It's not unusual for a mother of five children to have more than a passing familiarity with Nickelodeon. And so it is not surprising to hear Rutherford mom Sheilagh O'Donoghue explain that her older kids are fans of iCarly, Victorious and Big Time Rush, or that her youngest child is just crazy about Go, Diego, Go!
But what makes the difference here is that for O'Donoghue, watching Nickelodeon is more than just leisure. For Sheilagh, slime is an occupational hazard and SpongeBob is a colleague. That's because O'Donoghue is vice president of event marketing for the Nickelodeon Group.
But first things first. O'Donoghue, her husband, Bill Manning, and their daughters, Willow, 16, Pax, 14, Finn, 12, Delaney, 10, and son, Declan, 4, live in the same town where mom and dad grew up. Relatives surround them.
And that's just the way the family likes it. "My kids are hanging out with my friends' kids," O'Donoghue says. "It still has that small town feel of everyone knowing everyone."
Fresh in her mind are memories of growing up in the '70s. "Rutherford was the town where everybody was out playing kickball. When the 5 o'clock whistle blew, you went home for dinner, then went back out. And when the streetlights went on, you went back home again."
O'Donoghue attended St. Mary's grammar school and high school, while her husband went to the public schools. "We would see each other walking to school," she says, "but never really talked to each other till after college."
After college (she attended Marist), she and Bill met at a party and hit it off. "I've been very lucky," O'Donoghue says.
The luck extends to her career at Nickelodeon, where she is in charge of planning and executing a number of Nickelodeon events. Her two favorites are scheduled for the fall.
"The events change from year to year," she says, "but I really enjoy the Worldwide Day of Play (planned this year for Oct. 6). It is a great day to see kids in action playing. Nickelodeon goes black for three hours and we do tons of outside activities."
Another favorite, the Halo Awards, is scheduled for November. "It is a program that, instead of celebrities getting awards, the kids are the ones who get the awards," she says. "We look for kids who have gone out and done amazing things in their communities."
O'Donoghue says she loves her job, and the challenge of putting together important events. "I work with every department, the press, consumer marketing, public affairs, so I get a true feel of everything that happens in the company," she says.
But loving a job doesn't make mixing a professional life along with being mom to five young children any easier. Teamwork, is what makes it happen.
"My husband is extremely helpful," O'Donoghue says, "and his job (he is in surveying and engineering) allows him to get home at dinner. So he handles much of the cooking and much of the grocery shopping. And we now have an au pair, so that helps."
The kids are also part of the team. "My kids have learned that at a certain age, they make their own lunches and do their own laundry," she says. "We have to be prepared for the week ahead."
Having four daughters, each two years apart, has also been a positive. "They were all in diapers together and we got through that quickly," O'Donoghue says. "They each have someone to hang around with, the two older and the two younger."
Four-year-old Declan, the only boy, keeps them all laughing. He's also more of a daredevil than his sisters. "He climbs every chair, table, bookcase in the house," she says, while the girls at that age were more content to sit and color.
Keeping up with the girls' sports (including softball, soccer and basketball) is a big part of family together time. The children are in four different schools, including Declan, who is in preschool. The oldest daughter, Willow, is a sophomore at St. Mary's, and her sister Pax is a freshman at Rutherford High.
"We laugh," O'Donoghue says. "My husband went to Rutherford and I went to St. Mary's, so we're even now."
O'Donoghue first began with Nickelodeon 17 years ago as a consultant. She helped streamline the workflow in the creative department. Once that system was in place, she was offered another freelance project, and more followed. One of the projects involved Blue's Clues and a national child safety campaign, and another was the development of the Little Bill balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (Nickelodeon's first character to appear in the parade).
"I was looking to remain freelance in the beginning while I was raising kids, and the projects just kept coming," she says. "And then the events became bigger and the projects became more events-based, and we built an events department from there."
In addition to the Worldwide Day of Play, O'Donoghue has supervised the Hollywood screenings of Nickelodeon TV movies and wrap parties for some of the series (including iCarly, Big Time Rush and Victorious). She also co-managed Slime Across America, a multimedia Nick extravaganza that toured the country.
Overall, Nickelodeon is something that appeals not only to kids but to parents as well. "I feel when you turn Nick on, you don't have to worry about the content," O'Donoghue says. "It's a place where kids can go to watch safe television and enjoy it and learn something from it."
On Kids and TV
O'Donoghue says her kids don't have a specific restriction on the amount of time spent watching television. But "the rule is that after school they have to get their homework done. So, no TV until that is done." Since her children are involved in sports, with after-school practices and games, O'Donoghue says there is only a limited amount of time left over for television viewing.
Worldwide Day of Play
On Saturday, Oct. 6, Nickelodeon and its digital channels (Nicktoons, TeenNick, Nick Jr. and all websites) will once again go dark from noon to 3 p.m. to encourage kids and families to get up, go outside and get active.
The Worldwide Day of Play event was held last year in Washington, D.C., with first lady Michelle Obama joining in the fun.