Five Minutes with a Mom: Jennifer Wheetley Cook

Jennifer and Marty

Name: Jennifer Leah Wheetley Cook

Kids’ names and ages: Bree, 14; Jillian, 6; Charlotte, 3

What is some advice you would give other women who become step-moms? If your relationship is rocky, don’t worry; it will change. As the child grows older your relationship with him or her will change, hopefully for the better, but it definitely will not remain stagnant. Even though it was a major adjustment to have a child in my life, my stepdaughter and I never had a bad relationship, but it was strained when she was younger. However, since her teenage years, she and I have similar interests, and we have grown very close. Having children of my own also changed the dynamic. All of a sudden, I understood how my husband felt about this child. I would tell other stepmoms to just hang in there. If it seems rough at the time, just stick it out, and inevitably things will change. Also, let your mate do the heavy lifting when it comes to discipline. If the child feels like you are acting out of place because you are not his or her biological parent that can create more strain. Just work on building the relationship and support your mate when it comes to discipline.

Where are you from and how long have you lived in NWA? I am from Bryant, AR. I moved here in 1998 to attend graduate school at the University of Arkansas. I moved to Austin, TX, for about a year in 2002, but moved back soon after to get married, and I have been here ever since.

What’s one movie you could watch over and over again? Probably “The Breakfast Club” from the 80s. I watched it with my stepdaughter recently and she loved it. That ‘Brat Pack’ era of movies shaped what I thought it was like to be a teenager, even though I was younger than the characters when they came out.

Tell us about your teaching job: I’ve been teaching English classes at NorthWest Arkansas Community College since 2004. I love teaching; it’s in my blood. I got away from it for a few years after grad school, but I’m too active to work at a desk all day, and I’m a natural leader. The students at NWACC are most of the reason I love what I do. They are not your average college students. Many are older, returning to school after 20 years; many come from tough backgrounds. They’re looking for a mentor, for someone who will take a chance on them and believe they can succeed. Many of them have never had that, and when they receive it from you, it sets their lives on a completely new path. When you teach at a community college, you change people’s lives. I don’t know if I could be as satisfied teaching somewhere with primarily traditional students after this.

Tell us about some traditions you’ve started with your kids: Before Charlotte was born, and when Jill was probably 18 months, I started saying a prayer with her every night when she went to bed. Over the years it has developed into quite a long thing that both girls and I have memorized. After I say it, Jill says hers, which she made up around age two – “Thank you God for this good human world.” Short but sweet.

Where does your family love to play in NWA? Parks. There are several really great ones all over Farmington and Fayetteville, where we live, and they’re free. Why not take advantage of them while your kids are still interested? Our subdivision has a pretty decent one within walking distance.

Do you have any special hobbies? I love applying makeup to myself and others and reviewing new brands for websites. It’s amazing how different techniques and colors can make one person look like someone completely different. I would love to one day have the skill of someone like Kevyn Aucoin. It’s art, really, how he transformed one person into another in his book Making Faces. I’m constantly playing in my makeup and reinventing myself.

What’s something your friends might not know about you? I’ve written two unfinished screenplays. One is about a newspaper reporter who gets mixed up with a wrongfully convicted criminal. The other is a Soprano’s-style mob drama, but the twist is that the boss is a woman. I plan on finishing them when my kids are older and don’t want to hang out with me anymore!

If you could vacation anywhere in the world this summer where would it be? Always somewhere with a beach. Preferably Mexico or somewhere in the Caribbean.

Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life? Somebody really incredible like Meryl Streep. I hate it when actors/actresses play the same person in every movie – essentially the only character they can play is themselves.

What’s something you have always wanted to learn? I love astronomy. Space fascinates me. If I was any good at math, I’d go back to school and pursue it.

What are three things you always have with you? My phone, of course (still up in the air whether that’s a good or bad thing , lip gloss, and a Diet Dr. Pepper. Most people’s bodies are 80% water; mine is 80% Diet Dr. Pepper.

How do you wind down at the end of the day? Working out then watching nerdy shows on TV. I love “Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole,” or any of those space-related shows like “How the Universe Was Made.” It sounds counterintuitive, but watching something that requires critical thinking relaxes me. If I was single, I would perpetually be in graduate school. I’d teach my classes and attend someone else’s for the rest of my life.

One word to sum me up … Thinker.