Writer’s Digest “When Writing and Parenting Collide Winners”: Third Place Goes to Kathy Burns

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 ethers. 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 don’t 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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I liked the reflective tone of this piece although it was clear that writing and parenting continued to collide for the author. What’s working well for you as a reader?

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5 Responses to “Writer’s Digest “When Writing and Parenting Collide Winners”: Third Place Goes to Kathy Burns”


  1. 1 Mar Junge October 4, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Kathy,
    Your essay is beautifully written. It not only provides an entertaining glance into your past, but also prepares us for the future. One by one, as our kids go off to college, the house gets quieter every year. For those of us trained to write in the eye of a hurricane, the quiet isn’t always an advantage. But I’ll bet your adult kids are strong, resourceful, and know how to survive while following their dreams. What a wonderful gift you’ve given them. For all of us who feel so dejected when the rejection letters come in, you’ve reminded us that there’s more to being a writer than getting published. We’re role models doing what we do best — writing and raising kids at the same time. And our children are watching and learning.

  2. 2 Mary Jo C. October 5, 2007 at 7:19 am

    Wow! Mar, you said it! And Kathy you did as well. I always knew I wrote to fill up this need inside and in doing so reflected as a better person, a more patient mom. But I guess I didn’t realize until now what our writing teaches our children: to perservere, to create, to speak our minds, stand strong in the face of rejection and follow our heart’s desires in spite of some unpaid bills.

    Writer mamas: Rock on! Write On!!

  3. 3 nomadmama October 6, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    What a brilliant essay, Kathy. As a stay at home mom/writer with a toddler and another baby on the way, your story was extremely inspiring. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. 4 Heather Haapoja October 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Really inspiring! What a great example you’ve been to your children — and what great memories they have to look back on because of it. Wonderful essay!

  5. 5 katy January 23, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Wow – this is the first time I saw this in print. I googled it just to see if it would come up and lo and behold, it did. Thanks for your comments and kudos Heather, Mary Jo and Mar Junge and Nomadmama – i love the tag. I had no idea you’d written. Sorry for the delay. I’ll be watching closely for your work. Good Luck katy


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