What Did You Want to Be When You Were at College?

Her green-gray eyes always get straight to the heart of the matter.

“A journalist,” I promptly reply. Live on CNN. Big dreams.

“You could’ve been famous, Mom,” those eyes so earnest, so certain.

I smile at her certainty. At her pure eight-year-old belief that if only I had become what I wanted to be then, I would be famous.

“But when I’m a famous actress and singer, then you’ll be famous because I’m your daughter.” Pause. “NYU has an acting school, right?”

The notion of Fame is irresistibly attractive to her. Recognition, adoration, attention. She loves watching Disney’s “Austin & Ally”, the story of seemingly ordinary teens who rise not only to glittery stardom, but also to wholesome lives of friends and fun. As I watch her watching, I see the dreams behind those eyes, the twinkly smile that lights her face as if it were aglow in spotlight.

The ephemeral promise of flashing cameras and screaming fans inspires her to sit at the small, white desk in the quiet corner of her bedroom, hunched over pages of colored paper, writing songs she will later sing to the adoring audience of her mirrored self, hairbrush-ophone tight in her hand. But she is also driven by the good ol’ fashioned belief that if you work hard enough at something you love, you will undoubtedly accomplish success, praise, awards, celebrity. You will be famous.


It’s as simple and wholesome a belief as the freckles sprinkled faintly across her nose, and every time she imagines her future life out loud I feel warm and hopeful. Yes love, I want to say, it is as simple as that.

Of course, it’s not.

I wanted more than anything to be live on CNN. So I majored in drama and journalism, met a guy, married him, and moved halfway around the world to be a stay-at-home-mom with four kids. They’re the ones reporting live, from the minivan.

Maybe I didn’t work that hard. Maybe I didn’t want it as much as I thought I did. Maybe I got distracted, confused, overwhelmed.

Or maybe my dream changed.

Maybe once I met that guy, what I really wanted was to marry him, have kids and stay home to raise them.

In the humdrum of normal, everyday life in which success is defined by whether I get dinner on the table at a reasonable time (as in any time before bedtime) and by how often I mutter “Stop that” to the boy opening and closing the drawer with his foot, where my claim to fame is the chocolate mousse I make on special holidays, and the only journalism I’ve done in recent-ish years is edit the school newsletter, it’s easy to lose myself in the dreams that didn’t come true. It only takes a small question – What did you want to be when you were at college, Mom? – to stir up immense wistfulness about the great big plans I had for myself. But then, you know, life.

I’m not famous in the world out there. I’m not chasing leads or breaking news or reporting live from anywhere. But here at home? Definite star power. I’m famous for surprise tickles before bedtime, for homemade meat pies, for practical solutions to complicated problems. Their faces (mostly) light up like thousands of camera flashes when I walk in the room. Recognition, adoration, attention.

I look at her intent face, at her little self dressed much like me in black leggings, a tank top and slouchy sweater, and even as I answer that 20 years ago I wanted to be something I’m not, I realize I am exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be this.

You Rock-Apulco Red!

His head bops in time to the music. His fingers tap out the rhythm on his knee, and his mouth moves as he sings the song in his head, while a little smile plays around his lips and lights up his deep, dark eyes. As long as it’s a song he likes, he’s happy. This morning it was Green Day’s “21 Guns.”

I look over at him, and feel a smile tug at my own lips. “He rocks,” I think. Kinda corny, he is literally rocking out with Billy Jo there in the front seat, but the awesome heavy drumbeat inspires my thought, as does his ten-year-old body moving in time to it.

21 Guns - Green Day source: fanpop.com

21 Guns – Green Day source: fanpop.com

It’s not often that I have such positively-inspired thoughts about my children, any of them. I’ve written much about my struggle to feel fulfilled as a stay-at-home-mom, about my loathing for my minivan, that dastardly Chariot of Carpool, about how needy and hungry and whiny they are much of the time. And all of that is true.

But on occasion, they do rock.

Like my daughter who made up a song while in the shower last night. I heard her off-key singing and verses that made no sense and just smiled and shook my head. When I walked by the bathroom she was staring straight into the mirror, belting it out.

“Oh Mom, I made up this song with a few words, but then these other sentences just came to me, so when I perform it, I’m going to sing the whole thing.” I don’t know where she plans on performing it, and for whom, but she believes she’s going places and so do I. She rocks.

Or the biggest brother who has a nickname for each of his siblings, something quirky and esoteric that only he calls them, that makes them feel very special and very loved by him, makes them smile when he calls them and melt in contentment like a puppy having its belly scratched. He rocks.

And my tiny boy, five for just three weeks, who had a sleepover last night. Not just anywhere, but over the bay and across the bridge, all the way in San Francisco. That’s pretty far when you’re five. But not for him. He loves his little friend, and wanted to spend time with him, and this was the only way he could do it yesterday. So he packed his own bag, and put in three stuffies, and memorized my cell phone number, and gave me a quick kiss goodbye. And had the best time. You got it – rocks.

“Do you like this song, Mom?” my rhythmic rocker asks as “21 Guns” fades into the new one from Eminem and Nate Ruess, the one about their moms. “I do,” I say. “Me too,” he replies, and effortlessly raps the Eminem part. Happy if he likes the song, and happy if I like it too.

I often tell them how impossible they’re being, or wonder out loud why they can’t stop fighting. Nag them to stop eating candy, turn off the TV, clean up your room, don’t say shut up.

But today, you guys, I just want to say: You rock.

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Getting Personal

journal“I’m a writer,” I said. It was the first time I’d ever called myself a writer.

It might have had something to do with the fact that he introduced himself as a base jumper, an extreme skier, a wingsuit flier – dangerously impressive all of them – but in truth it was the first time I truly and confidently felt like a writer.

Even though I’ve been writing since I was in high school, with a too-long hiatus while having kids, it wasn’t until just last year that I’d ever shown anything I’d written to anyone (high school and university papers don’t count). And my universe shifted.

As I re-imagined myself as a writer and launched my own writing website, fellow writer and friend, Jennifer Lang, invited me to participate in a Blog Hop where writers share their perspectives about the writing life. Perfect timing! A chance to really think about my life as a writer, and learn about the processes and experiences of others! Check out Jennifer’s inspiring post and read more about her here.

Below are my answers to the four questions that are hopping from blog to blog. Next week three fabulous writers – Katrina Kenison, Lisa Sadikman and Jennifer Skutelsky – will post their answers to these questions on their blogs. And on it goes.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing.

What am I working on/writing?

Too much. Not enough. I have several pieces started, abandoned, and taken up again – all of which I intend to “do something with.” My immediate focus is on a daily writing challenge I am participating in, together with 2,200 bloggers around the world: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. The idea is to write every day in the month of April, except Sundays, which works out to 26 days – so each day’s piece should correlate in some way to a new letter of the alphabet. Today is R. I am using OPI’s nail polish colors to add further inspiration to my alphabet musings, and it has been one of the most creative, fun experiences I’ve ever had. I have surprised myself – not only with what I’ve created using obscure nail polish names, but with my daily discipline. My life as a stay-at-home-mom who writes – or rather, a writer who is also a stay-at-home-mom – is hectic and chaotic, with little space for me myself. The daily practice forces the space and time no matter what. Stressful, yes. But mostly, intensely gratifying. Find my A to Z posts here. As soon as April is over, I will pursue the opportunities I have to write for other channels. And perhaps… a play.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I write creative non-fiction, narrating my own factually accurate and true experiences with different literary styles and techniques. Whenever I sit down to write, the words of my high school English teacher reverberate in my head: Show it, don’t say it. Most of my writing teaches me something by the end of the piece, but I like to write my way toward it in unexpected ways. I was recently surprised to hear someone describe my writing style as “She says what we’re all thinking but don’t like to say.” Possibly the most valuable thing I’ve heard about myself as a writer.

Why do I write what I do?

I graduated from one of South Africa’s finest Journalism schools – Rhodes University – with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Drama. I wanted to be on CNN. And then my life happened. And somewhere between then and now I married an incredible man, moved to San Francisco, had four great and demanding children, and found myself schlepping, feeding, volunteering, fundraising and editing school newsletters. Ten years of that and I’d forgotten who Me was. Writing reminds me. Of who I am. And why I am. It allows me to create calm from chaos, to keep it real, not only for me but hopefully for others too. Writing, and what I write about, has saved me from me.

How does my writing process work?

The joke in my family is: Mom, don’t (or do) write about this!


Every moment is potentially a writing moment. But usually something will grab my attention and continue to show up in a gazillion ways. Time to write it. If I can’t find time right away, or if my thoughts are too jumbled, I make notes in a little notebook I bought at Seattle Airport. It has an owl on the cover. Writing it out happens in my bedroom. I sit on the window seat, with my Macbook on my lap, and look to the big redwood tree for inspiration and clarity. The window seat is at the furthest point from the bedroom door, and it takes whoever needs me a little longer to reach me (because they only need me when I’m writing or on the phone). I like to write as much as I can all at once, with minimal interruption. And then I’ll go back and edit. Re-write. And write some more.


Meet my fellow blog hop writers:


Mostly American, a little French and kind of Israeli, Jennifer Lang has spent decades jumping between continents. The question that has plagued her most is which way is home? For the past 10 years, she’s thrived on one constant: wherever she lives, she writes. Once upon a time, she was a magazine writer for Alternative Medicine, Parenting, Yoga for Natural Solutions, Yoga Journal and more. Until she decided to focus on writing her own stories as well as teaching Creative Non-Fiction writing classes. Her essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, the South Loop Review as well as on ducts.org, among others. In 2011, she and her family relocated–once again – from White Plains, New York to Raanana, Israel, where she continues to write and teach and push the boundaries. Connect with her through her blog, opentoisrael, her attempt to see the good in a place she never dreamed of calling home.

author photo copy

Katrina Kenison has traced the seasons of a woman’s life through three books: Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry (2000) now considered a classic for parents of young children, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir (2009), and Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment (2013). In the process of writing a memoir, she says, “I’ve learned to celebrate the beauty of ordinary days and to savor the pleasure of small moments well lived.” Before becoming an author, Katrina spent many years working in publishing, first as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company in New Haven, New York, and Boston, and then, from 1990 through 2006, as the series editor of the best-selling The Best American Short Stories anthologypublished annually by Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt. She co-edited, with John Updike, The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Katrina is also the author, with Rolf Gates, of Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga. With Kathleen Hirsch she co-edited an anthology of short stories about motherhood, Mothers: Twenty Stories of Contemporary Motherhood. Her writing has appeared in O: The Oprah MagazineWoman’s DayReal Simple,Country LivingFamily CircleRedbook, and other publications. A Reiki practitioner, gardener, writing and yoga teacher, Katrina lives with her family in rural New Hampshire. Her YouTube video for The Gift of an Ordinary Day has had well over two million views.  She blogs weekly at http://www.katrinakenison.com.


Lisa Sadikman is a writer living in Northern California with her husband, dog and three daughters, the third one arriving just as she began dreaming of a life beyond motherhood. Instead, it’s déjà vu all over again except this time she’s wearing heels and blogging about it. Now a stay-at-home mom, she’s also worked as an ice cream scooper, a department store clerk, a congressional staffer, a mortgage trader, a reporter, an editor and a content and user interface strategist. Drawn to the power of telling true stories, Lisa writes to find balance, make sense of her world and carve out a safe space for all the crazy. A lifetime writer with a Master of Journalism, she blogs at the Huffington Post and on her own blog, Flingo. Her work has appeared in Salon, BabbleLiterary MamaThe Sun and The Monthly, among others. You can read about her adventures navigating love, motherhood and a grown-up life at www.flingome.com and by following her on Twitter @LisaSadikman.


Jennifer Skutelsky was educated in South Africa and the US, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing. An editor and writing coach, she is the author of two nonfiction books, and blogs at Write on Sisters and Musings of Orientation. She now lives in San Francisco with her daughter and a menagerie of pets. Her novel, Grave of Hummingbirds, a gothic mystery set in the Andean highlands, won the Clark Gross Novel Award at San Francisco State University in 2011 and is a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014. Also a ballet teacher and visual artist, Jennifer has a soft spot for elephants and rhinos.


Nicki1South African by chance and Californian by choice, Nicki Gilbert lives in the Bay Area with her husband, four kids and an aging dachshund. With dreams of reporting live on CNN, she majored in Drama and Journalism at Rhodes University in South Africa, met a boy, married him and moved almost 180 degrees west to San Francisco, to live her life as a wife, marketer, event coordinator, non-profit board member, and eventually stay-at-home mom. There was very little writing and even less acting during those years. Last year Nicki started blogging for Times of Israel, and now writes on her own website Red Boots – from dancing to walking and everything in between, and beyond. As a reluctant yet full-time, barely-at-home mom, writer, avid reader, country music lover and wannabe surf diva, she writes to keep perspective about it all. With tears, humor, skepticism, love, pain and truth. Trying to keep it real. Follow her at www.redboots.me and on Twitter @nixgilbertca.

Not Like the Movies

The carwash brushes swirl the soap back and forth, back and forth across the windshield. The light reflects off the thick bubbles. There’s a faint slap-slap every time the rubber part hits the glass. Hypnotic. Peaceful.

Cut to the Jewish Community Center. Boxes of something are being packed and organized for a food drive, or a fundraiser or a holiday carnival. “Smile, Girls, I’m going to put this on Facebook and tag you all,” the volunteer in charge says.

She’s a writer. She studied Journalism at college and now she’s a stay-at-home-mom with a blog. Most days she’s still in her sweats when her husband comes home at 6pm, because if she stops to actually get dressed it’s all over.

Ever seen the movie Afternoon Delight? It stars Kathryn Hahn as Rachel – the confused, trying-to-figure-it-out, Jewish, writer-mom-volunteer who finds tremendous solace and inner peace at the carwash. Fifteen minutes into the movie I wonder if writer/director Jill Soloway had been spying on me for several months.


That’s what makes great art great – movies, books, songs that imitate life. That viewers, readers and listeners can relate to: Hey, that kinda happened to me! Wow, I felt that way too. I remember a break-up like that. A family Christmas when that exact thing happened. Sneaking out with my best friend… We love those movies. We love feeling that our experiences and feelings are shared by others. It gives us a sense of belonging, of normalcy even, at a time when we felt left out and different.

But there’s something disconcerting about watching my life play out with uncanny accuracy in a movie, Hollywood or otherwise. While it’s comforting to know that others have similar experiences, that I’m (obviously) not the only Journalism grad who didn’t make a real career out of it, it’s unsettling, uncomfortable and really difficult to watch. On a big screen. From the outside looking in, but also from the inside feeling out.

In Afternoon Delight Rachel is trying so hard to figure it out, she invites a down-and-out young stripper to come live with her and her family. Rachel wants to save her. And of course, we can see, this has trouble written all over it. Rachel really has the best intentions, she loves this woman, wants to help her – but her mom-friends don’t like it so much, her husband doesn’t want to like it, her friends’ husbands love it.

Complicated situations, tested relationships, and at the end of this Hollywood movie, Rachel realizes much about herself and her marriage, and she and her husband indeed figure it all out. The End.


There are times I wish I could yell “That’s a wrap!” and high-five myself and everyone around me that yeah it’s all perfect, and worked out for the best, and everything’s good, no great! But life is not like the movies. Thank G-d. I may be a frustrated Journalism graduate, who volunteers at the JCC and drives a minivan. But I haven’t brought an exotic dancer home (yet!) and my afternoon delight is usually a cup of tea and 20 minutes with a good book.

Nope – not like the movies. And that’s a good thing.



Not Like the Movies by OPI

Not Like the Movies by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Mom, where are you?

Floating in the warmest water, surrounded by tiny bubbles, a sky of swirling gray peeking through a redwood canopy while raindrops steadily splash on my upturned face… in our newly-installed hot tub. At 11.15am. On a Wednesday.

We’ve wanted a hot tub in the backyard for years. There’s a corner that’s just perfect for it. Tucked up against the fence, under the giant redwood tree – the perfect alcove of peace and quiet. And steam and bubbles. And soon bunches of pre-teen boys making inappropriate jokes, and wild whooping four-year-olds spilling apple juice and eating soggy Ritz crackers…

But not yet! It’s still tranquil, serene, bliss.

I’m not sure that’s where I was supposed to be before noon on a Wednesday morning.

I’ve been a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM) for about ten years. I realize what a blessing this is, to be present and available for my kids all day. To not have to scramble for childcare when one of them is sick. They know I’ll bring the homework they left on the kitchen counter. I’m able to chaperone field-trips without rearranging my schedule, to help in the classroom and “spy” on the social dynamics of my daughter, or to see for myself if my son’s occupational therapy is really working. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a soak in the hot tub whenever I want!

I can exercise while the kids are at school, pick up the dry cleaning, take Pretzel the dachshund to the vet and myself to the dentist, prepare dinner, stock up on the boxes of frozen waffles we never seem to have enough of – all between drop-off and pick-up. My working friends often do a Target run after the kids are in bed, they have to arrange last-minute pick-ups in between meetings, grocery shopping happens on the weekend – life seems much more complicated logistically as a working parent, not to mention the emotional toll it takes.

So I don’t take the privilege of being an SAHM lightly. I am incredibly thankful for it.

But after a decade it has started to feel a little less fulfilling. Mundane. Isolating, even as I’m surrounded by dozens of little faces singing Sevivon Sof Sof at the lunchtime Chanukah concert. There is no separation between me – and me.

When I pick Jed’s friend up for preschool, and see his mom dressed in heels, a beautiful blouse and lipstick, I want to beg her to take me with to her office in the City, to her meetings, and meaningful interactions with adults (not “grown-ups”) about policies and contracts.

From my vantage point at home, if I stand on my tippy-toes and lean all the way to the side, I can just make out the tips of the Bay Bridge, leading the way into glittering San Francisco. While my working friends in the Financial District barely notice the sparkling blue of the Bay and the majestic spans of the Bridge laid out in front of them. The view is always more beautiful from the other side. I know.

As I helped my little guy brush his teeth this morning, he started whining and yelling at me (only four-year-olds can do both simultaneously producing a grating whell of a sound): something about a Spongebob toothbrush and Monsters University toothpaste, and then he started crying… and I started crying. I couldn’t remember what Monsters University was and I thought he said Angry Birds toothbrush. No separation between me and me.

The kids come home from school, hungry, cranky, bursting with stories, wanting something from someone – mostly me. I roll with it, a smile on my face and a song in my voice (the smile is a little strained and the song is Linkin Park’s A Light that Never Comes). Snack for you, 8×7=56 for you, tie your hair back for ballet, listen to your barmitzvah lesson for ten minutes, all of you wash your hands, with soap. Just enough to fit into half an hour before it’s back in the car for the rest of the afternoon.

(As an aside SAHM is a misnomer – at least the SAH part. It should be NAH – Never At Home, and also nah, as in not gonna schlep around today).

Somewhere between chairing the preschool parents committee, and serving lunch at the middle school, I seem to have lost myself. My daughter used to tell her teachers that my job was volunteering in the library at her school (actually, I wouldn’t mind working in a library). I can’t find the space between Mom Nicki, and Nicki.

So this Wednesday morning, as I walked from the car toward the house in the relentless rain, laden with boxes of frozen waffles, I glanced toward the new hot tub. Sitting quietly in its corner.


The rain gently pattered down on me and the redwood tree stretched majestically into the gray sky, the steamy mist danced mystically above the water, and the bubbles floated around me – it was magical.

I felt the whisper of a space between me, and me.