On the first Friday of every month, our second grader has a “store” in his classroom at school. The objective of this store is to help the kids understand dollars and sense — and I do mean “sense” versus “cents.”  The intention is to teach them about the value and cost of goods; to reinforce math skills while starting to impart an understanding of supply and demand.  Each child is expected to show up on this designated Friday with some items from home that they will “sell” to their classmates in an open exchange while they shop and “pay” for goods with play money.  It’s taken me a few months to come around to it but I finally understand what they’re trying to accomplish and applaud the effort to teach simple math, economics and values all in one.  The challenge, of course, is that the first Thursday night of every month, roughly five minutes before bedtime, there is an exchange that goes something like this:
2nd grader:  “MOM!  I need stuff to sell in the store tomorrow!”
Me:  “Why are you just thinking of this now?! You’ve had a month to think about this!”
2nd grader: “But Mom, I NEED some things I can sell NOW!  How about these books?”
Me:  “No.”
2nd grader: “How about these cars I don’t play with anymore?”
Me: “No.” 
2nd grader: “How about some legos?”
Me: “No, no, NO!”
This typically carries on for a bit longer while the poor kid scurries around stealing toys and books from his siblings with the intention of “selling” them in school the next day. It’s not good.  So, after yet another unpleasant exchange last night, this morning I decided to emulate some of the Super-Moms I know are out there and have been baking yummy little morsels for their second graders to sell on the first Friday of every month.  I was up and at it at 6AM, baking these tasty little “Mommy muffins” that I hope make my little fella feel like a champ as he rings up his proverbial cash register.  We call them “Mommy muffins” because my Mom used to make them for us and, at forty years old, the smell of a warm Mommy Muffin still warms my heart.  If you’d like to warm some little hearts of your own on the first Friday or any other day of the month, here’s a recipe that’s sure to please:
2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder (note: it’s POWDER, not SODA — I made that mistake this morning and had to start over!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
1 cup of milk
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 and grease muffin pan.  Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Combine milk, egg and vanilla in a separate bowl; add in melted butter.  Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in milk mixture, stirring quickly to combine.  Spoon into muffin pan, bake for 18-20 minutes, enjoy the warmth and yumminess of a mommy muffin right out of the oven! 
If you regularly check in to see what’s new in the Lyons Den, you probably noticed that I’ve been MIA for over a week.  It struck me that I should have said good-bye; I should have let you know that I was taking a week off to be with my family.  To really be with my family. Last week, we went to Vermont and my computer stayed home. This is an all-time first.  My trusty laptop has accompanied us on adventures far and wide; it’s been to Cape Cod, Ireland, Washington D.C, San Francisco, you name it — if we’ve been there, it has too.  But not this time.  This time I was officially burned out and needed a break.  A real break.  A chance to recharge.  An opportunity to take the short-tempered, over-tired, over-committed Mom that I’d become and leave her behind… in the hopes of rediscovering the even-keeled, level-headed Mom I aspire to be.
Did it work? I’m not sure.  As I prepare to head back to work today, I can honestly say that I do feel better.  Less wired, less tired.  Less stressed and better prepared to tackle what the day, the week, the months ahead have in store. I have great memories of my unplugged week — just the thought of it makes me smile.  It was a wonderful week, filled with many firsts.  Our seven year old skied his first “blue” trail, followed by his first black diamond.  This very thought fills me with fear but, he did it and he is so proud.  And that is awesome.  Our five year old daughter faced fears of her own in ski school and ended the week with her first ride up the chairlift with yours truly.  And that was pretty awesome too.  The triplets took their first trip without bringing along the three pack & plays which have been standard cargo in our minivan for the past three years; they slept in sleeping bags for the very first time.  And, they actually slept!  ALL NIGHT LONG.  It was amazing.  And, I was reminded once again, so are they.  So are all five our incredible kids, who are really very tolerant of their often too tired, too wired, manic Mom.
As for me, well, for the first time in a long time, I finished the book I was reading!  I love to read and last week, I read for at least an hour every night.  It was bliss.  I was in bed in every night hours earlier than usual, allowing me to really catch up on some much-needed shut-eye.  Last but not least, I also took my first major fall skiing since about 1996.  Not surprisingly, it was on the last run of the day; it was a slick black diamond that I’d done numerous times before but this time, it got the best of me.  Before I knew what hit me, I was ass over teakettle (whatever does that mean?!  I’m not sure the origin of that expression but it seems to accurately describe my fall!), sliding down the mountain face-first.  That downward slide seemed to last forever but was really just a few seconds.  A few seconds that thankfully resulted in nothing more serious than a bruised leg and a jammed thumb.  
The thumb is slightly troublesome in that it can’t really grip a pen, open a child-proof bottle of anything or zipper a kid’s coat… or pants… or, for that matter, my own!  But, I am thinking of this thumb as a good reminder.  A good reminder of the downward slide I was on before our rejuvenating week away.  A good reminder to pause, to take a break, to put away the computer and really really be with my family.  A good reminder to stop and recharge when the pendulum of work/life balance gets too swings too far toward work.  A good reminder of what really matters — life.  Family. Friends. 

So, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking off for a week without saying good-bye and also forgive me if you don’t see quite as much of me here.  I’m sure I’ll still post at least once, and probably twice a week, but if I should disappear again for a short while, you will know why.  It will be because that pendulum has once again swung out of balance and I need to swing it back where it belongs.  Either that or this bum thumb has interfered with my typing!  Either way, I’ll eventually be back and hope you will too.

I recently wrote a piece for Parents where I shared the many personas of pregnancy.  One such pal I met along the way was Felicia the Forgetful.  She arrived during my first pregnancy at the onset of the second trimester — right about the time when I forgot to bring my lunch to work and couldn’t remember where I left the car keys.  I naturally assumed she would leave once the baby arrived and, like so many assumptions I had about “when the baby arrived”, I was wrong.
As it turns out, Felicia is here to stay and, the prognosis isn’t good.  I heard a report on the radio the other day that one of the symptoms of perimenopause is forgetfulness.  What does this mean?  I fear it means we ladies don’t stand a chance.  We get a severe case of “Mommy brain” before we even meet our babies and now it seems that a good decade before the big M (Menopause!) sets in, we officially have no chance of finding the mind we lost; it just may be gone forever.  Which brings me to an interesting little tale from this week.  It involves our dog who, under different circumstances, just might have been gone forever as well.
It was Valentine’s Day.  We’re not big believers in Valentine’s Day since my husband rightfully proclaimed many years ago, “when you love the one you’re with, every day is Valentine’s Day.”  So, we didn’t have big plans. Some might say we had no plans at all.  Des was going to take our second-grader to his 6:30 basketball game, leaving me home to tend to dinner for our other four kids.  After basketball, we hoped to hustle them all to bed as quickly as possible and then cuddle in with some wine, fondue and last week’s episode of 30 RockSounds romantic, right?
I got home from work a few minutes earlier than usual and realized I needed to get a baguette for the fondue-dipping.  Perhaps not surprisingly given my post-pregnancy, pre-menopausal brain, I’d forgotten that critical detail for our Valentine’s dinner.  Being the consummate multi-tasker, I decided to take our dog with me while I ran around the corner for bread… it wasn’t quite doggie exercise but, at least it was a chance for our large, loyal lab Finnegan to pee.
I returned home pleased with my bounty and quite content to whip up a Valentine’s meal of “Dinner Eggs” and heart-shaped toast for the kids.  When I cracked the eggs, I recall saying “have you guys seen Finnegan?  That’s weird that he didn’t come running when he heard the eggs crack.”  This is a dog that loves a good eggshell.  Don’t ask. He just does.  In any case, when he didn’t come running, I assumed “we must have left the gate closed at the top of the stairs.” And I carried on.
About 15 minutes later, my sweet Valentine’s kiddie supper had pretty much imploded.  There were fights about the not-so heart-shaped toast, spilled milk and a 5-year old having a fit.  That’s when the phone rang.  In an effort to diffuse the tension, I asked the sobbing 5-year old if she’d like to answer it. And she did.
I couldn’t help but notice the caller i.d. was “Mima” – the name of a cute little Italian restaurant right around the corner.  My heart leapt.  Could it be?  My sweet hubbie had a Valentine’s day surprise in store?  He’d booked a sitter and made a reservation and we were headed out for a late dinner after tucking the tots in?!  It seemed to good to be true.  And, as my confused 5-year murmured “What? You have Finnegan?” into the phone, I realized it was.
As you may have guessed by now, when I went around the corner for that baguette, I left the dog behind.  Tied up and totally forgotten. I never even looked back. When I snatched the phone from my bewildered little girl, the lovely hostess on the other end of the line said “I’m really sorry to bother you but he’s been here over an hour and he’s really starting to look sad.”  Um, oops.  Chalk that one up to Mommy Brain!  
The kids were crushed “You left him in the dark?! All alone?!  On VALENTINE’S DAY?!”  Yes, yes I did.  But, I didn’t mean to.  And, after calling a neighbor to watch the kids while I ran back around the corner to get him, he greeted me with a wagging tail and unconditional love.  And we all had a Happy Valentine’s Day after all.  I think.  Part of me doesn’t quite remember…
So, here it is again.  Valentine’s Day.  February 14th.  The day that can make hearts leap or sink in the flash of an FTD bouquet.  In years past, I’ve been a great Valentine.  I’ve been thoughtful and creative, finding the perfect card and gift for my amour.  This year, I’ve been so consumed by work and kids and life in general that the best I could do was a twenty minute, twenty dollar trip to Target yesterday — a trip that yielded cards, stickers and candy for the kids and only a simple card for the man in my life who deserves much much more.  

My husband is a patient, funny, loving, gentle soul.  Of course, he is also a husband and, like many husbands, has on occasion completely forgotten Valentine’s Day and instead professed “every day is Valentine’s Day with you!”  I never thought I’d stoop to his level but this year, I have.  And, as I’m prone to do far more often today than when we first got married almost a decade ago, I have to admit, he just might be right.  

Maybe we should treat every day like Valentine’s day — not in a roses and chocolate kind of way but rather, in the way we treat each other each year when February 14th rolls around — with an extra dose of love and kindness. With an extra sense of care and devotion.  With the thoughtfulness and sensitivity we bestow upon new love and forget all too soon as that love grows familiar and comfortable.  Wouldn’t it be nice if on any given Tuesday you reminded your loved ones what you loved most about them?  What makes them so special to you?  That’s what I’ve decided to do this Valentine’s Day.

I started by writing that card from Target to the dear man I snuggle in with each night and start anew with each morning.  I also wrote cards to each of our kids, taking the time to think about what I love most about them, what makes them each unique.  This was a great way to remind myself of what matters most — on Valentine’s day and every other day of the year.  In short, it is…

  • Des’ ability to make me laugh even when I’m tired and grumpy — which lately, is far to often!
  • Liam’s willingness to try anything once, his determination to succeed in school and in sports and his wide-eyed innocence that I fear will fade all too soon.
  • Ciara’s ability to connect with little kids, old folks and anyone in between and offer a sweet smile or kind word. Her smile brightens days, and often brightens mine.
  • Kevin’s innate happiness… the way he climbs out of his crib and into our bed with a huge grin that is just a delicious way to start the day.
  • Declan’s infectious laugh and power hugs.  The kid has a hug like no other — it can squeeze a bad day right out of you and for me, often has.
  • Cormac’s sparkling eyes, alive and aglow with a sense of mischief and disarming charm.  It charms me daily and, will surely charm and disarm many other ladies — and Valentine’s — in the years to come.

Perhaps more than anything else, I love this picture, which my handsome hubby drew and I think says it all:

The O’Connor Sisters, circa 1979
My sister and I have a storied past.  I was five years old when she was born and quite accustomed to my spot as queen of the roost. I was the first child, first grandchild and a first class brat by the time she was born in June of 1976. I hated her.  All I knew about babies being born is that they were “delivered.”  So, for the latter part of 1976, every time we passed a mailbox, I asked if we could send her back.  Back to wherever she came from before she arrived on the scene, all precious and cute and attracting all sorts of attention that had previously been devoted to me, me, ME!
I tortured her for years.  I set her up time and again in ways that were at times mischievous, cruel or downright dangerous.  A few examples include the time I painted her and the bathroom in Bain de Soleil (remember that greasy orange “gelee” that turned your skin to a crisp?!) and then washed my hands, called my Mom and blamed her for the mess; or the time I took her out of the crib and perched her at the top of the stairs.  Or the time I poured all my Bonnie Bell eau de toilette right down the “toilette” and then started crying and blamed her for the tragedy of it all. Kind of crazy, right?  I really didn’t like her.
I spent much of grammar school dragging her around by her pigtails — and then I went to junior high, left her behind and never looked back.  When I left for college, she was in the throes of her Beverly Hills 90210 obsession and a true loser in my book.  But then, somewhere along the way, things changed.  I think it was when I went to visit during her freshmen or sophomore year at Boston College.  We tailgated before a football game and all of sudden, my baby sister was no longer a baby.  No longer a loser.  In fact, she seemed more and more like me.  In fact, she even looked more and more like me as we were both featuring the fashion of the day –  a flannel shirt complimented by the “freshman fifteen.”
With the passing of years, we had more shared experiences and of course, the collective memories that only siblings can share.  We offered each other advice on jobs, boys, New York nightlife and life in general.  Somewhere along the way, she became more than my sister, she became my best friend. She was my maid-of-honor and several years later, I was hers.   She babysat for my firstborn and my second as well.  She told me she was moving to San Francisco the week I discovered I was pregnant with triplets.  I was devastated.  I didn’t know how I’d get through the juggle of a high-risk pregnancy with two toddlers and a career without her constantly by my side.  But I did.  And for three years, we kept close despite the miles as I counted the days until her return to the East Coast.
She came back in September, with her husband and two year old fella by her side and a baby in her belly.  This time, I got to be by her side the day Maeve was born in November.  I was thrilled.  My sister was back.  I was an Auntie once again and we were all going to live happily ever after.  

Except for one little detail.  My sister wasn’t happy to be back in New York; as it turns out, she left her heart in San Francisco.  And as it turns out, she is there once again.  This week, she and her family packed up and moved back to the place she now calls home.  A place that is 3,000 miles away.  A place she went once before and I believed would temporary.  As it turns out, I was wrong.  How is it that when this tiny little person arrived on the scene in 1976, I would have given anything to “send her back” and now she occupies such a huge part of my heart that I’d give anything to have her back.  If I had to do it all over again, maybe I’d lay off the Bain de Soleil.  Or better yet, I’d stick her back in that crib so I could keep her close to home forever.

Do you have nicknames for your kids?  We do.  Lots of ‘em.  So many that I fear they may be causing some issues with our identical triplet boys.  But, to be fair, let me start at the beginning. 

When Liam, now seven, was born, he was a real snuggle bug.  It was the winter of 2004/5 and during those long, cold, dark months, he spent a lot of time snuggling in and scootching up my shoulder in that way only a newborn can.  You know about schootching, right?  It’s that wiggly way babies nuzzle in, up and over your shoulder; it’s really quite pleasant to experience, especially when the wind is howling and the temperature is falling.  This sweet baby maneuver earned Liam the nickname of “Scootie” in addition to an original little ditty we’d sing to him that went something like this: “Ooh, ooh, Scootie, ooh Scootie-Loo.  Ooh ooh Scootie.  Ooh Ooh, we love you!”  Sleep deprivation can do strange things to you and this was definitely one of ours.  I’m sure Liam is grateful to have outgrown the Scootie nickname but, the standard was set and his four other siblings are now suffering the consequences. 

For Ciara, it’s not that bad.  When she was first born, we called her “Bitsy” because she seemed so itsy-bitsy compared to her big brother Liam, who was almost two at the time.  As the months passed, she turned into “Little Bitsy Burps A Lot” because, well, she burped a lot and it sounded like a cute doll name and she seemed like a cute little doll.  When she started to talk, she couldn’t say “Ciara” and it came out like this “Ciaga” — pronounced like this: “Key-Ga.” Somehow, that one stuck.  We all call her Ciaga.  Which has line extensions including: Ciaga-Loo, C.Loo, Lucy Loo, and LuLuLemon.  Don’t ask.  It just happened.  Sleep deprivation still reigns supreme. The bad news is that as this five year old hops on the bus and heads to kindergarten, we are waving good-bye to our sweet Ciaga-Loo.  The good news is that the kids at school all call her Ciara; she can say it, spell it and knows without a shadow of a doubt that Mom and Dad’s silly nicknames stay at home.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said of our identical triplets who, at three years old seem to already have some identity issues brewing.  We consistently dress Kevin, Declan and Cormac in red, blue and green to help folks tell them apart; this backfired rather dramatically when Declan started to tell people his name is “Blue” .  You would think given the challenges that these guys face, walking around town with identical little faces, we would stay true to the names we gave them.  But alas, that is not the case.  I find nicknames just too irresistible and as such, Kevin has become KooKoo Bear, Declan is Duckling and Cormac is MacMac.  But wait, it doesn’t end there, there’s more!  

For Kevin, KooKoo Bear has several iterations, our favorite of which includes pretending to page him, like those announcements you hear in the airport.  “Mr. Bear?  Is there a Mr. Koo Koo Bear in the house?”  He thinks it’s hilarious and so do we.  Our little Duckling (formerly known as “Blue”) tends to take things relatively in stride, including the occasions when we quack at him, assuming that he must speak Duck. For the record, he does not and seems to find our antics and quacking less amusing by the day.  Last but not least, there is MacMac.  He was born last and came into the world as “Baby Mac.”  Not to be outdone by his identical siblings, he was a chow hound from day one and clearly committed to becoming “Big Mac” on the fast track… which of course led us to all sorts of fun including the occasional “Mac Snack Attack”, “Mac & Cheese” and the final grand evolution to “Macaroni” which, of course, culminated in our admittedly absurd paging game: “Mr. Roni?  Is there a Mr. Mac A. Roni in the house?”

Is it sleep deprivation? Are we insane? Do all parents have numerous strange nicknames for their kids?  I don’t know.  All I know is that yesterday, Kevin came home from preschool with some “artwork” that said “KooKoo” on the back.  Apparently the teacher tried to write “Kevin” and he indignantly insisted “my name is NOT Kevin.  I am Koo Koo Bear!”  Um, Houston, I think we have a problem.  I hope it’s one he outgrows.  But if not, I beg you not to make fun of my Koo Koo Bear.  If you do, prepare for the wrath of his loyal back-up unit because if there’s one thing I can say about Scootie, Ciaga, Duckling and MacMac and KooKoo, it’s that they stick up for each other… which, I suppose, is at least one thing we’ve gotten right in this hazardous, sleep deprived world of parenting!

 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!  :)

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.
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!

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: www.drawnames.com
  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! :)