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.

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. 💓

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.

An Open Letter *From* My Deceased Mother

Not long ago I shared an open letter I wrote to my deceased mother. And as my latest Expressing Motherhood piece mentioned an open letter she wrote me that was read at a graduation-related event, I thought that it would be fitting this year (on her death date) to share it.

‘Dear Amy,

When you arrived on December 24th, 21 years ago, I knew you would be destined for greatness!

The doctor said, “It’s a girl, but she’s only 4 lbs and 16 1/2 inches!”

My mother said, “I cook chickens for dinner that are bigger than that!”

I said, “Her entire head fits in the palm of my hand!”

Yes, Amy, you were small, but as people say, “The best things come in small packages!”

We brought you home ten days later, nameless. I searched high and low for a name that would best suit you, to no avail. Until your brother Jesse came to the rescue and said, “I think we should call her Amy.” And so it was, you were named Amy.

Once you had the first name of Amy, how more befitting would it have been, but for me to call you ‘Amy Beth.’ And so it came to be, your name was once and for all, decided by a joint venture of your brother and me.

Now, being that you came early, a month early, that should have been a sign. Unfortunately, I was not in tune with human nature then, as I am now. But had I been, I would have known some things about you early on. As things go, not only did you mature emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually early, but also physically!

[🙄😑😖]

I remember driving in the car one day, when you were only 5 years old, and you saying to me, “Mom, will I have my period by the time I’m in college?”

Then your brother turned to you and said, “Amy, don’t worry, you’ll get it way, way, way before then.” And he was right.

Yes, you were early at that too. And yes you did get it before you started college. Way, way, way before you started college!

[Thanks, Mom 😑]

But now, as you are nearing the end of college, I must say, the things you have accomplished have definitely been filled with greatness! And I am very proud to be your mom!

Love forever and always,

Mom’

…. So, now you know. I got my blatant honesty and penchant for over-sharing from my Mama. And I’ll probably never stop, because it’s how I keep her spirit alive.

RIP Mom 💓

1/26/1952 – 9/25/2007

Love You Forever

“The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.”

~Washington Irving

As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven & Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, With Love

No one is ever ready to say goodbye to a parent, and I was no exception. When my mother suddenly passed away at the age of fifty-five, it was devastating. The only way I knew how to cope was to write. When it came time to write her eulogy, I welcomed the chance to honor her.

After reading the eulogy at her funeral, I folded it neatly and tucked it between the pages of her favorite children’s book, Love You Forever. When it was time to pay final homage to her, I felt satisfied as I placed my only copy of the book in her arms and helped to lower her casket.

Shortly thereafter though, I broke down. I could think of nothing but my mother. I missed her with every cell in my body. But most overwhelmingly, I could no longer grasp the concept of where she had gone. I found it impossible to believe that she was watching over me. If she were, I thought, then she would surely make her presence known. I pleaded with the Heavens to show me she was there, that she was still sending her love, and keeping a watchful eye. No such luck.

Weeks went by. I became depressed and broken, unable to fulfill simple tasks and care for myself. I stayed home. People came in and out, checking on me at all hours of the day. Family and friends tried to coax me out of the house, but all I wanted to do was hide. I wanted to hide from my harsh reality: I would never see or hear from my mother again. Finally, those who cared about me had had enough.

One night, my best friend and her partner came over with a plan to get me out of the house. I debated with them for over an hour, pleading for them to leave me alone. Two hours and a million excuses later, we finally compromised and I allowed them to take me on a quick trip to Target.

As we walked through the aisles my feet dragged. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere. Nonetheless, we perused the make-up, electronics, and home goods aisles. They were there to offer me an outlet, and I was only there to placate them. After several more minutes of mindless meandering I was done. I told them I had to go back home, that I needed to get out of there.

“Alright, but first we have to stop by the candy section. A little sugar will give you a pick-me-up,” they reasoned.

I swallowed my pain and continued. I picked out a piece of candy just to avoid my friends’ concerned stares. At the checkout, we dropped our items on the conveyor belt and waited in line. I looked at the merchandise arrayed at the checkout. At the top of a shelf, on top of the candy, hair ties, and hand sanitizer, sat a book, a copy of Love You Forever! I snatched the copy and skimmed the pages, enjoying the pictures of a mother cradling her child. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Ma’am? Ma’am? How would you like to pay for this?” the cashier asked.

I snapped back to reality, but ignored her question. “Why is this book here?” I demanded to know.

“I’m not sure, ma’am. Maybe someone was planning to buy it but chose not to in the end? They were probably just too lazy to put it back… It happens all the time, unfortunately. Thanks for pointing it out.”

I felt compelled to know more, and am still not sure why I asked my next question.

“Where are the rest of the copies of this book?”

“Wow. You sure love that book. The rest are probably in our book section, but I’ll scan it just to make sure. Sometimes when a book is on promotion it is moved.”

She scanned it. The machine made a few loud, shrill beeps.

“Huh. That’s weird. It’s not scanning. Let me see…”

The few moments I waited felt like eternity. A ball of excitement mixed with anxiety formed in my stomach.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. This book isn’t scanning. In fact, I dont even think it’s from our store. I’m not really sure why it was sitting there… If you’d like to buy it ma’am, I apologize because I guess it’s not really available for purchase. But… I mean… I guess you can… Just take it? It’s not really ours to sell.”

My heart fluttered as I gingerly took back the book. I cradled it in my arms and as I did, I felt a sense of security envelop me. I knew this was a message from my mother. It was a message of love, support, and understanding.

It was her way of saying, “I will love you forever, no matter what.” And I’ve never doubted that since.

~A.B. Chesler

To All the Friends I’ve Lost Along the Way

I have lost many friends over the years. A few were stolen by Death (may they rest in peace), but far more of them I have lost to life.

Some of those losses have been easy; a simple cease of communication was enough to loosen our bonds. Other endings have been sloppy & painful, leaving both parties scorned. Some are intentional, others unintentional. But the common thread among all of them is that they have been necessary.

See, I believe everyone comes into your life for a reason, but not everyone stays. Those exits happen for a reason, too. We cannot expect to be able to keep everyone. We are dynamic, as are what we need and what we want. Our relationships must ebb and flow, too.

So, to those friends who I have moved on from, or that have moved on from me, I wish you the best of luck in life. My absence does not mean I am wishing you ill will; on the contrary, I hope you are soaring. I hope whatever may have caused the gash between us to have healed when your wounds were less fresh. For, it’s true: we cannot find a place for everyone in our lives. But, we can always find a place to wish them well.

Kindergarten Bound, Smiles All Around

“How do you feel?”

“Are you sad?”

“Nervous at all?”

I’ve been asked the same question (or variations of it) umpteen times in the last couple weeks.

And my answer, for some reason, is always met with surprise.

“I’m excited!” I reply.

The responses containing the least amount of skepticism generally sound like, “Oh, really?”

“Yep, really.”

My question is, am I supposed to be sad? Surely, it’s OK to be sad; I understand where my friends and loved ones are coming from. I guess I’m just missing something.

Personally, the idea of my child officially embarking on her educational career is thrilling to me. I am the child of generations of school teachers. I love to learn. I see my daughter flourish when she is not stuck to my side and reliant on my help. I see her transform when she rises to life’s challenges.

But most importantly, I am being gifted the chance to be present to watch her struggles and triumphs. I am here for her entrance to school. We have each other as we embark on this transition, and for that I am thankful and excited and blessed.

So, no, we aren’t nervous. There are smiles all around over here (but let’s chat again when it’s time for college 🤐).

Best of luck to everyone going through a similar transition 💓

Lessons From Mom

As performed in the live show Expressing Motherhood in May and June of 2018

There are things our parents choose to do that stay with us forever. These actions, good or bad, teach us the lessons we carry into adulthood and especially parenthood.

Like the time my older brother found a wallet filled to the brim with cash. I was four and he was seven, but as children of a single mother in the eighties, we already knew the value of a dollar; Mom was never one to shelter us from our reality. I remember my brother handing her the leather square in the narrow aisles of a pharmacy. Mom had just tearfully admitted to the clerk she had only enough money for one antibiotic regimen, but two sick children. After she grew a bit sharp with her tongue, as she sometimes did, she was given back the prescription slip and turned away. Only moments later the Universe delivered her a wallet full of money.

I remember Mom looking around, then stuffing it deep underneath her arm in one swift movement. When we arrived home, she unearthed it from her purse, then began counting out the bills onto our hand-me-down coffee table. When she finished at just over a thousand dollars, she pulled out the Driver’s License within the plastic protectant and picked up the phone beside her. We waited with baited breath, unsure of what her next move would be.

“Operator? Yes. Can I please be connected with a ———– from Studio City?”

Moments later she was chatting with a very worried man who wanted to know the whereabouts of his wallet and missing mortgage payment. She offered him her work address and told him to pick it up the next day, but not before confirming how much dough he expected to be returned to him.

When she had replaced the receiver in its plastic cradle, my brother asked, “Why didn’t you return the wallet to the pharmacy if you weren’t going to take any of the money yourself?” To which she replied, “I don’t know if they would have returned it with everything inside. But, I knew I would. I don’t take what’s not mine, because that would be assuming we need it more.”

And at a very young age of four, I learned what my mom’s credo was: honesty must come before anything, including my own needs.

Speaking of Mom’s honesty, I’ll admit it wasn’t always my favorite. She had little filter, and people were often made uncomfortable by her. For example, she once wrote a letter that would be read to my entire sorority at a graduation-related event, which she knew when set out to write it. Despite this, she described in the note how I matured early, as well as that by the age of five, was already concerned whether I’d “get my period by college or not.” See? You’re uncomfortable. So, yeah, I didn’t always enjoy her openness.

But if Mom’s actions taught me anything it’s that the world needs honesty, even if people have trouble digesting it. There was the time she beat me to picking up the phone, and Corey Feldman was on the other line. At the age of seventeen I began running his website, and over the next four years would help him a great deal with local appearances. But, in this moment, he was my boss, and Mom was my very uncool parent who I obviously still lived with.

When Mom realized the gruff voice on the other end belonged to Corey, she was thrilled. She cooed,”Hey Corey! We actually just finished watching one of your films.” She hit the speaker phone and winked at me playfully.

“Oh, yeah?” he replied. “Which one?”

“Amy? What was it called?” Meanwhile, I have turned a ripe shade of red and was silently begging for the phone. But I whisper my reply nonetheless, “Edge of Honor.” She repeats me, and for a moment things seem O.K. because, hey, she hasn’t embarrassed me. It’s a miracle! Then she concludes, “You looked really drugged out in it.”

My heart fell into my stomach, and I instantly tasted bile. I held my breath as my recently exciting social life flashed before my eyes.

Corey waited a few beats. Finally, he replied, “Well, that’s because I was.” And with that, the floodgate opened. He talked about his difficult childhood and former addictions, and Mom listened. Just before Mom finally disengaged the speaker and handed me the phone, Corey asked her to attend an anniversary screening of The Goonies as his date. Much of the cast would be there, and he was inviting her to sit with them.

And, in all my years as one of Corey’s assistants, this would be the most Corey ever opened up. Thus, driving home Mom’s point that transparency is the most healing policy.

Mom’s emphasis on honesty was the most recurring lesson I ever received from her, and I suppose it is what led me to this point. To being a mother that strives to create children who are fair and thoughtful. And to pursuing a career that is intended to inspire mental health and a more accepting world. But, every parent leaves their children with indelible memories that turn into life lessons.

Maybe my children will be up here in a few decades talking about me, and with any luck, it’ll be positive. Maybe your children will be up here narrating what you did with your time as a parent. What will our actions teach our children? I wonder what sort of world they will create together with these lessons.”

To listen to this via Podcast, click here, but please pardon my opening night jitters.