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Taking a vacation in Ireland with five tots in tow

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Mama Lyons & "Cubs" at entrance to Dublin Zoo
Some of you may have noticed that a few weeks have passed since my last post.  Some of you may be wondering why.  We recently took our Irish lads and lassie to visit friends and family in Ireland.  Some of you may be wondering why.  The answers are here, in a post that I originally shared on the New York Times Motherlode blog:

While most folks are back to school, back to work and generally back in the swing of things, I’m gearing up for a vacation this fall, when we will embark on a ten day trip to Ireland.  When I say “we” I don’t mean my husband Des and I on a romantic trip to the Emerald Isle.  To the contrary, “we” includes me, Des, our six year old Liam, four year old Ciara and two year old triplets, Kevin, Declan and Cormac who, by the way, are identical and may or may not be accurately represented in their passport photos!

The very notion of lugging five relatively tiny tots across the big pond to our ancestral home raises several questions.  A few I’ve heard repeatedly include, “Why now? Why not wait until they will really appreciate it?”  “How will you survive that overnight flight?”  And my personal favorite, “are you crazy?!”  The short answers are “Why not?”  “Will they ever really appreciate it?” “By sleeping!” and “I don’t think so but I’m not totally sure.”

To provide some context, let me share our family history and how this trip came to fruition.  As you probably guessed from our impressive selection of “Top 100 Irish Baby Names”, we’ve got a lot of green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name is O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons” – needless to say, that didn’t work!

My great-grandparents hailed from County Clare and County Mayo.  Des’ Irish roots are more recent; his Dad was a “Corkman” – born, raised and educated in County Cork.  Des’ Mom was Scottish.  As a kid, Des spent many summers visiting aunts, uncles and cousins overseas.  He claims that kids flew free back then – a perk that I’d like the airlines to reconsider although, it’s too late for this adventure.  Our tickets are booked, our seats are confirmed and that brings me to the rest of my story.

Des’ brother Conor was a great jazz guitarist, a proud Irishman and a gentle soul with a giant heart.  His gifted musical hands never held a child of his own but often held ours, especially when the triplets came along and we were so dramatically outnumbered.  For those first few months, we had five kids under four.  During the long days and longer nights, Conor was a constant presence.  He could burp a baby with the best of them and though he drew the line at changing diapers, he was truly a Godsend. 

As we fed, rocked, burped and soothed three tiny tots late into the night, we’d talk about Ireland.  We discussed all going together one day -- sooner rather than later so that the triplets could fly free (the airlines still don’t charge for kids under two) and the aging aunts and uncles would have the opportunity to meet our kids and hear Conor play.  We decided that we would buy Conor’s ticket and in return, he’d have the pleasure of cuddling Kevin, Declan or Cormac on his lap for that overnight flight.

Our plans were grand and our dreams were big but then everything changed. Conor was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2010 and lost his valiant battle just five months later.  On July 13th, the choirs in heaven received a great jazz guitarist and all around good guy; we know the music up there is sweeter since he arrived.

As for us, we’re still here.  With holes in hearts.  Until recently, the sound of the music Conor loved so much and gave us all such joy quite literally made me sick.  We never know how children digest the death of a loved one but we know that Liam in particular feels a keen loss; just a few months ago he started sobbing and when asked why responded, “Conor was going to teach me guitar and now he can’t.”

So why are we going to Ireland?  Why now?  I suppose because we have seen firsthand that life is just too short.  We could wait until the kids really “appreciate” it but what if that day never arrives? 

As for you Ireland, consider yourself warned.  The Lyons Den is coming to town and we’re going to make the most of it with five tots, four suitcases, three backpacks and two strollers in tow!  When we hear our first true Irish reel, we will know Conor is with us in spirit.  When we see the sights, we know he will be looking down upon us.  And, as we dwell on our heritage, we will be eternally grateful for the time that he dwelled here among us. 

As for me, I hope to come home with a sense of peace and renewal, not to mention a suitcase full of Irish knit sweaters and a lifetime full of fond memories… except perhaps for that overnight flight which I remain optimistic we will all sleep through!  

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