With last week’s arrival of Lent and the challenge of finding something to “give up” for  forty days, I am reminded once again that our children thrive in their role as self-appointed pint-sized police. We have an usually large task force at work here in the Lyons Den – a team of five who are constantly on the prowl, eager to catch someone in a forbidden act and then promptly rat them out to the prevailing parental unit which, for better or worse, happens to include a legitimate local judge.

Our pee-wee patrol alternates between committing and reporting on numerous petty crimes. The two-year old triplets are eloquent in the language of accusation – “he bit me!”, “he hit me!”, and perhaps most unfortuantely “he PEED on the floor!” are part of a daily refrain which is often followed by stern self-administered sentencing: “NO Declan!”, “Time OUT Mac Mac!”, “Bad boy KooKoo!”

The “bad boy” expletive is puzzling to us since we do our best not to actually tell our kids that they are “bad”. Because, of course, they’re not. They’re just kids. While I’ve certainly slipped up and dropped an F-bomb now and again, I honestly don’t think I ever called one of them a “Bad Boy”. As it turns out, I didn’t; their Big Sister has.  It appears that Ciara has taken on a Lieutenant role of sorts and I’m told that she lets that “Bad Boy” fly routinely while we’re at work. She was outed by her Big Brother, who assumes the Captain role in their pee-wee patrol unit.  This all helps to explain why one night when I strongly suggested the triplets finish their dinner, I was verbally assaulted by three two-year tyrants screaming “Bad Boy Mama! Mama BAD BOY!!!!!!”

Then there’s the big kids – they don’t let anyone – including me and Des, get away with anything. We were driving home from Costco last week and they overheard me talking to a friend about our Saturday night plans, saying something like “oh, I’d love see a stupid, mindless movie for a change – especially since the last thing I saw was Black Swan!” I was immediately interrupted by the petite police in the back of the minivan, “MOM! You said STUPID! STUPID is a BAD word MOM! What’s stupid anyway? Why did you say that? I’m telling Dad.” Oh geez, I thought, here we go… it starts by telling Dad that I said “stupid” and then quickly escalates to the fact that I was talking while driving, might have rolled through a stop sign and somehow spent almost $600 at Costco! It’s all fair game to my four foot and under platoon.

 Knowing as I do that I can’t get away with much, I really struggle with what to give up for Lent. I am under the contant scrutiny of five sets of eyeballs (six, if you count my husband the Judge!) who are just waiting for me to screw up… waiting for me to sneak that potato chip or cookie I’ve tried to give up in the past, waiting for my shrill outburst when I’ve promised to try harder to keep my cool. So, what’s a gal to do?! Giving up wine is out of the question, I’ve tried that and failed miserably and just couldn’t stand my own kids urging me to “just say no.”

So, as I write this, I haven’t committed to giving anything up; my pint-sized police have perhaps put the fear of God in me because I just can’t stand to fail in front of them. Or maybe it’s that being called “bad boy mama” is quickly losing its charm. In any case, if you have any suggestions for something I can give up (or take on) between now and Easter, please let me know — and, should you have your own pee-wee police at home, consider yourself warned! 

Tis the season! Time to trim the tree, make a list, check it twice, talk to your kids about being naughty or nice. There’s a wintry chill in the air and a spirit of festive warmth all around us. Why then, are we consistently bombarded with news stories and magazine headlines geared toward “keeping your sanity this holiday season”? Are we making ourselves crazy? All the shopping, baking, entertaining and striving to create the perfect holiday memories seem to be sucking the happiness out of our “Happy Holiday” intentions.

This can’t be good for our kids. How can we expect them to comprehend the true meaning of the season when we, as parents, are so often caught up in the mayhem? Here are a few simple ways to remind your children that this season, giving really is better than getting:

 1. Give it up. If your house is like mine, it’s about to be bombarded by an influx of shiny, new playthings that will turn today’s favorites into tomorrow’s castaways. I suggest you take a pre-emptive strike and enlist your kids’ help in cleaning out the toy box, toy bins, toy baskets, basement and bookshelves. Encourage them to say good-bye to the old – not only to make room for the new but, far more importantly, to teach them that a child in need deserves a good deed. This is their opportunity to do some good this holiday season; to “share” their gently used treasures with those less fortunate. So, take your kids and the books/toys/gadgets they’ve outgrown to a local children’s hospital, shelter, nursery school or even a thrift shop. (Call first to be sure they are accepting donations!) Tis the season to teach our kids that helping others is a great gift… one that will last a lifetime.

2. Give your time. With Christmas right around the corner, why not plan a family event that focuses on the gift of time? How many times have we all said “oh, how I wish there were more hours in the day! Just think of all I would accomplish!” Well, here’s something you can easily do – find a few hours and take the time to visit grandparents, volunteer at your local charity of choice or even just spend some time together as a family. Tis the season to unplug and tune in to those around you; this just may be one of the best ways to spread the joy of the season.

3. Something’s gotta give. When you “just say yes” to everything – the school bake sale, the Christmas pageant, the cookie swap, the class gift – you stretch yourself far too thin. Speaking from personal experience, I know that this can make you the overtired Grinch you detest rather than the jolly St. Nick you’d much prefer to be. This holiday season, do yourself (and your kids!) a favor and just say no. Giving up a few of the things you think you “have “ to do – whether it’s sending cards, wrapping gifts or baking yourself into a frenzy – will result in a happier you… which, of course, translates to happier kids. So, tis the season to “just say no” — to doing too much and to the perfectionist ideals set forth in those charming Norman Rockwell prints.

Tis the season to be jolly… remember that and you and your family will indeed have a Happy Holiday season and a most Merry Christmas!

I suffer a bit from being a perfectionist. Ok, a lot. Or, perhaps it’s not me, but the people around me who suffer most. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that even though I know it’s insane, I will reorganize the dishwasher so that it’s done my way, which, of course, is the right way and therefore, the only way. On the odd occasion that my husband puts the kids’ laundry away, instead of simply saying thank you, I’m prone to point out where things should have gone. I encourage all five kids to line up their shoes in perfect pairs and at times, can’t resist laying out matching socks and underwear with their outfits — just as I liked to wear mine when I was a kid… perhaps that’s where this all began.

I thought that having triplets would cause me to loosen up, to let go a little, to lower my standards or perhaps more aptly put, become a lot less anal!  But, alas, it’s not to be. The triplets and the daily challenge of juggling five kids five and under have really just upped the ante on my naturally perfectionist streak. I aspire to be like Mary Poppins – “practically perfect in every way.” I’ve even been known to sing “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down!” and say “Spit spot!” with a kind (although admittedly forced!) Mary Poppins smile as I hurry my kids along.

All that said, I know my yearning for perfection is extreme and has a fair share of downsides. I didn’t quite realize it until we went on our annual quest for the perfect pumpkin last weekend … an annual quest that is the traditional warm-up for the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. As we ambled about the pumpkin patch with the camera clicking on a crisp fall day, I overheard some other insane Mom say to her kid “Put that one back. It’s all dented and dirty.” To which the kid whined back “but Mom, it doesn’t have to be perfect!”

So perfectly said and so absolutely true. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Whatever “it” may be. I let my Imperfect Poppins relax a bit after hearing that and, while I know it won’t last, I want to remember that kid’s voice in my ear because it could well be the voice of one of my own children. “Mom, it doesn’t need to be perfect.”

It was with this in mind that I went to bed last night before straightening the rug on the living room floor and with Legos still strewn on the coffee table. This morning, I tried not to flinch when my daughter rejected the matchy-matchy outfit I laid out and went with a funky look of her own. And when my oldest pleaded, “but Mom, I don’t WANT A shirt with a collar”, I said ok. Ok.

While my perfectionist, uptight ways are good for keeping everyone on a schedule, clothes in the right drawers and getting us out the door on time (most of the time!), I also know they can be overwhelming and overly controlling. And, I know that I really don’t want to hear my kids making public pleas for imperfection. So, I’m going to resolve to be better about accepting “good enough” versus  uncompromising perfection and, as a starting point, I have several very lop-sided pumpkins on the porch to prove it!

(NOTE: We picked our pumpkins at Stuart’s Farm in Granite Springs, NY, about an hour north of NYC and highly recommended for family fun and, great donuts! http://www.stuartsfarm.com/index.html)

We’re coming up on a major milestone here in the Lyons Den. This weekend, on 10.10.10 (an especially appropriate date!) our identical triplets will turn two. This is a significant turning point for us and, while some folks may think of the “twos” as a “terrible” time full of tantrums and tirades, I’d prefer to offer up the possibility that what lies ahead may in fact be the “terrific twos.”
 In considering the past twenty four months, we’ve most certainly had our fair share of ups and downs and there are plenty of things that I’m happy to leave behind… nursing and pumping for three hefty fellas from my two tiny breasts, sleepless nights, ass-blaster diapers – you know the ones, the icky mustard colored poops that leak out the side, typically at 3AM? Formula, formula and more formula followed by gallon after gallon of whole milk. If only we had a yard large enough for a cow, I’m convinced we could put her to good use! Then there were the spit-ups, the throw-ups and the many times we were just plain fed up. There was the cacophony of three screaming newborns harmonized by two fighting toddlers. There were the Boppies, Exersaucers, Bumbos, and play mats that turned our humble home into a hardcore nursery. There were the panic attacks associated with three little people taking their first steps… and subsequently teetering on the top of our extremely steep steps. There was the never-ending mountain of laundry and nights that seemed to never end. But, when I look back, it’s all gone shockingly fast.

When I look back, I can chuckle at all of these “downs” because what I remember far more vividly are all of the “ups”… the toothless grins that were so rapidly replaced by first teeth, the sweetness of the “big” brother and sister helping us juggle three babies and three bottles, the kindness of family and friends who would arrive unasked and unannounced to simply hold a baby, the sense of accomplishment of getting them all loaded into the triple stroller… and the additional bonus of having the physical strength to push that stroller up our very steep Main Street. There were the days at the beach and playground where sand was the snack du jour and the nights when we snuggled in our bed like peas in a pod. There were first baths, first foods, first steps, the first time I could wear pants with a zipper again and all of the other wondrous firsts that accompany these first few years of life.

It is with this sense of wonder that I anticipate the “twos” – knowing, as I do, that there will indeed be some ugly moments – full blown, carpet-kicking tantrums and in all likelihood, more extreme, adamant and repeated use of every two year olds favorite two letter word: NO!  But, there will also be the fun and joy and humor that these little guys bring to our lives each and every day. The humming and singing and chattering and dancing and silliness that can make me instantly forget a bad day at work or yet another sleepless night. So, while some might dread the pending second birthday, I’m ready. And, I’m psyched. And, I’m grateful, overjoyed and yes, at times even a bit stunned to know that we’ve done it. We’ve survived the first two years with “five under five” and look forward to what the future holds.

This may come as a surprise to you… in fact, it still comes as kind of a surprise to us but, my husband and I really aren’t baby people. Given that there was a short window where we had five kids under four, you’d think we’d be those schmoopie types that just melt at the sight of a newborn and can’t enough of that new baby scent. The reality is we’ve never gone to extremes to ooh and aah over someone else’s precious new babe and it took us a while to warm up to each of our own. Furthermore, we still don’t know what people mean when they bring up the glory of that new baby smell; all our babies always smelled like spit up and dirty diapers, perhaps with a whiff of sweet potatoes thrown in. Not something to get all nostalgic about, if you ask us!

Although we tend to tolerate more than celebrate the first year of life, we can’t help but admit that the old cliché is true and time flies by far too fast. Our triplets officially turn 18 months this week and can hardly be called babies. They are independent, interesting and at times intolerant little individuals. Their onesies don’t fit and their toes are busting out of their footie pajamas. They’ve taunted us by climbing up and unfortunately, falling down the stairs. While fingers are still their favorite utensils, they’ve experimented (with limited success) with spoons and forks and seem to be trying their best to cultivate some table manners. Their bottles have been history for months – a sure sign that the baby days are behind us and the toddler years have arrived. As I watch them babble, banter, toddle and tumble, I can’t help but reflect that these guys are in the midst of a somewhat awkward age that no one really talks about. Let me share some observations…

They are expert walkers but look like they have two left feet when they try to run. They are not bald yet they still don’t have much hair to speak of; what they do have resides on top of their rather large heads in free-form wisps – at times resembling the comb-over look associated with desperate old men and at times cascading down to the rat-tail look that thankfully went out in the 80s. They have very big bellies that sometimes turn the corner before the rest of their little bods. They have some teeth, but not all of them – a look which was adorable with the first few but now looks like the Tooth Fairy is playing a trick on them. They try to talk but are constantly misunderstood… or so they would lead me to believe!

When it comes to teenagers, we expect and anticipate the “awkward age” but when it comes to babies, well, I for one sure didn’t! And, after seeing how quickly our baby days became simply fodder for photo albums, I know that this funny, strange and endearing phase will pass all too quickly. Before we know it, they’ll be out of their highchairs, deciding to wear what they want to wear and running so fast that I can’t keep up. Which is exactly why I’m going to do my best to just take a deep breath and enjoy this time that I know is both precious and fleeting. Not to mention, as soon as these guys can talk, they just might point out that I’m in an awkward phase too… with my fading highlights, rapidly reproducing grays, a few extra pounds and a severely outdated wardrobe, who am I to pass judgement?!

Note: This post originally appeared on www.parentsask.com on April 12, 2010.

I thought I would share a few classic Lyons Den greetings.  These pictures are representative of what might await me as I arrive home from work on any given day.  As you can see, there is a chance that our dear little “Cubs” might be scratching at the door, hoping to get to the other side.  This greeting is often accompanied by excited shouts of “DADA!” as they smear the glass with boogies.  That really kills me — not the snot-smeard glass… God knows I’ve come to live with that but, it’s the shouts of DADA that really get me.  I mean, really, I’m the one who had these guys in my belly for 36 weeks, the one who arguably changes more diapers, gives more baths and on and on and yet, almost 18 months later, they are still calling me DaDa!  I swear they do it just to taunt me.  That and because, in fairness, DaDa is probably (ok, definitely!) a lot more fun and they wish that he was the one coming through the door first!

This second greeting is becoming a bit more common.  It’s the “we didn’t rush to the door because we don’t care that you’re home because we’re too busy getting into trouble” kind of a sneaky, silent welcome.  This is the type of welcome I received tonight. Here’s what went down in our Lyons Den in just about an hour’s time…

  • Declan and Kevin took a dive into the toilet bowl… it would seem that Ciara forgot to put the lid down and shut the door after she tinkled.  Oops!  And, gross! 
  • Cormac decided to chew on an electrical cord… not necessarily my idea of a healthy snack.
  • The three of them thought it would be fun to play “Magic Carpet” as they pulled and pushed each other around the kitchen on the rug that usually goes by the sink
  • Quickly tiring of the “Magic Carpet” game, they took to moving furniture — taking turns pushing the stools around the counter and then relocating poor Finnegan’s bowls… which, of course, were empty. Poor dog!
  • “52 pickup” was next on the agenda… although, these guys don’t play with cards (yet!) — for them, it’s Tupperware — and I swear, there must have been at least 52 pieces that they scattered around the kitchen and dining room

Keep in mind that as I tripped over toddlers and Tupperware, I was also trying to put the finishing touches on “Tuesday Turkey Taco Night”.  While Liam and Ciara moaned that they were STAARRVVINGG, I was doing my best to keep my cool but felt myself starting to lose it… just as I was about to scream, there was a jingle at the door… and who should appear but… DADA!!!!!!!!!  I don’t know who was happier to see him — the five kids who just escaped Mama blowing a gasket or me, happy to know that an extra set of baby-wrangling hands had just arrived on the scene.  Either way, for DaDa, it was a warm welcome home indeed.