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Writer Mama Third Place

When Parenting and Writing Collide—Just Mom by Kathy Burns

My kids were little when I started working at home. Breanna wasn't quite walking, Matt wasn't quite housebroken, and Khiara still liked to bite. Meagen was designated sibling-sitter when I was writing. She was exceptional; able to simultaneously change a diaper, rinse a Binky, and butter a sandwich, while suspended from 50 feet of phone cord.

I quit my job reporting for a daily newspape. We U-Hauled to Tucson, where I was going to be a real writer. Sounded cool, but with no regular paycheck, freelance quickly took on new meanings—like panic and poverty.

The desert was good to us. My stories sold and I grew a passion for investigative features. The kids usually came along when I worked a story. They still talk about the ride-along with street gang members who showed us how to hot wire a van. (OK, maybe sometimes it was a little dangerous, but their childhood memories are priceless.)

Money came and went. Once I couldn't pay the water bill and the company shut it off while my head was covered in hair dye. Another time, I sold a thousand-dollar story and we drove to Disneyland.

I never really thought of myself as a writer. Typing stories while I breastfed a baby always reminded me I was just Mom. So did the notes taken in blue crayon, and hard copies doodled with tic-tac-toe. My office was the dining room. I worked on a card table island in a sea of toys and empty cereal bowls. There was only one rule: "Unless there's blood, don't bother me." It covered all the bases.

In time, my writing adapted to the cadence of chaos and I found I could string words together while Meagen blasted MTV, or Matt played "on and off" with the Hoover. I stopped freaking out when Khiara wandered off at large events we covered (the police always found her), and came to believe life could go on after Breanna finished one of my stories.

We wrote our own crossword, filling in spaces with laughs, tears, and tantrums. And, always love. My kids were good to me. Lots of hand-crafted gifts and surprise dinners. They took up my slack to give me extra writing time. They were my best proofreaders, critics, and fans.

The four were clever at making me laugh when I was mad, and shrewd at giving me an occasional glimpse of myself from their perspective. Like the night my computer burped 14 pages of a feature to the ethos. I hadn't back up. I used my special word for such occasions, and Matt ran down the hallway yelling, "We gotta get outta here! Mom's getting ready to blow!"

I miss those days. We live in Iowa now. The kids are grown. I still write in the dining room, but I have a desk, and the house is quiet unless my granddaughter Hailey is here. We dont have any "don't bother Gramma" rules. I've learned tranquility isn't all it's cracked up to be, and I welcome interruption.

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