Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Marja Germans Gard

Marja Germans Gard opted out of a career in psychological research to pursue a love of metalsmithing, and started her business, lemonade handmade jewelry, in 2009.  Gard, whose love for all things jewelry began as an obsession with wire and enameling during her childhood in NYC, is now firmly rooted in Oakland, CA, where she designs and creates each of her jewelry pieces individually and with great attention to detail.  Gard uses recycled metals and employs environmentally-sensitive practices to produce jewelry pieces with clean lines and a modern feel, creating interest by mixing metals and textures.  She strives each day to balance creativity, productivity, family, and housework, and tries to face it all with a healthy dose of humor.

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
I have two lovely children, one girl, Macie, and one boy, Julian.

How old are your children? 
Macie is 6, and Julian is 3 ½.

How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
The past few nights I’ve forced myself to go to bed before 11, so I managed to get 7-8 hours (YES!).  I have never been more grateful than when I had two kids sleeping through the night.

What did you do yesterday?
Let’s see.  Up at 6:20, get myself ready.  Downstairs to pack two lunches and prep breakfast for the kids and me (my husband leaves the house before six, so I fly solo in the mornings).  Start a laundry.  Check work emails, answer inquiries on Etsy, post to social media sites.  Both kids get up around 7, do the whole breakfast/ get ready thing- out the door at 8:10.  Drop J at his preschool, then drive M to her science camp 20 minutes away.  Back home finally around 9:30. Change laundry.  More emails from the website developer (finally learning to outsource!), then at long last it’s time to hit the studio.  Log in some studio time until lunch, then catch up on emails.  Recheck wholesale orders, then back to the studio until 2:15- now I need to clean up and prep snacks before I pick up the kids.  Leave the house at 2:30, pick up M from science camp, then get J from preschool.  Spend the afternoon wrist deep in Playdoh and city blocks, then let the kids watch some PBS kids while I make dinner.  D is home in time for dinner at 6:30- we all eat together, then get kids ready for bed. J in bed at 7:30 after some books (and some stalling), M is in bed at 8, after books (and even more stalling).  Catch up on more emails, pack up some orders to ship out while D cleans up the kitchen (YES.).  Then collapse on the couch to indulge in some awful reality TV (you know it).  Last email check before bed and then sleeeeeeeep.

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
My first career was actually not in the arts- I got my Ph.D. so that I could study the neural underpinnings of emotional and cognitive impairments in patients with schizophrenia.  I was in the middle of a neuroimaging postdoctoral fellowship when my daughter was born.  I had been commuting from Oakland to Sacramento each day to do my research.  After she was born, I tried to go back to work for a bit, but I just couldn’t be that far away from her, and I realized I really didn’t want to be away from her at all.  So, I quit.  I stayed at home with her, and my son, until two years ago.  It was at that point that, on a lark, I decided to turn my hobby of jewelry making into a career as a metalsmith.  Now I work 5 days a week in my home studio, starting once I’ve dropped the kids at school, pausing for afternoon school pickup/playdates/park/library/dinner/bath/ bedtime etc., and then resuming once they’ve gone to sleep.

Has motherhood changed the course of your career?  If not, how are you staying on the artistic path you originally set out on?
Motherhood has dramatically changed the course of my career in that I jettisoned my academic trajectory and ultimately ended up pursuing an artistic one.  Given how much time I had dedicated to my academic career, I don’t know that I would have even considered so dramatically changing tacks had I not had kids.  Having children was such a huge paradigm shift for our whole family that I think it freed me up to think about what I really wanted to be doing with my life.  It became clear that being a stay at home mother was paramount, and, surprisingly, it also became clear that pursuing my artistic interests was more important to me than I had ever realized.

Mothers often feel as though they are torn between motherhood and the part of them that misses doing, being or having something else.  Can you speak about this a little?
It’s a constant juggling act- as much as I’m committed to being at home in the afternoons with my kids, it means that there are limits to how quickly my business can grow.  With the kids this age, there is just no way I am going to leave them for a week to go do a big wholesale show in Baltimore, and I’ll just have to live without getting those accounts for the moment.  Also, I don’t have endless hours to play in the studio, and that limits the number of new designs I’m able to generate.  I do get envious at times of my colleagues who don’t have kids and who can lose themselves in their work for hours at end without worrying about showing up on time for school pickup.  But, by the same token, there are times that I do local retail shows for an entire weekend and don’t get home until after the kids are in bed.  I hate that and I miss them terribly, but I know I need to do some of that to keep building my business.  I’m constantly tinkering and adjusting to try to strike the right balance for that particular time- I think I’m finally realizing that it’s an iterative process and I’ll be continuing to adjust as the kids grow and as I grow as an artist and business owner.

Biggest piece of advice for new moms, especially creative, career-driven types?
Two pieces, actually.  First- be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack.  New moms (especially career-driven ones) are often incredibly hard on themselves- often we’ve put our career on hold to have kids, and the intensity of that career energy can get focused on child-rearing.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that if something doesn’t happen the way you’d ideally like, you are going to get a million opportunities for a do-over.  And second- allow yourself to have times when you are not being a mom.  For me, when my kids were babies, that meant really simple things- going out with girlfriends for cocktails, or taking a hip hop class at a local studio.  It wasn’t anything elaborate, but it gave me the opportunity to put on something that was decidedly not a nursing tank and be a person, not just a diaper-changing milk machine. 

To view Marja's beautiful work, please visit

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