Summer of Sisterhood: 5 Questions with Jennifer Gilbert
Every Mother Counts has launched its summer book club with the first of ten books highlighting mothers, the role of women in their families and communities, and on the special challenges women face. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite titles and asked the authors a few questions to spur the discussion and get some insight into the works.
Our first book recommendation is Jennifer Gilbert’s, “I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag,” which demonstrates the remarkable resiliency of the human spirit. Jennifer Gilbert is an entrepreneur and founder of, Save the Date, a multimillion-dollar event management company based in Manhattan. At 22, Ms. Gilbert was attacked in the hallway of her New York City apartment and stabbed multiple times. She survived, but told very few people the details of what happened until the publication of her memoir, "I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag," detailing her attack and how it changed her approach to life.
Q: In your book you share a painful and personal experience, actually more than one. What motivated you to share all of this with the public, given that you told me you had been keeping it from some of your closest friends all this time?
A: The story of my attack was very personal, and I had never planned on talking about it, ever. I never wanted my name and "victim" to be in the same sentence. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, even though back then, I felt my life would be divided forever into before and after.
Then, two years ago when my son started to lose all of his hair [due to alopecia] I felt so angry, vulnerable and out of control. The last time I felt like that was 20 years prior when my attack happened, and here was my son, now with his own, ‘before and after.’
I started writing in my journal to sort my feelings out because from experience I know people don’t know how to deal with someone else’s sorrow, they tend to ‘at least’ it away. Once I started writing and remembering and understanding what my life choices had been, I started to realize how my life had been built on those years of heart ache and overcoming them. That’s when I thought O.K., I’m ready to share now, in fact, have to share what I have learned ...in hopes it inspires others to share their feelings.
Writing this book was my wake up call. It was the mirror in my face helping me to get over my old issues and help me to be the best Mother I could for Grey, and my whole family in all the ways they needed.
Q: What was the hardest part about putting ‘pen to paper’?
A: The hardest job I’ve ever had in my life was writing this memoir. It is terrifying to be so exposed, and even now that it is on stands, I feel like I am dangling from a fishing wire, naked over Times Square on New Year’s Eve. But once I knew I was writing it, I wanted it to be honest and for that I had to go back in time to a place I had never really dealt with.
I had to relive and remember so many details I had completely blocked out. I interviewed my family and friends to piece together parts of my own life I had forgotten. That was really scary and cathartic at the same time. I had to go deeper, so with each draft it was like peeling back the onion to get to my emotional core.
While my attack story is a bit heavy, and there are ups and downs in my life, I AM a party planner, and my life has been on parallels. I wanted my book to be real, and honest and relatable, and I hope above all inspirational. Of course I hope it’s also highly entertaining, with some wonky stories about my event planning career, but it needed to be the right combination of funny and thoughtful. Sometimes the light and the dark can go together in a book, and it was really tricky to get the right balance.
Q: Despite some potentially debilitating circumstances, you are achieving your dreams. What advice would you give to other women who may feel their history is holding them back from achieving their dreams?
A: We all have ‘our somethings.’ An event has happened to everyone in our own unique way, whether its illness, divorce, losing a loved one, unemployment, or just feeling unworthy in our own bodies, we all carry something around. That these are the ‘stories’ we have told ourselves for years, and we repeat every day from habit, but if we step out of that same grove and choose a different path, we can change everything. As long as I kept telling myself that I was unworthy of joy, then, I felt unworthy. It was time to read a new book, and stop the old story.
We have a choice in life. That while we cannot control WHAT happens to us in life we can control and decide who we want to be afterwards. This is very simple to say but the hardest paradigm to shift. That letting go, of the anger, the sadness, the resentments or expectations and just deciding to be different was really very simple when I finally realized that I was the only person standing in my own way.
Q: How did these life experiences help to make you the successful person you are today?
A: My career choice was the first step in deciding who I wanted to be AFTER. Back then I didn’t see the wisdom in that path, but it was the first step in reclaiming my joy. Becoming a Party Planner after my attack started me in the road of taking back my own life. Through working with all my clients on their celebrations, I realized that I wasn't the only person who was covering up something dark, sad or lonely inside. I have learned through every Wedding I planned, every Bar Mitzvah and Corporate celebration how to appreciate joy and celebrate life. Slowly through all the events I planned for others, I started to want my own life to move forward too.
I stop expecting things from people and from my own life, and just worked on what was ACTUALLY there. It was very liberating to free the expectations I had put in place, on others and myself. When I had an unfulfilled expectation, I lived in constant disappointment, which turned to bitterness. When I learned to accept my new life, and people for what/whom they really are, and then I could live in excitement of what was coming, rather than feel constantly let down.
Q: I couldn't help wonder how your mom felt reading your book. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your mom?
A: My Mother has raised 3 very strong, independent women. My sisters and I have all learned a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency from lesson she has taught us, and by her example. She is supportive of all of my ideas and goals, and I have learned to follow my intuition just as my own mother had as a young woman - she made her own choices regarding her education, travelling as a young woman, and marrying my father.
My intellectual curiosity also comes from my mother - my love of reading, exploration of different cultures/societies were all absorbed and carried forward into my life because I saw my Mom always interested in just about everything.
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