When we found out we were pregnant with triplets, it was a bit of a shock to the system – especially since our other two children were just one and three. Before we even considered the real threats, like prematurity and low birth rates, we considered the things that seemed real to us at the time. Like how would two parents feed three newborns? Or what kind of a car would we drive with three newborns and two toddlers? Or would it be possible to go to dinner and ask for a table for seven… including five highchairs? We’d stay up late pondering these and many other questions including, inexplicably, “what will we do when they go to school? What about back to school night? How will the two of us be able to cover three different classrooms?”
That burning question about back to school night faded over the course of four years that were a blur of pumping breasts, making bottles, burbing babies, changing diapers, doing laundry, cleaning highchairs, sleep walking, and toddler chasing – sometimes simultaneously. We somehow powered through it all, fueled by the relief, joy and reality of three babies that were born at 36 weeks weighing in at five to six pounds each. Each! I guess once you’ve had almost 18 pounds of baby in your belly, everything else kind of feels insignificant by comparison. Pumping for three? No problem. Three diaper changes at 3AM? Check! Back to school night? Wait, what?
It snuck up on us. We were literally walking to the school to meet the teachers when we paused, looked up at each other in the moonlight and asked “How the hell did we get here?!” Where did those years go? How can they be in kindergarten? How the hell are the two of us going to go to three classrooms to meet three teachers?! And why didn’t we think of this sooner? Why haven’t we thought about this since we first stared stunned at those ultrasound pictures?
I suppose it’s because we’ve been too busy living to be worrying. Too busy surviving to look too far ahead. Since our baby boy joys arrived in 2008, we’ve been living one day at a time. Long days and longer nights, but the years flew by and here we are. Approaching the steps to the school amid whispers and questions. “What’s your plan for tonight?” “Have you guys figured out how to clone yourselves yet?”
Well, our plan evolved along with the evening, as it often does. We lucked out in that one of the triplets has the same teacher our two older children had. We said a quick hello to her, promised to call the next day to get the lowdown on our boy and her plans for the year and then we parted ways to meet Teachers 2 and 3.
Walking home, we held hands and realized we’d done it. We survived back to school night. We signed up for conferences and class breakfasts. We sat in their desks, looked at their pictures and left them notes for the morning. Somehow, we pulled it off. Just like we’ve pulled off everything else since they arrived. One day – and night – at a time. Although, I have to admit, if I could figure out the cloning thing, I still would!
When you conjure up an image of a kindergarten classroom, what do you see? In my mind, there are ABCs and 123s and primary colors everywhere you look – red apples, yellow buses, blue birds. Colors are part of the kindergarten core curriculum as four and five year olds navigate their first official school experience, expressing themselves with brightly colored blocks, crayon and PlayDoh.
For our kindergartners, identical triplet boys who have just been separated for the very first time, colors take on a whole new meaning. We’ve used red, blue and green to tell them apart since birth. In the early days, we relied on nail polish on each of their big toes. As they grew, they got sippy cups in their “signature” colors. We dressed them primarily in their “primary” colors and even today the crocs they wear are red, blue and green. It only seemed fitting then that as they marched off to kindergarten, their backpacks were, of course, red, blue and green.
We’ve had inklings in the past that perhaps color-coding our children would present some issues. There was the time that when asked what his name was Declan responded, “I’m blue!” And truly, of our three little fellas, he’s a bit more “blue”, a bit more melancholy than the rest.
Then there was the time that Kevin proclaimed he is a Red Sox fan – because his color is red. This one really did a number on my husband, whose only mandates for our children is that they “grow up to be Catholics and Yankee fans.” Crazy, I know, but still the Red Sox thing really hit him where it hurt.
The latest evidence of what seemed like a smart survival tactic gone awry happened during Cormac’s first week of kindergarten when he was asked to draw his self-portrait. It was green. ALL green. Good grief, what have we done?! His teacher is now committed to ensuring he “likes all colors” before the school year is over.
As for the rest of the others, well, we hope they learn to like all colors too. And, we’re thinking that maybe some new backpacks wouldn’t be such a bad idea either!
As summer came to it’s unofficial close over Labor Day weekend, it seemed that much of America was mobbing the malls in search of new sneakers and school supplies. We didn’t join them. We enjoyed a few last days at the beach before heading home for the first day frenzy.
Thankfully, we had ordered our school supplies in the spring (which I highly recommend doing, if your school offers the option), allowing us to spend our “first day eve” at home as opposed to fighting the crowds for a parking spot. We sat down with the kids one by one, labeling folders and boxes of crayons, raiding our supply of tissues and Ziploc bags and… fretting about the things we hadn’t crossed off that handy back-to-school list – because no matter how prepared you think you are, there’s bound to be something missing when that first day arrives.
I really thought we were on it this time. Everyone had backpacks and lunchboxes. Everyone had pencils and glue sticks. Everyone had a clean, cute outfit to wear. But, as it turns out, our fourth grader didn’t have the right size Ziploc bags, our second grader needed a photo of herself and our trio of kindergarteners needed art smocks and, most alarmingly, five family photos. Each! (In case you’re wondering, this is alarming because I haven’t printed a photo in years and our home printer isn’t working.)
Our missing items aren’t difficult to come by but we didn’t have them for the much anticipated Day One. Or Day Two. In fact, we’re still working on getting them. And, as it turns out, that is a.ok. We tend to work ourselves into such a tizzy as we transition from summertime to school year. We want everything to be just right. We want to set our children up for success in school, in life. We try to be prepared – and to prepare them. But I think sometimes maybe we try too hard. We get a little too caught up in it all. There’s a good chance we’re stressing our kids out by spending weekends at the mall in search of the perfect first day outfit or cool kid lunchbox. If you ask me, a family day at the beach, savoring the last sunny days and stress-free nights is as good a preparation as anything else.
My kids aren’t going to flunk grammar school due to a few missing smocks and plastic bags… and neither are yours. And, when I get around to finally printing those missing photos, they will be of that beach day – a memory that undoubtedly trumps a day at the mall. The morale of the story? You can only do so much – for back to school and for life in general. And, for the most part, you’ll find what you’ve done is good enough.
When I was growing up, we went to Cape Cod every summer. As a grown up, I’ve gone to Cape Cod every summer. College weekends. Girl’s weekends. Couples weekends. The weekend I got engaged.
Cape Cod was the first place we took our firstborn. And second. And our triplets, who came along next. We’ve made the trek to the Cape with a car loaded to the gills with strollers, pack & plays, high chairs and the family dog. Except for last year; last year, we didn’t go. We were selling our house and our future was uncertain so we skipped our annual pilgrimage and visited friends and family in other places instead. We had a super summer but it just wasn’t the same.
To get to the Cape, you have to cross a bridge. I’ve always said that when I cross that bridge, I feel as though my troubles are left behind. Blue skies and clear water lie ahead. Literally. The stress and chaos of our hectic lives are replaced by days that flow freely from the beach to the ice cream parlor, from mini-golf to the candy store. Worries fade as memories are made. To do lists are simplified: apply sunscreen, dry beach towels. That’s pretty much it.
The cottage we rented this year didn’t have wireless. This, as it turns out, was a great gift. Instead of catching up on work email or posting to my blog, I unplugged. I had no choice. I even left my Facebook friends behind for a week. I read a book. I turned off the light at a decent hour and I slept. A good, deep sleep. The kind that comes after long, sun-drenched days on the beach, when your legs are tired from long walks collecting seashells and your skin still feels a little salty.
So, what did I learn on my summer vacation? I learned that, as suspected, there is truly no place like Cape Cod. I learned that I need more sleep. I learned that I still need to wear sunblock on cloudy days. And that beach towels don’t dry outside overnight as the cool Cape mist settles in. Perhaps best of all, I learned that a vacation home without wireless is nothing to fret about; it is permission to unplug…and isn’t that what vacations are for?
“For those of you who are sending your child to kindergarten for the first time, we understand the trepidation. For those of you who are going through this for the second, or possibly the last time, congratulations on getting another one out of the house!”
So began kindergarten orientation on a muggy night in May in a room filled with (mostly) nervous parents of four and five year olds about to leave Pre-K for the big K.
This September will indeed be the last time I send a little one off to kindergarten… times three! Our triplets (my “babies”) are leaving the roost and, like most Moms, the notion of sending them off to school leaves me with mixed emotions. If you feel the mix of anxiety and excitement, these tips should help to ease the transition… for everyone involved!
- Prepare them. Encourage them to do things for themselves. Though you may not think so, your aspiring kindergartener is capable of zipping and unzipping, snapping and unsnapping, getting dressed and undressed, carrying a backpack and even packing their own snack. Though your instinct may be to coddle your “baby”, don’t. Giving them a bit of independence is the best way to prep for the school year.
- Prepare yourself. Transitions are tough and I’m not one who naturally embraces change but, sending your cutie to kindergarten is change for good. Don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. Preschool is over and it’s time to take the next step – a step that your child is very likely ready for, even if you’re not.
- Visit. Most grammar schools have awesome playgrounds; take your tot there for an afternoon of exploring and playing — after all, that’s a big part of what kindergarten is all about. Getting familiar with the school and surroundings will make that first day a lot easier. For both of you!
- Read to them. Read with them. Read. Read. Read. Point to the words. Ask questions. Encourage conversation. And then, read some more!
- Stock up now. You’ll probably get a list of items to fill that little backpack on the first day. It will likely contain some combination of crayons, glue sticks, tissues, wipes, and even a nap mat. Get these things now, while sales are in full swing, shelves are stocked and the last bit of summer lingers before you.
As that evening back in May came to a close, we were advised to “embrace the moments this summer; the school year may be bumpy at first but it’s going to be a fabulous journey.” And, as one who has been down this road before, I can assure you it is.
Whether your school year has already begun or is just about to, you and your children are embarking on a journey with many new beginnings. For our family, our identical triplet boys will be starting kindergarten, our six year old daughter will be starting second grade and our eight year old will be starting at a whole new school. There will be new bus monitors, new classrooms, new experiences and, new teachers. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that teachers experience a lot of new things as well – not the least of which is about twenty new smiling (hopefully!) faces staring back at them as the school year begins.
As it turns out, teachers need and appreciate a little assistance in getting to know your little one. As the school year kicks off, send an email or schedule a brief conference to share the specifics you think they should know; the better they know your child, the better the school year will be. For everyone!
- Learning style: Does your child thrive in a group setting or need more personal attention? Is he a confident hand-raiser or a more timid observer? Is he a slow start or a quick study? Does he need an extra nudge every now and then? These details can help inform the learning plan for your child for the year ahead so don’t be afraid to share them.
- Social scene: Social development is an important part of your child’s school experience. Your new teacher should know if your child tends to be a social butterfly or a loner. She should also be aware of children in the class that your child has a history with – good or bad. If his BFF is in the class, she may want to seat them apart or if there’s someone he just doesn’t get a long with, that’s important too. Social dynamics can wreak classroom havoc or provide a harmonious learning environment. The information you share now can go a long way toward ensuring it’s the latter.
- Home life: In case you were wondering, what happens at home does not stay at home. It goes right to school and gets drawn in pictures and written about in short stories. Make sure the teacher knows what’s happening on the home front. Is there a baby on the way? Was there a recent death in the family? Do you have a sick relative? Did you recently move? Will you or your husband be traveling on business? Did you get a new babysitter? All of these things may understandably cause some distress to a grammar schooler; letting the teacher know what’s happening at home will give her the tools she needs to create a supportive setting in the classroom.
We’ve always applied some basic zone management to the daily juggling of our busy lives with five kids, two full-time jobs, one large dog and too many activities to count. For years, there was the preschool/stay at home divide, followed by the grammar school/preschool divide. In both instances, our two “big kids” would be out of the house first while our little ones – identical triplets who are now four – lingered at home.
This natural divide between the “bigs” and “littles” had many benefits. We could leave the “littles” in their cribs while we gave the “bigs” their breakfast. We could park the “littles” in their highchairs while we packed up snacks for the “bigs”. Mentally, it’s been a nice little crutch to think about getting two kids here at 7:30 and three kids there at 8:30 because truly, the idea of getting five kids anywhere at the same time is daunting. Especially when you need to get them there by 9AM with teeth brushed, sunblock applied, and backpacks brimming with beach towels, snack packs and lunch boxes, each in it’s own special place. Welcome to day camp.
This summer is the first time all five kids are going to our local day camp. On the upside, it’s kind of neat to have them all in the same place. They bump into each other on the playground, in the halls and at the cafeteria. The “bigs” look out for the “littles” and the “littles” are delighted to finally be joining the “bigs.” On the downside, we now have had to get five kids up and out by 9:00AM. No more zone management. This is the big time, people. We are stayin’ alive as parents of five but, just barely.
On any given morning, there is someone who can’t find his camp shirt, someone who needs a permission slip signed, someone who doesn’t want a turkey sandwich for lunch, someone who doesn’t feel well and someone who just doesn’t want to go. Not to mention the fights over cereal boxes, the spilled milk, the overcrowded bathroom as they try to brush their teeth, the tantrums when I try to brush their hair, the missing crocs, and so on and so on.
Our kitchen looks like a small assembly line as I struggle to pack lunches during the mayhem. And yes, I’ve thought of packing lunch the night before and in fact, used to when I only had to pack two of them but our fridge just can’t hold five lunchboxes! So, each morning, I line them up. I fill up the water bottles, and fill little containers with Goldfish and graham crackers. I line up the bread, dole out the turkey and sigh about the amount of Ziploc bags we go through. All the while, the kids are buzzing about like bees… swarming, you might say. I literally trip over children as I shuttle the lunchboxes to the backpacks and shove them all out the door. As I blink and wonder how it is that although I’ve been up since 5:30, I’m going to be late for work again, it hits me.
This isn’t just “welcome to day camp.” This is “welcome to the rest of your life.” Clearly it’s time for another management approach. It’s out there and I am determined to find it. We will get better with this manic morning routine and it will surely get easier as the weeks, months and years pass by. Before I know it, they will be able to pack their own darn lunch and won’t need me to help with their hair or remind them to brush their teeth. When that time comes, I will probably develop some sense of nostalgia for our morning mayhem, just as I now have it for our days of zone management… which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t so easy after all!
The telltale signs are in place. The sun is setting earlier. The catalogs in the mailbox are peddling lunch boxes and back to school bargains. There’s no denying that summer is winding down and busy fall days lie ahead. Days that will inevitably start with alarm clocks and a race for the bus and end with a scramble to check homework before bed.
Days like that are the only excuse I need to savor days like this… the ones that start when the little ones naturally wake up and end later than they should so that fireflies can be chased. Here are a few great ways to make the most of the remaining days of summer while creating memories and mementos that will warm you through the cooler days ahead.
Hit the beach – and bring some of it home with you. Whether you fancy sand or seashells, a little memento of a day at the beach can make you feel warm and fuzzy all winter long. One of our favorite family activities is taking long walks on the beach and collecting unique, pretty shells and rocks. These treasures from the sea and sand adorn our house, bringing back happy memories in unexpected places.
- A simple but supersized clam shell doubles as a soap dish in our bathroom
- A jam jar full of tiny shells graces a shelf in our kitchen
- White stones polished smooth by the sea line our garden – and provided an activity that kept the kids busy for hours
- A collection of conch shells brightens our bookcase
- Painted scallop shells decorate our kids’ dressers – and provided a perfect rainy day activity
If you’re not in the mood (or proximity!) for a day at the beach, gather in the kitchen – and let summer’s simple bounty guide an afternoon of family fun.
- Pick (or buy) some strawberries. Or blueberries. Or raspberries. Get out the blender, add some yogurt, apple juice and ice and voila! Homemade smoothies everyone will enjoy.
- Gather basil from your garden (or farmers market) and make pesto. This has become an annual tradition with our kids and my aunt. They love picking the leaves off the stems, helping to peel the garlic, taking turns pulsing the food processor and best of all, eating the end result for dinner!
- Make lemonade out of lemons. Get out a big pitcher, squeeze some lemons, add sugar, water and ice. Sip and sigh. This is what summer is all about.
It saddens me to see summer come to a close but taking the time to take it all in provides memories and mementos to keep us warm until the seasons change once again.
Packing this time was different. When we moved to a short-term rental from our perfect “my first house” last fall, our life was different. Our triplets had just turned four and started pre-school. Our “big kids” were six and seven, in their grammar school prime as they acclimated to life as first and third graders. My husband and I were on the hunt for our “forever house”; we were sad to leave the house we loved but had outgrown, nervous about moving to a rental on the outskirts of town, and feverishly packing during every spare moment.
It took a long time to pack up that house – the house that welcomed our daughter and then our identical triplets home. The house that sheltered us when his mother died and then his brother. The house where we hit our stride as parents, planted roots for our family and developed friendships that will last a lifetime. They say “you can’t take it with you” but, when we left that house, we did. We packed everything.
We did our best and dutifully tried to leave a few things behind – we gave to GoodWill. We gave to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. We even had a yard sale but since it was on a rainy, brisk fall day, there were few takers. So, we took a LOT with us – things we now know, we should have left behind…
Things like sets of placemats for four. (We are a family of seven.) Our oldest son’s personalized rocking horse that someone sent when he was born. (He is entering 4th grade and not really a rocker in that way!) Outlet covers. (Really? Shouldn’t our kids know by now not to stick their fingers in outlets?!) Sippy cups. (Again, a phase that has past.) Murphy’s dog collar. (He died in 2008). Finnegan’s puppy collar (he is almost nine!). And then, the books. We believe that books are truly treasures but when we rediscovered some of the classics that had been in storage since the fall, we had to laugh – and purge. Here are a few good examples:
- Getting a Financial Life. Personal finance in your 20s and 30s. (We are in our 40s and I’m pretty sure there is no hope for us ever having a so-called “financial life!”)
- Metro Dog: A guide to raising your dog in the city. (See prior reference to Finnegan, age 9. Oh, and the fact that we moved to the ‘burbs 8 years ago!)
- Preparing for Multiples (A book that was my bible while those three babes were in my belly but really, there is no “preparing” for multiples!)
- Let’s Go France 1999 and, in the same spirit, Sydney 2001. (Yes indeed, those were the glory days but they were long long ago… and, by the way, isn’t there an app for that?!)
We were only in that rental for eight months and are just now settling into our “forever” house. It’s amazing the wisdom a few months can bring in this circle of life and process of parenthood. In a matter of mere months, our preschoolers are ready for kindergarten and our daughter is a second grader looking forward to showing them the grammar school ropes. Our oldest son is moving up to middle school and looking forward to playing the drums this fall. The drums! Which leads me to wonder, what we will leave behind when we move on from this house? My guess? Not much.
I suspect I will pack finger paint pictures and handmade ceramics so I have a piece of the kids with me when they move us out to our retirement home… but I’m pretty sure I’ll be ok with leaving Liam’s first drumsticks behind. Just like that rocking horse!
Given that I’m a fan of food and love the great outdoors, it makes sense that I like a good picnic… even though my early picnic memories are marred by spilled KoolAid and bee stings. And yes, I think there was a strong correlation between the two!
It was as a city-dweller in my 20s and early 30s that picnicking took on a whole new dimension for me. It was a cultural affair. A romantic affair. A culinary affair. Kool Aid was replaced by wine and the sting of a bee replaced by the gentle hum of mosquitos, which weren’t so meddlesome once the wine kicked in and the New York Philharmonic tuned up. These were days of plentiful picnics that took place under the stars as music played, hands were held and city lights twinkled in the distance while fireworks lit up the sky.
Fast forward to the picnics of today. Class picnics. Team picnics. Graduation picnics. The buzzing is of children. School children. My children. The venue? It might be the playground, local park or baseball field. The bees are back. Mosquitos too. Add in a few bleeding boo-boos, smushed sandwiches, squished juice-boxes and panicked parents and, well, needless to say, picnics aren’t what they used to be.
As a mom of five kids who are four, six and eight, June is prime picnic season — even though the experience itself is far from primo. If you ask me, picnics just aren’t what they used to be and here are three reasons why:
- Prepping and packing is, well, no picnic! Making fruit salad for 20 pre-schoolers is no fun. Dragging a cooler of melting popsicles while sweaty kids chase you like the Pied Piper is no fun. Lugging a case of water a half-mile to a pre-determined yet unclearly marked table is no fun — especially when trying not to lose any of your children to the poor lady dragging the popsicle cooler! This notion of losing children at the picnic leads me to…
- Danger is everywhere. Monkey bars, seesaws, those darn bee stings and… water! Several of our class picnics, team picnics, town picnics are near the water. It is a truly beautiful river with awe-inspiring views but, when you need to keep five kids eight and under from plunging in it, well, once again, it’s no picnic!
- Bathrooms are nowhere. Ok, that’s not true. They are somewhere but that somewhere is typically a half-mile back uphill. Taking one child would require leaving four behind — unsupervised — by that rushing river. And taking all five of them is almost impossible. Because two are on the seesaw, one is on the monkey bars, one is lost in the crowd and one is probably still chasing that poor popsicle lady! So, thankful that four of my five are boys, I encourage them to pee behind a tree… the upside of which is that we might be left off the guess list for the next picnic!
“Hey Ma, remember that time we had to leave the park because everyone was screaming? I mean like really SCREAMING? Remember that Ma?” Why yes, yes I do. That was July 4th last year. The triplets were three, our daughter was five, and our oldest fella was seven. They were overtired, overheated, possibly dehydrated and likely malnourished. Eight hours in and out of pools and parades with little sustenance beyond watermelon and popsicles will do that to a kid. And then, boom! Boom, BOOM, BOOM!!!!
Fireworks. Who would do that to five tired tots in the name of independence? We would. And it seems they will never forget it. Never ever in their whole lives.
This is especially troubling to me because I adore July 4th. I grew up in a town that has a stellar parade. The type of parade that draws a crowd from all over the great Garden State but features floats from small-town elementary schools. The type of parade that is SO good that the locals line the streets with their chairs the night before to secure a good viewing. It’s a parade filled with marching bands, floats and fire trucks. It’s a parade that I marched in as a kid and insist on dragging our kids to even as they whine that it’s too hot, too loud or even too boring — am I the only one with kids who are constantly bored?!
My Dad loves July 4th as much as I do. I think of it as his day. He grew up in the charming village where I was raised and shares many of the same memories. I remember my uncles arriving with donuts for the little ones and big coolers of beer for the post-parade party. They would come early in the morning for a party that lasted late into the evening. My Dad would man the grill for hours and in fact, he still does. After the parade, there is swimming and lunch and watermelon, possibly followed by more swimming, a nap by the pool or preparing for the evening’s grand event – you guessed it, fireworks.
My parents have the perfect location for the day — and the night. Their house sits at the end of the parade route and caddy-corner to the park where the masses gather to watch the fireworks. It is the Shangri-La of the 4th of July. For me, the day is like Christmas, but better because even though we get to see family, friends and neighbors, there’s no pressure to buy gifts, bake cookies or dress up. It is low-key, laid back and a day that I anticipate eagerly each year… and unfortunately, a day that our kids are now dreading!
I know they will outgrow their fear of fireworks and hope that one day they will look back on July 4th as fondly as I do. I hope they think “Wow. What fun we had. How awesome it was to be there with Mom and Dad and Mima and Pop-Pop and aunts and uncles and cousins with all the flags and fireworks and fun.” I hope they learn to appreciate freedom and independence in all of its forms. Perhaps most of all, I hope they will put a chair out for me so I will always have a good spot to watch the parade!