Our Last Day

Our Last Day

My Sweet Baby Carrot,

Today was our last day together. This weekend your older siblings will be home with us, and the next time they go to school, you will go too. You’re finally entering the world of full-time kindergarten, and you could not be more excited! Me, on the other hand…

When you were born, you came home to 3-year-old and 1-year-old siblings, and your life was LOUD. There has always been someone talking, crying, pooping, eating, spilling, whining, laughing, pushing, throwing, bouncing, banging, squealing, and all.of.the.noises all around you. When you were a baby, I put you in the swing so I could go to the bathroom, and I would come back to find you buried in toys your brother lovingly wanted to share. (He was maybe less concerned about you breathing under there, but boy did he love you!) When I got overwhelmed and needed a “quiet minute,” your big sister would push your crawling diaper-bottom into the bedroom before I lost my marbles. You were always a year ahead of schedule with your activities and interests because you just wanted to do whatever the big kids were doing.

I thought I knew you.

Then two years ago, your Irish twin brother went off to kindergarten, and it was just you and me. Well, there was a newborn too, but – much to your disappointment – he wasn’t much of a playmate, and he didn’t laugh or do anything funny yet. Still, he was a good baby, and most of the time, it felt like you were all mine, and I was all yours. Before then, you had gone to preschool a few days a week, but changes in our family meant now you would stay home all the time. I thought you would get bored. I thought you would miss your brother and sister. I thought you wouldn’t like being with me.

Turns out, I didn’t really know you.

I learned that you love reading more than playing ball, like you always did with your brother. You like puzzles and songs, and you would rather watch Barney than Spiderman. We went to library storytime, which was always just too hectic when your siblings were home, and your favorite part was cutting out shapes, even when you struggled. You are the most determined human being I have ever met, and you keep trying, trying, trying, until you get it right. We went to the park and you climbed to the tip-top of the jungle gym without any help, because I was pushing the baby, and you were so proud. I was so proud. I am so proud of you.

That boring little newborn turned into a silly toddler who absolutely adores you. You sing to him, make him laugh, and get him out of his crib when he wakes up early from nap. You help him up the steps on the Chick-fil-A playground, and you hold his hand when he falls and carry him to mommy. You’re his best friend.

Sweet Carrot, you have become my best friend.

I’ve never spent as many hours with any single human being as I have spent with you. You love helping me clean; you see it as acting like a grown-up rather than a chore. And you would do chores all day long if I promised you 20 minutes of uninterrupted attention at the end of it, as has often been our arrangement. You just love spending time with me; I don’t think I have ever felt so wanted as I have from you. I think you like moaning, “Moooomm, get off your phone!” because you know it’s an instant guilt trip, and I’ll stop everything to look you in the eyes. You have helped me shop, run countless errands, held the baby while I used the public restroom or taken too long at the customer service desk.

I love that you call your action figures “little toys” and want to make houses for them to live in together, like I used to do with my brothers. I love playing basketball with you in the driveway while the baby naps, and you always beat me. (Okay, maybe I’m terrible, but for a 5-year-old, you had serious skills!) I love making you breakfast of two-eggs-scrambled-with-cheese-and-salt-and-pepper with three pieces of toast-cut-like-a-circle: one with butter, one with jelly, one with butter and jelly. I love the way you say it exactly like that every morning. I love the wild stories you tell and the passion with which you tell them. I love how you walk into the library, grab the most random books off the shelf – always at least three more than I tell you to get – and remain firmly committed to checking out those books, no matter how strange of choices they end up being. You just want a reason for me to read to you. And of course you never let me forget to get board books for the baby, easy readers for brother, and chapter books for sister, even though none of them are even aware of this library excursion.

You want everyone to experience the joy you have.

You have helped me make countless new friends by attending playdates with strangers-to-you and jumping right into relationship with their kids so the mommies could talk. You listened to me go on and on about the women’s suffrage memorial on the day after the election, even though you didn’t understand what I was saying, but you could tell it was important to me. Then you helped me eat too many farmers’ market cookies, because it was a good day for cookies. You are painfully unaffectionate, but with a reluctant “oookaaayyyy,” you let me cuddle you when I’m having a hard day.

Today was one of those days.

To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post originally appeared on August 24, 2017.

Active Kids Are Not Trouble — They’re Kids


My son is seven.

Among many things, he is funny, athletic, creative, and brave. He could dribble a soccer ball as soon as he could walk, and at seven, he can easily throw a football 25 yards in a perfect spiral. He blows through his math work and has better handwriting than his almost-10-year-old sister. He has always been obsessed with his art being just right before he could move on to anything else. His agility and athleticism are matched only by his fearlessness to test his physical limits. He is sweet, affectionate, and adores his baby brother more than any of us. He lights up my world.

He is also a 7-year-old boy.

He runs when he should be walking, talks out of turn, and laughs about bodily functions. He fidgets just about anytime he is sitting, fights with his brother, and hates to lose. He gets hangry at times and goes wild when he’s tired. He doesn’t make his bed, leaves his clothes on the floor next to the hamper, and doesn’t mind the table manners I promise I taught him.

He’s just a little boy, and I don’t expect him to be anything else.

Not too long ago my husband, Jeremy, chaperoned our son’s school field trip to the zoo. At the beginning of the day, as adults were being assigned students to accompany, the teacher called out, “Mr. Unthank, you will have your son and John (not his real name).” Before Jeremy had the chance to step forward, another parent snickered and said to him, “Oh boy, you’ve got double trouble!” My dear, sweet husband put on his pastor hat and smiled rather than decking the woman as he would have liked, a remarkable skill your pastor has undoubtedly mastered as well. (Tricks of the trade!)

But I admit that in the part of my brain that battles constant mommy guilt and comparison games, it begs the question: is my kid really that bad??

As parents, we all want our kids to be the good ones. We want teachers to like them, coaches to play them, friends to include them, other parents to admire them. Of course we do. But is this for their benefit or ours? Certainly there is much to be said for favor and opportunity, and many things in life will come easier for those who display virtue early on. However, is it possible we are more concerned with how our children’s behavior reflects on us as parents? Do our own egos and expectations deprive kids of the right to just be kids?

To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post was originally posted on January 14, 2018. 

Tips for Your Last Minute Vacation

Last Minute Vacation Beach

If there’s one thing I do well and do often, it’s procrastinate. Okay, so that’s not always a desirable skill, but it’s not all bad. A few years ago I worked this trait to my advantage to score the best family vacation we’ve ever had. I had an idea in mind of where we would like to visit, a few different days my husband could quickly take off work, and the only hardline item in my plan: a strict budget. It took a lot of late-night research, but in the end I booked a resort on Thursday, and we left on Sunday. We stayed three nights in a 4-star beachfront condo for $80/night! I would have been satisfied to just sit on the beach the whole time, but our resort had an awesome water park on site, and once there, we Googled local attractions to keep it interesting.

There was no plan; just a few days of rest and pure fun.

I was hooked. Last year, with two day’s notice, I booked a 5-star historic hotel in Manhattan for $130. And this year I am watching several different Orlando resorts for our family’s vacation. Hotels are trying to make money, and empty rooms don’t make money. When they get down to the wire, they’ll sell great rooms for dirt cheap just to put bodies in the beds. For some people, waiting until the last minute can be stressful, but if you’re like me, it’s so freeing to relax and be ready to book whatever I can find.

Full disclosure: this method is not for Type A personalities that like to have all the details just so. But if you like to roll with the punches, then with a little patience and a lot of flexibility, you can score the low-cost, last-minute vacation of your dreams.

Last Minute Vacation NYC

Location, Location, Location (sort of)

When you’re deciding where to take your last minute vacation, you need to have an idea in mind of where you want to go, but leave a bit of wiggle room. For our beach vacation, I knew we wanted to go to the beach in South Carolina, but I had about a 100-mile radius I was searching. The more flexible you are on the exact location, the more specific you can be on amenities — we wanted a full kitchen, beach access in walking distance, and a kid-friendly hotel pool. If a very specific area is more important — like when we went to New York and my husband was in an orthopedic boot, so we needed a hotel very close to our activities — then you will need to be more flexible on the amenities.

Dates TBD (sort of)

To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post originally appeared on May 19, 2018. Be sure to check out all the other great posts while you’re there!

Take Me Out of the Ball Game: Kids and Concussions

Take Me Out of the Ball Game

You could say I’m a pretty chill mom when it comes to most things. Toddler won’t eat? Eh, they won’t starve themselves. Kid falls on the playground? Walk it off, tough guy. Actual serious emergency? Stay calm; crying won’t help anyone. I used to worry I was too relaxed and that I would probably lose my marbles if something happened to my kid, but now that my kids are a bit older and we’ve been around the block a few times, it turns out I’m actually just really chill. Nice.

A lot of my attitude is just personality, for sure, but I also understand that knowledge is power.

We have an awesome pediatrician who has spent the last decade educating me rather than just diagnosing kids and sending us off, so I feel confident and capable assessing and addressing my children’s physical needs. My husband and I have spent 11+ years in youth ministry, so I’ve walked with teenagers and their families through many crises both real and imagined, and I’m pretty well-versed on how to deal with common emotional issues. I read a lot, talk a lot, listen a lot, and learn a lot, so I don’t have to worry a lot.

When my kids got big enough to play sports, chill mom over here was ready to let ’em at it.

I know injuries happen in sports, but it’s part of life; you move on. I never expected my kids would play so competitively that they would be constantly strained and injured — in fact, I’ve written about not taking youth sports too seriously — but I figured torn muscles, bruises, maybe a broken arm…those are all just part of childhood. I guess I was naively unprepared a few weeks ago when my eight-year-old son was playing in his championship semi-final baseball game and he took a line drive to the face. He usually plays shortstop, but this inning he happened to be on the mound. While the coach pitching instinctively jumped out of the way, my boy doubled over clutching his head after the ball struck him right between the eyes.

I fought the urge to run onto the field, but you bet I ran to the dugout.

His coaches comforted him and checked for any signs of emergency. He wasn’t bleeding, confused, or dizzy. His pupils were normal, he didn’t feel nauseous, and he knew how many fingers we were holding up. In fact, he was doing so well, he skipped the rest of the inning but then went right back out there and helped his team win the game. On to the championship they went!

The next morning he woke up with a headache (naturally), but still no other symptoms. He took an afternoon nap in preparation for the big championship game that night, but when he woke up, he started seeing spots in the air. He stumbled getting out of bed and asked for medicine for his headache. While these symptoms quickly wore off, my husband took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. No more championship game. No more All-Star team. No more sports for at least two weeks. If he gets another concussion within 12 months, he’ll have to sit out of sports for a whole year. To an eight-year-old boy, that’s devastating. To a mom of an eight-year-old boy and his seven-year-old brother with whom he constantly plays and wrestles and bounces and does dangerous things, that’s nearly impossible.

We’re still waiting for medical clearance for my son, and we’re going to look into more protective measures for him next season, like an upgraded helmet and gear. Concussions are no joke, and if you suspect your child has one, he or she should be seen by a doctor right away. While concussions are often associated with sports injuries, most actually happen off the field, in car or bike accidents, playground falls, or even everyday activities at home.

If your child (or adult you know!) hits his or her head, look for the following symptoms:

To continue reading, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where this post originally appeared on June 24, 2018. 

Mommy’s Shoes

Mommy's Shoes


It’s the familiar slow, belabored steps of a toddler in adult high heels. Enormous effort and equal pride in each step, my girl is a princess today, or maybe a pop star, a teacher, the POTUS, or maybe just pretending to be Mommy by wearing my clothes.

clip clip, clip clip

Her steps shorten to a shuffle to keep my shoes on her feet, now big enough to hold them on when she grips her toes tight. She is a bit more frustrated with the effort now that she’s a first grader and knows all about life. Her spectacular visions of adulthood are clearer now, and when she looks in the mirror, it’s not just a game of dress-up anymore; she sees that doctor/dancer/pastor/teacher (always teacher) looking back at her.

plunk, plunk, plunk

I didn’t buy these shoes. Wedge booties that are cuter than anything I own…well, that’s just too grown for my eight-year-old! But her aunt couldn’t resist, and my girl’s exuberance was totally worth it. Now that she has grown-up shoes in her own size, she spends every free minute standing in front of her white board looking like a real teacher. She points her pen at the board and has her brothers repeat math fact and grammar rules as she struts around her room checking their imaginary work.

To continue reading this post, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where it was originally published on August 18, 2018. Check out all the other great content while you’re there!

The Grace Standard

hangry \’haη-grē\ , adjective:
a clever portmanteau of hungry and angry; an adjective that describes being irritable or angry due to hunger

Grace Standard

Still a new colloquialism and not yet added to the dictionary, this was one of the most helpful words I learned when I married my dear husband 13 years ago. It was the perfect summation of the way his mood would seemingly inexplicably alter when he had gone too long without a snack. I thought this was annoying but loved to pester him about it, that is until I got pregnant and he had to keep an actual stash of Snickers bars on hand to remind me, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

So maybe it’s not such a strange phenomenon after all.

As it turns out, we managed to produce a few kids with the same proclivity toward hanger, as well as a similar — but markedly more pronounced — mood alteration due to sleep deprivation. Can we make a word for that too? Sleepetulance? Tire-ire? Fatigue-fury? Okay, I’m bad at word-mashing. I suppose we are just emotional people who teeter on the edge of detonation from a variety of external, physical factors. But I know we’re not the only ones.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m in a mood, I can be a real pill. Okay, actually my husband would be the first to admit it, but he’s smart enough not to do so publicly, so I’ll just take this one. In my defense, I say “I’m sorry” a lot. But I also say shhhhh more than actual words, ignore opportunities to connect with my kids, rely on the bigs to play with and meet basic needs of their toddler brother, snap about little things, and speak in a tone somewhere between “three-year-old who has been given the wrong color cup” and “pubescent girl who has just been grounded from her phone.” I know I’m terrible, and I do apologize, but until the wave rides out, I do expect my family to buck up and dole out plenty of grace to get me through till the next meal/nap/vacation/whatever.

Why is it, then, that when my kids experience the same strain of fatigue, hunger, or just a bad mood, I am quick to jump into Mom Mode to correct their behavior?

To continue reading this post, please visit Knoxville Moms Blog, where it originally appeared on September 7, 2018. Be sure to check out all the other great pieces while you’re there!


I Just Miss You Today


Sweet baby,
I miss you today.

As we turned the corner into a new year, I realized it has been almost 4 years since I saw you last. Four years ago on my (our) birthday, I woke up knowing I wouldn’t ever hold you in my arms. Instead I stroked your delicate body with my index finger when I saw you on my maxi pad. You were beautiful, formed exactly as you should have been at 6 1/2 weeks gestation. But your heart had stopped its tiny beating, and your cells had stopped their rapid splitting, and my heart was cut deeply when your life was cut short.

I just miss you today.

Today, four years later, I’m sitting on a new couch in a new house watching Daniel Tiger with your baby brother. I imagined moving to this house with you. Our Bonus Baby just had a bath after drawing on his face with markers, a funny little habit your big brother, my Sweet Prince, had when he was a toddler. He always loved wearing costumes and insisted on drawing on his “mask” to be more authentic. I wonder if you would have liked costumes like your brothers do? Of course he taught Little Carrot to draw on his face too, because Carrot did everything just like our Prince. They have always been built-in best friends, and I’m so glad they still are.

I wish Bonus had you.

You would have been born in October, and I conceived our Bonus in December. I have never felt like our rainbow baby was a replacement baby, because you had a place in our family. You could have been born, and so could he, and then there would be 5 of you, and my heart would grow all the more to make room. You and Bonus would have been built-in best friends. You would be in the bathtub together after drawing all over each other with marker, and instead of watching Daniel Tiger you would be playing dress up. Maybe you would be teaching him about lipstick or fighting over the orange football. You would get the pink cup and he would get the green one, but as a 3-year-old, you might decide you only want your milk in a blue cup today, because that’s what 3-year-olds do. That’s what you would do, if you were here.

I just miss you today. 

If you were here, the days would be louder. I would spend an hour trying to get you and Bonus to nap at the same time in your shared room, or maybe I would put you in my bed to keep you from playing. At lunch time I could cut your sandwich into the shape of a hippo and Bonus’ in the shape of a dinosaur, and you would each pretend to be your animal while you ate. I would still be cutting your grapes when you’re 3 because you two giggle so much when you’re chomping on snacks. You would dance in tutus and make Bonus play the prince to your princess. “I so pretty, brubber?” you would say. I can hear you two jabbering in your little toddler language as you snuggle under a blanket fort to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the iPad.

Because every time I look at Bonus, I see you. I see what could have been, the life I expected and not the one I’m living. Don’t get me wrong, the life you are living right now is perfect, and I can’t wait to live it with you one day. But sometimes it hurts, and today is one of those days. Whenever I look at your little brother,

I just miss you.