Mothers of Reinvention
Three local women make strides in their aspirations to truly have it all:
a full-time career and a full house.
Written byHeather David
Since the beginning of time, moms have always been the ultimate masters of multitasking. You just know prehistoric mamas were skinning wildebeests while bouncing a baby on their hip. For today’s moms, particularly for those with jobs outside the home, it is even more of a juggling act. The lofty goal: to find balance with kids, a home, a husband or partner and maybe even a little alone time in between.
Here, three locals with successful careers share their journeys and how they are making it work. Their stories are filled with ambition, sacrifice and even a little laughter along the way.
If anyone can find humor in juggling a demanding showbiz career with parenting, it would be comedy writer, producer and actress Liz Cackowski. “I’m married to a comedy guy too, so there’s always something ridiculous that happens with the kids. And we just look at each other and laugh, wondering, ‘How did this happen?’” says Liz.
The former Saturday Night Live writer is currently in her second season as scribe and producer of FOX’s comedy series The Last Man On Earth starring fellow SNL alum Will Forte. The daily grind of handling a major network show is fun but tireless work for Liz. The show is based in Chatsworth, a 45-minute drive each way from her Hollywood home. After a long day on set, there are the two real mega-stars in her life eagerly awaiting her return: daughters Hazel, 4½, and June, 2½.
“Mondays I love going to work, Tuesdays are pretty good, but Wednesdays and Thursdays are my hardest days. I start to feel guilty, missing the girls. To keep going I have to look at a lot of pictures of them. By Friday I’m good again because I know the weekend is coming,” Liz explains matter-of-factly.
The Last Man On Earth is Liz’s first foray back to full-time writing since having Hazel. She did a brief stint writing on NBC’s Up All Night and has taken on a few random acting roles—but nothing that demanded her undivided attention every day of the week.
Then two years ago Liz was presented with an offer she couldn’t refuse: the chance to return to her comedic roots. She jumped— without hesitation.
“I worked with Will Forte at Saturday Night Live. When he called and asked if I would join the show, it was the perfect storm: old SNL friends, a story I thought was really funny, plus we had a consistent nanny for the past year that I trusted and the girls loved. All of the pieces fit, so it seemed like the right time to go back,” she recalls.
MAGICAL MOMENTS Newscaster Coleen Sullivan makes the most of mornings at home in Studio City with her two sons.
It took some trial and error, but Liz and her husband, comedy writer and director Akiva Schaffer, have finally come to understand the somewhat simplistic needs of their daughters … and essentially what it takes to make a dual-career family stay connected: pure, undivided attention on weekends.
“When I first went back to work, I overbooked our weekend with big plans. Soon enough it just felt like it was too much. Nowadays we’re really playing it by ear, and it’s been working a lot better. They’re the happiest when we’re doing something simple like coloring or playing dress-up,” shares Liz.
When Liz has moments of self-doubt, as most working mothers do, she always goes back to what this all means to her. “There’s definitely days when I think I should be home with the girls, picking them up from school. That’s when my head has to say, ‘You’re doing a job that you love and that you’re good at.’ I consider it a privilege.”
INNOVATIVE IDEA Lois Keller and daughters, Gidget and Sunny, in her Studio City kitchen where Nary Dairy was developed
Diapers & Deadlines
“As a working mom, you’re fitting so many things into your day. Every minute is accounted for,” admits newscaster Coleen Sullivan, who lives in Studio City.
Five days a week Coleen anchors the evening news on KDOC, an independent TV station run by KABC in Los Angeles. Five months ago she gave birth to her second son, Townsend; she is also mom to 4-year-old Ashford. Husband Justin works at a software startup.
The road to success for an on-air TV news career requires years of tireless dedication … hopscotching from station to station, often across the country, to secure bigger and better opportunities. The same can be said for Coleen’s career path. After graduating college in 1999, Coleen reported for stations in Eureka and Palm Springs before moving on to larger cities Sacramento and Dayton, Ohio. After having her first son, her husband was transferred to Santa Barbara, where she ended up taking a few years off to just be mommy.
“When I became a stay-at-home mom, I realized it shared similarities with my job in news. There’s lots of planning and scheduling involved—from making meals to running errands. I took my deadline-driven personality and applied it to my newfound domestic diva duties. I have to admit that being at home full-time isn’t easy,” she says.
After a few years at home, Coleen came to a personal crossroads. If she was going to get back into her highly competitive field, it was now or never.
So when the news director at ABC7 offered her a part-time reporting gig, she took it. About a month later she was promoted to full-time evening news anchor at KDOC in January 2014.
Around lunchtime she heads to the station in Glendale and doesn’t return until after the kids have been tucked into bed. During the week she relies on her husband and a terrific babysitter to care for the kids.
“Finding someone to watch my children was the most stressful part for me. I work in news and see what happens to vulnerable creatures every day. I wished for a Mrs. Doubtfire-type, and thankfully I found someone like that,” notes Coleen.
Coleen cherishes the mornings with her boys before she has to leave for work. “I take my older son to preschool a little bit later so we can bond. We spend a lot of time outside looking for lizards and playing with our big goofy golden retriever, Beau,” she says.
“Some things have to give, and for me it’s exercise. I would love to dedicate time to the gym, but it’s just not realistic. That would make it so I don’t see my little ones, and that’s not worth it. This is my new normal, and I’m appreciating every moment of it.”
A Taste for Change
Mom of two, Lois Keller is also experiencing something of a “new normal.” The Chicago native produces and sells a raw vegan spread made from cashew nuts called Nary Dairy. She started out selling the product at the Studio City Farmers Market and, in little more than two years, it gained a cult following. “If we missed a day at the market because of a holiday, our customers got mad,” Lois recalls only half joking.
Production was recently moved from a small start-up kitchen to an industrial size facility and Lois now only sells the product to retail stores (typically health food-oriented) like the new Naturewell juice bar in Studio City. (It can also be purchased at narydairy.com.)
Passion is what drives Lois and her husband and business partner, Allen. Prior to Nary Dairy, they had zero experience in the food industry. Lois, an artist, and Allen, a comedy writer, developed Nary Dairy as a vegetarian option for their family of four.
“We’ve always been healthy eaters, but the challenge was finding a plant-based food that was full of protein to give to our kids. Allen was always tinkering in the kitchen, and he came up with this recipe. We started putting it on everything, and soon friends who tried it said, ‘You should really be doing something with this,’” she remembers.
At that time Lois kept flexible hours as an artist in order to raise her daughters: Sunny, 12, and Gidget, 8. “My husband and I tag-teamed all of the parenting duties. One of us would always be with the girls. To make ends meet I would do a lot of trade at my daughter’s classes, like teaching art or painting wall murals.”
Lois loved every moment at home, but a couple years ago they had to make some hard decisions. “We were struggling to make ends meet. It came to a point when we weren’t sure we were going to make it in LA as an artist and a writer. We took a family trip across the country to think about our next step. For the long car ride we brought our homemade cashew cheese.”
While munching on the cheese along Route 66, where as Lois puts it, “a vegetable is a pickle on a hamburger,” the couple started tossing around the idea of starting a business. They came up with the name Nary Dairy and when they got back home kicked off the venture. Before long the product was selling out at the farmers market.
Being an entrepreneur for a start-up is labor intensive. Lois works day and night, handling every detail—no matter how small. “For the first time as a mom, I actually had to be places.”
Luckily the work demands come at a time when her kids are a bit older and busy with school and extracurricular activities. When Lois can’t be there, she leans on friends and family to help out.
Still, as with most working moms, something’s gotta give.
“I don’t have any ‘me’ time right now. I’ve been on hiatus from my book club for the last year and a half. My friends are so supportive and tell me they love and miss me but understand.”
She adds, “Nary Dairy is special. We have to work as hard as we can now to grab the opportunities we’re lucky enough to have in front of us.”
Paying it forward.