A typical mom and freelance writer with atypical ambitions, Amy Nicholson's vision of a dream life includes primarily raising her three wonderful children. In addition, she would not feel complete without a few exotic trips to places worthy of creating inspiring stories, lasting memories and a broader sense of her own place in the world. Her experiences in Europe, Russia, Israel, Washington DC and China, have been life changing ones that have molded her character, and produced stories that will last forever.

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What of our Dreams?

I distinctly remember a conversation Brian and I had when we were dating. We were hiking to the top a mountain peak in our home-state Utah, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“My dream,” I said, “would be to live in a foreign country that people in the U.S. don’t already know a lot about. I would like to live right with the local people and study them and write about my experiences.” I got the idea when I read a book about communist Russia. The author had spent five or so years living in Moscow in the late 1970s and wrote about his experiences and observations. It seemed like the perfect way to combine my love of world travel and writing.

“Well,” he said, “if you are going to do that, you’ll need a good photographer to take the pictures for your book.” This was a guy whose lifelong passion was photography, especially documentary. He was working as a photojournalist for the local newspaper at the time.

When he said those words, a dream unfolded before my eyes. I had a grand vision of us traveling the world together, him snapping photos and me writing stories. It all seemed so easy. I had already spent over a year of my life living in Russia, followed by Israel and traveling through Western Europe and the Middle East. I had the travel bug, and I saw a great future of more adventures ahead. What a wonderful and exotic dream it was.

Less than a year later, we married, and, while there were some fabulous adventures, such as becoming parents, the dreams of world travel slowly turned into years of waiting.

It seemed we were always on the verge of something—a big career break, for example, or security clearance to work at an overseas embassy. Or, sometimes we were just waiting for the right timing. We were busy orchestrating the sale of a house, getting through a pregnancy or enjoying a newborn. Sometimes violence flared up in a certain region we were considering. While we waited for just the right moment, life kept on happening.

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Brian still took photos for the newspaper. I began writing stories, slowly working my way up the ranks from covering city council meetings to the more interesting art exhibits and festivals beat. Our dreams were always somewhere in the backs of our minds while the months and years added up.

Before we knew it, we had been living in our “starter home” for almost five years. The one we had planned to fix up and sell after 12-months. We had a 3 ½ year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, and I began to ask myself, “What if this is it? What if Ogden, Utah is the place we will live for the rest of our lives? What if Brian stays at his current job until he retires?”

I turned this possibility over and over in my mind and came to the conclusion that it was a pretty good situation. Against all odds, I had come to really and truly love Ogden over the years. Both of our extended families lived nearby. Our friends and neighbors were phenomenal.

We were both doing what we liked and our combined freelance work brought in extra money. We wouldn’t be rich, and we wouldn’t be cosmopolitans, but we could be comfortable. Maybe this was it.

Just when a person gets use to an idea, life has a way of throwing us surprises. A change of circumstances meant that Brian unexpectedly stopped working for the newspaper.

After a six-month stint of strictly freelance assignments, he turned to a construction job as a “temporary solution” to our financial stress. This short-term “fix” ended up lasting 16 long months.

This was a confusing time for us. Our third child, another son, was born shortly after Brian began working in construction. He was unhappy and deeply considering going back to school for a complete career change away from his loved photography.

Then, a great break came along. A Salt Lake newspaper we had had our eyes on for years offered Brian a three-month temporary contract. This was just the career move we were hoping for. I decided that if this could work out, I didn’t need the life of overseas adventure we had fantasized about. Just a good career and stability sounded fine.

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In order for Brian to complete this contract, he had to work about 75 hours each week between the construction and photography, plus he had a one-hour commute each way. Our kids were 4, 3 and 6 weeks old.

We stepped up to the challenge—for him, working such an exhausting schedule, and for me, feeling almost like a single mom with all those little ones—and waited out the three months to see if the really big break of an actual job would materialize in the end.

Wow. How can I describe the letdown we felt when we found out that all the rumors of a new staff position being created turned out to be just rumors after all?

All that hard work and long hours of him going from one job to another while I bounced that new baby around in a front carrier and read stories to the other two in their bunk beds feeling exhausted and alone at the end of the day.

What a difficult time January was, when he had to go back to working full time at the construction job, in the dead of winter, when all of the holidays were already over.

After all of that waiting for all those years, it’s no wonder that I had a bit of a midlife crisis when I realized my 7-year anniversary and 30th birthday were just around the corner—both of those numbers made me feel old—and what had we done in the way of our dreams?

When we were on that mountain, what now seemed like an eternity ago, we didn’t imagine Brian breaking his back every day while my hair went gray over trying to make ends meet each month.

What kind of a life was this? We hadn’t been on a vacation for over a year. In fact, we hadn’t had extra cash for almost anything in over a year.

Waiting was just getting so old. We wanted to do something. What if we just up and took our little family overseas by ourselves?

Forget the agency hiring for embassies. We had been waiting for them for 3 ½ years.

Forget all of those big newspapers with the fancy jobs too. We had been waiting for them to call us back for seven years. What was with all this waiting? It was making me tired and a little bit crazy.

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This tiny seed of doing something with the dreams we had once had took root and began to grow. After a few inquiries things started to rapidly fall into place. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you stop waiting and pursue your dreams no matter what.

The next thing I knew, we had one-way tickets to China, and just for fun, we decided to stop at Disneyland along the way.

Getting to China was really hard. So many times I wondered if what we were doing was fair to our kids, if it was prudent for people in “our stage of life,” if it was financially wise, if my mother would ever forgive us for moving her grandchildren so far away, if we would get a terrible disease or our renters would burn down our house or a million and one other scenarios that made the whole thing just seem like a big totally not-worth-it nuisance.

But, we made it. We moved to China for five months and, in so many ways, it was a fulfillment of our dreams. We felt happy and curious and the addition of our three kids made for even more exciting outings than we could have imagined. Brian felt a renewed passion for his photography and I was able to sell stories about our adventures to the newspaper I freelanced for in Utah—thus fulfilling my vision of traveling, writing and publishing.

It was a marvelous feeling to finally be doing something instead of just waiting. I hope you will enjoy reading about the interesting and sometimes humorous moments we had as parents and world travelers at the same time. And, I hope that you will always follow your dreams whatever they may be.

—Amy

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