When Mom Was My Age (#22)

Sheila Van Noy

Sheila & Nicholas (1982) | Sheila & Nikki (2008)

“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.

The following interview is with Sheila Van Noy, interviewed by daughter Nikki Van Noy (age 33).

From daughter Nikki
When mom was 33, there were no cell phones, computers, or digital cameras. While these may sound like small details, in my family they were not. My mom and dad ran a photography business out of our home, working away as my brother Nicholas and I—he just a newborn and I five—remained constantly under foot, the two of us kids seeing ourselves as integral parts of Van Noy Photography. And we were—we hung out in the home office supplied with rotary phones and typewriters and went on photo shoots with Mom and Dad as they did the tedious work of getting just the right lighting and exposure on what now seem like archaic 35mm cameras (you know, the kind with—gasp!—film).

There was always a buzz in our household. We were a happy family, and we were a family that was always together because my parents set up a rare sort of situation that allowed the four of us to spend the majority of our little lives together. It was a happy time and, retrospectively, a precious time. When my mom was 33, my brother had just arrived and we were making the happy adjustment to being a family of four. Last year, we lost Nicholas so, for me, this age has been about dealing with life without our precious fourth member.

Where did you live when you were thirty-three?
Sacramento, California. We’d lived in the same house for about 10 years at that point, since 1973. We had brown shag carpet in the bathroom. You had a lime green rug in your bedroom. Nicholas had Snoopy and Woodstock mobiles hanging from his ceiling, which I had made. We had floral floor-to-ceiling drapes (oh my!) in our bedroom and open weave drapes in the living room and family room. We had no central air, so on the hot days we’d turn on a wall air conditioner and try to blow the cool air through the house with a fan.

What did you do for work and what was your typical day like?
A few days after I turned thirty-three, Nicholas was born. You had just started kindergarten and we were sad to see you go (although you were very ready). You loved to leave in the morning and loved to come home to see your baby brother after school. The two of you were like night and day: he was fair, you were dark; he was low-key and you were ready to go. It was an easy transition going from one child to two because we worked at home and you two loved each other so much.

Life revolved around the kids because our schedule could be flexible and you guys came everywhere with us. Our clients all liked having the kids around—I don’t think there were any other subcontractors like us. I was running Van Noy Photography with Dad. I photographed, did bookwork, worked in the darkroom, made deliveries. Everyday you kids came on errands with me. I would do the daily house chores and work simultaneously.

We had more time because there were no electronics. We would walk around the block and, for a special treat, we’d go to the park, Fairytale Town, the zoo, or Vic’s Ice Cream. Most of the things we did were free as we had no extra money. If the car broke down, Dad would try to fix it. We had dinner together every night. After dinner and before bed, we would read together.

What were you worried about most?
I don’t think I worried much then.

What did you think the future held for you?
I didn’t really think about it because I’ve never been a planner.

How do you look back on that age now?
It’s good that you don’t know what’s coming. It was all good then. We were lucky to be doing what we were doing and we were glad to be home with you guys. I loved that time of my life and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Posted in When Mom Was My Age.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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My Valentine: Mom | Nikki Van Noy

[…] week I got to write a guest feature for an online column I love reading called When Mom Was My Age. Of all the hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the years, the chance to interview my […]


There is nothing worse than a loss of a child. NOTHING. How wonderful though, to read about a family that was HAPPY for a change….


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jane Friedman, Larry Enright. Larry Enright said: RT @JaneFriedman: "It's good that you don't know what's coming." Read between the lines for important V-Day message: http://bit.ly/ic6LIN […]


Thanks, Patricia. I have to say, writing this made me realize how lucky my family really is, despite our loss. Our childhood was exceptional.


I love you Nikki and Sheila.