It’s a few days before New Year’s Eve 1998 and Kelly Guerra’s parents are busy getting ready to go out of town. Their daughter, once the picture of good behavior as an adolescent, has recently begun pushing boundaries. Nevertheless, they suspect nothing. Kelly’s father turns on the computer and is surprised when the printer begins producing page after page. It’s almost like someone had tried to cancel a print job by turning the machine off. Curious, he inspects the papers. They’re invitations to a secret party being thrown that evening by his daughter at their house.
“They almost always seemed to find out after the fact,” Kelly remembers. “But that was the only time that they were able to stop it before it started. I still got in a lot of trouble.”
This, among other stories she claims too unfit for publication, are what cause her to look worryingly at her own young children. She studies their guileless smiles, their cherubic faces. She is contemplating all the chaos they will wreak to pay her back for her own rebellion.
With a presence that seems to almost arrive before she does, Kelly wastes no effort in trying to be likable and yet is impossible not to like. Yet, if you look closely, just beneath the veneer of the composed advertising professional, wife and mother, there is the faintest trace of the mischievous teenager she once was.
Kelly grew up in Peoria, Illinois almost exactly equidistant between St. Louis and Chicago. If you’re wondering how much trouble you can find in a town that feels both isolated and quaint, Kelly has an answer.
Kind of a lot, actually.
She is reluctant to go into greater detail, partly because she remains close with her co-conspirators from those days. With endless social media feeds allowing us to keep up with old high school friends, Kelly’s friendships are refreshingly genuine. A core group of her friends still meet up for weekend trips. They don’t just know things about one another—they truly know each other.
While talking with Kelly in preparation to write her profile, we weren’t afraid to unpack deeply emotional issues. For instance, our shared passions for Lean Cuisine frozen entrees. We both agree they are satiating and convenient. We both agree their cost to nutritional value ratio is laudable. However, Kelly prefers the supreme pizza option, while I tend towards the white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese.
Kelly shudders and offers some foreboding advice,
I process this insight as “Having children will ruin everything you enjoy,” but that’s only because I’m callow and selfish. In perfect contrast, Kelly is sophisticated and gracious.
As a mother, Kelly has mastered multi-tasking. Joey, Teddy, and Lucy require her energy to be dispersed both dynamically and immediately. “At home I'm juggling 10 different bowls at the same time,” she says.
Bowls, I presume, all filled with mac ‘n’ cheese.
While I jump on this connection to her role as account supervisor, Kelly sees how it relates, but demures on which aspect of her life informs the other. I want to know if motherhood has made her a better account supervisor or if being an account supervisor has better prepared her for motherhood. While I take great pains to hint that this thematic parallel structure will help me write her profile, Kelly is reluctant to see it that way. While she catches herself coddling creative egos from time to time (though not this time, apparently), she sees client relationships a world apart from her life raising three children.
It’s the difference between being a referee and a mediator. At home, she is the referee, but at work, she is the mediator. Successfully negotiating communication between the creative team and the client calls for listening, collaboration, and diplomacy. It’s a role she fills not only at Paradowski, but among her groups of friends as well. She’s rarely the source of conflict, but she has a gift for helping others navigate through contention.
Despite her initial reluctance, Kelly admits there are some crossover skills between child rearing and her career. Managing otherwise unpleasant conversations with the right balance of deference, backbone, and sense of humor serves Kelly well both as an account supervisor and a mother.
When her 5 year-old son Joey misplaced his bike a few weeks before Christmas, he announced to her that it had been stolen. He shrugged off the alleged theft because he had the perfect solution—he would just add it to his letter to Santa. Equal parts adorable kid-logic and a sobering parenting moment, Kelly found herself having to explain the importance of looking after your things, while also not exposing the Christmas mythology as a hoax. In the end, the lesson was learned, the bike was eventually recovered, and Joey’s sense of wonder remained in tact.
Kelly proudly claims to be great at starting projects that her husband Justin usually ends up finishing. Mostly though, the chores around their St. Louis Hills home are split equitably. It was important for them to live in the city and their house is near to St. Gabriel’s where Joey attends kindergarten. In a few years, he’ll be old enough to walk the few blocks to school on his own. A few years after that, Teddy will walk there as well. It’s possible that a few years after that, Lucy, now only a year old, will follow her older brothers in doing the same. The three Guerra children in parochial tartan attire, holding hands crossing the street. As their conversations evolve from Christmas letters to secret keggers, they may have a hard time stirring up any real trouble.
After all, their mom knows all the tricks.