Why I Gambled the Car Away (And You Should, Too)

letsmakeadeal

It’s a funny thing, being a winner. Even saying it – the act alone leaves me with a heavy pit in my stomach. I spent such a large portion of my life honoring a very opposing schema, and to promote any other image of myself seems like a big, fat life.

Yet, five years ago (less a few weeks) I experienced one of my all-time favorite life experiences in which I was (momentarily) the ultimate winner. I had the chance to appear on CBS’s “Let’s Make a Deal.” And I won. I won big. Within a few seconds of the show beginning, I had been selected from the audience and – shockingly – presented with a brand, new car to take home with me! So, why is it that when the final showcase began (the segment when the biggest winners are given a chance to gamble away their prizes for potentially bigger prizes) did I eagerly give away the CAR that I had just won? I think that might be one of the most common questions I’ve ever received.

As I alluded before, if someone had asked me if I was a winner during my childhood, I would have likely responded, “Oh no, not at all.” Then my cheeks would have feverishly burned with embarrassment. My brother would have piped up and said, “I’m the winner. I win everything.” And he did. He always won any contest he entered. I often hid myself in his shadow so as not to face my fear of rejection. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniable to me that I am in fact a winner. I mean, who else can say they’ve won a car, concert tickets, writing contests, an in-home sauna, a high-resolution camera, household items, a high-end car seat, tons of baby paraphernalia, etc? Not many. And it makes the small portion of younger Amy that still exists blush even more, admitting that I’ve experienced all this good fortune in my adult life. But the question remains – what is the difference between adult me and child me?

Simple: as a child, I was a loser in the truest sense because I never even allowed myself to enter the race. I psyched myself out long before any attempt at success was made.

So, that day on “Let’s Make a Deal” I had hoped that I would win more – I mean, how often do you find yourself on the receiving end of a brand new car? For FREE? And if life is THAT crazy, why couldn’t I walk away with more? I mean, how often would I find myself in that same position? Probably never. So, I seized the opportunity while I had it. I put myself out there. And that, my friends and readers, is the reason I am a winner now. Walking away with a sauna, despite a massive drop in prize worth, was still amazing to me. I don’t think, “Shit, I could have had a car.” I think, “Wow. What an experience! I won a sauna.”

And life has a funny way of proving this to be true. Call it statistics, call it luck – its simply this: the more you put yourself out there, the higher the chance that you’ll win. “I never win anything.” I’ve heard that a million times. I’ve said it far more times than I can count. But I bet right after you proclaimed those self-defeating words, you decided not to enter the race/raffle/audience/whatever. Thus, the secret to winning, is simply allowing yourself to face the possibility of failure.

Expressing Motherhood

Performed on October 7th, 2016 in Silverlake, CA as part of the live stage show, “Expressing Motherhood”

As Mitch Albom once wrote, “There’s a story behind everything… But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”

Naturally, my story of motherhood begins with my mom’s. My father and mother were married relatively young and only a few years into their union, Dad cheated. He soon left her and abandoned us; I never grew up with a father figure of any type. In my household, Mom epitomized strength, perseverance, and love. She was a strong character who led by example and taught my brother and I the value of family, hard work, diligence, and honesty.

My brother began to exhibit signs of mental illness in his teen years. Mom did everything she could to get him help, but with a full-time job and two children to care for on her own, this task was nearly impossible. Thus, my brother’s condition worsened over the years. So did the consequent abuse Mom and I faced. He became an expert at funneling all his rage into an emotional warfare against Mom and I. She did a great deal to shield me from the pain and hurt of his violence, but Mom never stopped caring about him or doing everything in her power to help.

After a rather trying and tumultuous childhood, I went to college, and even though I lived at home, I was able to distance myself from the abuse. Time went on and as my brother regressed, I flourished. I can clearly remember an intimate moment I shared with Mom when I was around twenty-one. I had climbed into bed with her after a fraternity party. I snuggled into her (I was quite obviously the little spoon) and told her how much I loved her. I told her that she had been the topic of our drunken conversation at the fraternity house; my sorority sister had told me how much she had wished her own mother was like Mom. At that point, Mom started crying and sharing with me how much that meant to her. She allowed herself to be vulnerable for the first time in my life, and bared her soul to me. She expressed how hard our life together had been for her. She told me how excruciatingly difficult it was to believe in herself when she thought of herself as a failure. We talked all night. This would be one of my favorite memories of her ever; a few months later our ability to make anymore would be stolen.

On September 25th, 2007, three weeks after I graduated college, my brother murdered my mother. I came home to find her lying on the kitchen floor. My brother had escaped and then confessed everything to me over the phone. I should have known he had been telling the truth, but part of me was hoping this was just another one of his manipulative lies. Devastatingly, it was not. My life changed forever that night.

After her death, I floated through life. I had no ties to anyone or anything, and lost my value for everything. The person who had loved me more than life itself was absent, and thus I felt terribly unloved. In turn, I found it impossible to allow myself any type of love or happiness. As far as I knew, I deserved nothing of the sort.

Despite this, I met my husband-to-be a few months later. He accepted me and my flaws, even though I was figuratively scarred and beaten. Allowing myself to be loved was difficult, yet we still ended up on the fast track towards marriage. Eventually I became pregnant a couple years after our nuptials. My entrance to motherhood, despite being somewhat joyful, was extremely tainted. I was jealous of all my girlfriends who had their mother to guide them through the process. I felt alone and broken.

Then I had my daughter and life changed forever yet again. With her birth I was initiated into this – mostly – magical world of Motherhood. A world filled with infinite boo-boo kisses and bear hugs, side-splitting laughter, the most painful of tears, the ability to finally be the big spoon, (yay!) and a connection that transcends everything I’ve ever known up until now. Becoming a mother myself has allowed me to understand the unconditional love Mom felt for both Jesse and me. I had never quite understood how my mother put up with all that my brother dished out for us, but I am quickly learning. My hatred and anger has melted and morphed into acceptance. This acceptance has allowed me to find a semblance of peace and balance in my chaotic world.

As of now, Jesse is in maximum security prison, serving a sentence of fifteen years to life.  I’d like to think he’s being rehabilitated, but over his last nine years in a correctional facility he’s added attempted murder to his rap sheet and tacked on a few more years to his time there. I do not speak to him, nor do I have the desire to. But over time that may change, just as everything else has.

Where Does Hatred Come From?

Where does hatred come from?

I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the twelve lives a shooter stole this morning in Thousand Oaks, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.

*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?

I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.

I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.

But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess.

This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”

So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. Only a few years after, his violent attempts were re-directed at my mom.

Starting in middle school, I watched the trials that both my mom and brother went through. I watched society tell her what she was doing wrong. I watched society tell him how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. I watched them both fail over and over, and everyone around them show them how they were screaming up instead of offering help. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them to go through.

Their increasingly tenuous relationship forced Jesse to leave home for a bit. Unfortunately, his stint away delivered him into a volatile military career. It only took a few months before it came to a screeching halt and his mental illnesses became apparent; he had chosen to stop concealing them under the duress of boot camp. He somehow exited with honorable discharge, and still, very little mental health benefits. Upon his return home to Mom he felt even angrier and isolated.

And, to make an incredibly long and painful history shorter, after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom.

But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.

So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to restrict guns more. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).

This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.

This House of Love

Let me introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler: a storyteller and lover of food, laughter, & adventure. I chose to title my blog “This House of Love” because Amy Beth can be loosely translated into that phrase. My mom assembled this name for me with the help of my then three year old brother because she wished for me a future occupied by a warm and loving family life.

I am a victim of domestic violence. I am also a survivor of it. My mother, however, is not. She was an incredibly strong, determined, warm, caring woman. She was a teacher who lived her mission of truth and aide in all arenas of her life. I will love and miss her with each fiber of my being every day until I die.

Thankfully, things are infinitely better now as I fulfill my own role as a wife and mother. I’ve found my niche in life; I was born to be Mommy. I knew this from the beginning.

What I didn’t know is how much poop and snot I’d have to deal with on a regular basis. Similarly, no one told me that some days I would laugh so hard I would cry, and others I would feel swallowed whole by my loneliness. Everyone neglected to tell me how terrifying, thrilling, isolating, eye-opening, and powerful parenthood is. They also didn’t mention just how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) it is to have your heart, a replica of you, walking around outside of your body, living their very own life. How dare they.

I am also a writer, although it’s scary to say so. It’s a profession that requires you to paint pictures with only words, a rich story or thought-provoking poem from just the depths of your mind. If your work isn’t well received, your writing is not the only entity receiving rejection.

But, just like my sentiments about motherhood, I knew I was meant for the writing world. As a child, reading was my escape from the harsh realities that were my life.  I read books and wrote my own stories to enter alternate universes, ones filled with much less pain and isolation. As an adult, writing has allowed me to process my past and work towards arriving at my life’s destination: a house filled with an infinite amount of love. It’s the most heartwarming bonus knowing that my experiences have helped people guide themselves out of their own dark places.

Thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly, and  with abandon. It is in each our own honesties and truths that we find pieces of ourselves and overcome others. Much love always. 💓

How Can Love Find a Way?

A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:

“How on Earth did you survive?”

Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?

In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”

The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born from attachment.

See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.

I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.

Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.

Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.

When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.

Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.

Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.

He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.

Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.

So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.

Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.

If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.

It Takes a Village (ExMoShow piece #3)

I had the pleasure of being a part of the Expressing Motherhood cast for a third time this past month. Originally, I wasn’t going to share my piece online because as much as I pride myself on my openness, I know some things are too much. However, it was pretty damn freeing to share with a bunch of strangers and also well-received, so why not with my online community? 😬

A huge thank you to everyone who came to see it live this time around, and especially to Lindsay Kavet for giving me a little soapbox.

👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻

It Takes a Village

The Poop Trail

It was undeniable that my mom had a favorite story from my childhood. She called it, ‘THE POOP TRAIL.’
Of course, she had a few other anecdotes dear to her heart, but as I lost Mom when I was twenty-two, the only tale that left a lasting impression on me was the shocker. Now, as a thirty-something year old mother, I’d love to learn about her pregnancies, birth stories, the challenges of being a single mother, and so much more. But I couldn’t have known I would miss out on the chance. So, Mom’s legacy remains to be: THE POOP TRAIL.
It began like any other day in our new condominium, I presume. On this, let’s say, dreary September morning (Mom was never one for minor details, so pardon me while I embellish a bit), the three of us were sprawled out on our couch. My older brother Jesse and I were early risers, and as we had just begun sharing a bedroom for the first time, we were waking even earlier. After satiating us with some snacks and turning on the tube, Mom expected Jesse and I to settle in for a Saturday morning cartoon session, so she could take a hot shower. 
I imagine she wasn’t gone long because she was a careful woman, and as a parent I now know these two general rules to be universally true: 1) a child can move at either the speed of light or the speed of a snail, dependent entirely upon if you’re asking them to do something or not. And as Mom was in the shower, and no adult was applying any pressure to me whatsoever, I know I was working quickly. Also, rule number 2: parents never get long in the shower, especially when their kids are little. A single, working mother no less? She would have washed only the ‘essentials.’
So, when Mom came out of the shower, safe to assume no more than two and a half minutes later, I was nowhere to be found. Now, I’ve had those moments – those ‘HOLY SHIT WHERE DID MY KID DISAPPEAR TO CPS IS GOING TO FIND ME WHAT HAVE I DONE’ moments – And for me, those ‘moments’ have never lasted more than one minute and twenty-six seconds in total (true story, the panic setting on my alarm can attest to this). But, I have had technology, my husband, and a guardian angel or two on my side. Mom, on the other hand, was a new divorcee with no help and no clothes on. Still wrapped in her towel, dripping with beads of water, her large, maternal breasts threatening to break free from our new, cheap towels, Mom would have started calling my name mildly. 
I know this because when I lost my son for the first time (don’t judge, he’s wily) I first thought, ‘No, he’s not lost.’ Denial is almost always the instant reaction. ‘Adam. Adam? Adam!’ I called out optimistically, as if he would actually come on command. He did not (duh). Mom also had no luck, saw no sign of my tiny feet hiding behind a curtain, heard no telltale giggle from inside a closet. That’s when her fear set in, the same fear I tasted the day I learned my son could open our front door and release himself into the wild. 
At this point, Mom surely grabbed Jesse by the shoulders and shook him.
‘Where did your sister go?!’ she would have growled.
But Johnny Quest was probably on, and if my brother was anything like my zombie children, his head would have flopped back and forth, and his eyes would have stayed glued to the TV. Maaaaaybe an inaudible ‘I dunno,’ or a lackadaisical shrug would escape. Otherwise, Mom was on her own.
‘Amy! Aaaaaamy!’ she would have screamed then. A frantic scan of our small space ensued. Maybe she  tripped over her towel tail; she couldn’t be too nimble in such a state. And as she spun, gaining a full view of our new den and common area, Mom noticed our condo’s front door wide open. She launched herself towards the open portal and yelled her loudest, fiercest battle cry, “Heeeeeeeelll-“ but before she completed her S.O.S., a warmly punctuating squish between her bare toes cut it short. 
She drew her foot up slowly, and on the floor, now entangled with our hideous (but also coincidentally brown 1980’s shag carpet), was a piece of poop. It was misshapen and- well, nevermind, I’ll spare you the details. But, what I will tell you is that, as any mother would know (I understand this now), Mom knew in a heartbeat that poop was *mine*. She grimaced, maybe even gagged, noticing an abandoned diaper a few feet ahead, just outside the threshold of our home. Several other pieces of poop lay before and after it. Mom stopped screaming, wiped her foot on the carpet (I mean, at this point, what did it matter?) and took off down the hallway half naked.
It didn’t take her long to find me. I had left a trail of turds leading two flights and four doors down. Mom followed it to the door of a condo owned by an elderly woman. The woman would later tell Mom that she had opened her door to a soft thumping sound, only to find a diaperless almost-three-year-old rhythmically wiping her butt on the dingy hallway carpet right outside 1A, shit-eating grin plastered to my face. 
Our brand new neighbors, thankfully, were relatively understanding (albeit totally grossed out). The building manager was not that forgiving, however. Mom was forced to pay a pretty price for the building’s sanitation. I’m not sure how related the two incidents were, but our stay there was cut very short, and it wasn’t long before we moved out of our condo and into a small home across the Valley. 
Now, the reason I bring any of this very self-deprecating, disgusting talk up is to consider the most important lesson I ever drew from my mother: Things can only impact you as much as you allow them to. Because I’m not sure I could turn a story about losing my child and wading through poop into one of my favorites to tell. In fact, it sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. Thus, life has to be less about what you go through, and more about the way you look at your experiences. So, the next time you feel like you’re having a truly shitty day of Momming, think of Mom and me, and just know that you are not alone.

Mom’s the Word

“You’re way too into being a mom,” my childless girlfriend said.

“No, I’m not! I really don’t like it sometimes,” I rebuked.

But as soon as the comment fell out of my mouth, I felt stupid for saying it. It may be true that I want to pull out my hair more than half the time, but Im not sure I need to justify my writing, talking, or sharing about motherhood to anyone.

The next time a different person said the same thing to me I simply replied, “No, I’m not.”

Then I continued to listen to him regale me about his childhood & favorite movies for the next two hours.

Neither “You’re way too into movies,”

or

“You’re way into yourself,” came out of my mouth, although perhaps it should have (in a well-meaning way 😬😂).

Yet, this is the message women receive: motherhood is so important we should stop what we’re doing in our own lives to enter it. And how we handle these roles could potentially create the next DaVinci or Dahmer. But, we can’t talk about it too much.

It’s not something we can complain about.

It’s not even something we can even really celebrate.

It’s just what we are supposed to do.

Right?

Wrong. Mum is no longer the word – we will not go quietly. We will complain about bedtime whenever we please. We will celebrate in our potty training and IEP wins. We will make parody videos about how awesome moms are until we are blue in the face.

Because yes, I’m way into being a Mom. But it’s never too much when my kids and future generations are in my hands.

Tomorrow is Another Day

Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.

Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.

Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking

Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.

Some days are easier than others. 💓

The Best Darn Cheesecake You’ll Ever Have

Mama’s made her 1st Cheesecake (hey, we’ve gotta have our own milestones, too, right?)!

Cooling, all pretty and stuff 🤤

I won’t bore you with a lot of jibber jabber about how this recipe is a family secret and Grandma Mae used to make it every year (I don’t even have a Grandma Mae, and I concocted this recipe from a few different ones on Internet). But I will tell you this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to *any* gathering or eat all by yourself in one sitting. Either way, it’s divine.

This whole process is super simple and family-friendly for the kitchen, but it does take about 7-10 hours from start to finish. Just a heads up that this miiiiight be the perfect winter break activity to do with your kids ALL DAY LONG. So, preheat your oven to 350 now, so you don’t forget later 😜

Interior shot of the best darn cheesecake ever

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 15 full crackers)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, granulated sugar, and salt together evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch springform pan (or a thin, pre-made pie pan if that’s what you have – it’s what I worked with!)

Pre-baked apples

Apple Filling:

4 apples (peeled & sliced)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water or apple juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

Mix it all up, and bake at 350 until desired softness and juices have turned into a thicker syrup like consistency.

Cheesy coconut filing:

16 ounces of Cream Cheese, room temperature (I prefer whipped cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier cake)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut milk, room temperature

1 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 eggs, room temperature

Mix cheese and sugar at a medium speed with a flat mixing spoon or mixer attachment. Then lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients.

Ready to bake!

When the apples are done, bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set the cooled apples in the bottom of the pie pan, then cover with the cheesecake mixture. Make sure the bottom of the cheesecake pan is tightly sealed, then place it in a larger, deeper pan of hot water (so that the water never actually touches the pie tin, and only surrounds it).

Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until top has become a slight golden color. Take it out and cool it for an hour. After it’s cooled, tightly wrap it and place it in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to the whole night to set. Then ENJOY because this is the best cheesecake you’ll ever have 🤤

Hubby’s serving suggestion

Confidence & Other Insecurities

“Do you like it?” I ask, spinning in a full circle to give her a good look.

“It’s beautiful… I wish I could wear something like that,” she replies. “But bright colors are for the confident.”

She ducks away as I digest her words.

Is it true, do I make bold choices because I’m confident?

Surely, no. I grew up with an abusive older brother who gave me daily reminders why I should second guess everything I do. My nose makes me cringe, and the way my stomach rolls when I sit makes most of my pants uncomfortable.

No, I couldn’t be confident. Could I?

******

“But what if they think I’m an idiot?” she worries aloud.

I cannot help but jump in: “Oh, come on, what do you care what people think? No one’s opinion of you has any say over how you feel about yourself, unless you let it.”

“I wish I was as confident as you,” she sighs in response.

There’s that word again.

She’s right: my words are that of a confident person’s. Am I really s-s-secure? No. It can’t be. I’m too short, and not nearly as successful as I’d hope to be by now.

*******

“What kind of kid were you in school?”

“Oh, I had my head in the books and I wore orange camoflauge pants on the regular. I couldn’t care less what people thought; I had more important things on my mind than other people’s opinions of me.”

Holy shit. I can’t be confident, can I?

That would mean I have to love myself as a whole, including all the flaws. Wholeheartedly accepting my moles, embracing the hyperactivity of my mind, loving my generally sweaty state.

Right?

Wrong.

Sort of.

The thing about confidence is that it’s insecure.

It is never quite fixed and has the potential to vacillate and change, just like its owner.

When I’m forced to look at things, I’d say I’m a pretty confident person. I know who I am and the importance of what I stand for; others views don’t sway me easily. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t misjudge or devalue myself at times. There are moments I question my abilities, or pause and give thought to my efficacy.

See, ‘confident people’ are insecure at times. And ‘insecure people’ can feel confident, too.

I’m willing to bet my life even people like Oprah and the Dalai Lama have had to stop the self-sabotaging talk at times.

There is no one on this planet that has gone without inconsistencies or insecurities altogether.

What I’m getting at is, confidence is so much less about the labels we allow ourselves and so much more about the habits we adopt. It is not a measure of our worth, but the volume of our doubt.

So, when you hear that voice telling you aren’t good enough, stop and think:

• Where is it coming from?

• Why do you listen to it?

• What if it’s not telling the truth?

• How can you make its mantra more positive?

Because the only thing truly keeping you from feeling confident is your inner monologue.