Mama Writer

Morning- Our Daily First Impression

I was reading an article on revision advice from an experienced editor. One piece of advice was to make the first time the reader meets the character extra impactful. First impressions matter, and that goes double for character-building.

Then, my alarm went off, signaling that I needed to wake my son up to get ready for school.

First impressions are important- and we get a chance for them every day, if we count mornings.

And I do.

The morning impression of my family is so telling. You can gather a lot about who they are from just the first hour.

Noah wakes up with a few cozy yawns and stretches. In a few minutes he willingly springs out of bed. In no time, he’s fighting imaginary enemies and explaining he’s actually someone’s lost son from some ninja planet.

He usually gets so wrapped up in his fantasies that I have to remind him of the breakfast that’s in front of him. Even though I get him up early, so he can play before school, he’s ready to go only two minutes before our school bus alarm goes off.

He’s bright, distracted, sunshine every morning.

My daughter is another story.

I don’t have to wake her up. Even though she is not a morning kid, she’d rather crawl out of her room before daylight than be left out of all the activity going on in the kitchen.

About five minutes after I get Noah up, I hear a bang! That’s Josie swinging her door open.  

Then, stomp, stomp, stomp.

I catch a glimpse of a little body wrapped head to toe in a blanket, face covered, navigating the way purely by memory, as she clomps to the couch. Still covered completely, she lays there in silence for several minutes. We’ve learned the hard way that if her father or I approach too soon, or too cheerfully, we’ll be met with scowls or fussing. We leave her alone for a good five minutes.

She thaws out on the couch, slowly letting the blanket fall off her face, as she blinks, bleary-eyed in the morning light. Once her eyes adjust, I offer her cereal and chocolate milk. She always says yes, leaving the blanket behind.

After this warm-up period, she’s pure sweet sunshine. She can’t give her brother enough hugs and kisses on his way out the door. The transformation is remarkable.

Husband is usually the last one up. He is even less of a morning person than his daughter, and he has a habit of going to bed well after midnight, making getting up harder.

Sometimes, I just open the bedroom door early. That way, he will at least hear the informal alarm clock of his daughter bursting through her door.

Other times, I let him sleep until there’s just enough time for him to get up and drink something before taking Noah to the bus stop. I wake him up sweetly- with a reminder that I’m not his mom, and that he should really set his own alarm.

Other times, if I’m feeling it, I’ll turn the kids loose on him.

“Hmmm. Is daddy still being a sleepy head? Who wants to go wake him up for me?”


Husband needs approximately 3 cups of coffee to activate his personality in the morning. After stumbling out of bed, it’s silence and slow moving until he gets those 3 cups.

That’s all three of my loves, between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m.

That first hour tells you a lot.   


Mama Writer

Mama’s Writing on a Snow Day

It’s a good time for a blog.

No one’s up yet.

I wanted to write about how I am in my own way, when it comes to getting writing done. For a few days, school has been canceled. Snow flew in NC, we all screamed, and here we are.

At home.

The following song and dance ensues every time I have a “day off,” when the kids are also home-

My wonderful husband encourages me to go work/write in the bedroom while he corrals the kids in the living room.

I am so, so, so lucky.

However, after a little while, I can’t stay in the bedroom.

It isn’t just that little bodies slip past their daddy to “check on mama.” It isn’t that my husband can’t handle the kids- he’s great.

It’s the guilt.

Since writing is, for me, a pleasure, I feel like I’m just playing in my room, while, out in the wilds of the living room, husband is doing the real, endless work of parenting/managing the house, and my children are “probably” (in my awful imagination) feeling neglected by their mother.

With this guilt in my chest, I try to sit and write, but I hear everything from the living room.

I hear the kids running and screaming around my poor husband (snow days amp kids UP).

I hear the kids getting in trouble after being cooped up too long and getting too wild.

I hear kids starting to ask for snacks/lunch.

It’s usually this last one that unseats me. I can’t just sit there while these crazy, amped up munchkins, who obviously need some organized activities, require their overworked father to also start cooking.

I stop “playing” and go out there, where the real work is, so I can help my family.


I wasn’t playing.

I was writing and planning.

You’re supposed to work for the job you love, so you’ll never actually feel like you’re working.

Mommy guilt adds a whole other layer to this idea. Work for the job you love, and you’ll find it much easier to consider it an easy sacrifice when the “real” work shows up.

Danger! Danger!

The job I love is not a toy. The job I love is not “free time.” This isn’t a video game that I should save and stop when it’s time to join “real life.”

A lot of quotation marks today.  

I teach writing. I write for myself and my students. It’s important. It’s necessary.

I have to stop treating it like a guilty pleasure.

Mama Writer

The Harry Potter Effect: My Boy is Growing Up

I took the above picture when Noah was mad at me. To get his revenge he decided he would design his mama’s nemesis, President Trump, a cool, new white house.

My boy has always been… strong-willed.  

He was back-talking me, and my parenting demands, since before he could use actual words.



Trying to get him to eat vegetables?

He’ll sit at the table, as long as I’ll let him, without touching a single bite. See you tomorrow, peas!

The baby book I read during his toddler years said that no kid who screamed in a tantrum for more than 2 hours was actually having a tantrum. It said there was probably something really wrong, and that parents should proceed to the emergency room.

But, as far as I know, the emergency room doesn’t treat “turned-off-Thomas-the-Train-Halfway-Through-an-Episode” syndrome.  

Thank goodness that I had him first. I thought he was an average kid. As my firstborn, he was my definition of normal.

I often tell people that, if I’d had my easygoing daughter first, I probably would have needlessly put Noah into therapy.  He would have been labeled my “problem child,” just because I didn’t know a child with a will of iron was an option.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s sunny, smiling, laughing, helpful, eager, and playful-

Until you tell him to do something that he doesn’t want to do.

Pretty sure this kid will chase and demand his own definition of success and happiness wherever he goes, so I’m only complaining for the sake of comedy, here- and for a little setup.

I’ve been reading him Harry Potter, every night I could, for a week.

The first book is, of course, wonderful, but I sometimes forget how much backstory and description it takes to get to the more magical parts of the story.

Having a six-year-old graphic novel enthusiasts beside me while I read it really emphasized that this book is for kids of an older, more patient age, or maybe those more ready to read to themselves entirely, skipping and skimming when they choose.

I’m his mom, so I can tell he’s not that into the book. When he’s enthusiastic, you know it. You can’t miss it.

He’s not yet enthusiastic. We’ll get to the really cool parts soon, so I have hope he’ll get into it.

But, it occurred to me last night, while I was reading one of my own favorite parts and pretty much doubling the length of our usual story time with this book that is not my son’s favorite-

He hasn’t complained.

At all.

I can tell it’s not his style. I know there are other things he would prefer to read. I’ve been reading some really long sections, completely devoid of the action scenes and intense pictures he usually craves.

But, if he’s thought of these things, he’s refused to voice them. He’s keeping quiet, and promptly, without a hint of hesitation, snuggling beside me for his wordy, picture-free, not-yet-his-style, story time.

He jumps into bed and pulls the covers over both of us, holding his flashlight up on the page to help me read, frequently switching hands, as I read so long, they get tired.

I think that shows me the love in our relationship so much more than words can.

My son. My Noah.

The will of iron in a six-year-old body is doing something for me, even though it’s not what he wants to do.

There are so many sides to this boy. I haven’t even begun to figure him out, and now he’s started growing up on me, changing all the rules that I thought I’d figured out.

I thought I couldn’t love him more back when he back-babbled, waving his indignant, pudgy arms at me.

Turns out we were just warming up.


Mama Writer

Domestic Days

Saturdays are my overcompensation days.

During the week, I tend to be all business. I only get to be with my family when I’m resting, so I’m not exactly giving them my all.

On Friday, I even make a list of all the work stuff I need to get done over the weekend. There’s a long list of things I should accomplish on Saturday, specifically, which would free up Sunday for class planning.

Then, on Saturday morning- Poof.


(That is not really me- I found this on Pinterest, and it had no publishing info that I could distinguish.) 

I am the wife-mama machine here to represent all things Pinterest while giving cuddles and trying to pay attention to everyone at once.

This weekend, it even started early- Friday night.

After a grading frenzy, I just had to have an extended family-time activity. Unfortunately, with little planning, our impromptu gingerbread house building didn’t have enough time to dry.

I did get a really cool action shot as it was collapsing, though.


And it still tasted pretty good in pieces.


Today, Saturday, I was in full-on Pinterest mommy mode.

If someone had said “Ms. T.,” I wouldn’t have looked up.

I am “Mama” on Saturdays.

There was a one-pot mac and cheese recipe with the most enthusiastic helper there is. She wants in on the action so badly that It’s all I can do to keep her from climbing in the pot.

Then, we went to the Christmas Tree Shop, where I was literally in decorative holiday plate paradise.



After dinner, both kids helped me make cookie dough, 4 colors of royal icing, and (eventually) 3 dozen perfect cookie cutouts.

The super messy decorating finale was one for the history books.

And, the grand cherry on top for my domestic Saturday marathon- I cleaned it all up.

The after shots:

Tomorrow, I will remember all of the things I had scheduled myself to do today, and I will go back into 50/50 teacher/parent mode. The 7 hour football marathon, when Husband has the kids and I can work in relative peace, usually gets enough done.

I’ll keep that work momentum going until the next weekend rolls around- then I’ll probably try to embroider something while singing the ABCs and baking a cake.


Mama Professor Writer

Passing Down the Good Kind of Busy

My dear babies,

There’s a lot I don’t know (see previous blog posts for a good start), and I will continue trying to improve here and there.

But there is one thing I’m good at.

I don’t do “busy” without wonderful reasons.

I don’t say “yes” to all of the favors, invitations, and extra work. I look for ways to be more efficient instead of just more “there.”

And when I am busy, really and truly busy, it’s because I friggin’ love what I’m doing. I give my time to what I’m doing- like a present.

You will hear me grumble about grading papers. I will seem to disappear for days at a time to take care of the seemingly endless task.

It is this hard part that shows me how much I love teaching, though. Papers may crumple me, but never crush- and I usually emerge from the pile fresh, full of analysis, and ready to start swinging at new syllabus policies and future assignment sheets.

Then, there’s the writing, the planning, the collaborating. Mama will again seem to disappear for almost whole days at a time, as the projects try to swallow her up.

I will miss you. I will be tired. It will often be overwhelming.

And I wish the same for you, one day.

I dearly love my projects. I love losing myself in a subject.

I will always endeavor to make enough time for us. I will also try not to regret being really and truly passionate about something that isn’t always kid-related.  

My kind of busy means I spend my time with you, and I spend my time doing what I love. Everything else is elevator music and call waiting.

Your mama hopes you will spend your time wisely. Make yourselves not just busy but so, so happy. 

Love you always,


Mama Writer

Your Mission: Come and Go Without Making the 4-Year-Old Cry

How to come home for only 5 minutes when you have a 4-year-old.

She will be ecstatic to see you and so sad when you leave. It is too hard.

So, here’s what you do:

  • Park down the street. Turn your engine off and ghost to a stop.
  • Super-speed from car, to behind a tree, to crouched under the open window frame.
  • Sneak towards the front door silently cursing Spouse for leaving the glass door uncovered.
  • Take an agonizing minute to slowly and silently pick the lock, since the key literally squeaks, and you’d rather have youtubed how to conduct a criminal activity than alert the preschooler to your brief presence.
  • Press yourself flat to the floor as you hear little running feet cross in front of the entrance way.
  • Stay still for 30 seconds after the last of the footsteps fade.
  • Open the door at the exact speed that renders it quiet.
  • Tip toe through the kitchen and grab the lunch bag you forgot this morning.
  • From the other room, overhear your daughter ask for a snack.
  • Panic.
  • Stuff yourself in a cabinet.
  • In your panic, you chose the cabinet with the snacks. Dead eye and hold a finger to your lips when your spouse opens the cabinet to retrieve the granola bars.
  • Hand him/her one while he/she obligingly blocks you from view and shuns the preschooler back to cartoons.
  • Unfold yourself.
  • You don’t have time for feeling to come back to your legs, so hop/limp back to the door.
  • You hear Spouse turn the cartoon volume up.
  • You decide to get Spouse the GOOD Christmas present.
  • You quickly open the door, run tree to tree, and land back in the car.
  • Try not to let the tires squeal as you make your escape.
  • Realize you left the lunch bag back in the snack cabinet.
Mama Writer

Confessions of a Fainter

*This is not medical advice. If you’re fainty, see a doctor. If your doctors are like mine, and shrug in confusion, let’s get tea sometime and swap stories.*

Almost five years ago-

“You can’t talk too much with this one, honey. She’s only got a good 3 minutes in her.”

Wise words from the nurse who remembered me from my first pregnancy. I had been woozy during the blood draws then, too, but that nurse saw me through.

This new one, though…

She talked about her car trouble, while she put that rubber thing on the top of my arm.

She leisurely switched to how much she liked my maternity shirt, while slowly swabbing my arm with a wet-wipe.

I don’t know what she was chatting about when the actual needle finally went in, since I had started murmuring my favorite parts of Alice in Wonderland in Latin.

(What’s she doing?

Is she alright?

Leave her alone, honey.)

We all have our coping mechanisms.

She managed to finally fill the tiny vial and bandage me up, but by the time I was allowed to stand, the big black dots of doom had already started forming at the corners of my vision.

I made it two blind steps, trying to form the words “I’m about to crash” with my immobile, uncooperative mouth, when I landed on the floor.

 Thankfully, me and my big baby belly were fine. My previous nurse took care of everything, calming me down. My husband helped lift me off the ground (did I mention the big baby belly?).

From then on, I had a special note in my file labeling me a fainter. All of the following blood draws took place with me reclining, since they knew I was going to end up that way anyway.  

I’ve always been a fainter. The most common reason I crash is a blood sugar drop, but I’ve also passed out due to being too close to loud speakers at a concert, as well as having to withstand any amount of blood drawing, blood pressure measuring, pulse-taking, or generally existing with an IV.

I had amnesia once, and I was continually asking the same questions over and over, unable to calm down. The doctors thought it was due to a shock I’d been through- but my loop finally stopped when they took out my IV.

Not a coincidence in my book.

I thought I’d share some of the needy and funny bits of being a fainter.

During a middle school chorus concert:

My family, trying to aim their cameras: Where’s Stephanie?

(Should’ve looked down.)

In biology class, back in high school:

Teacher: Then you just put the cuff here, to measure the blood pressure. You’ll be able to hear all the action… where’s Steph?

(My classmates eventually remembered to look down. There was Steph.)

At an outdoor concert with my siblings:

Me: I can’t believe we’re next to the stage!

(Saw black dots, crashed into a crowd of strangers, banged up my glasses, and ended up in the care of my little sister faaaaarrrr away from the stage.)

At the movies with a friend (It was his turn to choose, and he picked something super horrible with lots of gore):

Me: I’ll be right back.

(Passed out in the theater restroom, right in front of the sink. I’m told I was lucky I didn’t hit it on the way down. When I get woozy, I always think I either need to splash my face with water, or be where I can hold my own hair back. Instead, I pass out in bathrooms. Even though I know this, I still run to the bathroom every. single. time.)

Having a normal (for me) blood sugar crash:

Me: Honey, I need food immediately.

Husband: Alright. I’m on it… so, do you want like Italian, Mexican, a burger…?

Me: What are you talking about? I’m crashing- just calories, any calories!

Husband: Okay. Got it.

(Hands me food)

Me: …Really? That?

(Every time. A freaky side effect of a low blood sugar crash is you find the thought of food unappetizing. Poor husband.)

I’m super grateful to all of the people who have helped me when I’ve crashed. Once the process starts, and I see those dots, it really matters who I’m with. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far.

Cooking Irresponsibly Mama Writer

The Magical, Kid-Proof, Sugar Cookie Cutout Recipe

My kids have always helped me bake. They stir, operate the mixer, measure, and decorate. My daughter especially loves it.

We used to try to do the traditional, Christmas-card, sugar cookie process. The kids were still really small, though, and it was always a mess.

A lot of recipes call for softening butter, so you have to plan for your cookies 3 hours in advance, or do a complicated boil-water-put-it-in-a-glass-for-a-minute-pour-it-out-and-place-it-upside-down-over-a-stick-of-butter-for-a-while-and-hope-for-the-best dance. Neither worked well for me and my kids.

The recipes also want you to chill the dough. How does this sound:

Me: let’s make cookies!

Kids: Yes!!!

(measure and mix. Dough goes into the refrigerator)

Me: Now, we just wait for two hours.

(Sad faced children)

It never worked out anyway. Since those recipes need the dough to stay cold, me and my littles were racing the clock to get everything rolled and cut. I wanted my kids to be included in the process, and little hands need time to get things done.

Then, there’s the fact that you have to flour the board. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. With kids, though, the stickiness factor quadruples, and, no matter what I do, we end up with cookies that taste like cardboard and look nothing like the cookie cutters.

Too little chilling. Too much rolling. Too much flour.

(If you’re in a similar boat, maybe because your kids are just really little, I suggest cheating. Make rice crispy treats (or buy a sheet of the things), cut with cookie cutters, and use store-bought tubes of icing. You can make memories, and stuff should still end up edible.)

Then, there came the magical recipe that made traditional sugar cookie baking and decorating possible with even my tiny children. I found it on Pinterest many moons ago, and it’s thanks to this recipe that my kids and I have made forest cookies, pumpkins, acorns, candy canes, Christmas trees, hearts, and Easter eggs.

The butter can be just a little softened. No chilling needed. Roll, cut, and add flour, flour, flour, and they still somehow taste like tender, buttery cookies and still look just like the cookie cutter.

I have had no contact with the writer before, and I’m not sure if she knows what a gift this recipe is; she doesn’t even mention baking with children throughout her whole description/instructions. I’m grateful, though.

Here’s to you, Katrina’s Kitchen, and your “Best Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever.” Because of you we have made wonderful baking memories, and, without you, we would have eaten a whole heck of a lot of rice crispy treats. I look forward to Christmas cookies soon.

Here’s the page (check out her shortening frosting recipe, too):


easter 2
When their hands were just strong enough to start trying to use the piping bag- but they also made the cookies. And the cookies are perfect. 
My daughter’s “sprinkle cookies”
We substituted some flour for cocoa powder to make some Easter colors really pop.
Mama Writer

Turkey Disguise 101: a Life or Death Kindergarten Homework Assignment

                I had other plans for blogs this morning, but my son has left his class project out. One thing led to another, and, long story short, I have been mentoring a helpless, reluctant-to-be-eaten turkey in the art of disguise.

                Here’s Ed’s (the turkey’s) backstory.


                So, somebody is after the poor guy. He’s dinner otherwise. Got it.

                After wishing Ed luck, I went about my business. When I got back to the kitchen, I found this:

First Hershey

                “Are you kidding me, Ed? That’s a terrible disguise.”


second hershey

“Did you just…? Cut it out. I can still see you. And hiding in a layer of chocolates? You might as well be hiding under beef jerky and a stack of Cabela’s catalogues.”

Shaking my head, I went back to cleaning up the kitchen. When I went in the living room, I found this:


“It’s a classic, Ed, but I think you’re going to need something that covers the whole butt of protruding feathers issue. Keep trying, buddy.”

Five minutes later, I checked back in and found:


“Oh, I see- pretending you’re already dead. But, sorry to say this Ed, this kind of dead won’t keep you from getting eaten.”

Ed was horrified. After a round of therapy, I found him in the kitchen again.


“I see what you did there! Well, it did work for that other guy. I’m just not sure if you really want to risk hiding in plain sight like that. Waldo has a lot of white, human privilege that lets him blend in unharrassed. I’m not sure if that would work for a turkey in a turtleneck.  

I know, I know. This is hard. You’ve got to stop thinking like a turkey, Ed. Get with the human program, and find yourself a safe zone.”

I left Ed feeling discouraged. I made tea and went to start laundry. I found this:


I could have cried.

Ed had done it. He’d finally found a place that’s a total human turnoff. He was a safe turkey at last.

I wiped away a tear and made a note to call Bojangles and reserve my deep fried Thanksgiving dinner. For Ed’s sake, I prayed they hadn’t already sold out.



Fighting to Believe the “Mama, I Don’t Feel Good”

You know who doesn’t seem sick?

The kid who suspects you don’t believe he’s sick.

You see, he might actually be legit sick. Sore throat and body aches- all that jazz. Yet, since he suspects you won’t believe him, he’s doubled over with some melodramatic moaning that conspicuously stops and starts when he feels someone is watching.

This morning, I felt my eyebrow incredulously raising up because my boy came out of his room appearing to desperately clutch his stomach- all to tell me that his throat hurt.

I took a deep breath.

I automatically prepared to tell him that he’d feel better when he got dressed.

Then I grabbed the thermometer.


I would like to say that Mary Poppins took over at that point, and I cuddled my boy, and I told him I knew he was sick, and that he would be well taken care of.

Eventually, I did do some of that- but, first, I ground my teeth.



For the fourth time in the first semester of school.  

Like a crime drama, the number of absences he’d already had swam before my eyes like clues in front of a detective. This many excused. This many where the nurse had called us to pick him up. The time he was late because we decided to “risk it” and send him just a little sick.

My son has a strange immune system. He seems like a healthy, active, strong little boy, but during the school year, he’s usually got some sort of virus.

With so many bugs going around, other kids might have missed three days of school, so far.

My son hit seven today.

We recently took him, with yet another set of symptoms, to the doctor. She told us he appeared to have strong allergies.

It actually gave my husband and I some hope.

Allergies! Maybe a few of these “viruses” have actually just been strong allergies!

There are medicines and strategies for dealing with allergies- unlike a cold, where all doctors told us to just keep him resting, hydrated, and away from other kids until the contagious period calmed down.

With the help of allergy medicine, he could finally stop missing so much school!

Three days later, he woke up with a high fever.

The allergy diagnosis was a swing and a miss.   

That was the previous time he was sick. After him, his sister caught his virus. Then, me.

I’m just getting over my cough today, when my son pops out of his room with yet another fever and a sore throat.

The poor kid. I feel so bad for him. The first couple of sick days after summer, we snapped to attention. We stepped up, smoothed his hair, put him in pajamas, and reminded him we would take care of him until he was all better.

After the first couple of times, though, the “I don’t feel good” announcements start to be met with a barely stifled you’ve-got-to-be-frikking-kidding-me sigh.

Due to school attendance policies, my sick kid has been scrutinized through my narrowed eyes.

I start to question how sick is too sick for school. I start to question whether or not my son is exaggerating, since he can probably tell that I’m not taking this well. My husband and I tensely try to figure out if our schedules need to be redone for yet another surprise doctor appointment.

It’s not fair to the kid with the fever in the middle of all this. They notice everything. They might even feel guilty, as if they were the cause of the tension.

It’s not fair at all.

My Mema used to tell me, “spoil them when they’re sick, fix them when they’re better.”

She’s right, and I want to carry it further.

Worried about school and absences? Fix it when he’s better.

Worried about getting behind due to hastily rearranged schedules? Fix it when he’s better.

First, I’m going to believe him when he tells me he’s sick. First, it’s pajamas and juice. First, it’s snuggles on the couch. First, it’s monitoring his symptoms with my finger on the doctor’s number.

I can’t plan ahead for a surprise virus.

I shouldn’t resist the virus when it appears. My fretting doesn’t make it leave. Not believing my son doesn’t make him well. I’d never send him to school to join his classmates with a fever (hello, contagions).

All I can do is care for him.

Everything else will just have to wait.

I’m sorry that this wasn’t my first thought this morning.