Reflection, not Resolution

So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.

Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?

So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from the past year? Think back on the time, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Finally, try to plan how you can employ those lessons in the next year.

See, the truly greatest gift of humanity is the ability to learn and see new perspectives. So, let us reflect and learn from our past, and then move on in to the new year with positivity. For it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible, and it is a privilege to be happy doing so. Remember, the present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.

Nine Years Later

When I was pregnant with Charlotte someone in the Starbucks line imparted a piece of wisdom to me. This is a frequent occurrence during pregnancy – advice, words of wisdom, warnings, congratulations – strangers offer them all.  Few are gems, but for some reason this woman’s words still echo through my mind to this day, four years later. Perhaps it was the fact that she was toting two little ones, her hair was askew, and her smile was both defeated and effervescent at the same time. It’s possible that I recognized a future soul sister in her. It could be that I was hungry for guidance and support. Whatever the reason, I listened. And even though I often forget what I’m saying mid-sentence, or even more frequently return from the grocery store with half the things I need and double the things I want, this phrase embedded itself in my brain. Presumably forever.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” she had said kindly yet frankly. I committed the line to memory as we continued to banter light-heartedly. As I mentioned, I will have had hundreds of run-ins with people by the end of both of my pregnancies. But, this one. This one clearly felt different.

Eventually, as those first months of sleep deprivation and hormonal rollercoaster rides melted away, and I dug myself out of the trench that is the transition from pregnancy to postpartum, life went on. At both a snail’s pace and break neck speed. My days often felt undeniably (and oddly) long AND short; I spent them mourning the loss of the family I grew up with, no matter how dysfunctional it may have been, while trying to balance the creation of a new one. I was happy and sad. And then I was pregnant again. Charlotte soon turned two. Adam arrived. My daughter started school. She was quickly out of diapers, and he was sitting up. The next thing I know my kids are three and a half and eight months, and my heart has octupled in size.

And within the proverbial blink of an eye, the tragic calendar count I have been conducting amidst all of life’s curveballs gets much closer to a decade than to any other convenient measure of time. Nine years to be exact. Nine years since Mom was killed. If you had asked me to write about my life that day in Starbucks four years ago, my reflection would have been much different. I was so fractured then. Despite having found love, buying a home, working steadily, and being pregnant, I was slogged down by sadness. I was in the deepest pit of grief still, attempting to crawl my way out. My stance was that the woman who had given me life, only to have hers selfishly taken away, was missing out on all these events that she had begun dreaming of the moment I was born. It felt so wrong to rejoice without her. So, as my life continued on an uptrend, as did the difficulty of moving on.

But now, as we approach this ninth “anniversary” of Mom’s death, it is clear to me that this extra time passed has helped to heal a good deal of my wounds, and that my frame of mind is evolving. It is true that some days I still spend a little sadder than others. I catch myself standing at the edge of the gaping hole that grief always leaves behind in its wake, teetering between the me that is present in all my current love and slipping back into the me that is rooted in my painful past. But what also remains true, and what I often remind myself of, is that I have lived nine whole years since Mom died. Within those nine years I met the love of my life. A stubborn, handsome, funny, incredibly loving, supportive, relentless, nutty man whom Mom would have loved. We moved a bunch of times, sold a home, bought one. We planned our dream wedding. We honeymooned. We made babies that we adore more than life itself. We live our lives every day, not loving every moment, but valuing each one. We have done all these things, and despite the sadness I felt amidst many of them, I often look back with so much fondness. These are the highlights of my life. They would have been the highlights of my mother’s as well. She would never want my happiest recollections to be so tainted.

Thus, if my grief, heartbreak and *parenthood* have taught me anything, it’s that every moment matters. So, as I begin this tenth year without my mom, I choose to reflect on that wise saying a nice lady in Starbucks once shared with me. “The days are long, but the years are short.” Why should I waste these precious minutes scarred and jaded, when they will so rapidly weave together to create the fabric of my whole lifetime? This annual commemoration  (also conveniently always “celebrated” around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), I vow to try my best to be content in every beautiful, poop, tear, and laughter-filled moment I’m gifted with. Because before I know it, the days of my live will morph into years. And I’m planning on filling mine with more than enough happiness for both Mom and me.

 

 

Let’s Make a Deal

*As Seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Miracles*


“There’s a story behind everything… but behind all your stories is always your mother’s
story…because hers is where yours begins.”
~Mitch Albom, For One More Day


      “You know, your aunt was always jealous I was picked that day,” my mother would begin. A smile would spread across her face, ever the competitive little sister. “I was no more than twenty-one, and I had on the cutest bunny costume!” Her face would shine even brighter. “I made it myself, you know. I even had a tail. That day I won a year’s supply of Reynolds Wrap and Super Glue.”


She was speaking of her early 1970s appearance on the ever popular Let’s Make a Deal. This tale was one of her favorite memories of all time, and I had heard it throughout my childhood far too many times to count. I never minded though; I loved to see her smile so radiantly.


It was now early October, five years and one week since I had last seen my mother smile. As I often did around that time of year, I spent much of my time reminiscing and flipping through family photos. This year in particular though, I desperately missed seeing her face light up and hearing the heartiness of her laughter. For the billionth time, I searched for family videos, but nothing new surfaced. My mother had hated to set foot in front of a still camera, let alone allow herself to be videotaped.


As I was flipping through a scrapbook I had just applied the finishing touches to, it dawned on me. I could search the web for old Let’s Make a Deal clips. I mean, there are stranger things on YouTube, right? I grabbed my iPad and swiftly typed in “1970s Let’s Make a Deal clips.” Hundreds of options popped up, mostly boasting 1970s cars (which I knew my mother had definitely not won). But one bold blue line caught my eye.


Let’s Make a Deal Tickets.” Tickets? Huh? I didn’t know they were still filming.


I clicked the link and found information for tapings in the Los Angeles area. I read through, and as the moments ticked by, I grew giddy and excited. Tickets! I entered my information, requesting tickets for a date a few weeks from then. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband when he got home!


A few hours later, as Danny and I were sitting down for dinner, I heard my phone ping, alerting me that I had received an e-mail. I would usually disregard the noise during dinnertime, but for some reason I was drawn to the phone. I picked it up, and immediately saw the subject line, “Let’s Make a Deal Tickets for Friday!” Friday? Tomorrow? Tomorrow! I checked my Google schedule and lo and behold, I had the day off.

“Babe, Let’s Make a Deal, tomorrow! Let’s make it happen!” I shouted.


“What?” he called from the kitchen. “I wish! I have to work. Are you serious?” I had told him about my previous search and he was as excited as I had been.

      I forgot all about dinner and ran upstairs, searching for my newly acquired Halloween costume that would have to work for the next day. I slipped it on and looked in the mirror, finishing off my rather convincing pirate getup with an “Arrrrrg!” 

      “Verrry nice,” Danny said, coming up behind me. He spun me around and hugged me. He held me gingerly for a minute and then said, “Something tells me your mom is responsible for this. I know it in my heart. Just you watch, you’re gonna win. I know it.”


The next morning found me standing on the back lot of the studio, waiting in line, dressed as a pirate, surrounded by a gorilla and a Greek goddess. There was nowhere else I’d rather have been. In what felt like no time at all, we were herded into our seats and the cameras were rolling. The music, the people, the lights—it was beyond overwhelming, in the best possible way!


Everyone was encouraged to dance, and that we did. I moved with the music and waited for Wayne Brady to make his debut for the day. Within moments he appeared, and after some more silly moves, he quieted us down and got us into our seats.

      “Alright, who’s ready for our first game?” he asked after his hilarious introduction. Of course, we all screamed our heads off. Pick me, pick me!


“Alright, you,” he said, pointing to a brunette woman dressed in bright yellow.


“And… you!” he shouted, pointing at me. Me? Me!

      I ran down the steps to join the two of them on stage. My ears were ringing, my face was flushed, and my heart felt like it was about to leap out of my chest.

      “… you got it?” Wayne asked. I snapped back to reality. My head may have been nodding up and down, but I sure didn’t catch the rules. Everything was going so fast. “Go ahead, which door would you like?” he asked, facing my opponent.


“Door number one!” she replied enthusiastically.


“Alright, Amy, that leaves you with door number two,” he explained to me. Thankfully I now had some idea what was going on.


“Now, I’m going to offer you five hundred dollars for your doors, but you both must decide to sell or stay, even though you are ending up with different doors.”


‘Okay, I’m getting it now,’ I thought.

We looked at each other and decided to stay
right where we were. “We’re not selling!”

       He offered us more money, but we weren’t interested. Give us our doors! Wayne revealed my partner’s door. Behind it was a… ZONK! A cactus-shaped something or other, who knows? What was important was that was not my door! She took a seat, which left Wayne and me all alone.

     “Amy, how are you feeling?” he asked me.
“I’m feeling great, how about yourself?” I quipped.


“I’m wonderful. I’m just hoping to give you something amazing like a brand new
car.”

He smiled.


“I hope so too. I’m going to keep the door. Can I keep the door?”


“Well, you have to,” he paused, laughing.

      I blushed, but then I saw an opportunity. “You know, my mom was on this show almost forty years ago, and today I know she’s with me, watching from up above. Thanks Mom.”

Tears filled my eyes and the back of my throat. I choked on my words and Wayne continued seamlessly.


“I’m sure she is. Now, do you want to see what’s waiting for you behind door
number two?”


“Yes!” I exclaimed.


“It’s a… brand new car!”

       My heart stopped. Or did it speed up? I’m not sure what happened. All I know is that my knees turned to jelly, yet still they helped deliver me into the driver’s seat of my brand new Honda Fit. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, thanking the powers that be, and most especially my mother. I may not have seen her smile or heard her laugh that day, but I sure do know she was doing both in the purest and happiest of ways. 

 

Why I Blog

When I first entered the blogging world, my goal was to simply create an online diary. I had felt so isolated during those first few months of motherhood; the majority of my days were spent with no social interaction beyond my infant daughter and a few groups on Facebook. But I had so much to share, so many feelings and thoughts about this new, amazing, terrifying adventure. So I started a blog. I had no plan for it. I just wanted a place to vent.

As time went on and I wrote more, my emotional load became much lighter. I realized that when I share my feelings, the thoughts that normally just circulate endlessly through my head are given a different place to be: online. Which is scary. Scary as shit, if you ask me. Putting your unabashed thoughts and feelings into the hands, hearts, and minds of others is terrifying. But, the beauty (and danger) of making your feelings public is the ability to receive feedback. And I will admit not everyone always understands what I do.

But then there are those people who reach out to me to say that knowing my struggle is helping them with their own. That knowing that they’re not alone changes everything. And that’s why I blog. To share my stories (whether serious or light-hearted, silly or sad) and hope they help someone. To read other people’s stories and know that I have a community. To learn and share, to love and understand.  To be inspired…

So, with that said I’m taking my thirst for inspiration to the road (well, just a couple freeways actually) and am joining a slew of other wonderful BlogHers at #BlogHer16 ! I’ll be sharing the process on my Instagram (@house_of_love24), Twitter (@chesler_amy), and Snapchat (@thishouseoflove – wtf?! sooo many apps to keep up with!). In fact, you can even find me on the BlogHer16 app. I want to be inspired by all of you and look forward to the fun and knowledge I will leave with! Join me, won’t you?

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 many lives a shooter stole today, 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. And then within a short amount of time, his violent attempts were re-directed at Mom and me (but mostly Mom).

In middle school, I watched these trials. I watched society tell Mom what was doing wrong. I watched society tell my brother 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.

“And Justice for All”

*As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America*

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let  faith
be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”

~Maya Angelou

      The sound of the helicopters reverberated against the mountains, filling the canyon with a deafening noise. It was almost one in the morning, but the normally quiet streets were bustling. I was standing outside my house, tears streaming down my face. I had been crying for hours, but it felt like a minute; I had no concept of time. Earlier that night, I had returned home from work to find my mother lifeless. She had been killed during a heated argument with a family member and her killer had fled, leaving me to find the grisly scene.
In those excruciating hours, friends and family arrived and filled our suburban street. I cannot recall everyone who showed up; their faces meld together in my mind like a collage of love. All I know is that I eventually made my way to a neighbor’s home; the owners were longtime friends of my mother’s, and they had graciously opened their doors to the circus outside.

I sat on their couch, being comforted and awkwardly hugged by people coming in
and out. They said all the right things, but their words sounded empty and my heart ached
too much to believe them. Eventually, a man I had never seen before entered the room
and sat down with the crowd that had gathered.

“Hi Amy. My name is Detective Michael Valento,” he began. “I’m here to bring
you and your mother justice.”

Justice. It sounded like such a familiar concept, one I had been brought up to believe was around every corner in America. Our country was built on justice and fairness… but nothing about that night seemed just or fair to me. Despite fully knowing its meaning, in that moment I couldn’t fathom ever feeling that justice had been served. My mother could not be brought back to life.

“Th-thank you,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say.

A few months later, Detective Valento was a regular part of my life. Our phone calls became an almost weekly occurrence. Each time we spoke Mike vowed that he would do everything in his power to ensure my mother’s killer would be sent to prison as expeditiously and as permanently as possible. I believed him at the time, but as the months wore on, and the number of hearings grew, I lost hope.

Despite my emotional struggle, I grew to know and care for Mike. He was a kind, gentle man with a heart of gold. His intentions were of the purest, and he symbolized the hope I once had. He was a wonderful advocate. He continued to call me often, checking in to see if I was okay, asking how my wedding plans were going, updating me on everything that was happening.

Alas, the months turned into years, and very little happened. Justice and the American way were not prevailing. My hope morphed into anger. I was angry my mother’s killer hadn’t been accorded his punishment. I was angry my mother was gone. I was angry that a system I had been reared to respect was so clearly failing. My mother’s murderer was playing the system, and he was getting away with it. Or so I thought.

One particularly hard day, nearly four years after my mother’s death, I came close to losing it. I had been in court all day and I was mentally, as well as physically, drained. Mike had been in court with my fiancé and me, sitting by our sides the entire time. I turned to him and pleaded, “When will this end? Why is he being protected? Why hasn’t he been convicted? Life needs to go on.”

Mike thought carefully for a moment. He looked at me kindly and said, “I know it
doesn’t seem like it, but this is all for you and for your mother. You have to understand
that our legal system, although at times seemingly imperfect, is protecting you. If we
didn’t cover all of our bases right now he could appeal and possibly be free one day. So,
for now, we must be patient. I know it’s hard, but in America good things come to those
who wait.”

Again, my heart was so heavy I couldn’t quite grasp his words, but this time I accepted the situation. I waited patiently for another year. Five years and two days after my mother’s murder, a judgment was delivered. My
brother was given a sentence of fifteen years to life.

I was as relieved as I could be. Justice had finally been served and I could begin to repair my own life, which had been shattered that horrific night. I remember as we fled the courtroom for one final time, Mike had leaned in for an embrace. After our hug he pulled back and said, “See. I told you all would be right in the end.”

At that moment my heart filled with warmth that it had not felt for a while, warmth ignited by someone who had been a complete stranger a few years ago. This man, despite knowing nothing of the content of my character, dedicated a large portion of his life to fight so I could regain control of mine.

Mike’s actions showed me the camaraderie and strength America instills in its citizens. His upstanding dedication to his country and position of service helped change my life for the better. Detective Mike Valento of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department exemplifies everything that is right in our country and with our police force.

And although there is no reason left to carry on a relationship with him, my adoration, respect,
and gratitude for him will never diminish. For, it’s men and women like Mike who gave
me my strength, hope, and life back, and I can never be thankful enough.

~A.B. Chesler

Trash Bags from Heaven

Not a single day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. I wish that she had had the chance to meet my daughter. But that’s impossible, because she died five and a half years before she was born. Those five and a half years were full of both despair and happiness, but all of it was tainted by Mom’s absence.

Some days, a piece of me is still sad. Even though I am overflowing with joy, I often turn to my husband and say that I wish Mom was able to share in her granddaughter’s growth. My heart is forever cracked. I can’t help it. I miss having my best friend present.

Other days, like today, that sad, little piece of me is surprised with a visit. Not by apparitions, but by trash bags. Let me explain: my lovingly neurotic Jewish mother shopped at Costco for everything. Our house was always stocked full of copious amounts of well… anything you could imagine.  Jelly beans, zip ties, you name it, we had it. And so, the 800-count box of trash bags my mom purchased not long before her death still persists. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I kept them for these six plus years even though they didn’t fit any of my trash cans. And finally, when we purchased our diaper pail that is compatible with any bag of our choosing, I was thrilled to discover their purpose.

Now, as I change my daughter’s diaper pail bag, I can’t help but smile (despite the awful stench) because my mother’s thoughtfulness and ever preparedness persists, too. In turn, I am reminded that her unending love will also continue through eternity. Thus, I know she is still present, and each day I love her even more.

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