husband and I were both avid skiers and it’s a sport we’d love to share with our children.  It’s also a very expensive sport so we have to be tactical about how we do it. Come to think of it, pretty much everything we do with five tykes in tow is expensive and we’ve learned the hard way that it always helps to have a gameplan.  (For more about how we learned that lesson, check out my recap of our trip to Irleand on the Huffington Post).  In the meantime, here are a few tactics that work for us – wherever we’re headed!
  1. Plan ahead.  We had our Vermont vacation planned months ago.  We rented a house with another family — which is not only more affordable than a hotel but, more practical and, more fun.  We signed our two “big kids” up for ski lessons weeks before our departure and, if you’re ever headed that way, would highly recommend the family friendly folks at the ski school at Bromley We coordinated with our friends on meals and grocery shopping so that dinners were prepped and ready to go after a day of outdoor adventures and breakfasts were cued up before the kids were — eight kids seven and under in total… hence the need to really plan ahead!
  2. Set reasonable expectations.  Put another way, don’t bite off more than you can chew.  I have not historically excelled at this.  In fact, my expectations for what we can accomplish with five small children along for the ride is often way out of whack – for instance, I thought we could see the entire country of Ireland in ten jam-packed days and I was wrong. Very wrong.  And my misguided ambitions made for tired cranky kids. And parents.  For our recent trip, I set more reasonable goals – we planned to ski two days and spend the rest of our time (which wasn’t much given a day to get there and a day to get back!) enjoying each other, the local sights and some downtime. Which we did.  And which yielded more smiles, fewer tears and less stress than our prior over-booked journeys.
  3. Always have a Plan B. I’m not good at rolling with the punches. I like to have a plan and stick to it. But, as I’ve learned time again as a parent, things rarely go according to plan.  And that’s why it’s always good to have a backup plan.  So, if for instance you can’t take the clan on a horse-drawn sleigh ride because it’s raining and there’s no snow on the ground, well, you have a few choices… 1.  Put on those snow boots and do some old-fashioned puddle-stomping  2. Pack away the parkas and settle in for a day of crafts and cookie baking  3. Head to the farm and check out those sled-pulling horses anyway.  That’s what we did and although it was a wet, stinky adventure, we got to pet horses (and cows!), frolick with a few roosters, and take home a hunk of cheese straight from the source.  


Come to think of it, I usually have not only a Plan B but a Plan C, D and possibly E as well.  Which isn’t to say that we don’t occasionally just roll with it… that’s just what we did when we decided on a 5:00 dinner at a local pizza spot en route home from our smelly agricultural adventure.  It was the perfect end to an imperfect day… which, I suppose, pretty much sums up many of our days… both home and away! 

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!