Given all we accomplished in Day One, Day Two in DC got off to a slow start.  The kind of slow start that had me, Liam and Ciara enjoying all the hotel had to offer (indoor pool, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes and waffles with whipped cream!) while Des and the triplets caught up on some much-needed sleep.  So much sleep in fact that our last little guy was still snuggled in his pack & play at 10:00… 10:00!  Believe me when I tell you, this was a first!

It was quite literally a treat to hang out in our pajamas eating sugar coated cereal while we planned our day.  Knowing we had a five hour ride home at the end of it and rain was in the forecast, our plans were necessarily less ambitious than the day before.  We decided on a stroll through scenic, historic Old Town, Alexandria (where we were staying) followed by a trip to the Air & Space Museum. 

Our Old Town adventure included running through the raindrops to The Fish Market, a great place for lunch, followed by a visit to Pop’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a great place for dessert! From there, we piled into the minivan (at this point, admittedly NOT a swagger wagon!) and drove out to Gravelly Point, right by Reagan National Airport.  So close, in fact, that people congregate in the parking lot to watch the planes land.  
Plane landing at Gravelly Point, captured by this mom, a piss-poor photographer!
We joined these people and I’m pretty sure that this was the highlight of the trip for the kids — possibly just behind watching the “big ‘rilla eat poo” at the National Zoo — and, the Air & Space museum, which even Des and I had to admit was awesome.
Awesome. The Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

There were old planes, new planes, red planes, blue planes… you get the idea.  Name any type of aircraft and it was there — many of them suspended above us in the hangar that the museum now occupies.  The Space Shuttle Enterprise was rightfully awe-inducing, as was the Concorde and the many other missiles, rockets, spy planes and war planes.  If you ever find yourself in the greater DC area with a gaggle of kids on a rainy afternoon, this is definitely the place you want to be.  By 4:30, we’d all pretty much had it, especially the triplets who were on Day 2 without a nap…  
Triplets: Desperately Seeking a Nap!
We loaded the kids in the minivan and as we headed north toward home, Des remarked “I love hitting “go home” on the navi.”  So true.  There’s no place like home.  A sentiment I’ve mentioned before but felt all the more dearly after the seven hour trip from hell it took us to get there from our impromptu sojourn!  We were gone for just over 48 hours but it felt like much longer — in a good way, not in the long ride home way.  We arrived home refreshed, reconnected and with stories and memories that will last a lifetime.  Affirming once again that traveling with kids is well worth the effort and that sometimes life’s best adventures are unplanned. 

For anyone who has been patiently waiting for DC adventures/Part 2, I’m sorry for the wait and here goes!  Last Thursday was our only full day in DC.  With just one full day to bask in the glory of our nation’s capital, we naturally decided to cram in as much as humanly possible.  It started something like this:  Look Kids, Big Ben, Parliament!

Recall that great scene from European Vacation with Chevy Chase where they drive in circles for hours.  Well, that was us — just replace Big Ben and Parliament with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial and you’ll have a pretty good sense of how we spent most of Thursday morning.  It was almost lunchtime by the time we found a parking spot but dammit, we would not be deterred.  We were going to get up close to those memorials no matter how many other overwhelmed tourists were in our path.  We loaded the triplets in strollers, loaded our bag with snacks, unloaded everyone from the car and were on our way.

“Big tower!  BIG tower!”  That was the triplet’s assessment of the Washington monument.  You may call it an obelisk and that would also be true but, from the perspective of a trio of two year olds, it is indeed a big tower.  As for Lincoln’s memorial, well, I think Ciara put it best – “we saw this chair that was GINORMOUS!!!!!!”.  Yep.  Never mind that big guy sitting in it and all that he accomplished, that chair is huge!

Children enjoying/escaping Lincoln Memorial
Children agreeably posing on Lincoln Memorial, artfully framed with Washington Monument in background (& sun in eyes!)

After trotting our tribe to and fro among the monuments, we did what any right-minded parents would do.  We took them to The Irish Times, one of the nation’s “top 10 Irish pubs” for lunch.  At 2:30.  Which I mention to illustrate that we were clearly WAY off our typical schedule and, I think even a two year old would need to be famished to truly enjoy the food at The Irish Times.  From what I can tell – and Des confirms – they pour a perfect point of Guinness but, while I enjoyed the Frito Pie I had for lunch (this is true!  Frito Pie!  Essentially nachos on Fritos – an indulgence that can and should only be enjoyed on rare occasions.  Like lunch with your five kids in a bar!), it was not exactly a culinary inspiration.

Proud papa with his pride o f Lyons Cubs outside National Landmark

With the pub-lunch behind us, we headed to our next destination – The National Zoo.  We did our best to drive by the White House en route so we could cross another Tourist Top 10 off our list but, I gotta say, they make it pretty hard to do a drive by of the President’s house.  I’m thinking this must be deliberate. 

We arrived at the zoo at 4:00 — about two hours after our own little “Cubs” usually go down for a nap and two hours before it closes.  Time was of the essence and we needed to prioritize.  Those famous pandas were at the top of the list, followed by lions, tigers, elephants and gorillas.  Of the two pandas we saw, one was sleeping (leaving a skeptical Liam to wonder “are you SURE it’s not a stuffed animal Mom?”) and one was enjoying a stick of bamboo.  On his back, on a cement floor, behind a thick pane of glass, looking slightly tranquilized.  You just couldn’t feel good about those pandas.  

(only way to feel good about the pandas: photo op!)

By 5:30, we were eager to leave the zoo behind.  We were tired, thristy, cranky and in general agreement that as zoos go, well, we wish this wasn’t the “National” zoo. It just doesn’t represent the best our country has to offer in terms of caged animals given that so many of them were sleeping, missing or having their “houses” reconstructed!  That said, I will be forever grateful to the “Big ‘Rilla, ate poo!” since this fun catch phrase sums up the kids fondest memory of DC.  I’m even more grateful that this neat little view into the dining habits of our gorilla friends wasn’t captured on film.  I’m quite sure you are too!

It was 6:30 when we got back to the hotel.  While dinner, baths and bed would have been the sensible progression of events, we added in an evening swim (what was the point of a hotel with a pool if you’re not going to use it?!) and, get this, another pub!  Please don’t call child protective services – we just went out to meet one of Des’ pals for a beer so they could recall their glory days in DC almost two decades ago.  We had a drink, the kids had ice cream and we were all home by 10:00.  And asleep at 10:01, dreaming of our jam-packed day and what tomorrow might bring… more monuments?  Museums?  Stay tuned to find out…
Last week was Spring Break in our school district and many others.  For our family, this meant that we had a “bored” first-grader and a pre-schooler with “nothing to do” whining from morning ’til night while Mom and Dad tried to get some work done while explaining that we too would like to “go to Hawaii like EVERYONE else” but it just couldn’t be done.   “Why?  Why can’t we go to Hawaii? or Florida?  or even Washington D.C.?!  There are THREE kids in my class going to see the Washington Monument and we NEVER get to go ANYWHERE!”  we were told. More than once.  Which started the wheels turning.  Hawaii and Florida were clearly out of the question but why not D.C we wondered?  
And so it was that we spent last Monday and Tuesday night searching online for a place to stay.  Trust me when I tell you that finding affordable accommodations for a family of seven during a week that encompassed not only Spring Break but Passover and Easter as well was no easy task.  But, always up for a challenge, we decided to give it the old college try.  I have to admit, at one point it was looking pretty grim and I made a reservation for a night in Conshohocken, PA, which is about 20 minutes outside of Philly, and 20 minutes away from Villanova, my alma mater… back in those days, we called it Consho’Rockin! (cool, huh?!) due to some fun frat houses that were expelled to the outer limits of campus life.  Somehow I was never able to convince the rest of the Lyons Den that the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross House were more alluring than the Lincoln Memorial and Air & Space Museum so, despite my most rational appeal (“But it’s only a four hour round trip vs. a TEN hour round trip for 48 hours away!!!!!), we ended up driving south toward our nation’s capital.  The events unfolded something like this…
  • Tuesday: 4PM:  My boss approves my request to take Thurs/Friday off
  • Wednesday: 2PM:  My Consho’Rockin dreams are dashed as Des confirms reservation for the Marriott Residence Inn in Old Town, Alexandria — about 5 miles outside of DC
  • Wednesday: 4:30PM:  I arrive home from work.  I don’t know if I’m sweating due to a panic attack or the packing frenzy that follows.  I am anal.  I am not spontaneous.  This trip defies the logic I live by:  plan, prepare, make a list and check it twice. There is not time for this.  I shove things in bags, kids in the car, and before I know it, we’re on our way.
  • Wednesday:  5:15:  Our car pulls off our street.  In less time than it takes to prep for church on Sunday, we’re headed away for 48 hours.  I’m officially frightened.  And still sweating.
  • Wednesday: 5:16:  The back seat requests for meal service and entertainment begin.  We are literally on Main Street in our town.  It’s going to be a long ride.
  • Wednesday: 7:16:  We are in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike.  I am still sweating.  I realize it is because I never got the AC in the car fixed at the end of last summer and the outside temperature has reached 81. I can’t help but think “if we were going to Consho’Rockin, we’d be there by now!”
  • Wednesday: 9:45PM:  We arrive at the Residence Inn.  It is good.  Although, much to my dismay, after i just spent almost five hours straddling the back two rows of the minivan disseminating goldfish, PB&J, juice boxes, grapes, cheese & crackers and fruit snacks, the kids are asking for dinner. Seriously.  Despite the temperate AC in our well appointed room, I start to sweat. Again.
  • Wednesday: 10:30 PM:  Kids are tucked in.  Des appears with a Corona.  Or, as I called it that night, dinner!  Even without a lime, it was stellar.  We settled in, exhaled, and passed out.  Vacation had begun.

Without days of planning and packing and prepping, we had somehow arrived in D.C.  I started to think that maybe I’ve been spending too much time sweating the small stuff. Or perhaps just simply sweating!  Stay tuned to see what the next two days brought and some key takeaways from our impromptu getaway.  Thus far, that old college try was well worth the effort and proved that if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish pretty much anything… including a last minute trip with five kids six and under during a peak travel week!

When our firstborn Liam arrived, Des proclaimed “There are two things that are non-negotiable: he will be Catholic and he will be a Yankee fan.”  I’ve always wondered if he sees these two things as equivalent and with each passing year, I’m more convinced that he does.   With baseball season upon us, there will be plenty of time to share my musings on raising five little pin-striped fanatics so, today I thought I’d dwell on raising five little Catholics.

For starters, we go to church on Sunday.  EVERY Sunday.  We’re as reliable as the US Postal Service; we show up in rain or shine, showered or unshowered, with sick kids, cranky kids, and sometimes need a spanky kids. And now matter how early our day starts, we always show up about fiften minutes late.  Now that Liam can tell time, I’m pretty sure he thinks we attend the 10:45 mass when in fact, the rest of the congregation dutifully arrives at 10:30.  

Now, as you might imagine, there is nothing subtle about our arrival at church — or anywhere else, for that matter!  When the triplets were babies, we would walk to church because it was easier than getting all five kids in and out of the car.  Our entry procession included two strollers – a standard issue double for Liam and Ciara and a front to back triple as long as a Cadillac for Kevin, Declan and Cormac.  Today, as Liam and Ciara bolt down the aisle and the triplets toddle behind them, our entry is less impressive but far more vocal. “I see Jesus!  I see Jesus!  I see Jesus!”  the triplets can’t help but announce, sometimes adding additional commentary like “Why he has no shoes on?” 

Thankfully, our priest and our parish are both friendly and forgiving.  Our tardiness isn’t looked down upon and we seem to get a fair amount of credit and goodwill for simply showing up, no matter how late we may be.  Given the antics that we provide (typically from a front pew since that’s the only space left by the time we arrive!), it’s a wonder they don’t just lock the door at 10:44.  They continue to welcome the Lyons Family Circus and we continue to show up.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from our weekly 45 minutes of religious obligation and observation:

  • Cormac following the guy with the collection basket, taking a $20 and running for the door.  Hey, charity starts at home, right?
  • A lady who told me that “my kids just LOVE watching your family at church; it’s better than reality TV!”
  • The day an elderly woman who had kindly settled down a distraught Declan suddenly dropped him back in my lap noting  “I think he has a present for you,”  as the stench from his diaper nearly knocked us out.
  • The time that Kevin ran to the altar to check out the Nativity scene but left his pants behind. Turns out that I shouldn’t have ingnored him when he said “pants too big Mama!”
  • Advent.  Between the Nativity scene and Toys for Tots collection, our kids provided a lot of comic relief… which, granted, isn’t why most folks go to church but it never hurts to have a good laugh, right?  Some highlights were the attempted removal of toys from the altar, failed attempts to “wake up” the Baby Jesus and the near demise of one of the wise men (courtesy of a wobbly triplet).

I clearly recall looking for diversions at church when I was a kid; now my family is the diversion.  It started when Liam was just a tot himself, clapping along with the choir and shouting “YAY!” when they finished a song.  I’m not sure if or when it will end but, until it does, I plan to just embrace it and enjoy it.  While I may not always hear the message of the gospel and while we may never get to church on time, at least I have 45 minutes a week to sit down (when I’m not shooing tots off the altar!) and reflect on just how lucky I am — lucky to have happy, healthy kids; lucky to be embraced by our community and, well, with the season in full swing, lucky to have so many little Yankee fans… more on that later, to be sure!

I had a lot of anxiety about running the New York ½ Marathon on Sunday.  For starters, I’m not a distance runner.  I’m more of an ambling jogger who routinely trots along for four miles a few days a week.  Given this, one might expect there was an extensive training regimen leading up to Sunday’s 13.2 miles; alas, there was not.  Between snow, sleet, ice, five kids, a new job, dark mornings and darker evenings, it was hard enough to get in my typical weekly runs let alone amp up the mileage in any substantial way.  I did manage to get in a seven-miler and ten-miler a few weeks before race day; neither was very much fun and neither filled me with confidence that I would actually cross the finish line.  As my Mom so aptly put it on Saturday night, “Well, Ker, you know the way home if you can’t make it!” 

So, as Sunday morning dawned – actually, an hour or so before dawn, while that remarkable full moon was still in its splendor – I really wasn’t convinced that I’d be celebrating the completion of the half marathon; I thought it far more likely that the city sanitation trucks would sweep me up with the other stragglers.  Turns out I should have had a bit more faith in myself… and, as with most of life’s challenges, turns out that I most certainly didn’t do it alone.  There were facebook cheers and family fans and my running buddies who never doubted that I could do it and told me as much.  Then, perhaps most significantly, there was Des.

As I mentioned in my last post, entry to the New York ½ Marathon is lottery based, unless you’re an elite runner, which we’ve clearly established I am not!   Against the odds, Des and I both got a number.  Since he ran the New York Marathon (26.2 miles!) in November, I figured this would literally be a stroll through the park (Central Park) for him.  I figured we’d drive in together, line up together and then he would take off and I would linger behind, glad to have Lady GaGa and ABBA on my iPod to keep me company.  Instead, he stayed by my side when my hip and knee went somewhere between miles six and seven and I stayed by his when he visited the PortoPotty somewhere around the 11th mile.

This is notable for a few reasons.  Like many couples, we have to do a fair amount of dividing and conquering.  With five kids, a dog, our jobs and the responsibilities they all entail, it’s the only way to get things done.  For better or worse, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to flying solo or simply administering tasks and making demands.  Our situation has been all the more intense the past two years as we juggled newborn triplets with two toddlers and then suffered through Des’ brother’s losing battlle with lung cancer last summer.  Divide and conquer was key to our survival.  “You take Liam and Ciara to the park; I’ll feed and bathe the triplets.”  “You go to the hospital with Conor; I’ll take the five kids to the pool.”  “You take out the trash and walk the dog; I’ll clean up the kitchen and make the lunches.”  And so it goes.  You. Me. You. Me. But what about us?

Rediscovering the “us” was an unexpected by-product of our own amazing race.  We did it together.  We stayed together.  Those 13 miles had their ups and downs just like the past few years and the many more ahead of us.  But we did it together. And it was nice.  Really nice.  Running isn’t typically known as a team sport but, after crossing the finish line together, Team Lyons is stronger than ever. 

Last Friday, I had the good fortune to accompany Liam’s first grade glass on a field trip to Lyndhurst (http://lyndhurst.wordpress.com/), a stunning Gothic Revival mansion overlooking the Hudson River — a place that I’ve walked by, run by and driven by countless times but never set foot in. The trip and tour were understandably geared toward a six-year old mentality. While I would have loved to learn more about the amazing architectural details, original artwork and Tiffany glass, I instead came away with a better understanding of life today versus the way it was roughly a hundred years ago.

As a Mom, I can clearly see that many things are easier now than they were then – take for instance laundry and vacuuming. While our kids may put us through the wringer, at least we have washing machines to tackle our soiled wears. And, while vacuuming may not be my favorite chore, it sure beats moving the furniture, rolling up the rugs, taking them outside and beating the crap out of them… although, come to think of it, that sounds like a pretty good way to work out your frustrations!

Playdates as we know them today didn’t exist. If Junior wanted to do some socializing, you had to send a letter, await a reply, summons your horse and carriage and pack your overnight bag because the odds were good you’d be staying awhile. Now, while this does have some alluring qualities, it’s certainly a lot simpler to call, email, text or, as one vocal little lady put it “just go downstairs! I live in an apartment building and can always find a playdate!”

As for the kids, well, they seemed pretty content to live here in 2011 rather than way back when. Beyond the obvious challenge with playdates, they were visibly disturbed to learn that children at the table could only speak when spoken to — can you imagine?! Dinnertime without the common complaints I’ve become accustomed to —  most of which start or end with “I don’t LIKE it!” I think maybe these pioneer parents were on to something…

Then there were the clothes and toys. You should have seen these kids faces when they saw the bathing costumes (which, frankly, I think would truly flatter my figure right about now!) and heard that the “comfy” clothes they were all sporting were off-limits… it was petticoats for the girls and pressed shirts for the boys… something that’s all the more impressive when you consider what it took to iron pre-electricity! As for entertainment, those poor kids had no video games, no TV, no DVDs — as one feisty fella put it “they had NOTHING!”

I would beg to differ. One of my lessons learned was that they actually had quite a lot. They had the freedom to be kids. To roam the property. To let their imaginations run wild as their little bodies followed. They respected their elders, minded their manners and from what I can tell, usually ate their string beans without whining. Perhaps I’m a little old-fashioned (or maybe a lot?) but, I think there’s some good to be had in embracing the wisdom of generations past. And for that, I am grateful to have joined the first grade trip to Lyndhurst. Liam, on the other hand, may not be so glad – especially since I now have some new ammunition to remind him that kids have indeed survived without a DS or iPad of their own. Come to to think of it, Liam may not invite me on any future trips… although, I suppose he won’t have the opportunity to unless I invite him to speak first!

Though the winter has been long, it’s hard to believe that March is here, thus beginning a holiday season of a different sort here in the Lyons Den. As February turned to March, my husband Des and I found that our monthly calendar synch was full of many more festivities than usual… there’s theBrehon Law Society Dinner, Irelend-US Council Luncheon, Friendly Sons dinner (it has always struck me that these “friendly” sons are not so friendly after all — if they were, I would think on occasion a “daughter” or two might be invited to partake in the fun!), and seemingly countless evenings where he “has to” meet someone “for just a pint.”

March is a month of merriment that builds up to St. Patrick’s Day and maintains a lively tone for the days and weeks after. It’s a month where we all feel especially proud to be Irish and inspired to reflect upon our hertiage. My Mom was an O’Brien and my maiden name was O’Connor. I always loved having that “O” as part of my name. When we went to church on Sunday, our parish was full of O’Connors — most of whom I was related to. What distinguished us from the others was the weekly greeting from our priest “Ah! It’s the five Ks!” he would say as my dad Kevin, mom Katie, sister Kristin, brother Kevin and I shuffled in. Irish in name, looks and spirit, St. Patrick’s Day at our house meant corned beef and cabbage and house full of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who seemed to be even more jolly than usual on March 17th.

Des is always proud to boast that his Dad was a “Cork man” and played hurling with the legendary Christie Ring. This husband of mine is addicted to Irish tea (although I’ve always thought it ironic he prefers Barry’s to Lyons), adores a well poured pint of Guinness, looks dashing in his ages-old Irish knit sweater and can make an astonishingly good Irish Soda Bread.

As we raise our little Lyons Cubs (regrettably, Des turned down my suggestion to change his name to O’Lyons and I have to say, I really miss my “O” — especially in the month of March!), we’ve started a few traditions of our own — one of which was a highlight of this past weekend: the annual family outing to Rory Dolan’s (http://www.rorydolans.com/) — a legendary spot on the Yonkers/Bronx border that has a festive crowd, great music and does indeed pour the perfect pint.

Additionally, rather than scowl when they see us coming with our five tots six and under, they welcome us with open arms, oohing and aahing over Liam, Ciara, Kevin, Declan and Cormac. I suppose that’s one of things that I’m most proud of in this season when “Proud to be Irish” buttons prevail; I am proud to come from a culture that always welcomes people with open arms and if there is just one tradition, one value that I pass on to our little brood, I hope this is it… in March and every other month of the year!

What did you do this weekend?  It’s a perfectly natural question, especially on the heels of a long weekend.  Around here, it’s school vacation week, so many folks are away for the duration… off skiing or to Florida or some other sunny destination.  As for us, we had the good fortune to visit friends in Boston… which seems to evoke a fair amount of awe from most folks.  I’m pretty sure they’re not stunned to discover that we actually have friends (I’d like to think that we’re a fairly affable bunch!) but rather, that we packed up five kids six and under for a four hour car ride for a three day weekend; I think it’s our sheer numbers that send most folks into a tailspin.

But this trip was an easy one.  In fact, it’s the lightest I’ve packed since long before Kevin, Declan and Cormac arrived on the scene.  A typical weekend away relies on the following checklist:

  • One Swagger Wagon packed to the gills
  • Two strollers — either two doubles or a double and a single, depending on our destination and available cargo space
  • Three pack & plays (with sheets) and three portable high chairs
  • Four DVDs (At least — our passengers have grown accustomed to “in-flight entertainment”)
  • Five kids (a frequent head count ensures they’re all present and no one gets left “home alone”)
  • Six varieties of snacks (to ensure that “in-flight service” can be maintained from our front door to arrival at our destination and account for potential traffic jams)
  • Seven water bottles — one for each of us. Yes, even Mom and Dad get to drink water!

The list goes on and on… diapers and wipes, blankies and “wawas”, books and games and on occasion, even Finn, the family pet, who weighs in at 90 pounds and likes to travel with a stuffed dog as big as he is. 

But this past weekend was different.  We didn’t bring the highchairs — at almost 2 1/2, we figured the triplets could get by without them for a few nights.  We didn’t bring the pack & plays — our friends borrowed them (and had them assembled awaiting our arrival!).  We didn’t bring two strollers — we knew we could borrow one if we needed it.  And, we left Finn with Aunt Fiona for the weekend, which really freed up some room in the minivan!

All we packed was our bags… which were admittedly overflowing over with onesies, pull-ups, pjs, jackets, boots, Liam’s entire baseball collection and more than a fair share of Ciara’s “babies”… but, even so, this was nothing given what we’re accustomed to.  What might typically be ten trips to and fro with tots and bags was reduced to just a handful.  This past President’s Weekend, we were treated like royalty and couldn’t be more grateful to our friends and their extended family for taking us in. 

We arrived in the midst of a violent thunderstorm — which, in the middle of February in the Northeast is not only unusual but just didn’t feel like a good omen!  Alas, all worked out in the end though – for us, anyway.  I swear that our kids finished off at least a gallon of milk, several boxes of cereal, several dozen chicken nuggets, a couple of pizzas, pancakes galore and pasta aplenty.  While the thunderstorm subsided, we left a torando of crumbs and toys in our wake.  We didn’t even pack away those pack & plays! 

I guess I’m not stirring up a lot of positive PR for the Lyons Den as houseguests but ,that’s not the point.  The point is that we are truly blessed to have friends who lighten our load both literally and figuratively.  And, friends who against all odds have offered to have us back again.  I have to say, I’m looking forward to a return trip and Aud, if you’re reading this, next time I’ll do my best to remember to pack socks and a coat!  Needless to say, I left these crucial items off my own packing list and was lucky enough to borrow them… because hey, that’s what friends are for right?  May we always be so lucky!

With many folks preparing to fly the “friendly” skies for the upcoming school break, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped us (and our fellow passengers!) survive our recent cross-country trip to San Francisco.

Allow extra time. It seems obvious but, when I travel for work or on the rare occasion I get away with Des, we’re always down to the wire. Sweating as we repeatedly check our watches, wondering if we’ll make it through security and dashing to the gate just as they’re about to close the door. Do NOT take this approach if you plan to take tots onboard. The one time we did, we missed our flight. This is true. It is why we now build in an extra hour before take-off and I’d suggest you do the same. This way you won’t be foiled by a long security line or unexpected diaper (and outfit!) change (or changes!).

Keep ‘em busy. Fortunately, children are easily entertained. This is extremely good news as long as you have a plan; this is extremely bad news if you don’t and your mischievous tykes decide that in-flight entertainment means kicking the seat in front of them.  Admittedly, your kids will find this highly entertaining but, your fellow passengers will not. So, a few things to be sure you carry in your carry on include crayons, stickers, pipe cleaners, PlayDough, matchbox cars, mini etch-a-sketch… you get the idea. And, of course, if you can fly an airline with seat-back TVs featuring the most recent episode of Junior’s favorite show, all the better!

Flying time = feeding time. If you have a baby, have a bottle. If you have a toddler, a sippy cup or lollipop will do. In fact, a lollipop will work wonders for kids of all ages – and maybe for Moms and Dads too! Having something to suck on during take-off and landing  will minimize your little ones discomfort. Once airborne, we’ve had great success with serial snacking; after all, snacking is just one more way to keep kids busy and it happens to be one of our kids favorites! Cheerios, raisins, goldfish, all the standards will do – although, if you up the ante and offer HoneyNut Cheerios, yogurt covered raisins and Rainbow Goldfish, you just might feel like a hero. Until the plane lands, anyway!

Don’t travel light. It pains me to suggest this but, since you just never know if your flight will be delayed or if your kid will be the one they leave those paper bags on planes for, I think it’s best to be prepared. For me, that means extra diapers, wipes, provisions and outfits. Do I feel like a pack mule as I load our brood on board? Yes. But do I want to land in Florida in pee-soaked khakis? (Again?) NO. So, while packing your carry-on with outfits for your little ones, please toss in a change of clothes for you too. I hope you won’t need them but trust me, if Buster has a diaper blow-out, you’ll be really glad to have them!

Oh, and one last thing: velcro!  It will be much easier to breeze through security if you’re not struggling with shoelaces.

With these tips in mind, you just might find the skies a bit “friendlier” than you imagined and you’ll be sure to arrive at your destination with a sunny disposition. 

After traveling across the country to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s with my sister and her family in San Francisco, we might have been content to just stick close to (their) home and take in all the city has to offer… because, let’s face it, there is a lot to offer!  From cable cars and farmers markets to Golden Gate Park and the Academy of Sciences, San Francisco offers more than any family could possibly absorb in less than a week’s time.  Why then, would we venture beyond city limits?  Perhaps to see this…

Or this…

Or this:

Bodega Bay, Healdsburg and Half Moon Bay were highlights of our trip and would have missed if we didn’t pile into our Swagger Wagon and hit the road. 

We were able to hit Bodega Bay and Healdsburg in a day.  The drive north from San Francisco to Bodega Bay takes about an hour and we timed it well with a post-lunch departure that had four of our five tykes lulled into a nap just as the Golden Gate Bridge disappeared in the distance.  Before we knew it, the six lane highway became a two-lane road lined with cows, sheeps, green pastures and more striking landscape beyond each corner.  It was a stunning drive that landed us on the edge of the Pacific with dramatic cliffs and plenty of places for the kids to play.

We left the beach to head for wine country — admittedly, not a destination that most folks would consider with baby on board… or, in our case, with a total of six kids six and under (counting my one year old nephew!)… but, we were so close that we just couldn’t resist.  The hour’s drive inland to Healdsburg offered another napping opportunity for the majority of our half-pint passengers.  While we didn’t take in the tours and tastings one associates with Sonoma, we did do a bit of window-shopping and have a great dinner at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill (http://www.healdsburgbarandgrill.com/).  The waitstaff was visibly alarmed when we requested a table for ten that required four high-chairs and had only four adults but, thanks to their generous supply of crayons and french fries and our ample supply of clementines, goldfish and sippy cups, a good time was had by all.

Our next road trip took us about an hour south of the city to Half Moon Bay — another dramatic drive that was motivated by the desire to spend a portion of the day strolling along the beach.  Given the gale force winds, it didn’t quite work out that way…

It was all we could do to keep the triplets from blowing off the cliffs as we fought our way along the scenic path and against the 60 mph winds.  Needless to say, our walk was cut short but our day was far from a loss as we enjoyed one of the best meals we had at the famous Sam’s Chowder House (http://www.samschowderhouse.com/).  I admit, it was kind of weird to be enjoying an “Authentic New England style seafood experience with Pacific Ocean views” given that we’re quite accustomed to such an experience with Atlantic Ocean views but, it was great nonetheless, as this smiling face will attest:

As I look back at the pictures, it’s hard to believe that we lugged all our “Cubs” so far from home, had such fun-filled, action-packed days, and spent six nights with six kids and four adults in my sister’s two-bedroom apartment!   We did it though.  Despite the many nay-sayers and skeptics, we made it there, had a stellar time and made it safely back home.  And, I’d do it again in a hearbeat.  If my sister is reading this, please don’t panic — though I’d love to, we’re not making an imminent return trip.  That said, if you happen to live in Ireland or Scotland, consider yourself warned… you just might be the next stop for the Lyons Family Circus circa Summer 2011…