Thursday, December 1, 2016

I Just Can't Even

They say the speeches you hear or books you read that profoundly impact your life have little to do with the dynamic presentation but instead have articulated the ideas you've not been able to express.

I think that's true.

Of all the countless church services I've sat through, and the hundreds of conferences in my professional carreer, I can graphically remember only a dozen or so messages.

One message I'll never forget, and quite frankly am recalling for my own encouragement this week, is this; while attending a leadership conference, the speaker asked us to stand up. He then instructed each individual to keep their feet planted but to turn at the waist and try to see behind them.

We did.

He asked us to pick a spot on the wall behind us and then to try and twist in order to see even further.

We did.

Holding the pose and still looking behind us, the speaker asked us to take note of how much further we were able to see when asked to put in more effort.

I remember turning and feeling the stretch in my back when I looked behind. I was curious to see how much further I could see if I tried and I remember a feeling of satisfaction when I realized I could see more than I thought. Just as I was pondering the experiment the speaker asked us to turn ourselves as far as we could.

Thinking it was a ridiculous request I tried to turn myself even further and to my own surprise I was able to look way further than I thought I could.

My favorite Bitmoji

Think about that.

When I thought I had twisted, turned, flexed and stretched to my max, I found I had more room to go.

I had more room to go.

So the next time you think you, "Just can't" pause and ask yourself have you really reached the end of your capabilities, or do you have some more stretch in you?

If you're done - you're done. Know when it's the end. What I'm talking about here is grit. And digging deep. And not quitting without at least trying.
You might surprise yourself.
You might think you've put in as much effort as you can but with one ... more ... twist, yes into that place where you're afraid it might get uncomfortable, you might surprise yourself.

You might have more room to go.
And you might see something you've not yet noticed.

And that might be your next best thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Oh Hey there Junior High - I see you haven't changed much.

I spent one of my junior high years at a private school and the second at public school and as I dig deep into my memories I cannot find a positive memory from either experience.

But I shook those rough years off and then, well ... grew up.

When my daughters entered junior high my past remained faithfully tucked away in a dusty old yearbook somewhere. This was going to be their experience. This, I was certain would be better.

But, oh hey there Junior High. I can see you haven't changed much.

I wondered if my fraternal twin daughters - who are a sun and a moon, they couldn't be more different in every way - would stay together or use the freedom junior high has to offer - to branch apart; find their own set of friends, activities and hobbies.

They haven't. I've noticed in a group of girls, they still stick together and I'll admit at first I thought it was a good sign; their bond would remain intact. But as time went by it appeared they were less sticking together and, I began to wonder, more being left out.

Maybe they were but my heart told me they have what they need inside of them to navigate the social scene. Not climb to the top of the social ladder - we're in no way interested in our Tribe to be on top people, we're more interested in being happy, kind, make the world a better place people.

I decided not to worry about them.

And it seemed I was making the right decision when teachers, coaches, and even other parents on the bleachers stopped to tell me how much they were enjoying the girls, especially my 'sun' (the shiny sparkly one of the sun/moon combination).

Until. Yesterday twin sister was visiably upset. Upon investigation she confessed she was privy to some hateful conversation about her twin. Apparently my sun is too sparkle-y, too loud and obnoxious.

I looked at her beautiful face, eyes rimmed with tears dangerously close to spilling down her cheeks, masked my own grief and asked what she was going to do with that information.

We talked about the reprocussions of approaching the mean girls as well as the probability of just keeping quiet about it all. I asked her to consider all of the possible outcomes and instructed her to understand whatever she chooses to do, she has to own the consequences. We hugged it out and we'll see what happens on Monday, if anything.

I find it ironic how the same qualities celebrated by the adults who have met twin sister are the same characteristics annoying her peers.

I think that is the very hardest part about parenting; raising children to be people who have the skills to navigate the bigger, wider, and sometimes harsher world, while fostering the belief that they have a meaningful contribution to make to it.

Turns out potty training was not the hard part of raising kids. Releasing them out into the world prepared is. Thank goodness we get to do it in stages. First junior high, next the rest of their lives.

What about you? Have your daughters had 'mean girl' experiences? How did you handle it?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Am I a Good Mom?

I have never been one to sugarcoat my opinions regarding parenting. You could blame it on the fact that I have five kids but it's more likely that I am a bit of a realist. I think that parenting is one of the hardest jobs that I've ever had. It wears me out and runs me down and puts me in situations that are uncomfortable. And yet I do it. I do it everyday, all day. Then I wake up each morning with a resolve to give it my best shot all over again. I don't throw in the towel or lay on the couch defeated. I give my kids my best as often as I can and I post the proof on Facebook like every other social media mama.

That's because I am proud. I'm proud of my kids, my family and the tribe we've created. I think what we're doing is hard but I also think that we're doing a pretty good job at the same time. Admitting that ... well, honestly, that is tough for me. It's so much easier to poke fun at the hardships and sleepless nights of parenting. It is not so easy to admit the successes. Why is that?

As a Parent Educator I've had many encounters with all types of parents and I believe I am not alone in feeling this way. I've noticed that most people, especially mom, avoid authenticity and instead focus on how we portray ourselves. Some mothers present themselves as if parenting is a breeze and their children are literal angels (they're not, we know it - you know it!).. Others keep their head hung low in shame believing they fail to measure up to the mothers who look like they have it all.

All of it makes me want to ask; where's the balance between the two? Why can't I be the mom who has a clean house, makes homemade brownies for the bake sale and forgets to pick up her kid after school? Why can't my attempts at parenting be simultaneously successful and a fiasco? Somewhere we've picked up the expectation that if we fail anywhere in parenting we've failed in all of parenting. I'm not okay with this. 

I was asked recently "How do you do it all?" It took me a while to respond to the question because truth is I was shocked that someone thought I did. Let me be clear; I am not doing it all. Sure, I work outside and inside the home, write and shuffle my kids around to their various practices after school but don't assume because you see me doing those things that our homework is done, dinner is on the table and my laundry is caught up. I assure you it is not.

So does that make me a good mom because I look like I have it all together or a bad mom because I don't?

You see, I have a very soft spot in my heart for women in the trenches of parenting, I am mortified to think that anyone would elevate my parenting skills or techniques over their own. So I've been guilty of downplaying the things I've done well so you won't feel bad about yourself.
Isn't that so unfortunate? When will mothers stop comparing themselves to the other women in the carpool line? I'm doing the best I can. Aren't you doing your best too? Why can't we be free to celebrate our successes and comfort each other in our failures? When will we learn parenting is not, and will never be, a sport in which the best cook/volunteer/photographer/blogger/thinnest/prettiest woman wins? 

Parenting requires us to dig deep within ourselves and be kind when we're exhausted and function on little sleep. We must offer grace to the unmanageable toddler and consistent discipline to the wiley teenager. We manage households and budgets. We create and provide an environment that nurtures our children, our most precious commodity, into men and women of the future. This is no small task. Neither is it one that has ever been managed with perfection. 

Sure parenting is tough and we are constantly reminded of the things we aren't doing (no thanks to you, Pinterest!). Of course other women make better brownies than you. There will always be someone who is able to attend every game. But what another woman does is not your measuring stick. You are your measuring stick. You and you alone can search the depths of your heart to know if you are trying your hardest and giving it your best effort.

Parenting is the perfect love/hate relationship. I love that I am blessed with such an awesome task and hate how it challenges me. But anything of significance requires work doesn't it? Parenting isn't easy because of what's at stake. Let's get real. It's ok to admit the tough times but only if we can learn to bask in the glory of a job well done as well. Your kids need you to believe in yourself. You need to believe in yourself. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why! 

What about you? Do you have a hard time admitting you're a good mom?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Letter To All Of My Long Lost Friends : a guest post

A Letter To All Of My Long Lost Friends

I am who I am today because of who we were yesterday.

By Halee Sikorski as seen on The ODYSSEY Online

Dear ex-elementary school pals, high school frenemies, or faux college sisters:
I hope you’re doing well. Quite like the seasons, I believe everything has a time and a place and as I’m sure you’re aware, not all good (or bad) things last forever. Ice cream melts, love fades and friendships time out. Whether we ended on a happy or sad note, I hope you know that I don’t resent you and your friendship to me is not overlooked.
We are all busy writing our own stories full of many characters along the way while we search for our own happy ending. However, moving on is always hard and sometimes change is difficult to cope with. Whether you were at the beginning of my story or recently intertwined, I want you to know that you had an impact on my life.
I often think of our adventures when I reflect on who I am today. You all have taught me many things. For example, I’ve learned you shouldn’t cry over lost stuffed animals because those can be replaced. Also, it’s never OK to cry over a boy. You can probably get revenge in some way, shape, or form. (Don’t ask what that means to a junior high girl). Finally, it’s always important to speak your mind and it’s okay if people don’t agree with you. I believe every person who has come into my life was put there for a reason. Whether it be for a lesson, a laugh, or even tragedy, I just want to make sure I take the time to say thanks for being around. So, if you ever see me around, I hope you say "Hi." Lost friendships are always ... (click here to read more)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why I'm OK that My Kid is a Benchwarmer

To my son who is (apparently) not the star on the team. 

So dude - you started strong and now, with the finish line in sight, you have fallen behind the pack. The pack being the starters. 

You're no longer first on the line up card. No one with a microphone is announcing your name. The crowds don't scream out and your jersey stays clean. 

And I can tell it bothers you. And what bothers you bothers me. But I have a few things to say about that:

1. You are not a better person when you are more known. Whether 6 people (the number of fans you have right here in your family) know how great you are or the whole town thinks you're great - you're great. Greatness isn't multiplied by increased knowledge. You're worthy and awesome because you are worthy and awesome. More people don't have to acknowledge that in order for it to be true. 

2. These probably aren't your best days. I know this game or this field or this team feels like the best moments of your life but son, it's only because you don't know what's ahead. Since I'm 45 let me tell you; there is a lot to live for and better days are promised in the years and months to come. You're not maxing out now. You're just not. 

3. And yet this is special. It's a quandary I know. These days are not the best you'll EVER have and yet they carry potential for being awesome. So relish it. Be in the moment. Capture photographs in your mind (or Instagram). Make memories. Because someday you'll look back on these photos and marvel at your trim waist or the seed spitting contest from the dugout and its those things that will make you happy. Not just the W's. 

3. W's are not as important as you, your coach or the fans think they are. Of course we play for a record and of course we love the taste of victory and trophies are shiny. But it's actually not about winning. Playing strengthens your body, stretches you mentally and being on a team fosters comradery. And if there is any skill you need in life it's learning how to get along with others. Please do your best. Practice hard. Develop grit. But in the end be a good person. 

5. By the way, that's MY name on your shirt. When you hit the floor (or field or pool or court) remember it may be you the public sees while I sit out on the bleachers but it's OUR name on your jersey. In other words you're not doing anything just for you, you're representing us - your family - aka your biggest fans. Be genuine, be you - but know what you do, how you play and your attitude creates connotation to the family name. Make us proud. 

6. And finally, while you're wishing you were a star I'm hoping your learning a valuable lesson. Losing, and the pain of dashed dreams, are the stuff grit is made of. When you don't get what you want in life it will either break you or create you. And in this house we're creators! Don't let yourself down because of game stats.  Use the pain and disappointment to propel you on to the next goal or dream or moment. If you want to be better - be better. If you want to try something else, do that. But in the end don't quit; not on yourself and not on your team. 

Sonshine, there is so much ahead for you. I can see the potential in your chest as surely as your heart beats. These days and these moments aren't the disappointments you think they are- they are the launchpad for what's to come. You might think being on top now is what you need and sure the attention is affirming but listen to me; your ball skills  and who recognizes your talent are not what you are made of. 

In the meantime, go check and see if your uniform is clean and water bottles ready. We have a game to get to. But look for me in the stands. That thumbs up I give you - the one you always ignore means, "I see you! And I'm on your team!"

Love, Mom

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Moving On

In 25 days we move. 
Into a new house. 
A bigger house.
A house not far from this one.
A house one mile away and yet it's on the other side of town. Because our town is small like that. 

To prepare to move all 7 of us and our stuff feels ...  intense. I don't really know where to start. The last time we moved it was 1999 and there were 4 Sikorskis. Now there's 7 of us. So? I just dive in; a cabinet here, a closet there.

Packing reminds me of our first move. 25 years ago - newlyweds who had no job prospects but an awful lot of that sappy love which makes you think you can conquer the world - loaded up a U-Haul trailer. The smallest trailer you could rent, just long enough for a full size bed, hitched up to our 2 door Chevy cavalier. I drove everything we owned across 3 states. Our first apartment was sparce but it was ours and I remember I loved it.

Thinking about our first place - and preparing to leave this one - has me nostalgic. Something I don't usually afford myself as the day to day survival & running of this tribe leaves little room for memory conjuring. 

In this house we have the markings on the wall where we documented the boys growth. In this house, on the wall just outside our room, it reads "Mom and Dad" because one of our little tykes wrote it there in blue ball point pen (but no one ever confessed they did it to this day). 

Today, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, walking past the markings on the wall lovingly running my fingers over the text, I decide to tackle my closet. I have 2 rods in my closet - well 3 if you count the space for the twins clothes. (Which by the way is a huge perk to the new house. I won't have MY closet in the girls bedroom). One rod, the main rod is my clothes; my work clothes, my play clothes, my regularly worn apparel.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Who Says Boys Dont Cry?

Feb 3, 2013

Every young man on that court was playing to win. As the roar from the crowd became hostile I reminded myself that every mother and father in the stands felt the same way I did. We all wanted our team to win. But somebody had to lose didn't they?

Emotions were running high at the big game this week and despite all my preseason confessions that I am not competitive, I found myself sucked in by the fervor of the crowd. I was turning hoarse before halftime.

Sure enough, it was a nail biter till the very end and alas, we were not the victors. That old saying "The thrill of victory and agony of defeat" stung deeply as our players filed off the court with their heads hung low. Our fans gathered our belongings and began to descend the bleachers. Some were angry, some were offended but most, like me, were sad. My heart was heavy for our boys who literally gave it their all.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


The word influence conjures up grandness for me. 
The White House has global influence. Hollywood influences culture. Even alcohol has the power to put you under the influence.
That is heavy stuff.
Influence carries a weightiness.
And yet, I hardly ever consider influence and it's presence in my life. 

Until this morning.

I went to bed with wet hair last night which means I woke with fuzzy, crazy hair. And since it was a lazy Saturday filled with errands I didn't *really* want to put a lot of effort into getting ready. So? Like a 44 year old woman who acts younger than she looks (me everyday!), I tossed my hair back in 2 piggy tails (also, I blame Pinterest because I found this and thought "I could do that!" #Wrong). 

Not. Even. kidding. 

My 11 year old came and found me after her breakfast and asked me to help with her hair. "Sure babe," I said, "What did you have in mind?"
"Will you give me two braids?"
"Yes," I said, "Piggy tail braids?"
"Yes," she said. 
I proceeded to comb my fingers through her hair. I marveled her shiny locks; her thick tresses. My heart skipped a little knowing the days were few and far between when she would need this kind of help from me. 
As my fingers moved swiftly braiding her hair I asked, "Bell, did you want braids because I had piggy tails?"
"Uh huh," she murmured as she sat cross legged, chewing her finger nails. 
I reached the end of the braid and she instinctively handed me a ponytail holder.

It was in that moment I realized what was happening in our exchange. Suddenly I felt the weight of my influence over my daughter and a heaviness settled in over my gushy heart.

It's just a hairstyle. It's not women's rights or political party affiliation or even faith - it's just pig tails. 
Nonetheless my influence -
my unintended, completely accidental, influence over my daughter was evident. 
I cupped her face in my hand after I secured the second braid and when I had her full attention I said, "I promise to always be the kind of woman you can look up to baby."

"Okay!" she said - shrugged - and ran away, on to the next awesome thing an 11 year old can conjure up when an entire Saturday lays out before you.

When I think of influence I think of important things.
When I think if MY influence I tend to be dismissive.

But if I'm committed to taking this life that I have and creating the best possible story out of it, I have got to be the kind of character that recognizes, understands and yields her influence with humility and grace.

It just took a lazy girl hairstyle on an insignificant Saturday and my t'ween daughter to remind me of that.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Menu Monday 2/15

It's a busy week around here this week - that's why I'm extra thankful for the Presidents. Thanks to them and their legacy we've got today off. I'm sitting at the Dining Room table while the kids play Catan with dad organizing a menu for dinners this week. 

This week's dinners are tried and true family friendly, everybody's favorites. I'm not gonna have time for picky eaters so these make ahead recipes are gonna get us through 4 basketball games, 4 swim practices, 1 volleyball practice and perhaps a visit from college kid. Thanks Mr. Crockpot.

Here's what's on the menu this week. All recipes are linked in my Pinterest board called "Menu Monday". Let me know what you're cooking too!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Own Limo

I walk to work. An entire 2 blocks. Every day.
LIke a mailman.
In rain or shine.

Everyday I wave to the same neighbor, see the same bus driving her route, and the same kids walking to school.

Yesterday it was a particularly cold walk.
Nose to my scarf, mug of coffee in hand, I walked as quickly as I could to my office.
My waves were brief, my pace was swift and, what's this? a variation from the routine.

After picking up the neighbor girl, the school bus pulled up along side me. The driver threw back her window and over the roar of the bus declared, "I don't know how you do it!"

"It sure is cold this morning!" I answered perplexed. Usually a wave is the extent of our daily exchange.

"What will you do when it snows?" she asked.

I thought to myself, "I'll wear boots of course" but fearing that would sound snarky-er than I intended, I jokingly said, "Call in sick I guess". I smiled and continued on trying to get indoors as quickly as possible.

Not finished with our conversation, the bus trailed alongside me for a feet while the driver offered, "Well you know I could always just pick you up!"

"I'll keep that in mind!" I waved and carried on.

Tickled by the offer I shared the story at work. We laughed but I threatened that if I ever take the driver up on her kind offer, I would live tweet the whole event and hashtag #perksoftheDistrictOffice

Or #checkoutmylimo
Or #Iridethelongbus
Or #myBosswontmind

What do you think? 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Grief. Fear. And Hope.

I fell asleep at night, my pillow wet with tears. I've spent the last 30 minutes or more imagining my husband's funeral while he lay next to me sleeping peacefully.

Who would come? What would they say? Where would we hold services? Perhaps I believed these mental rehearsals would prepare me *should* the day ever come. 

My husband by the way? He's perfectly fine. It's me. I've let my imagination become overrun by fear - and this is how I spent so many sleepless nights in the early years of our marriage. 

I was afraid what we had was too good to be true, or that my mother, who became a widower like her mother before her, passed down a family curse. "Poor Aaron", I thought, "Marrying me was a death sentence."

I don't struggle with this type of fear so much anymore. I had a few books and friends help me along the way, but mostly I learned  - and practiced (and practiced and practiced) training my brain. Now when I feel the tragic imaginations coming on I purposefully change my line of thinking. 

I didn't know then, but I know now, that I can be in charge of what I think. 
Turns out my brain is not a runaway train because I'm the conductor.

And yet, fear exists.
Fear is real.
And fear can even be a protector at times - like when you get that creepy feeling and you alter your plans and realize in hindsight that that feeling protected you from something unsavory. 

C. S. Lewis wrote, "No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear."
 When I first came across that quote in Brene Brown's Rising Strong book it struck me hard, but yet I couldn't articulate why exactly.

After weeks of meditating on those words I've decided that often, when we feel sadness strongly, it's not a long jump to misunderstand it as fear. 

And fear, at it's core, is most awful.

When we grieve:
a loss, a cancer diagnosis, bad news, unemployment or a broken relationship we easily become afraid.

Afraid of:
death, afraid our child will be sick, afraid to watch the news, afraid of change, afraid we'll never be loved again. 

Grief feels like fear. Except it's not.

And what about hope?

As Seth Godin said in his January 17, 2016 blog entry,

"Fear shows up unbidden, it almost never goes away if you will it to, and it's rarely a useful tool for your best work.
Hope, on the other hand, can be conjured. It arrives when we ask it to, it's something we can give away to others again and again, and we can use it as fuel to build something bigger than ourselves."

Bad things happen. Bad things might happen to you. Or your loved one. Or your child. But it might not. So instead of entertaining fear, allowing it authority over us
to wreck us
keep us up at night
and cause us great misery 
I believe hope - which can be called upon - is the answer we need.

Not *instead* of the fear. Nay, in the midst of it. 
Have hope. Give hope. Conjure hope.
Love hope. And if you're not convinced in it's power - at least experiment with Hope.
Hope never fails. The Bible; Romans 5:5

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Menu Monday January 17 - 22

Menu Monday is back this week on To Write a Better Story.
This mid-January freeze we're experiencing has got me weary of:
the cold
static cling
winter skin
and sunsets that come too soon.

I guess I felt like mixing the menu up a bit. I've warned my family - I've done something I've never done before - every meal I'm preparing this week is a brand new recipe. 

Take that winter blues!
(I have no idea how new recipes corallates to me beating Old Man Winter, but there it is nonetheless.)

Here's what a working mother of 5 feeds her picky kids:

All of these recipes are pinned on my Pinterest Board (follow me @Steph_Sikorski) Please let me know if you try any of the recipes or share some of your family favorites with me. January is barely halfway done and apparently I'll take any form of creativity I can get in this bleak month. 
XO friends,
Also check out for a HUGE
Menu Monday linkup. So fun!

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