Friday, December 13, 2013

The Having It All Project: Melanie Gerard

I met Melanie when Hannah began attending Tot Shabbat at our synagogue with Melanie's two older children. Her two boys are passage of time markers for me--how can he be old enough for overnight camp already?--and now our children go there together. We don't see each other often enough, but it's always lovely when we do. Here's how Melanie is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
My life is borderline cliché and I feel blessed because of it. I have three wonderful kids, ages five through eleven, and a supportive husband by my side. I live in a colonial home in a lovely suburban town, drive a minivan, cook dinner from scratch almost every night, volunteer in my community, and I work part time.

Career-wise, I’m going through what most might consider a unique time. I just completed a very intense, year long journey of self discovery that resulted in a major career transition. The last ten years, I’ve been self employed as a part time business contractor, consulting on a wide range of projects. This work afforded me the flexibility to be with the kids, while moonlighting as Professional Volunteer, Chef, Laundry Clerk, Personal Organizer, and the list goes on. My consulting work was very rewarding, but the projects were increasingly intense and the hours more erratic. As my youngest was getting ready for Kindergarten, I found myself wondering whether I wanted to ramp-up my business or take the unique opportunity to shift into something more “gratifying,” with better work-life balance.

After a year of exploration, networking, and a lot of coffee chats, I decided to mesh my volunteer efforts into a job that will hopefully leverage my skills, create professional growth opportunities, and offer better work-life balance. I’m now the part time Director of Advocacy at a non-profit kids camp. This is a huge career shift, made complicated by my husband’s simultaneous shift into a demanding technology startup job. So far, our first few weeks have been great and we’re trying not to look back.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
We try hard to channel the chaos by limiting our kids’ activities, making time for regular exercise, and keeping as organized as possible (this last tip often feels like a losing battle, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet!).

I am a strong believer in giving kids time to play and be bored. I’m probably one of few parents in Newton that limits her kids to one sport and one extracurricular activity each per season (though I will consider doing more if there’s a hopeful connection to a college scholarship!). It’s helpful that my kids attend a day school that has a strong after school curriculum on site. For example, the kids often stay on campus for piano, guitar, band, and sports which cuts down on the number of places I need to be on any given day.

Exercise has a special place in my life. I carve this time out selfishly and don’t allow anyone or anything to get in the way. My family knows that if I miss a workout, I become cranky and resentful. All I need is 20 minutes a day; and it’s for the common good of those around me.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
We have daily break downs, but I’ve learned through experience that the way I handle these situation(s) ultimately defines the magnitude of the breakdown. When the kids were younger, my husband’s travel schedule was synonymous with impending doom. He would leave town and like a recurring nightmare, I would wake up to piles of snow on the ground, a broken major appliance, or a child with a dangerously high fever.

Now that the kids are older, the universe has found alternate ways to test our endurance. A few weeks ago when the kids missed the morning bus, I grumpily drove them to school. The day went totally south from there: the minivan auto slide door refused to stay shut, I hit 45 minutes traffic driving two miles home, I got locked out of the house, couldn’t get through the garage door, the house alarm had a low-battery that was incessantly beeping, and my cell phone had a corrupt/malfunctioning chip! By 2pm, I was sure that locking myself in the bedroom was the best strategy. The only upside to was that I had the good sense to change out of my pajamas before leaving the house – and that I got to spend the morning with my good friend and neighbor, who somehow, I hadn’t seen in months. I coped by keeping my cool and just laughing at all the craziness. Times like this, it helps to remember we live a privileged life and the basic necessities in our lives are luxury to others. Right now, I know too many people out of work, struggling to keep work and wondering where the mortgage payments will come from.

I also learned that social media is a terrific outlet for venting. Within minutes after writing a post about my miserable day, I got instant support from friends who were all too ready to take pity on me and join me for a glass of wine!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My role models are all the people in my life - from my kids and husband, to my parents and friends. I learn something special from everyone and I honestly believe that each relationship shapes me into the person I am, the person I hope to become, and the person I don’t want to be. I definitely try to avoid activities (and people) that frustrate me. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but in practice, is actually very hard. If I can dismiss myself from a meeting or somehow navigate/avoid discussions, I will take every opportunity to do so.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
My life is absolutely everything and exactly nothing like I planned it to be! By the time I was 18, it was pretty much understood that I would go to college for business, work a little, then get married and raise a family. This all seemed pretty reasonable, so I went with the flow. Had it been entirely up to me, I would have gone to art school and just “had fun!” My conservative parents would have nothing to do with that kind of thinking. Twenty-two years later, my life has taken some pretty unexpected twists and turns, but I have no regrets and feel blessed and fortunate. The irony is that I still don't have a plan.

I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, despite an entire year of self discovery and soul searching. What I have always known about myself (then and now) is that as long as I continue to strike a balance between personal and professional growth, then I feel like I have it all. The only challenge now is to nail down my target, because as my family’s needs grow and change, so does the goal post.

Relate to what Melanie is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at


  1. This was one of my favorite articles all year!!!!! Melanie's terrible, horrible, no good very bad day is a day we all have at least once a year. I am always convinced that it only happens to me, but I know it doesn't. But at that very moment when the my world seems to be ending, I know that I have friends and family to help me push the day through.

    Thank you for sharing, and this was such a great article. BTW, I could hear Melanie's voice in my head as I was reading this article.

    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie - to me, those horrible days are the ones that sometimes make the most memorable (and laughable) stories later! .P.S. If you ever find an adult lock picking class ... I'm in!

  2. I love that Melanie took on a year of soul searching to find her new path - a fantastic idea!