Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas of Teens Coming Sept. 25!

Tina Book Cover

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits

A Letter to Mamas of Teens:

Why is it that there are thousands of books/blogs about raising babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids, but when we get to the teenage range–poof! Everybody disappears from the blogosphere faster than my pre-pregnancy figure. Sure, there are plenty of scary clinical approaches out there, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve been a mama of teenagers for a while now, and though I’m no expert, I’ve been there. Actually, I’m still there.

I am with you, Mama.

The life of a mom raising teens is anything but easy. This book began with a blog: I wanted to chronicle my experience raising teenagers (two girls and a boy) not only for myself but to encourage others. In this book, I’ve included the most popular posts.

Some posts are funny—some are not. Some I wrote out of complete frustration and heartache. Others I wrote with joy and humor.

Besides being a mama of three, I’m a writer, an experimental cook, and an English professor. I’ve published in magazines and newspapers and internationally in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I also wrote a novel, War Eagle Women.  I live in Texas (the land of Old Yeller) and I survive on large amounts of coffee and ungodly amounts of sugar. It’s really not healthy.

I refer to my son (now 16) as Mancub. He just LOVES IT. Ok not really, but he’s gotten used to it. Remember the Jungle Book? It’s Rudyard Kipling’s classic post-colonial story that sort of satires the motives of the British Empire as it claims to “civilize” India (and any other country it could get its hands on). All that aside, I think the jungle is the perfect metaphor to explain raising teens. Here’s why:

It’s scary. You can’t quite see your hand in front of your face, and your lantern is just not bright enough.

It’s dangerous. There are many things just around the corner wanting to hurt you (or your Mancub). Sometimes, your Mancub may even go looking for danger. Sometimes danger comes looking for him.

I use the term Watergirl for the female of the species. In the Jungle Book movie made famous by Disney, Mowgli thinks he knows EVERYTHING until he sees the girl who sings about fetching the water. After that, Mancub is just GONE. So that’s the collective term I use for teen girls in this book.

So yes, the jungle is a dangerous place. Mancub can’t be expected to look after himself just yet, even though he disagrees. But oh—the beauty of the jungle…it’s breathtaking if you take a moment to reflect upon it.

For now—welcome to the Jungle!

What people are saying about Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits is an enchanting look into the journey that is mothering teenagers. Recipes, open letters, anecdotes and practical guides come together in this book to inspire and comfort readers. More than the perfect Mother’s Day gift, Cold Coffee speaks to teens, mothers, mothers-to-be, and everyone in-between. The raw realities of life are beautifully arranged to fulfill our need of obtaining important information rapidly and allowing the reader to slip into the beauty that is family life.” Stephanie L.

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits is a mix of advice, recipes and anecdotes that will have the most serious of readers laughing and taking notes. It made the chaos of parenting seem both magical and practical…I laughed, teared up (RIP Goliath), and jotted down a meatloaf recipe to try later. After reading this book I went and hugged my mom and told her I was sorry for putting her through teen hell and thanked her for loving me through it.” Gabbey S.

Tina shares her mother of teens experience to show others there is a light at the end of the tunnel and they aren’t traveling it alone. Joy K.

Even though I’m not a parent, I found myself tucking little nuggets of your writing away in my mind for when I do have kids of my own.  Kelsi A.

So many other parenting blogs/books just make me feel guilty. It’s already too late to do or not do what’s suggested, or I don’t have the means. Yours are helpful and flexible. They help me see that, though I’ve made mistakes, my kids are doing well, and I still have time to teach them a few things.-Bryony T.

With each laugh, worry, and reflection shared, Tina unveils the teenage years of parenting as a time to revel in the beauty of living despite the chaos of the jungle. Through her journey, she shows the weary mom how to focus on the moment at hand versus the entire collage. Slow down, enjoy the coffee and hug your babies: we are all going to make it with the help of a little comfort food! –Kari M.

Teen Speak: On Faith, God and Prayer (or Lack Thereof)


When I asked Mancub if he’d talked to God about his feelings on Watergirl moving away, he replied, “Not really. I’m kind of mad at him right now.”
“Why are you mad at God for this? He’s not making her family move.”
“Yes he is,” he explained. “He’s calling them to do a church plant and they have no choice but to do it.”

“God is tough enough to handle a bit of anger.”

Wow. This isn’t a difficult conversation at all, is it?

So we prayed together for a bit. I have to admit I don’t pray with him very much, and as a family we don’t spend enough time praying together. I experience a sort of anxiety when asked to pray out loud, probably because I’m intimidated by those who pray so well. You know the type, they are able to in a second’s notice create sheer poetry when asked to lead the prayer.
When I pray out loud it sounds something like this:
“Dear God, we just thank you for this day and for this time together. Please heal Mr. Smith’s bad hip so he can continue to play racquetball. In Jesus name, Amen.”
I’m a writer folks. Give me a pen and I can write a pretty prayer, but it doesn’t always translate verbally. This made me feel guilty (yet again) about how I’m raising my kid. I let him see me angry at traffic, frustrated from work, laughing at bad television–so it’s definitely a problem if I don’t let him see me pray. And if I don’t teach him how.
If I teach him to open doors for women, how to cook a cheese sandwich, but not how to pray, how am I preparing him for life? I’m not.
The University of Notre Dame recently conducted a study regarding teenagers and their views on faith and God. One of the main purposes of the study was to update findings which were deemed outdated. It’s pretty interesting and I plan on taking it apart bit by bit to see what it means for Mancub and our family.

Conversations With Mancub

Mancub in his natural habit. He's got it pretty rough, folks. Warning: this may be hard to read, like the "Arms of an Angel" dog commercials.

Mancub in his natural habit. He’s got it pretty rough, folks.

Warning: this may be hard to read, like those “Arms of an Angel” dog commercials. Not really.

Yesterday, I made it home kind of late. After teaching my night composition class, I was hanging out with my sweet friend Katie who just had an operation in which THEY BROKE HER FACE. Actually, the doctor broke her nose in an effort to reset and repair sinus issues that have been making her miserable for years. Anyway, I showed up at her house with Tacos and Tom: the best sick buddy combo ever. Tacos from Rusty Taco and a Tom Hardy movie. In this case, Wuthering Heights with Tom as Heathcliff. And before you ask. YES she likes Tom Hardy and YES she wanted to watch it…I know some of you were thinking that this was some sort of bullying on my part because Katie was poor and helpless with her broken nose. All you naysayers can just go to h.e. double hockey sticks because she loves Tom Hardy too.

Anyway, back to Mancub. It’s his first week of summer vacation and I’m already struggling with how to keep his butt from permanently growing into his desk chair as he “catches up” for lost time (meaning the annoyance that is high school) on his favorite past time: video games. During the school year, we don’t make him clean the kitchen (his normal chore) on Wednesdays because that’s when he goes to Youth Group with Watergirl and he needs time to do his homework and practice (theoretically) his horn and do the various good Samaritan deeds he does throughout the community and his many other philanthropic pursuits. Well, here’s the rub. It’s summer–so he doesn’t really have homework. He has youth group but that’s only for a couple of hours.

I’m over at Katie’s, selflessly hanging out with my medicated friend watching Tom Hardy (hey-she would have picked it if she had a choice! I swear) on Katie’s supersoft bed in her immaculate apartment when Nate calls. He’s asking for money to go to this restaurant called the Cotton Patch tomorrow for lunch. I’ve been there: it’s ok…good not great. However, it survives in Tyler for two reasons: it’s a family restaurant that serves everything deep fried. I bet I could ask them to deep fry my sweet tea and they would.

Restaurants have a hard time surviving in Tyler unless they are pretentiously expensive and serve all manners of booze. This one restaurant called “Double D’s” caused a big ruckus when it opened across the street from the high school and next to Toys R Us. That’s just good marketing, folks. Eventually it went out of business, so then it became some kind of chicken shack and now it’s for sale again.

Mancub knows I don’t carry cash so he’s learning to plan ahead where this is concerned. Never mind that he and Watergirl just went to Chili’s earlier (with the sisters). But I stopped by the ATM for him anyway. I also stopped by and got The Engineer and I some frozen custard. I didn’t get the kids any because I’m mean.

I came in the living room with the custard and Mancub’s like, “Did you get me some?” Um, no. I’m the meanest mom around, and sometimes I gotta remind him of that. Plus he just said he was avoiding junk food for “a while.” He gets this from me. Awhile means one thing when I’m dieting and another when I’m doing something painful like watching Sci-fi.

Earlier, he and Watergirl were making juice in the kitchen. They juiced an entire pineapple, some carrots and anything else they could get their hands on.They might have considered juicing the chihuahua but he’s mostly fat pockets which is not healthy.When they were finished, Mancub left the juicer exactly the way it was and didn’t rinse anything off. He gets THAT trait from his dad. Apparently if you just leave your dishes lying around or kick off your dirty undies next to the shower, it disappears like magic–presumably by our invisible butler named Jeeves.

If you’ve never juiced before, you should know that juice pulp, when left on a juicer, takes approximately ten seconds before it magically turns into a hardened, ancient oatmeal consistency that somehow manages to become part of the molecular structure of the juicer. The pulp clings to the juicer parts like the Gosslin kids used to cling to Kate before she got the hair extensions.

“Nate. You didn’t clean the juicer.”

“Oh yeah. It’s my day off.”

“I’m sorry? Day off?” I ask, with a slight lilt in my voice that suggests that I don’t understand English.

“Yeah. Youth group day.”

“How does that translate to “I get to leave a bunch of crap for mom to clean up?” In case you really thought we had a butler named Jeeves.


“Plus, what do you do today that’s left you so exhausted? Sleeping in? Hanging out with Watergirl? Napping? Watching reruns of Avatar? Fighting off creepers in Minecraft? I know these are all extremely taxing activities but I’m gonna have to ask you to clean up that juicier.”

So he did. Call CPS if you must.

Mancubs, Watergirls and Dating: How Soon is Too Soon?

Mancub and Watergirl at Medieval Times for his birthday.

Mancub and Watergirl at Medieval Times for his birthday.

I started the brainwashing early, basically when they were toddlers. I’d be playing Barbies with my girls,  and one daughter always wanted her Barbies to go on dates. I’d play along, but sneakily add my own agenda.

“Hi Ken!” I’d used my cheery Barbie voice, which kind of resembles a higher pitched version on my own, after Mommy’s sucked some helium. Don’t judge me–nobody wants Barbie to sound like a three-pack a day smoker.

“Hi!” Ken responded, doing her best to deepen her voice. Ken was never much of a conversationalist.

“I’m sorry, Ken. Did we have a date today?” Barbie chirped.

“Yes. We are going to McDonalds.” Oh, that Ken. Such a big spender. (Really, my girls loved McDonalds in an obsessive manner. They were  hard-core Happy Meal addicts by the age of 4. We’re not proud of it since we introduced them to the habit.)

“Ok, that sounds like fun. But remember, you have to meet my Mom and Dad first.”

“Ok,” Ken readily agrees. You know why? Because he doesn’t know any better.

Flash forward twelve years or so, when the girls turn 16. Yes, we waited until 16 to let our girls date. And since we laid the groundwork super early, they didn’t even bat an eyelash when it came up in real conversation.

Here’s how we do it: the boy has to come to the house (or, in one case, Starbucks) to meet the parents. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Really, though, it’s only happened once.

I was relating this story once and was asked, “Is it really fair, though, to restrict who they see? Won’t that just set them up for failure in relationships down the road?”

My response, “Trust me, I’m not trying to protect them from heartache. That finds its way in no matter how protective we are.”

Let me be clear: we aren’t Duck Dynasty here. Nobody’s cleaning guns or changing into camo before the big meeting. We just want to let the boy (or girl) know that this kid means a lot to us and sometimes, when it comes down to it, we can be a bit…unstable…when we find that someone has sleazy motives. You don’t have sleazy motives, you’ll be fine.

Many boys have come and gone throughout the years. We’ve seen cowboys and jocks and everybody in between.

One boy was not so admirable. He was rumored to have smoked pot behind Pizza Hut and really wanted my daughter to see the interior of his apartment to “watch a movie.” Um, no.

For the most part, we’ve tried to keep the rules the same for Mancub as we did for the girls. We’ve bent them in special circumstances but for the most part, Mancub and Watergirl only see each other at school, church and at our house. They can go to school events (dances, etc.) or to the movies or out to eat…with us. I mean, he doesn’t drive yet. I don’t see the need to push it.

And to be fair, I never practiced too much on the Ken side of dating.


The Post Where My Watergirl Gets a Tonsillectomy

The Post Where My Watergirl Gets a Tonsillectomy


Last Monday, my youngest Watergirl underwent a tonsillectomy at 21. The past year she had a bout of strep throat that landed her in the ER twice resulting in a hospitalization while they tried to find out why 3 rounds of antibiotics, steroid shots and steroid pills couldn’t seem to touch this infection. The hospitalist, a kind middle-aged guy, came in to check on her and said that one of the reasons why they were having trouble getting rid of the strep was that it was actually two strains that needed two separate medicines in order to work. They needed to get her fixed up, and quick, because she needed a tonsillectomy as soon as possible (which they couldn’t do if there was any sign of infection.

My baby Watergirl is a talented bassoonist, studying music education at the local university. It’s pretty hard to play bassoon with strep throat, and is really not recommended because if the virus makes it into the horn, each time she practices she’ll just get reinfected. I believe that the Spanish term for this is “no bueno.” Anyway, there’s something about being in a hospital waiting room while your kid has surgery that brings out full force nostalgia in this Mama Bear.

Although tonsillectomies are a pretty routine surgery, I’ve worked around hospitals for enough time to know just enough to terrify me whenever my kid goes under the knife. A couple of years ago, actually the date was 11/11/11, Mancub had to have screws put in his arm because he went flying off a trampoline. It was supposed to only take about half an hour but it ended up taking almost 2 hours and I was melting down in the waiting room.My friend Jennifer came and sat with me, even though she barely knew me back then, and has earned my forever loyalty ever since.

To those mamas who have chronically ill kids, you have my undying support and always a piece of my heart.

She’s doing ok. Today she doesn’t feel well (a combination of pain and the prescription for the pain) and she came into the kitchen, looking every bit like the little girl I remember. When I went into labor with her (when I was 21), Dad was deployed with the Navy, and Grandma and Grandpa were miles away in Arkansas, and Lee’s parents on their way, so I went to the hospital alone, riding across the Coronado Bridge with a very nervous taxi driver. He couldn’t get rid of me fast enough, and I think was mildly concerned that somebody might think this baby was his.

The whole time I was in labor, this song resonated with me. I don’t even think my Sarah knows that this is “our song.” I had heard it a few months before she was born, and it seemed wildly fitting for many reasons.

Sarah, here’s our song sweetie. Please feel better soon.