I am thrilled for any number of reasons that Yahoo hired Marissa Mayer, chief among them that women are finally beginning to break the glass ceiling in tech and that pregnant women are being seen as serious contenders.

But in all the talk about the ever-connected – and ever-shorter – Maternity Leave 2.0, including today’s piece in The New York Times one thing is missing from the dialog: The true toll it can take on women, including what remains a taboo subject: post-partum depression.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of hiring pregnant women and I have been in a position to do exactly that.  It worked out beautifully.

I also know first-hand the toll working even while still in the maternity unit can take.

When I was in the hospital giving birth to my daughter my publisher called to say that the pub date of my upcoming novel would be moved up.  The revisions that I thought I had months to do now had to be completed within weeks.  “Just work while the baby naps,” my editor said.  (For the record, she was a mother herself.)  Alright, I thought, that sounds do-able.   Frankly, part of me was glad about the need to keep working.  It was such an entrenched part of my identity that I thought it would ease the transition to motherhood.

And so, of course, that is precisely what I did.  Unfortunately, I also stopped sleeping and developed post-partum depression, which I was too ashamed to admit to anyone – including myself.   I didn’t even really know enough about PPD to recognize the symptoms. (It still galls me that hospitals send you home with all sorts of information except the warning signs of PPD.)  I hid it from my husband, my doctor, and of course, my publisher.  (It didn’t help that for some insane reason that I  can no longer recall I had it my mind that we wouldn’t hire help for the first three months.)

The book got done on time.  We eventually hired help.  And the PPD waned.  A few years later, I decided to come clean and publish a magazine story about PPD.  I have never had as strong – and as undercover – a reaction to a piece.  Women  in the hallways of my office, on the street, in furtive phone calls, all confessed that the too had suffered from PPD but had been too embarrassed to admit it.  They didn’t want to be seen as incompetent  as mothers or as workers.

So.  Back to Marissa Mayer.  Yes, she will have all the help she needs.  And yes, technology has made staying in touch so much easier than it was when I had a child 18 years ago.  But  I hope that women who now have the bar set even higher are able to acknowledge that it is not easy, no matter what.  Unless we are willing to admit that, we are doing each other a great disservice.

College Application Essays: The Zelda Fitzgerald Edition

USA Today did a great piece on 5 top college essay blunders.  I’m going to add some of my own: One mistake I see kids making is trying to cram everything they know/want/think into one essay.  An entire life experience – whether you an octogenarian or  a teen – can’t really be fit into 250-500 words.  An essay is not a résumé, after all.   Rather, one thought, one quirk, one person or book who moved  you in a unique way gives you a better opportunity to explore – and explain – your thinking.  Zelda Fitgerald once wrote that what she missed most about her father after he died was the particular way he tented his fingers when he spoke.  That single detail brought all of her emotions – loss, love, the power of memory – to light.  What is the one detail or anecdote that can become the focal point for your essay?  It is worth taking the time to think about that before you write.  For more tips, go to The College Essay Expert.

Reinvention, Take One

More Magazine (one of my favorites, and one that I’m happy to write for frequently) just posted my essay on the hows and whys of how I came to help kids with their Common App essays and more.  Here it is:

From Magazine Editor to College Essay Expert

How a professional editor transferred her solid skill set to a new career path

 Like so many parents, I suffered through the college application process with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. My daughter, fiercely independent, wanted to handle it all on her own (except for the 16 schools we toured!) and I respected that, even if it meant biting my tongue at times. But when it came to the all-important Common App essay, it drove me nuts that she wouldn’t show it to me. Yes, she’s a fantastic writer BUT this was my area of expertise. After working as the editor-in-chief of a magazine, penning countless essays for publications from the New York Timesto yes, More, and publishing seven novels, I figured she’d let me help. (Let me stress: Help, not write it for her.) As a writer, I know how valuable another set of eyes can be. Instead, my daughter turned to her SAT tutor, her creative writing teacher, anyone but me….until two nights before the essay was due. And guess what? Though it was beautifully written, I saw what the tutors and teachers had missed – the essay lacked the crucial point at the end that would tie her thoughts together. It was a quick but important fix. (PS: She actually said thank you. PPS: She is now enrolled in the Ivy League school of her choice. I’m not taking credit, she did that all on her own – I’m just saying.)    

I began to help all of my daughter’s friends with their essays. (Along with the Common App, many colleges request additional writing samples.) Here’s what I found: Even the most brilliant students freeze. They try to fit their entire lives into one essay. They can’t figure out what to write about. They have no idea what tone to use. And here’s what else I discovered: I truly love helping each kid find his or her unique voice and story.

After doing a little research, I discovered that while there are a ton of SAT tutors, advisors, and others to help in the ever more complicated (and stressful!) college application process, no one was specializing solely in the essays. At the same time, while I continue to love writing for magazines, I wanted more control of my career. It was perfect: A hole in the market that just happened to fit my exact skill set. My entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear just as my daughter was heading off to college. (Funny how that works.) I started my own business: The College Essay Expert. Now I work with kids all over the country on their applications. And in helping them tell their stories, I’ve reinvented my own.

Fatherless Kids on Father’s Day: Cards, Dances and other Dilemmas

My daughter was in third grade when she began to come home from school increasingly cranky and argumentative.  When I asked if anything was wrong, she replied everything was ‘fine.’  (To this day, and she is now a freshman in college, everything is always ‘fine.’)  But when, at the end of the week, she showed me an intricate collage she had made and I complimented her on it, she threw it to the floor and burst into tears.  Only then did I realize the cause: At her public school, the kids had spent the week making Father’s Day cards and gifts under a teacher’s supervision.  My daughter’s father (my husband) had died two years earlier. And my father the year before that. She had no one to give the card to and hadn’t wanted to admit that in school.

I cannot begin to explain how I irate I was – and still am – at the misguided school policy that had children spending time making gifts for fathers.  (Like religion, doesn’t that belong in the home?) Surely, in a city as diverse as New York – or anywhere for that matter – we were not the only family without a father. Surely, too, there should have been more understanding of all types of families. Flash forward three years: I decided to switch my daughter to private school.  One of the places she was accepted was an elite girls’ school. On their annual calendar: A traditional father/daughter dance.  It caused knots in my stomach just contemplating it.  For a different school’s entrance essay,  my daughter had written about  a  photo she kept on her desk of her dad holding her the day after she was born and how it made her happy/sad. The head of that school wrote me a note saying how much she loved the essay. Choice made. (That, of course, wasn’t the only reason.)

I don’t know if either school has changed its policy, but I hope so. This Father’s Day, I will tell my daughter as I frequently do how proud  her dad would be of her. She still keeps that picture on her desk.   And  I will send my thoughts to all children who have lost their fathers, and to the single mothers everywhere doing the best they can.

Teens, Parents, and the Facebook Conundrum

Thinking about Bill Keller’s piece in today’s NY Times: It’s true that teens may be easing off of FB because their parents are on it (spying on them, among other things.) But it may be equally true that parents are easing off it because it’s tough to complain about your kids when they can read every word of it. Transparency and parenting have never been a natural fit on either end. Just wait until Zuckerberg has kids.

Would love to hear from other parents: Do you spy on your kids on FB?  Do you censor what you write?


Warm Bath, Cold White Wine

My daughter was home for four days  – then off again.  My cure for renewed empty nest blues – crazy cardio class, chilled white wine in warm bubble bath, and self-tanner.  I’m working on same principle of the scientifically proven theory that smiling – whether you feel  happy or not – actually improves your mood.  I’m assuming self-tanner will make me feel I spent weekend in Hamptons not doing said daughter’s multiple loads of laundry. Other cures?

The College Essay Expert

So, after (gladly) helping my daughter’s friends with their college app essays, I’ve realized it’s something I love doing!  Using my twenty years experience as a journalist/editor helping others craft their essays gives me a unique perspective.

Okay, yeah, here’s the elevator pitch:

SAT tutors and college advisors are great at what they do – tutoring for tests and helping your child decide where to apply. But when it comes to the all-important essay, it’s time to call in a true writing specialist. As an  editor with over twenty years’ experience helping writers produce attention-grabbing short-form essays (contributing editor at Parade Magazine, Editor in Chief of Fitness, Executive Editor of McCalls and Features Director of Self) and writer ( The New York Times, New York Magazine, More Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Allure,  Redbook, More, Ladies Home Journal) I know what works.  I will help your child brainstorm, write, and edit the essays that will give their application the winning edge.

Check out my new website: