Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mothers: Take Care of Yourself

(from the 5/30/11 edition of the Reveiw Atlas)

image from

You know, many mornings my day begins before I am even conscious. Often my eyes are still closed when I feel a sticky, little finger poking me, "Mom! Mom! Mom? You up? I’m hungry!"

I, like every other mother of young children, hit the ground running every day. The endless errands and demands on my time make it nearly impossible to get a quiet moment to myself. At least when I go to work I am legally bound to take a coffee break. But when it comes to home life and childcare, there are no such thing as breaks! I’m not even left alone in the bathroom most of the time!

This is an unfortunate and common hazard to the job. Parents, particularly mothers, work 24/7 to take care of others and often neglect themselves despite all the research that indicates those who take respite time are better caregivers. However, when is the last time you, or a mother you know, carved time out of her schedule to make herself a priority?

Isn’t it every mother’s dream to attend to their personal needs? Can’t you envision throngs of women everywhere, whether they are working 9 to 5 or at home up to their knees in laundry, abandoning all the chaos for a well-deserved break? We are immersed in errands and to-do lists. Our toddlers clamp themselves to our legs like a tick in the summer heat. We wash them, feed them and wrestle their wiggling bodies into diapers and outfits day and night. Our children outrun us, mock us and embattle us in power struggles. We will sit with them for an hour in the bathroom because it’s "time to go potty" only to end the toileting marathon with an accident on the floor. They don’t want to go to bed and they don’t want to wake up in the morning. We as parents run and run and run until there’s nothing left to run on ... except fumes.

Am I exaggerating?
Not one bit!
Do I really need a vacation?
You bet!
Is that unrealistic?

Don’t believe for one second however that my husband would let me escape it all without him. Secondly, the work involved in planning my getaway would be utterly extensive and exhausting. And thirdly, even if I could arrange for the house, children and dog to be cared for there’s a financial burden to jetting off to an exotic spa in Cancun. It would be easier and less expensive to simply stay put!
Except I still need to take care of myself. So how?

Medical experts remind us that it is imperative to our sanity and our overall well being to make time for ourselves. We have to replenish our fuel supply. It is not an option.

 Imagine parenting as a pitcher of water and your job, children, volunteer work, family or other responsibilities as the drinking glasses. We pour ourselves out constantly into all the things we do. We pour until we can’t give any more. Then what are we to do since the demands on our time still remain? Well, most of us get crabby, short tempered and impatient with ourselves, our coworkers and unfortunately with those we love the most; our spouse and children.

Instead let us recognize the onset of that draining feeling and be proactive.
Get out of the house! Window shop. Visit your local library (what a joy to not spend the entire time in the children’s section!). Get a cup of coffee and sit with your journal on a park bench. Have lunch with a friend. Visit a neighbor. Go for a run, workout or walk and enjoy the fresh air and clear your head. How about starting a Saturday swap? Take your girlfriend’s kids this weekend and she returns the favor the next. Join a parenting class or start a book club. Grocery shop by yourself. Get your nails done or plan a night out.

The point is you don’t have to go far for a little self care (but if you can, by all means go for it!). As parents we often underperform in our responsibilities because we are so low on energy. This results in high anxiety levels and a guilty conscience. Let us not live this way! A little extra time for yourself, whether it’s daily, weekly or even monthly can refill that pitcher that so often runs dry.
Communicate to your support system, "Hey! I need a little time here!" and then take it! You will feel better (something your family will learn to appreciate) because as the old saying goes, "If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!". Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Birthday Week @ Our House

(this article originally appeared in the 10/19/10 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

We are concluding birthday week at our house. Three out of seven family members were born mid October. I’ve gained five pounds from all the cake, special dinners and party treats.

July 2004
It is in my humble opinion however, that a large portion of each child’s birthday be set aside to honor the  woman who did all the work. I mean really, nine months of nauseousness, a gazillion stretch marks and nonstop back pain preceding fifteen solid hours (if you’re lucky) of sheer terror and relentless labor and what do I get? To bake more cupcakes!

a fancy cake
Really? This is far from being fair!

Despite my all-about-me attitude, I believe birthdays are meant to be celebrated. Unfortunately many parents can get sucked into wish lists from hell and the real meaning of birthdays are often lost in wrapping paper and expensive, special order cakes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ordering fancy cakes.

Birthdays are not meant to be gimmee sessions. Birthdays should be about the person; who they are, who they are growing up to be and what joy and meaning they bring to our lives.

There is a program on MTV that chronicles the birthday party preparations of the rich and famous’ soon-to-be sixteen year old teenagers. It is without a doubt one of the most commercialized disasters I have ever witnessed. And every red blooded American teen is glued to the episodes. It makes me very sad.
Why do we raise our children to believe that they deserve to get the latest and greatest thing? Are we trying to buy our children’s love? Do we allow them to manipulate us into believing this is what ‘good parents’ do? Who told us this was acceptable parenting; going deeper and deeper into debt so our children can have gadgets, 24/7 internet access, designer clothes and more … stuff?

You see, the problem with upping the ante every holiday or gift giving occasion is that you never arrive. You start a cycle where you always have to out do yourself and go bigger. If you’re blowing hundreds today, are you prepared to spend thousands next time?

I say “Enough!” I suspect, that in comparison, our home this birthday week was filled with a minimal amount of inexpensive gifts. But I would furiously argue that we were not poor when it came to love and fun and memories.

Every child, regardless of their age, can find a way to express their gratitude towards their sibling.
And finally, my favorite birthday tradition; pulling out the photo album. Year after year, it never gets old. We reminisce over how little, how mad, how poopy and how sweet or fussy our little angel was. We tell stories about how happy we were when they were born. We remind them how special it was when they did that cute thing that one time. We laugh and share and remember. But mostly we communicate to our child that this family is better with you in it!

Will my children know in twenty years what I bought for them or will they remember if they felt safe, loved and encouraged? Certainly gift giving is an appropriate way to share your love with your child and there‘s no better time than a birthday. I simply hope we can keep the focus off of lvish gifts and focus on the person. No gift can out shine your compassion for your child anyway. Isn’t your love for your child the most extravagant gift to bestow anyway? It is! Why? Because I’m the mother and I said so! That’s why!

Stephanie is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Rosevile School District. She runs the First Steps Parent Program. She can be reached at Lincoln Early Childhood School.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Avoid Dusting

(this article originally appeared in the 11-2-10 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

Before I gave birth I despised dusting. Post-motherhood I rather enjoy the chore.

Allow me to explain.

I especially loved my babies when they were six to nine months of age; when they can sit up on their own but before they can crawl. They were entertained with whatever toys were within reach and I could actually take a shower or prepare a proper meal. Life was good! Then the first birthday rolls around and they start crawling, cruising and (gasp!) walking.

The peaceful days of playing in one spot are replaced with curious, exploring, extremely quick footed toddlers who want nothing to do with their toys and everything to do with electric cords and remote controls.

My kids were too fast for me. Maybe I was sluggish from malnourishment or lack of sleep but whatever the excuse my reaction times were extremely sub par. I found myself literally running from nick-knack to picture frame to coffee table, trying to salvage my family memories, candles and Grandma’s doilies.

And then I found an easier way.

I removed every last piece of unnecessary table decoration I could. Literally, nothing was left but lamps.
Some readers will of course will disagree with me. “Children need to learn!” they argue. “If you move photo frames, ashtrays and remote controls how will they ever learn not to touch stuff? I leave everything out! They’ll learn not to touch when I slap their hand!”

Well on one point we can agree. You are teaching them something. Your toddler will learn that you are bigger and meaner and that it is alright for you to hit. You're not teaching them what is and is not OK to play with. You are teaching them that they could get hurt by you for being normal explorers. You see, curious toddler’s have brains that are literally wired to learn by moving, touching, exploring, tasting and experiencing.

So here’s a thought. How about we as parents and caregivers understand and recognize how our children learn. Let stop hindering and starting nurturing the process along!

When it comes time to teach your mobile baby what is and isn’t off limits no amount of hitting will do the trick. There is one tried and true method that will effectively teach your child and it requires only one thing; you. Parents must redirect their children. This is a tiresome task as the toddler's curiosity is relentless when it wants something.

Realistically, you can’t move everything. But when your child crawls under the desk to eat computer cords you go immediately and move them to a more appropriate activity. When they touch the buttons on the T.V. you should get up off the couch and engage them with a toy that also has interesting buttons. When your child gets in the kitchen cabinet and pulls out all your pots and pans you designate a special drawer for them where they can explore bowls, plastic containers and wooden spoons. If they want to rip the magazines on the coffee table, you move them or let them (unless of course you’ve not yet read that edition of O magazine).

Good parents understand that their toddlers are learning when they are exploring. Please don’t hinder your children. It is our job to make sure that they can do all the learning they need in a safe environment. Baby proof your home the best you can. Consider putting away all the unnecessary or important nick-knacks and think of it this way: the more you move your stuff the less you have to dust. That’s my secret anyway. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so. That’s why!

Stephanie conducts playgroups and provides home visits to area families with children ages birth to five years. She can be reached at Lincoln Early Childhood School at 734-2222

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lincoln's Legacy

(this post originally appeared 11-2010 on as a part of my Life Thru My Lens blog series)

While I live in the 'Land of Lincoln' I'm quite poorly educated on Abe's legacy. I mean, I know what we all know about him; he grew up in a log cabin, he taught himself to read, he was tall and looked good with a beard and big black hat.

Yesterday I had the privileged to accompany my son's 5th grade field trip to Lincoln's Tomb, our State Capital and The Lincoln Museum. And while 1 little bus trip hardly offers a proper education I learned more than I signed up for.

In the museum's White House, our stroll was guided through Abraham Lincoln's life story. He lived quite a terrible story. He was horrendously riduculed for his height and appearance. The jokes at his expense during his presidental campaign were cruel. People were convinced if he were to succeed and get elected as president, that our country would be destroyed.

And it almost was. The Civil War literally tore our nation in two. But war was not the only thing to cause Abe great pain. On the evening he and his wife, Mary were hosting one of Washington's greatest dinner parties to date, their sick son lay in bed. Often Abe and Mary left the party and 500 guests to be at Tad's bedside. Their buried their 9 year old son shortly after. It was not the first child they had buried. It would not be the last.

Death loomed over President Lincoln as well. When he entered Washington D.C. it was in disguise as the death threats on his life began as soon as he was elected president. And of course we know that he was in fact assassinated at the height of his political career.

The Lincoln's oldest son began a campaign to ruin his mother's reputation. He wanted others to believe his mother was crazy so he could collect her wealth. He burned her journals and letters. There are very few artifacts that remain from Mary Todd. We could know so much more but most of it is lost in the ashes of history.

I knew none of this about our 16th President. I only knew he stood up against slavery. I knew the north won and I know his profile lines our pennies. We herald Abraham Lincoln as a hero. We've built monuments to him and we teach all the kindergareners about his great accomplishments every February President's Day.

But I can't stop thinking about his story. Would Abe have said that it was all worth it? I mean, it's easy for us to say from the window of time that it was - it was worth it. But isn't that because we sacrificed nothing. We paid nothing for the cost of his great lost. Heck, we don't even pay attention to it.

Of course every red, white & blue blooded American understands we are better off today because of the bravery of so many others, Abraham Lincoln included. I guess what I am trying to articulate is this hero in our history books was more than a figure in our country's heritage. He was a man living out his own story.

So what about us? Maybe we're not the next president of anything - or chances are good that no history book will ever include my name, but we understand suffering don't we? Most of us have tasted the bitterness of betrayal. Maybe you've been ridiculed, forgotten, stood by a grave side or doubted whether you were even doing the right thing with your life's decisions. But I think all those things are ok...they don't FEEL ok but they are nonetheless.

I wish I would have understood in my 20's what I've learned the hard way in my 30's on the eve of my 40's; the journey includes failure. It can't NOT include failures. I now understand that without failure our journey is nothing but a weak, boring empty story. While the drama that encompassed Abraham Lincoln's life was extreme, it also includes a fantastic story of bravery, patriotism and moral belief. And I happy for this reminder. Life, even for our hero's, is difficult and unless you treat failure as a part of the journey you will never make it anywhere. I hope I am going somewhere.
2010 Lincoln Memorial, Springfield, IL

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bicycle Blues

Our kids got a gift last Christmas.
A significant gift.
Eric's was a new bike.
A cool, silver, Magna Invader bicycle with 4 pegs.
He couldn't wait to give the neighborhood boys a ride.

As the weather has gotten warmer Eric's been cruising all over town.
To the store.
To school.
To the library.
That's where he took off to last Friday.

Then the phone rang.

My son, crying, called home to ask to be picked up from the library. My husband knew instinctively the bike had been stolen. While I looked up the information for the police report I was sure we'd have to fill out, I informed the rest of the Tribe what had happened.

"Hey guys" I said, "Eric's bike just got stolen from the library and he is feeling really sad. Let's say a quick prayer for him."

"Why?" Belly asked.

"Well" I explained "the bible says that if something has been stolen from you it has to be returned (Lev 6:3) and also when we are feeling blue God promised that he would send his Holy Spirit to comfort us (Jn 16).
Anybody want to pray?"

Abby's hand shot up.

We turned off the t.v. and for a mere 30 seconds we all paused and said a prayer for Eric.

When Eric and Aaron arrived home, both were devastated. Eric had been crying and went straight to his room. Aaron, sick about it as well, reviewed the events with me at the kitchen table. We both knew we wouldn't be able to replace it anytime soon.

With a heavy heart I later went up to Eric's room to see if he'd like to join us for dinner. He didn't. He was literally heartbroke. I gave him all my encouraging words and told him that we can still have hope that it will be found. After all I explained, we had prayed about it.
He struggled to lift his head off the pillow, "Oh, Dad and I prayed, too!" he said.
I ruffled his hair and left the room, shutting the door behind me, my heart in a million pieces.

It's not a big thing, really, getting your bike stolen, it's a bit of a rite of passage isn't it? But tell that to my heart. It was broken for my little boy who was learning a huge life lesson.

The next morning I took the dog for a quick walk around the block. There, two blocks down from our own house, sat a bike identical to the one swiped from Eric. I frantically called Aaron on the phone asking him to help me remember any identifying marks on our bike. While the stickers had been peeled off proving the make and brand, Eric's chain guard had broke off and this bike, laying carelessly in the yard, also had a missing guard.
My heart was pounding.
Do I just take the bike?
Do I wait for Eric?
Should I call the police?
Instead I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. When I explained to the woman that my son had 'lost' his bike last night she interrupted and said, "Well I wondered who's silver bike that was!" After a short exchange she and her son agreed they had no idea how it had appeared in their yard and invited me to take it.
I did.
I took it home.
Wheeled it into the house and placed it in the foyer - almost exactly like we had done seven months ago on a snowy Christmas morning. When Eric came home from baseball practice, he barrelled in the house like boys do, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the bike.

I was a hero.

My heart swelled with happiness and tears fell from Eric's eyes.
The whole family celebrated with Eric as we had all felt his grief just the night before. And while we've all learned a lesson about taking better care of our property it wasn't the most important lesson learned. All of our faith has been stirred up through this incident.

But it's just a bike... a silly prayer... it doesn't matter...

Apparently it does.
Prayer matters and God cares.
He even cares about bicycles.
Ask my son.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pros & Cons of Working from Home

I was recently interviewed (I'll post the link when I get it) and asked about the pros & cons of working from home. Does it make you a more or less effective parent?
Great question, eh?
Below you will find my off-the-cuff answer! But I'd be curious to know how you feel about the subject. I'm in a unique situation where I've had a part time job where I go to an office but my missions work and writing happens at home. So I go to AND stay home to work.

Q:How does working from home make you a better parent and in what ways can it make you less effective?
My A: My type-A personality is an extreme help and hindrance in my attempt to work at home from my dining room table. Yep! That’s dining room table. We’ve got 7 people squeezed into a 1600 square foot home. There is no space for a home office. Rare is the day we all gather around the dining room table for a proper meal (which is sad as it’s the only table that has room for all 7 of us at the same time!).a better parent and in what ways can it make you a less effective parent? I want to explore the pros and cons! a better parent and in what ways can it make you a less effective parent? I want to explore the pros and cons!
But I love being “on location”. All my kids are within earshot (which makes it very possible to keep a pulse on their activities. I can hear them in the basement, in their bedrooms and in the backyard....
Which also makes it near impossible to focus. How my husband has the ability to block out all the background noise is a gift and impartation I’d die for!
If someone gets hurt...I’m there. If a child needs attention...I can give it. Should an emergency happen...I can take care of it.  All benefits to working from home.
Unfortunately it goes the other way as well. Much to my chagrin I cannot seem to communicate to my 5 children just precisely what is an appropriate cause for interruption.
“Mom! Can I have a drink?”
“Mom he’s gonna hit me!”
“Mom! Whatcha doin?”
Should, however, the sweet moment come when all 5 are fed, watered, safe and occupied my type-A personality kicks in and I can work at an incredibly efficient pace. I’m convinced there are days that I am more productive with a handful of hours I can squeeze out at home than an entire day sitting at the office.
It’s never boring, that’s for sure! Living and working from home are a day by day adventure and no two days are ever the same!
And that’s good for my adventurous spirit as well!

What about you? How do you feel about it....would you work at home if you could?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Strongly vs Nothing

This blog was originally written and posted in early January on - our family website - in an effort to move all my blogs to one concise location I'll be occasionally posting some older ones when I move them over to this site.

Facebook status update from 1/9/11:
"there are some occasions in life where you should stand and wait for the smoke to clear. Too quickly and without discernment we often run much too soon".

My darling husband asked me where I got this quote from. As if I wouldn't quote the creator of it. It was me! This was an original quote that accumulates from two recent experiences.

1. I'm getting ready for a coffee with my girlfriends, listening to Alanis Morrisette sing:  "...I recommend biting off more then you can chew to anyone. I certainly do. I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time. Feel free. Throw it down (the caution blocks you from the wind)
Hold it up (to the rays). You wait and see when the smoke clears.
You live you learn..."

2. I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love and Elizabeth Gilbert writes of an experience where she intended to sit still, absolutely still for a long period of time. Unfortunately she choose dusk, in India, and was swarmed by mosquitoes. And yet she didn't flinch an inch. She writes, "...for 34 years on earth I have never not slapped a mosquito when it was biting me. I've been a puppet to this and millions of other small and large signals of pain or pleasure throughout my life. Whenever something happens, I always react. But here I was disregarding the reflex. I was doing something I'd never done before. A small thing, granted, but how often do I get to say that? And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today?"

And I'm thinking. Wondering. Turning this thought over and over in my mind. Not specifics, just a general consideration, if you will, of the fact that I might have misused the 'flight' concept of 'fight or flight'. I think I may have took off,
checked out,
thrown out the baby and the bath water on more occasions that I should.
What if instead of running I wait?
What if instead of panicking I plant my feet firm?
Haven't I had experiencing in life where I ran my mouth off too soon?,
Lost sleep in my bed mapping out my next move, your next move, then my next move in vain?
How often have I seen the smoke and was fooled?
What if it was only a smoke screen?
I think there is a good chance I need to be more discerning with my own life, with my words, with my actions and reactions.
Am I getting older?
Is a glimpse of maturity knocking at my door?

Could I become more patient -discerning- and in doing so accomplish feats otherwise not possible when my feet are running? I have no interest in sitting in a swarm of mosquitoes. That was Gilbert's life. I want to create my own life. My own stories. My own bravery. I want to stand in the crux of my own life - I  can see it! I envision my (skinny) silhouette standing against the haze of clearing smoke revealing a glorious _____ (fill in the blank).

I don't know what awaits me. But I know I'm not gonna miss it because I ran away.
Wisdom come to me. Jam 1:5
Help me to know when to stand and when to run. When to talk. When to listen.

"there are some occasions in life where you should stand and wait for the smoke to clear. Too quickly and without discernment we often run much too soon".

Me! in Prague 2010

Julia! in Eat, Pray, Love

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shopping for Summer

You know what I love about kids?


Even when I'm not in the mood I can still appreciate my kid's zest for life. Seriously, from the moment their eyes open in the morning they behave as if life meant to be enjoyed and experiences.
(Admittedly it's usually cuter after I've had my first cup of coffee but it's adorable nonetheless.)

And with the twins' it's doubly exciting!

Yesterday we took Abby & Bell to spend some money they'd been holding onto. Rarely, and I mean rarely, do I ever take them to a store... let alone shop with their own dough.

Bell wanted shoes. She told me, "Mom! I have tennis shoes and flip flops but I don't have any sandals!"

Who told her she needed a variety of shoes?!?  Clearly she is a diva in the making.

Abby wanted a Lallaloozy (if that's even what it's called!). Apparently it is some doll she saw on a commercial and just has to have! I just took an entire trash bag of discarded stuffed animals and dolls from their room...I really wish she wouldn't buy another doll.

With Barbie wallets in hand we headed out to the one and only store in town.

Bell choose purple, shimmer, bejeweled, wedge sandals.
They were half off!
So were the swim suits! of which the twins' needed.
We had 4 choices. (Variety is slim in small towns)
Off we went to the dressing room.
After wrestling and working up a sweat we found two non-identical suits for the girls.
We also purchased sunglasses and now the outfits were complete.

That was yesterday.

Today Bell put her new sandals on before her fit hit the ground. Literally. Both twins are sporting their sun glasses on their heads....while watching t.v......while eating breakfast.....while in their pajamas.

While I'm sipping my coffee the girls pull out their favorite box. Yep, I said box.
They are off on an adventure.
In a box.
With a map.
And sandals and glasses.

I overheard, "Hey Bell! Let's go to the beach!"
"Mom, can we wear out new swimsuits?"

 See? Enthusiastic!
Zeal for life!

A grown women wouldn't be caught dead in a bikini, in the family room, sporting shades on a Sunday morning.

"Of course you can!" I said smiling to myself. "and why not?!"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Just a Small Town Girl...

So this is me. My life....
I'm married,
mother to 5 kids (who I affectionately refer to as the Tribe),
I loved being the "playgroup" lady,
(too bad I lost my funding)
love reading to children,
have a PhD in Playing,
love writing,
love taking pictures of our life,
love reading,
love cooking (for people who enjoy it).
I'm a sponge for all things social media,
can create a website (with template help)
have a Vault,
I regret not finishing college,
I want a green thumb,
coach my twins softball team,
drive the un-sexiest van ever,
I'm a conference speaker
and aspiring memior-ist.
I live in Small Town, USA with
28,000 (give or take a few) other people.
There are 4 stop lighted intersections in town
(7 if you count the 3 on the highway). There is nothing
glamorous about any of  my life.

Today I was introduced to someone who asked about me. I mentioned some of the above including the fact that I write for the local paper. "I was so surprised to discover you live here (in Monmouth)! I thought you were syndicated. I assumed you were from New York and the paper just picked you up!"

How's that for a compliment?
Nice, right?
I'm a small town girl who's been mistaken as a big shot!
Funny, right?

anyone know how to get syndicated?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Still Do!

(this blog originally appeared on January 2010)

Let me be clear and completely honest about one very important thing: I am not simply in love.
I am not just doing ok.
I am not lucky to still be married.
I am deeply, madly, absolutely, happily in love to the man I am still and will always be married to.

I wish I could invent a new word for the feeling I'm trying to describe.
What's the word that means more-than-happy? I'm afraid if I just say 'happy' you'll miss just how deeply and strongly I feel. Because whatever 'happy' means to you, your definition, I am sure I mean at least 5x more than that!

Happy when typed into my word processing program has a host of synonms. I could substitue content, blissful, glad, pleased, joyful, cheerful and in high spirits to try and communicate just what I mean by happy. But I am all those words and so much more!

Sometimes I wonder if anyone else is as happily married as I am.

You see, he brings me coffee in the mornings.
He warms my car on cold days.
He serenades me.
He sends me texts just because.
We go to bed together every night.
He can’t sleep without me.
He scrubs the pans when I make a disaster prepping dinner.
He loves when I cook.
He tells me I’m awesome and I believe he believes it.
He shields his eyes at indiscriminate times.
I know all his passwords.
He tells me I’m the prettiest girl in the room.
He is a fantastic father.
He loves our children.
He is affectionate to them.
He encourages me to reach for my dreams.
He dates me.
He kisses me when I come home.
He likes my lists.
He reads aloud to me from books that move him.
He works at not interrupting me.
He stopped finishing my sentences.
He laughs at my jokes.
He thinks my feet are pretty.
He’ll lay on my side of the bed to warm it up.
We have a secret way to say I love You.
I don’t think he is even capable of physically harming me or the things that I love.
I’ve seen him cry.
I have no secrets from him.
I love studying him and it’s cute when he watches me watching him in a crowded room.
He’s a good man.
And I am madly in love with him. I didn’t know this was possible. I assumed, when I said “I do” 17 years ago, that our love would wane over time. I didn’t believe senior couples -interviewed after 70 years of marriage- who confessed they love their spouse more now then the day they married them. I didn’t think I could love my darling anymore than that day.
I was infatuated then.
Really. Even the minister counseled me before the ceremony to be more realistic and warned I should take him (and I quote) “off the platform” I've created in my heart. But I couldn’t do that then and cannot today.
I am more-than-happily married today because he has and continues to fulfill my every high expectation of him. He loves me more than I thought I could be loved. And for that I adore him.
I just wanted to be clear.
I am in love with Aaron.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Mommy Refuses to be a Referee

(this article appears in the 5/17/11 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of a weekly Practical Parenting series)

"He hit me!"

image from

"He hit me first!"

I hadn't even gotten one sip of my first cup of coffee when already my boys were dragging me into one of their brotherly disputes. How could they expect me to be a fair referee so early in the morning? Oh, that’s right! They have no appreciation of my time or me. It’s just another glorious start to another glamorous day in the life of a mother.
At twelve and eleven years of age my sons are typical boys. They are rambunctious and physical. And they never fail to break the first rule of our home; keep your hands to yourself.

Admittedly this rule was drafted solely because of them. Usually they are the only ones who break it with obscene frequency. My boys also share a room, bunk beds and a closet. Add up all these facts and I wonder if it is even reasonable to expect they should be able to get along?

I will admit that playing referee for my children is something I avoid at all costs. I strongly believe that kids should be taught how to work out their own differences. This skill not only comes in handy at home, giving parents a much needed break, but also in the classroom where disagreements are certain to rule the playground.

Ebay 2002
However, be ye fair warned; it’s no easy task. Children are relentless when it comes to tattle-taling and unless you create a system for them to work out their own difficulties you might find yourself playing judge all day long. And as someone, who’s gotten splinters from sitting on the high and mighty bench of justice, trust me when I tell you … it is no fun!
First, be concise and clear when explaining how the kids should treat each other. We used to have a no hitting rule in our home. But inevitably my boys would punch, kick or wrestle and argue "But I didn’t HIT him!" Not to be outsmarted I amended the house rule to "Keep your hands and body to yourself".

 Secondly, unless there is a legitimate injury or emergency give no ear to the tattle-taler. Each and every time your child brings an injustice to your attention you send them back to the perpetrator. "Did you tell Sam _____ (fill in the offense)? Well, I think you should go tell him that you didn’t like that and ask him not to do it again!"

This is not to say you don’t empathize with the defendant. If your child is seriously crying or harmed in some way you should tend to their needs. But for you to jump in and take over, dishing out punishments and yelling is actually unhelpful.
What does help is when you can teach kids how they are expected to handle broken rules and hurt feelings. If I allow myself to get caught up in the infraction I will no doubt disperse a judgment that is certainly unfair to someone. Haven’t you taken care of a dispute only to have a bigger drama on your hands? Like more tears and bigger fits or is that just me? Inevitably I then feel like retracting my ruling (which actually makes matters worse) and the whole scenario is drawn out much longer than it has to be.

This method works on even young toddlers. From the time they can begin to put two words together they can tell their sibling "No hit!"
The Bros
The other problem with tattle-taling is the fact that the child doing the reporting usually spins the story in his favor. "He hit me!" is really half of the story isn’t it? If sibling rivalry does require your intervention try to stay outside the problem by asking your child "What happened right before he hit you?" Maybe the tattle-taler hit first. Maybe he took a toy. Maybe he turned the video game system off before his brother had time to hit save (a common infraction in our home).

Listen, no matter how you handle family squabbles one thing is for sure; as long as there are brothers and sisters there will be rivalry. Save yourself some time, energy and sanity by giving your children the tools they need to work out their differences on their own. Unless you’re prepared to live in that long black robe of justice for the next decade I recommend removing yourself from the drama. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!

 Stephanie Sikorski is a mother to five children: a teenager, two boys and twin girls. She starts each day with massive amounts of coffee.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Now I Have Categories!

Hey! Look-ey here.
Over there on the right!

See that I've added a "Categories" list to my blog! I am super excited about this for two reasons:
  1. I figured out how to add categories AND
  2. ALL my blogs will be in one place now!
I originally dedicated this blogger site to my quest "To Write a Better Story" but still found myself posting my Parenting Articles, personal reflections (I like to call Life Thru My Lens) and funny things from my real life with 5 kids and a dog (aptly named Tales from the Tribe).

For quite a while I felt scattered like I had stuff posted in random places and that sooooo didn't work for my personality. I'm a list maker. An administrative sort. I like a clean desk. I want to love my website and I can't sleep unless I believe it to be neat, orderly and accessible.

But now it's all here! Yippee!

I pondered moving the whole thing over to WordPress as I hear that's where all the "serious" bloggers post. And while I'm quite "serious" about my work, I am was not prepared to learn an entire new system. I should mention I am also the dedicated type. So whether this blogspot place is the "best" or not is of no concern to me. I'm happy to have a little corner of the world to leave my mark on!

So next time you visit maybe you'd take an extra minute to take a dive into my newly created Categories! Read some of my old stuff if you'd like! Be inspired! Laugh at our antics.....but no matter what you do, if you love my work please tell a friend!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Life (is a) Lesson; Faith

This post is an original to my first blog (our personal/family/ministry website). It appeared last January. I thought on this wonderful, glorious Sunday I could re-share it with you here. Whether you slept in, attended a church service, or choose to spend your Sunday some other way, I hope that you found time to rest and relax but also to reflect on the goodness of God, your maker.

Are you having a hard time, believer?

I have.

I am.

A lot has changed in my life these last few years. But even more has changed in me. In some ways I feel like I’ve been reborn. What I believed has been shaken. What I wanted was different. Where I formerly focused I’ve since abandoned.

How did I get here? What does this mean? And how is it that I feel more like my-true-self than ever?
Never, not once, though, was my faith abandoned. In fact, all the challenges and situations I’ve experienced have caused me to draw on my faith in a way I’ve never imagined.

Have you ever thought you’ve been trusting God, until you really have to trust God?

It’s a whole ‘nother level!

I know some who get mad at God and walk out of relationship with Him. That thought never even crossed my mind. Although I will admit I gave Him the silence treatment once.

Oh, yeah, and that time I yelled at Him.
Oh..and then there was that time I accused Him of forgetting me.

I guess you could say, we’ve had a less than perfect relationship. But I’m convinced that has more to do with me than it does with Him. I’m the less than perfect one.

This one thing I’m sure of, Ok two:
1. God is faithful and
2. I’m not the only one (surprise Ego!) who has ever felt the pain of loss (Luke 2:36-37), suffered for being a faithful servant (Acts 7:59) or have been depressed (I Kings 19:4).

I received a great reminder of this in my email box this morning from Alicia Britt Chole (her newest book is Intimate Conversations). God’s faithfulness, as the bible so clearly reminds us, is not invalidated by our suffering, it is in our suffering we experience His faithfulness. She reminds us that the writers of the bible,
“… understood rejection, betrayal, wars, hostile living conditions, the loss of children, and family strife. They were well acquainted with homelessness, false accusations, stonings, and emotional deserts. They knew sickness, deep discouragement, failure, bitter conflict, and persecution.”

Ah! so ... I'm not alone!

I am thankful, so very thankful, for the faithfulness of God. For without it there would be no hope. My belief remains certain that my eyes are incapable of seeing the eternal agenda my heavenly Father has for me. Yes, I believe He is that intimately involved in my life. I know He loves me and cares for me and see’s the pain and trials I’ve been through and will probably still go through.

I don’t serve Him to get out of life's pain. I love Him because in the pain I find myself seeking Him in a way heretofore unbeknownst to me.
And I find Him.
Every time I seek Him, cry out to Him, need Him He is amazingly faithful. He is always there.

Be blessed!

"Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:22–23).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday, Saturday!

Checking in on my neglected Blogger account on this rainy Saturday afternoon. As I sit down to the dining room/office table I wish you could see what I see:
  • my 6 year old twins are dressed in their formals, pretending they are off to the prom
  • my teenager is sitting at a laptop next to me working on her thesis paper about the Titanic
  • my husband and sons have the kitchen torn apart installing a new garbage disposal
  • and I just proofed my husband's first submission to the paper (he volunteered to be a sports reporter for last night's track event)
  • McDonald's cups are scattered everywhere as we had a special treat today! (Mommy made $100 bucks in a friend's garage sale & treated the Tribe to the Dollar Menu) ((which costs a family of our size $30 bucks!!))
  • I also have laundry waiting to be washed/dryed/carried up/folded/ put away in the basement
  • a dog that's commandeered a stuffed rabbit much to the girls' dismay
  • and I have yet to get a shower in today.
Since nobody needed my immediate attention (that is after I had to help Mr. Handyman Hubby find which circuit cut the power to the kitchen sink) I thought I'd mosey on over to my Blogger account. I'm glad it's not one of my children for it it were it would be starving, neglected and definitely get me an open file with the Department of Child Services.

Most good bloggers advise to write everyday even if you don't publish everyday. If that's the measure then I would say I am accomplishing that. I may not post here, but I usually working on an article for the paper, writing in my journal, or working on a future piece. And while I've not found a rhythm, per se, I have found one precious day of the week.....

Wednesdays! I have come to love working on Wednesdays. In between standing appointments for work I sneak off to the library, to the very back corner and read and write & produce. Last Wednesday I stole 2 whole hours and felt like I got sooo much done! In fact, yesterday (Friday) and I sent my Practical Parenting article off to the paper because I got it done last Wednesday. (Sometimes I wait until Sunday night, just hours before my deadline to plunk out my article which realy distracts me from watching The Apprentice). I can't tell you how good it feels today, as the house is literally in disarray, that I have no deadline hanging over my head!

So for whatever remains of your weekend, I hope that you too, whether it is home improvement projects or baseball practice or open houses, have a wonderful weekend! Looking at my calendar, I don't expect to squeeze in any more writing this weekend for myself but for whatever the day holds may you enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Still a Grand Mother's Day!

(This article originally appeared in the Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series.)

There is one thing that will kill every good Mother’s Day, or any holiday for that matter: expectations. I’ve learned to lower mine over the years and it turns out I’ve increased my levels of happiness by huge proportions.

Sure last Sunday started out like every other day – my kids hounded me until I would get out of bed. But because it was Mother’s Day my husband held them off until 8:30. A monumental feet by all means. As I longed for nothing more than a cup of coffee, my couch and the newspaper, I was instead dragged to the kitchen table where my children fought, literally fought, over who could present their homemade Mother’s Day card first.

Now let me be clear: I love homemade cards. There is something adorable about your kids handprints on construction paper (rather than the wall) and little tissue paper flowers, ya know? And I got a few of those. I just could of done without the fussing.

My oldest son presented me with a piece of paper folded into fourths. The front said “Happy Mother’s Day”. The inside read: “Thanks for everything! Love, E”. I guess he couldn’t get all his feelings, love and appreciation to fit on that teeny, tiny scrap of a card so he just summed it up with an “everything”.

My youngest son forgot his mother’s day present at school but so as not to be empty handed he delivered a torn piece of notebook paper and on it printed:  “I promise to take the dog out 5 times.” But then he said, “I’ll get you your real present if I can remember it tomorrow!”

My teenager? Well she was nowhere to be found. She still laid in a slumber induced coma apparently unable to be bothered for my special day. (Although to her credit she did present me with a beautiful homemade card with a photo of us on it when she roused later that day).

My hubby? Well he really came through (can you hear the sarcasm?) with a new skillet. Since my kids love homemade buttermilk pancakes he thought I’d appreciate the massive cooking space an electric griddle could provide. “That way you don’t have to stand in the kitchen as long”. And I thought I was getting Rubbermaid. How incredibly thoughtful.

The remainder of the day was completely uneventful as I made dinner, made the kids clean up dinner and relaxed.

I was not treated as a queen, no spas, manicures or shopping expeditions rounded out my special day. I won no award for birthing or surviving life with five kids. It was a quiet, uneventful day. But you know what? It was a fantastic day!

Why? Because I know what all mothers know; we have one of the most profoundly thankless job descriptions on the planet. Of course it’s nice when the second Sunday of May rolls around. Certainly my offspring, who I literally labored for and regularly shed tears over, should take the time to honor and acknowledge me extravagantly for all I’ve done for them.

But it’s not going to happen. It may never happen. Firstly, my job as a mother, as yours is, is completely priceless. You can never receive the accolades or remuneration you truly deserve. All the hours chauffeuring, cooking, cleaning, playing nursemaid and referee cannot be properly acknowledged in a single, annual event.  

Secondly, I know my worth as a mother is not wrapped up in what (or if) my children give me gifts. If I allow my value to be weighed against what an eleven year old child can create for Mother’s Day, aren’t I really the immature one?

Mother’s Day is a day to say and show our thanks to the women who have so endlessly served us from the very beginning of our lives. But in the off chance you weren’t properly recognized Sunday allow me to encourage you. You are worth more than any crayon creations, flower bouquet or electric griddle.  What you deserve your children can’t afford. But let not your worth be based on externals. May your heart be satisfied with the knowledge that you are the most important person in your children’s life.  And that’s a priceless revelation. Why? Because I’m the Mom and I said so! That’s why!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter 4, Big Ideas, Exercise 7: Left Brain Workout

Pull out a it once or twice, then ask What's this try about? Make a list of 10 possible answers. Once you have your list write a paragraph analyzing your scene. What is it about? What is going on exactly? Think of the scene you made as evidence, then tell us what is evident. Keep going until you've got it true and right. Difficult work.

I reread a blog I wrote called:
Our House in the middle of Our Street

This is what I think it is about:

1. appearances
2. I love my home
3. nesting is important to me
4. not getting my way
5. and learning that it can still work out
6. nesting on a budget
7. wanting larger family room
8. wanting a larger kitchen
9. the gifts I desp. needed to make it a home
10. misconceptions that money or nice things make a nice place to live

Well as far as I can tell there are 2 things that are clearly evident from that piece: the way I feel about my home and the physical descriptions of the house. When we bought this house we had no income. Literally. The small, new church my husband was planting was struggling with it's finances and my husband voluntarily (singularly, I might add) refused a paycheck. I feared the bank would find this out and take away our preapproval. I wanted and longed for a nice home, a home I could be proud of and friends and family would want to visit, but knew that we really couldn't afford it. That might be why I firstly love this house. It's done just that for us.
There are a lot nicer homes in our town, heck! there are even nicer streets to live on (we're practically surrounded by rentals) but this home makes me and my children feel happy about where we live. (I know because they've told me.)
Secondly, what's evident is my coming to terms with the standard of decor in our home. This piece is the first time I've ever admitted that this was free or that was from a discount store. When we've needed drapes I've bought the cheapest drapes, literally. Same with lamps and pictures for the wall. I am certain passersby, even my neighbors believe that we are "well off". This piece reminds me that despite how things 'appear' one should be extremely cautious when making judgements.
But having expensive things haven't ever been a priority of ours. Having a welcoming home has.
I have no idea if these random thoughts qualify for the exercise assignment - but there it is anyway!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chapter 3, Exercise 11, The Photo Album

Flip through a photo album and pick a photo. What do you see? What's in the background? Then write. Jump into the scene, into the singular moment the photo holds. No exposition here, no summary, no voice-over, no setup no background, no leap to the future. We don't need to know how we got here, nor where we're headed, just that we are here. Use your words:

I never thought I would see one of this black and white photos again let alone be handed one with a picture of TWO babies on it. I have had two panic attacks in my life and this day was one of them.
I was sitting in an exam room on the lower level of the clinic. The door was on the left side. It was a small and cold room. I was just coming to terms with being pregnant when the sonographer, a petite, young brunette excused herself, a little too politely, to go get the doctor.
Dr. Chin spoke broken English but he knew me. He was in the E.R. the night I miscarried and  he was my doctor of choice when both boys were born after.
He took the  sonogram wand in his little hands and continued to repeat the same actions the women before him had done.
Then with a big smile he said, "Congratulations! You're having twins!"

The feeling that immediately washed over me from inside the depths of my soul to outside where you could see my trembling fingers indicated I was hit with a swift, unexpected mode of panic.
I did not feel like celebrating. Congratulations seemed terribly inappropriate.
I immediately wanted the doctor to take back those words, "Don't say that!" I shouted at him. A look of utter confusion washed across his face. "Don't say that!" I repeated. My short circuited brain was clearly in control of my mouth. In hindsight I suppose I just simply wanted him to take back those words, to unsay what he had just said.
Of course that wasn't possible and neither was it helpful. Not discovering twins wouldn't make my pregnancy any less twin-ful.
I continued to spew off random, inappropriate declarations that afternoon one of which blamed the doctor. "This is your fault!"
"I didn't do this to you!" he said.
What I was trying to say was the prescription - that I took faithfully everyday - had failed.
As the tears and blubbering continued out of control the medical staff began to grow concern. I could tell by their hushed tones, secret conversations and stolen glances my way. I was a woman, who'd just learned she was having twins, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The Dr. asked if I'd like to speak with someone.
aka: somebody call psych please!
Not wanting to be detained one minute longer than I had to I knew I needed to pull it together - or at least make the clinic staff believe I had recovered - and quick!
I remember a nurse telling me she would let me go home when I could stop crying.
I have no idea how long it took me to gather myself but it seemed like forever. I remember bursting through automatic doors, the sun shinning brightly, scanning the parking lot for my car. My hands shook, literally trembled, as I attempted to unlock the car door. When it shut behind me the tears came again and again in uncontrollable waves of anguish and fear.
I didn't think I could do it. I didn't want to parent five children.
I sat there in my car, in the parking lot and cried until ...I began to scare even myself.
I cried as if someone I loved had just died. Not gotten news of new life.
I uncovered my face and looked straight to the heavens and informed God that this news was going to break me. I had reached the end of myself. I knew it and surely He must have known it as well.
He responded to me that day.
It is only one of two times I believed I have heard God speak directly to me.
I told Him this would break me and He said, "It would if I let it!"

I've seen a handful of other black and white sonogram photos since then. None of them have been of my babies, thank God! I've certainly celebrated with other expecting moms when they show me their sonograms. But almost seven years later, turns out He was right. It didn't break me. And I thank Him regularly for all five of my children, but especially for the surprise gift of twins. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Favorite Kind of Compliment

I think it's no fun to look for compliments.
I would much rather have my husband spontaneously tell me I look good rather than me fish for a compliment. I want my principal to notice a job well done on her own, not because I subtly draw attention to myself. Unsolicited compliments mean the world to me.

That's why I was flying high last week at softball practice.
I help my twins YMCA softball team. Last week while on the field the local sports reporter was wandering around. He had stopped by to fish a story about our little girls getting some pointers from the college softball team who'd stopped by.
He complimented my work.
But even better than the unsolicited compliment he said "your column is the best thing we (our paper) has going for it right now!"
Ah..shucks you're just sayin' that!
"No" he insisted, "I mean it!"
Then maybe you can get me a little paycheck for that awesome FREE article I send you every week.
"If it were up to me" he said.

C'mon! ! !
I was flying high with those super kind words.
It gave me all the motivation I need to keep at it!
Maybe at some point someone somewhere will find my little article and help me get syndicated.
Now wouldn't that be grand?

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