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.

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:

For this week’s tip, I don’t have a cohesive theme but rather, a hodge podge of insights and lessons learned from the last week in the Lyons Den. I hope you find them helpful and if not, well, at the very least, I hope you will be amused!
  • You know that old saying “Dance like no one is watching.”  Well, on Saturday night, I did.  And I have to say, I had a blast.  For better or worse, most of my small town was watching since I chose the annual school fundraiser as my venue to “Busta Move.”  You know what though? It was great fun. I’d like to dance more often.  Although, I admit it might be better for all involved if no one was watching! 
  • There’s a reason they sell salty and sweet together at the movies.  Friday night was movie night at our elementary school.  We went for it and got the kids popcorn AND Swedish fish.  When our little lady started moaning that she had popcorn kernels stuck in her teeth, we suggested chewing on a Swedish fish to solve the problem.  And it did. Who needs dental floss?!
  • I’m an avid fan of Real Simple and enjoy their column on new uses for old things.  I’ve enthusiastically adopted their suggestion to use an old tissue box to hold plastic baggies.  I know plastic bags are totally yesterday but, we use them to pick up copious amounts of dog poop so I somehow feel ok when I ask for plastic at the grocery store check-out.  This is not my point though. My point is about baking soda; it’s not just for baking anymore! If you have a tot of potty training age and find that your house and even your washing machine stink of urine, baking soda will be your new best friend.  Sprinkle it on the rug before you vacuum and in the machine before washing those training pants for the umpteenth time. I swear, it works. Times three.
  • Order your groceries online. I usually do but the past few weeks have been so hectic that I’ve fallen out of the routine. As a result, we’ve spent several Sundays grocery shopping. Not fun.  From now on, I’m going back to my original plan and letting my fingers do the walking while my rear rests on the couch!
  • Cook for a crowd and reap the rewards of leftovers. This can be hard to do for a family of seven but last week, we aced it.  On Sunday night, we make flank steaks and sausage on the grill and while it made for a super Sunday supper, it was even better the next few nights as we enjoyed steak sandwiches, steak salad and pasta with sausage… yum!  
  • Use the grill in the winter. See above.  This week we plan to add grilled chicken to the rotation… this can be easily turned into chicken fajitas, chicken and pasta, chicken and broccoli, any number of kid-pleasing, quick weeknight options!
  • Make the time for the things that matter most. As you may have gathered, the new year is off to a galloping start. My job is busier than ever, my kids are busier than ever, I have great aspirations to be more active in our community, to lead a Girl Scout troop, to write more frequently and run another half marathon.  Then a few things happened last week — our close friend and dear neighbor passed away and my best friend and only sister moved back to San Francisco with her family.  What do these things have in common?  They are bold reminders that no matter how busy your calendar or lofty your to-do list, you must put the people you love in life first. And, that my friends, I think is the best tip of all… on Tuesday or any other day of the week!

As a follow up to last week’s post about the superfluous items a newborn can live without, here are a few things that you and your little one really do need:
  • Coffee.  It may seem odd that this tops the list and if you’re not a coffee drinker, well, after having a newborn, you may be!  Either way, I’d suggest stocking up on coffee beans, coffee filters and whatever you use to create the perfect cuppa — milk, cream, sugar, etc.  As you may have heard, newborns often get their days and nights mixed up. What you may not realize is with a baby in the house, you might too.  This is why coffee is at the top of the list.
  • Absorbency items.  “Absorbency items. Now what’s that?” you may be wondering.  Well, wonder no more and brace yourself because this ain’t pretty. I’m sure it’s occurred to you that your wee one will be routinely weeing in his or her diaper.  So, if you haven’t already, stock up on diapers.  A word of caution though — don’t buy a year’s supply of those cute little newborn ones that would fit a doll; assuming all goes according to plan, your baby’s bottom will outgrow them in no time at all. When that time comes,  don’t rush out to buy more, log on to Diapers.com and let them deliver right to your door!  As for the rest of the absorbency items, well, they are for you.  Let’s just say that after childbirth, you may need a diaper of your own. In fact, I had a coworker who told me to stock up on Depends — which I didn’t because frankly, I just couldn’t go there.  But, the traditional maxi-pad will be your pal those first few weeks home and, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, your breasts will start leaking.  Never fear though, they have a product for that too — breast pads.  Also available at diapers.com and quite handy for those awkward, leaky moments!
  • The get up and go basics.  For the first few days (possibly even weeks), the notion of leaving the house will be daunting.  And packing your peanut up for an hour or a day (or for that matter, a weekend!), pretty much requires the same amount of stuff.  And lots of it.  But, the moment will come when you realize you must leave the house or you will go insane.  Ideally this moment arrives at a lucid, caffeinated point in time when your days and nights are no longer mixed up.  And then you will need a few things so you can hit the road in safety and style:
    • A car seat — this one is required by law and most hospitals won’t let you go home without it so, unless you plan to leave your bundle in the nursery for a late check-out, this should be at the top of your list. After coffee.
    • A stroller — possibly the Snap n’ Go which, as the name suggests, makes it very easy to just snap in the car seat and go.  Highly recommended for those first few months, especially if you will be in and out of the car a lot.  Of note, this stroller is not good for rugged terrain so if off-roading is more your style, you’ll want something with bigger, better wheels to ensure a smooth ride for your little bundle — my sister swears by the Bob stroller and I trust her opinion on virtually everything so, this is a great option if you plan to head for the hills vs. pounding the pavement in the concrete jungle.
    • A diaper bag — really, any bag will do, it’s what in it that counts:
      • Diapers (and other absorbency items, as noted above!)
      • Wipes
      • Change of clothes (you never know when an unexpected “ass-plosion” will strike; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you will the day your sweet angel blasts yellow poop out the back and sides of her precious onesie.)
      • Purell — for obvious reasons. See above.
      • Don’t forget the things you used to need — and still do!  Wallet, cell phone, keys, lip balm, water bottle, etc. The postpartum “Mommy Brain” is prone to forgetfulness so, it’s worth pointing out that you still need a few things just for you!

I’d like to think that I offer a certain Lyons Den sensibility with these suggestions but, there’s no denying you need a more comprehensive checklist for your bundle-to-be, like this one from Parents.com or this one from  Real Simple.

Be forewarned, these all-inclusive lists can be overwhelming and should be approached with caution and common sense — they will include things like a Diaper Genie, which I swear you don’t need but, suspect our local sanitation workers would recommend after several years of picking up our trash with dozens of dirty diapers!  In any case, you’ll find that one of the perks of parenthood is a new-found set of instincts — an internal barometer that guides you through the sleepy days and sleepless nights, encouraging you to listen to the voice within and not be swayed by all the well-wishing wisdom-slingers you will encounter along the way.  Make sure this inner voice is heard as you navigate the newborn checklist; if you do, you will have exactly what you need and none of the things that you don’t!

    When I found out I was pregnant with Liam, I panicked. I was clueless.  I was good at taking care of our dog, but a baby?! I had no idea what to do with a baby.  So, I did what any neurotic, Type A, first-time mom would do; I bought every book I could, signed up for babycenter emails and started making lists… a list of things to do in our apartment, a list of general things to do before the baby was born, a list of foods to avoid and, of course, the inevitable new baby checklist — that comprehensive overview of everything you need to bring a new little life into this world, neatly organized by category and frightfully long.

    If you walk into Buy Buy Baby or any other baby “super store,”  you will find yourself believing you need everything on that super-sized registry list.  I am here to tell you that you don’t.  Sure, you’ll naturally get swept up in the frenzy of it all but believe me when I tell you that your bundle of joy will survive without a wipe warmer and if you really want to know, we survived five newborns, including triplets, without a Diaper Genie.  Here are a few other things that should be on your list of things you don’t need…
    • Dreft.  Never heard of it, no worries, you don’t need it!  Dreft is the overpriced baby detergent that I washed all of Liam’s onesie’s in until the day I discovered it was totally unnecessary — it turns out that any brand free of scents and dyes will do the trick just fine.  A few good suggestions?  Seventh Generation or, for a more affordable option, All Free Clear
    • Shopping Cart/Highchair covers.  Repeat after me: I don’t need this. I don’t need this.  I’m no expert but, I do have five kids seven and under and we do get out a fair bit.  To places filled with germs and dirt — places like Costco and restaurants.  My kids have sampled lots of local flavors and not just the ones on their plates.  They have sucked on shopping carts and licked nasty highchairs.  And, we all lived to tell about it.  Not proudly of course but really, save your pennies and spend them on a yummy meal out instead.
    • Anything with snaps or a zipper in the back.  This might apply to an adorable outfit, snuggly snow suit or some irresistably soft newborn pjs.  Do yourself a favor though and just say no — you can find something just as cute with an easy front-entry that will save you — and your baby — a lot of unnecessary tears. 
    • Pants. This sounds strange, right? Why won’t your kid need pants?!  Here’s the deal:  your kid will, your newborn won’t.  Want to know why? Because pants are a nuisance to put on and they require the addition of socks, which are also a nuisance to put on — and will very likely be kicked off before you can blink an eye!  So skip the pants and go for those cozy onesies while you can!
    • A video monitor.  When Liam was born, we lived in a 700 square foot apartment — and I’m pretty sure that’s a generous recollection.  We fell victim to the registry checklist and got a baby monitor even though you could hear someone peeing from the kitchen and a sneeze could be heard in the hallway.  We did not need that monitor and we didn’t need a video monitor either.  Think about it. If you’re lucky, you might sleep for three hours at a time in the first few weeks and possibly work your way up to five or six hours in the first few months.  If you have some downtime to call your own, do you really want to spend it watching your wee one sleep?  Have a little faith, let them snooze and catch up on some TV if you really feel like watching something!

    For all the things you don’t need, there’s plenty that you do and I’ll plan to cover them in next Tuesday’s Tip.  As a sneak preview, you can’t have too many burp cloths and bibs… I suppose this was especially true for me since I had triplets the last time around but, as a general rule, more is better in these areas… and, those burp cloths will make nice dust rags when the spit up days are behind you… and they will be behind you before you know it! 

     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.

    Tuesday Tip: Keep it Simple

    December 28th, 2011 | Posted by Kerry Lyons in parenting | Tuesday Tips - (0 Comments)
    With the Christmas spirit still lingering, I am reminded once again of the simplest of tips for dealing with simple little minds. I mean no disrespect to the keen curiosity and growing intellectual capacity of our little crew of kids now seven, five and three (times three!) but, when it comes right down to it, we would all do well to remember these sage words “Keep it simple stupid!”  If you have convinced your kids that “stupid” is a bad word, as I apparently have, well then, “Keep it Simple” will do the trick.
    Consider, for instance, Christmas presents.  I struggled, as I have for years now, to find the perfect gifts, in the perfect quantities, carefully wrapped and perfectly presented in stockings and under the tree.  The reality, as any parent knows, is that it’s all over in the blink of an eye  — and the kids don’t care how it’s wrapped, if it has a ribbon or even what’s inside.  While our children have outgrown the days when an empty box would suffice (note to others: this just might be the perfect gift for 12-18 month olds!), they seem to be equally pleased with puzzles and pajamas.  I suppose my oldest, Liam, does aspire for gifts of greater magnitude (like the 3-DS, for example, which he didn’t get but, managed to have a Merry Christmas anyway), but for the most part, they are happy just to have a present.  And small presents are just as good as big ones.
    Then there’s Christmas dinner.  I give my Mom and Dad a lot of credit — not only for having us all over (again!) but for creating a crowd-pleasing meal for all ages.  We had a traditional Christmas ham, my Dad’s “famous” potatoes, my sister’s equally famous mac & cheese and a hearty helping of green beans on the side.  I’ve never seen my kids gobble down so much so fast.  Simple, as it turns out, is extremely satisfying!

    Last but not least, there was today’s adventure into the city to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and their two tiny tots.  My husband had to work so I was flying so solo and admit to being slightly intimidated by the notion of dragging our five tykes across town, downtown and through the park to the Central Park Zoo.  In the rain.  So we came up with Plan B.  We would go to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.  Also in the rain.  And farther away.  So then there was Plan C.  Gymboree had “free play” until 3:00.  But it was already 1:30 and would be hardly worth our while once we got there.  So, Plan D was a trip to Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street, which has a great children’s reading area.  You know what ended up happening?  Plan E.  Staying put and hanging out in my sister’s apartment, where we read books, played trains and Legos, and  ate more of her famous mac & cheese.  The kids were thrilled… and warm and dry too. 

    The morale of the story?  When it comes to tots, simple truly is better.

    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! :)