Our family just experienced a major milestone – well, in fact, several of them. On 10.10.10, our identical triplet boys turned two and we celebrated the fact that we have all survived these sleep-deprived, chaos-filled first two years; two years that have been made all the more intense, challenging and yes, even fun by our three little guys and their big sister and brother, who are four and five years old.
We’ve juggled a lot in the Lyons Den as we’ve struggled with how to feed three newborns while entertaining two toddlers, finding a car that can safely and comfortably accommodate five car seats (Hello Swagger Wagon!), and eventually figured out how to get out of the house in less than two hours (hint: don’t bring it all with you!). In reflecting on what have been the busiest (and possibly blurriest!) two years of my life, I realize there were a few keys to our surviving – and at times even thriving – this remarkable time with five tots under five:
1. Don’t forget the “me” in Mommy. I’m a firm believer that a happy mom is the key to a happy family. “Me time” is essential and, as my husband and kids will attest, everyone benefits from it. I love my early morning runs, my occasional yoga classes, my book club and the rare girl’s night out. These things are all a part of the me I was pre-kids and that me still exists. Remember the “me” in you and you’ll be a better Mommy too – I guarantee it.
2. God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt. Or put another way, babies don’t need baths every day and dirty binkies are A-OK! Trust me, this is true and will make your life much easier. In the winter months especially, one can argue that frequent bathing can dry out tender newborn skin so, if you’re as wary of a slippery baby as I was, relieve that stress by limiting bath time to just 2-3 days a week. As for that dirty binkie –or bottle, or blankie, or biscuit or whatever – well, we have a 5-second rule… which has kind of evolved into a 10-15 second rule… if it’s on the ground for just a (relatively!) short while, it’s fair game to be picked up, brushed off and popped right back into the kid’s mouth… unless, of course, your dog gets it first in which case, a good rinse or replacement may be required!
3. Baby Proofing is good but rules reign supreme. I marvel that there are folks out there who make a living “baby proofing.” Don’t get me wrong, certain things are absolutely essential; we don’t leave cords from blinds dangling where tots can reach them and we keep medicine out of reach. We have a gate at the top of our stairs and are big believers in outlet covers. But the rest of the stuff they try to sell you on? Toilet seat locks and stove knob covers and all the rest? Save yourself the money and set some rules instead. Rules are good. Kids actually like to know what the boundaries are and are astute enough to respect them far sooner than you think. Don’t be afraid to scream “HOT!!” or “OUCHIE!” or even a good old-fashioned “NO!!!” They will get it, they will learn from it and you will be grateful that when you wake up to pee in the middle of the night, the potty is not in lock-down.
4. Out and about beats in and insane. All our kids were born in the fall in the Northeast. The time of year when the leaves fall, the wind blows and the temperature plummets. I remember taking my firstborn to the pediatrician on one such blustery day and asking if it was ok to take him out for a walk. Her response: “Do you think people in Siberia never leave the house?! Of course you can take him out! Just bundle him up and you’ll both be fine.” And we were. The fresh air did us both good and I wholeheartedly believe it tires tots out. So, if perchance you’re interested in exhausting your newborn in the hopes of four to five hours of uninterrupted overnight sleep, this is a good way to go. No matter how long it takes to get out of the house (and I know firsthand that it can take a while!), just do it. Pack up and go. You and your tot will both be glad you did.
5. Just say yes. Being of rather proud and stoic Irish descent, I’m not one to ask for help and my husband wouldn’t think of it. When the triplets came home from the hospital, there were many offers of help. “Just tell us what we can do” said countless family and friends. “Oh no, we’re FINE” I’d reply as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and staggered by them in a daze. Fine? Really? No way! We were so NOT fine. We were exhausted and overwhelmed and it took getting a nasty case of bronchitis when the babies were six weeks old for me to finally “cave in” and accept the kindness and assistance that had so readily been offered. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long. It turns out that when people offer to help, they mean it. So do yourself a favor and just say yes — and don’t be afraid to be specific about the help you need. Take it from me, it will be much easier – and a lot more fun – to survive the first two years with a little help from your friends.
6. Trust your gut. It recently expanded to provide you with the little bundle (or bundles!) of joy that it seems everyone including the mailman has something to say about. Bottle or breast. Work or stay home. Binkie or blankie. Organic or not. Whatever it is, do not believe everything you read or hear and do take it all with a grain of salt. Just do what feels right to you. After all, there is a reason for the old adage that “mother knows best.” You do.
7. Plan ahead. Anticipation goes a long way toward prevention and this holds especially true when it comes to tiny tykes who are prone to melt down when they are tired, hungry, overwhelmed, or all of the above. I often tend to push myself – and my tots – far past the breaking point and the result is always the same… simply put, not good! My advice would be to keep your bag packed with sippy cups, yummy snacks and wipes aplenty. Plan activities for times when you – and your offspring – will be at your best. And, while you’re planning, plan to cut yourself some slack because no matter how much you anticipate, there will be days when things go awry – as in the time when one of my kids puked so many times at the doctor’s office that I had to drive him home in a pumpkin costume. It wasn’t part of the plan but, it makes for a good story!
8. Just say no. This is as important as learning to just say yes. While “no” will be a word you undoubtedly (and at times, regrettably) overuse with your little one/s, you need to incorporate it freely and guiltlessly to requests like “could you host Thanksgiving dinner?” or “can you bake four dozen cupcakes for the school fundraiser?” or “can I drop Biting Billy over for a play date?” No, no and no! You don’t need to do it all – and you’ll be happier if you don’t. Please don’t misunderstand – feel free to host a holiday dinner or volunteer for the bake sale or have a nightmare kid at your house if it makes you feel good and won’t drive you crazy. But please, do not under any circumstances say yes when something deep down inside is urging you to take a pass. At these times, refer to # 6 – trust your gut AND just say no!
9. Create a routine. Say what you will but when it comes to your tiny tyke, routine is good. It’s good for both of you. You need your coffee. Your baby needs a bottle. You both get grumpy if you don’t get what you want when you want it. Fair enough, right? Babies – and kids of all ages– thrive on routine. They are simple sweet souls who will respond well to simply knowing when to expect a bottle, a bath, a meal, a walk, a snack or a story. Routine has been the key to survival for us, especially during those first few crazy months at home. Think about it – we had three babies who ate eight times a day… not to mention, two toddlers who required a fair amount of care and feeding, a dog who needed a walk, and a mountain of laundry always waiting to be done. The only way to tackle it all was with a routine. It worked for us and should work for you too!
10. Laugh. There is such tenderness and such humor in these first two years. Allow yourself the opportunity to pause and appreciate it as much as you possibly can. Laugh loud and laugh often and your baby will too. That belly laugh will be one of your fondest memories. If you could bottle it, you would. There is no better feeling. And God knows, after what you’ve endured to bring a baby into this world, you deserve a good laugh!
It’s hard to believe that our babies are babies no more. I know in my heart that these amazing little fellas will always be my babies but I see with my eyes that they are already little boys – and yearning to be big kids, just like their brother and sister. I am grateful for the love they give, the laughs they provide and the knowledge that if we’ve survived these first two years – and indeed, we have – we will survive whatever comes next. Bring it on!