As a party planner to the stars, Jennifer Gilbert has thrown elaborate bashes for Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, planning every last detail. But the self-confessed “control freak” admits in an exclusive interview with HollyBaby.com that she’s had a hard time coping with feeling so helpless when her 2-year-old son was diagnosed with alopecia.
On season three of The Real Housewives of New York, Jennifer Gilbert didn’t actually get a lot of screen time. Mainly because the 41-year-old is the most career-focused (at 29 she was named one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the Year for her event-planning company Save the Date) and sanest one in the bunch, but also partly because she didn’t want to include her kids — Blaise, 5, and twins Grey and Saxton, 2 — in the filming of the often-catty reality show. In the midst of all the show’s glitz and glamour, Jennifer was going through her darkest hour with Grey being diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease resulting in hair loss. She tells HollyBaby.com how she took the news, why she chose to tell the world about her son’s condition via Twitter, and whether or not she’s really friends with any of her outspoken co-stars.
How did you first take it when you heard your son’s diagnosis?
It was really upsetting and traumatizing. I’d take off his baseball cap and see hair collected in the hat. At times, up to 80 percent of his head was bald. But the most frustrating part is that the condition is so mysterious. Doctors have no answers for me as to what causes it. When Grey first started losing his hair at around age 1, after he had a bad fever, they told me it could be about 15 different things, and alopecia was one of them. I knew exactly what alopecia was because I had donated my hair to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for kids with the condition. Sixty percent of kids who are diagnosed this young grow out of it by the time they’re 5 years old, and some never do. I just have to keep telling myself he’s healthy — it’s just hair.
Does Grey realize he’s different?
He does, but he is the most beautiful, spirited, incredible boy ever. He is the kid that would shave his head and draw a big “G” on top for Grey and be like, “Whatever.” Out of all three of my children, he’s the daredevil, who jumps in a pool without floaties on and climbs up on the furniture and free-falls down. So if this had to happen to any of my children, I believe he is the one who can handle it the best.
Why did you decide to share Grey’s struggle with your Twitter followers?
My husband [Wall Street exec Bennett Egeth] asked me the same question, because it’s so out of character for me. I’m such a private person. But I was just so desperate and devastated that I wanted someone to say, “I know how you feel. I’ve been through it with my son or daughter.” To have doctors look at me and shrug, “Can’t really help ya.” I thought, “That’s so unacceptable. I need someone to be a human being and talk to me about this.” And I got the biggest outpouring of encouraging words, links, photos, and info on support groups. It really did help.
From your tweets, it seems like you’ve made friends with your fellow Real Housewives castmates even when the cameras aren’t rolling. Is that really the case?
You know what, I’m not the mean-spirited type and I really made friends with people who were kind to me. I’m friendly with Jill [Zarin] and Alex [McCord]and Kelly [Bensimon], and I really like Sonja [Morgan]. And Bethenny [Frankel] lives five blocks away from me, so when she gave birth early, I dropped off three bags of kids’ clothing, my breast pump, and bras she could use. Even though we didn’t film together and we weren’t really friendly, I did it in my real life on my own time, not on the show. Because that is what women should do for each other. We should be building each other up rather than tearing each other down.
You’re an accomplished businesswoman, wife and mother of three. How do you juggle it all?
I’ve surrendered to the fact that I can have it all and I can be 100 percent of everything, but just not all in the same day. I can’t be 100 percent mother, 100 percent businesswoman, 100 percent wife and 100 percent friend all in the same day. Sometimes I don’t even get it all in the same week. I’ve always been a perfectionist so I struggled with that, but I’ve learned that that’s OK and you prioritize what is most important that week, that day, that minute, and go from there.
Do you ever have working mom’s guilt?
I used to live with constant guilt. But I know if I didn’t work — for me, personally — I would be sad and depressed. So I know that I’m a better mom because I work and because I’ve scheduled my day and my life so that I can be there for what I think are the most important parts of my kids’ day. I wake up with my children, have breakfast with them, get them dressed and take my daughter to school every day. Then I have my workday. I try to leave work between 5 and 5:30 p.m., so that I can get home and give them a bath, read to them, and put them to bed. Then I go out or I go back to work.
Have you ever had to miss out on an important part of your kids’ lives because of work?
Recently I felt like the worst parent in the world when I missed Blaise’s gymnastics awards ceremony. I got there and I was too late — everyone was leaving. I felt terrible.
Were you more broken up about it than she was?
Yes! She was fine. She was like, “Hi, Mommy!” She was just happy to see me. That’s what made me realize that we, as moms, put it on ourselves. The kids are really fine. I’ve always thought, “The more people who love my children, the better.” I have great nannies. The kids always know who their parents are. So it’s OK for other people to love them, and to have other people make them feel safe. In fact, as a working mom, I want that.