Episode 40: Visiting with Amber Cook of Bloomington, IL, and her story, “My Fairytale Life”
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE JURCZYK: Well, it’s so nice to have our friends joining us once again on The She Said Project Podcast. This is Jenette Jurczyk, your co-host and the National Director of The She Said Project movement to create a safe space for women to share stories and be vulnerable. My dear friend and lovely co-host in the studio with me, as always…
KERRY ROSSOW: Kerry Rossow! And I’ve got to say it sounded like you said ho-host and I got a little offended there for a second. “This is Jenette and then this is my ho-host Kerry Rossow.” So I was like, what? What!
JENETTE: You know, if the shoe fits…
KERRY: Whatever. Lace it up and wear it!
JENETTE: (laughing) It’s a new title! So Kerry, 2020 was a bit on the crazy side for everybody and life, life is, you know, awkward and messy. And I’m so excited (laughing) for today’s guest because her story talked just about that: the messiness that is everyday life for women.
KERRY: Okay, so go ahead and bring her on because I have so many things to say to her!
JENETTE: Our guest today is one of the original speakers from the very first show in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois; it premiered at the Castle Theater in 2019 and this is our first time venturing into a new community outside of Champaign, Illinois.
So, Amber Cook, who’s here with us on the line, not only was in the very first Bloomington show, but she was like the first speaker asked to participate in this new concept and now she’s here to tell us how much she enjoyed, or not, her experience.
Hello, Miss Amber!
AMBER COOK: Hello, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.
KERRY: I’m so excited because one of the things that I absolutely loved—so, the first time, I hadn’t met you before, and so I was totally guilty of making assumptions when I first saw you. It was—You looked so perfect and you were the person that, you know, it’s so easy to fall into that, comparing our insides to other people’s outsides because you look like a million dang bucks and then when you got up there and talked about our messy lives and no matter what it takes to get us presentable for the rest of the world, all of us have stuff going on behind the scenes, and I loved, loved, loved your words.
AMBER: Thank you so much and I appreciate your, your compliments that I looked like a million bucks. I don’t know that I felt like it! It was very, a very cool experience.
KERRY: What was that like? Were you nervous? Do you get nervous in front of people? What was the process for you?
AMBER: You know, typically I don’t have an issue being in front of people. Public speaking has never bothered me. However, when you’re being vulnerable and sharing intimate stories about yourself, it’s kind of a little bit, a little bit different. I think I had a more time coming up with my quote-unquote story. Just because I felt like I didn’t really have a story. So many women that take the stage share these compelling stories of their life and their… the triumph—and the hard times and all the things that they’ve been through and it’s just so many highs and lows, and I feel like mine was kind of boring compared to everybody else’s. However, there are little, you know, there’s always ebbs and flows every day and there’s—you know, everybody has those. It might not be on the grand scale of some of the others, but I guess I felt mediocre or that I couldn’t compare to some of those things. We all, we all have struggles every day and it’s not always perfect—no matter how much you try to make it look perfect—there’s always stuff behind the scenes.So it was easy to get in front of those people to talk, but it was hard to share my story.
KERRY: Well, I think that’s why people related to you so well because people—the famous last words are when we ask somebody and they say, you know, “I don’t have a story or I’m just a fill-in-the-blank mom, I’m just a nurse, I’m just a whatever,” and that’s why people related to you because the little moments are the big moments in our lives and it sort of just is another example of it counts! It is big stuff. What you’re doing day in and day out and I think so many people were like high-fiving themselves and each other, and like, “what we do is really hard!”
JENETTE: Right! I thoroughly agree. Amber, you brought such a delightful perspective to the life of the everyday woman.
Let’s go ahead and share your performance from that night so our audience can fall in love with you as we have. So, we’re about to listen to the actual recording from Amber Cook on stage, live in Bloomington. Illinois, at the Castle Theatre from September, 2019 with her story: “My Fairytale Life.”
AMBER: So, I don’t mean to brag, but my life is an actual Fairytale. My husband is as close to Prince Charming as you can get, he literally proposed to me with the glass slipper. True story.
Every morning I wake up, the birds are chirping. The sun is shining through the window on my face. The woodland creatures are arranging my perfectly coordinated outfit, including accessories.
And then I open my eyes.
And expectation versus reality sets in. (laughter) My mind spirals to remember what day of the week it is, who needs to be where, heck, where am I supposed to be today? And it’s pretty much like that for the rest of the day. All day, everyday. Pure chaos.
Anybody feel me? Anybody? (applause)
So I have three beautiful daughters that contribute greatly to this chaotic life. Their ages are 9, 19, and 23. And before you think to yourself, “wait a minute, she’s not old enough to have a 23 year old,” I’m also a grandmother. I know, shocker right? Believe me, I was just as shocked when I found out my daughter was eight months pregnant. Yes, my darling daughter failed to inform me she was pregnant. So it was literally like the stork dropped a baby on our doorstep, a baby boy of course because the girl chaos in my house isn’t already crazy enough! But in case you’re wondering, it is completely possible to coordinate the perfect baby nursery including all of the newborn essentials in a wardrobe—in 30 days.
Cooper just turned two and I am completely obsessed. Like, to the point where my husband, AKA Prince Charming, is possibly a little bit jealous that he has to compete to be the number one man in my life. My oldest daughter, Andi, explicitly asked me to mention that it was not her that had the baby. It was her younger sister. So, she’s, like I mentioned, 23. She’s cute. She’s funny like her mom and she doesn’t have a baby and she’s very single. So if you know of any eligible bachelors for her, please find me after the show.
Okay, so no, truth be told I’m not an actual princess, try as I might to make it look like I have it all together. There is inevitably a literal shitshow happening behind the scenes.
Let me give you an example of my not so fairy tale life.
So I’ve recently started a new career as a real estate agent. (Raises voice) Where my Keller Williams girls at? (cheers) Yeah, they make it look so fun on HGTV, how hard can it be right? So I’m not going to lie, it is fun and I do love it. And I love that at 42 years old, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up! And, bonus! You get to wear cute shoes when you’re a real estate agent. If you haven’t caught on, I’m kind of a shoe girl. So as you can expect, a career in real estate comes with more than its fair share of chaos. Definitely more than they show on HGTV.
I was recently at one of my listings and I had the professional photographer there to take the photos of the home. You know, the ones you see online? So I’m running around, I’m straightening the curtains and cleaning the windows and fluffing the pillows, making sure everything looks perfect for the photos. And I go down in the basement to make sure everything is in order down there. And I notice there’s some stuff on the floor. No big deal, I’m just going to go grab a broom, like Cinderella would, and I walk past the laundry room and I notice there’s a Shop-Vac! Perfect! Okay! Great! So I grab it, Plug it in, and start going to town on my little power cleaning session. After a couple minutes, I notice out of the corner of my eye that there’s like this brown liquid spewing out of the machine. Okay. Not good.
So I run over and I turn off the machine and that’s when it hits me. The smell. When I say it was the worst smell ever. I’m not exaggerating. I really can’t think of a way to describe it… other than—shit. And it wasn’t like maybe a dog pooped on the floor and somebody thought, “Oh! I’ll clean it up with the Shop-Vac.” I don’t know why they would do that, but no, this was like human feces in the Shop-Vac, now spewing all over the floor.
Now, I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around how that smell got in the Shop-Vac, like did somebody poop in it? I don’t know, whatever. I know, regardless, I’m looking at the poop water on the floor and I realize, I need to get this cleaned up quickly. So I run upstairs and get some paper towels. But—as I’m going up the stairs, the smell’s actually getting worse. The way that the machine was positioned, it was like the poop smell was like spewing up the stairwell. So, by the time I get upstairs, I’m gagging. I run outside to get some fresh air. I’m standing in the front yard, like full-blown dry heaving in my stilettos.
So I’m running. I go back in the house and I kind of hold my breath and go downstairs and clean and come back up and get some fresh air and yelling up at the photographer, “Take your time up there. No rush, just stay up there. Please. Please don’t come down,” because she’s going to come down and full-blown think I blew out an intestine. So I finally get this mess, all cleaned up. I find some Febreeze. I am spraying the living daylights out of this house.
Proud to announce that I was only slightly late for the board meeting at my daughter’s dance school, which of course Prince Charming is also on the board of. I think he was like a little bit offended when I came in and didn’t sit by him. I can’t even imagine what I smelled like so, you’re welcome, honey.
So, another adventure in my glamorous, realtor mom life occurred a couple weeks ago.
I had an open house at one of my listings in East Peoria. And my husband thought it would be a great idea for him and my nine-year-old daughter to drop me off at the open house and then they were going to like, go to Bass Pro Shop for a couple of hours, and do whatever it is people do at Bass Pro Shop for a couple of hours. (laughter) Not my thing.
So East Peoria is like 45 minutes away, right? And I’m all about having a chauffeur. So sure, seems like a plan.
Okay, so picture the scene: I’m in my cute open house outfit. Prince Charming is driving. Our sweet daughter is in the backseat, probably watching a random YouTube video of somebody playing a video game or, better yet, of an adult playing with kids toys. I don’t, I don’t get this. But regardless, her being on her device in the car for forty-five minutes. Makes her stomach hurt.
So, “Do you need a drink?”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Do you need a bag?”
It’s not sixty seconds later..
“Okay. Maybe I’ll take a bag.” (vomit noise)
Right then. No chance to get the bag. Just projectile vomit everywhere, like an exorcism. Not just a little. No. (whispering:) Vomit.
Poor thing, I turn around to look at her and she’s just sitting there covered in puke. And I just looked back at her and I said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry that really sucks. Babe, the house is just right up here on the right. You don’t even have to stop. Just slow down and I’ll just jump out.”
Maybe not my finest mom moment, maybe a little more, like the wicked stepmother. I was not about to crawl through the puke to get the paper towels in the back to clean her up in my cute open house outfit. Nobody wants to buy a house from somebody covered in vomit. Um. No.
So yet another example of my charmed life:
Before I got my real estate license, I was a director with Stella & Dot, a cute jewelry company that’s sold at in-home functions. Maybe some of you have heard of it. It’s kind of fun and kind of fancy so—fitting. So, I had been in Vegas for our national conference leadership training and I was on my way home and I had a layover in Detroit.
It’s important to know my outfit for this story. I had on a black tank top and black and white chevron Chiffon pants that were kind of thin, but they had like black bike shorts underneath of them, so they weren’t like, completely see-through. And then I had on black and gold sandals because after four days in Vegas wearing heels, my feet were basically bloody stumps.
So I go to lunch at the airport and I’m getting ready to head to my gate to head home. And I stood up, you know, that feeling when you get your period? Yeah, I got my period. I could tell it was bad, like, really bad. So I quickly made my way to the restroom to assess the situation. The only way I can think to describe it is, Crime Scene.
I apologize, I didn’t realize it would be this many men here tonight. Sorry.
Okay, so like I said it was pretty bad so I took off my pants and they’re completely stained when I take off my underwear cuz they’re soaked. They’re not salvageable at this point. So I go ahead and dispose of them and the conveniently located garbage can, metal garbage can, in the stall. I’m not kidding. Like, you can’t even make this up. When I drop them in there the entire bottom of the box fell out, on the floor. Yeah. The woman in the stall next to me thinks this is hilarious. I want to curl up and die.
So now I’m standing in the stall in my tank top and sandals, trying to decide what to do with my life. Because of course, I don’t have a backup outfit packed in my carry-on, like a responsible adult. Where’s the Fairy Godmother—with the backup outfit when you need her? So, I can’t go to the bathroom to wash my pants out in the sink because I’m literally naked from the waist down. So I executed the only plan that I could come up with: I washed my pants out in the dirty, disgusting Detroit Airport Bathroom Toilets.
What are you gonna do? I dunked and swished them in that nasty cesspool. Then I wrung them out the best I could and I put those wet pants back on and I proceeded to my gate to board my plane home.
The worst part of this is when I got home, I had to tell Prince Charming, but there’s a pretty good chance that I had contracted an STD or some kind of funk from my trip to Vegas but I swear it was from the Detroit bathroom toilet.
So, why do I stand up here and share all of this with you tonight? Good question. I’m kinda wondering that myself right now. But when I realized what an incredible opportunity this was going to be—Women, sharing their stories. And I learned more about The She Said Project and this was all about women empowering each other, I was in. “Yes, please sign me up.”
I was raised by a strong independent woman. She was raised by a strong independent woman. I’m doing my very best to raise three, three strong, independent girls of my own. And I want them and all of you to know, it’s not always going to be easy. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not always going to be a fairytale. You have to embrace the chaos, you have to embrace the embarrassing moments. You have to embrace the shit. You have to embrace everything life. throws your way and embrace your whole story even if it isn’t the perfect fairytale. And remember, if Cinderella taught us anything, it’s that your dreams can come true with the right pair of shoes.
(cheers and applause)
JENETTE: How does feel taking a moment to listen to that story again?
AMBER: I mean, it brings it all back for sure, that night on the stage surrounded by all those amazing women, that was one of the things that I think I didn’t expect was the—just all of the praise and encouragement. And I mean, from the community and everybody around like, I had obviously like a lot of friends and family and co-workers and different people there—and to have them come up to me—days, weeks, after the show, saying like, “Oh, it’s so amazing” and just, “Thank you for sharing your story” and just, you know, the encouragement from them. But the other thing I expected was the sisterhood that we created with the group of us that were on stage that night. I mean, it’s just amazing. We’re over a year later and we still are in contact you know, via text and hopefully once this pandemic is over we’ll be able to get together again soon. But I mean it truly is like a sisterhood that was formed. I had no idea that when I first walked into our first rehearsal at that, something that would come from it. Of all the things I’ve taken away from this, but that’s my most cherished thing.
JENETTE: I love that you said that. Your cast really did bond and has stayed connected and it is a blessing to know you and know all those women from that performance.
Listening to your words about, you know, the messiness that is life and talking about embracing it could not even be more appropriate today. That performance was obviously prior to a global pandemic, but how true those words ring right now. Life just got messy times, you know, a gazillion—for everybody. How are you handling the world right now?
AMBER: You know I would say (sigh) some days are (laughs) some days are good and some days are bad. It’s just kind of—you just gotta take what comes, right? And try to make the best of it. And I mean it’s easy to be like, what, I mean with the homeschooling and working, for me. Right? But I mean, like there are shiny little pieces in it too, I mean, obviously, we’ve had so much more time with our families, which is usually a blessing—I haven’t killed anybody yet. So (laughs) that’s good. You know, you just got to, I guess, just look for those, for those bright shiny spots in it.
KERRY: It is! And the shoes. I was actually thinking of you because over break and, you know, it’s been a lot of months of being on lockdown and I put on makeup and hair and, shoot, like real shoes, not fuzzy slippers and everyone in my family was like, “What’s happening? Where are we going? What’s going on?” Like something really big, and I was like, “Sometimes a girl just needs to feel pretty, OKAY?” Pandemic pretty, but whatever.
AMBER: Yeah, I mean, obviously, this is podcast, but since we’re recording it over Zoom, I literally came in the office and my husband was like, “Whoa.” I mean, from the waist up. (laughs) I have (inaudible) granted, my, my running tights on underneath. But he was like, “Oh, you look pretty. What are you doing?” And I was like, “Zooming.” (laughs) Yes, but I do miss my shoes. I am anxious to get out and put on some heels and trot around the town.
JENETTE: To have a reason to do so!
JENETTE: Now, we all feel that way, but it’s amazing how resilient people have been and how people have been so collaborative and supportive in this unprecedented time, and we’re attempting to do the same thing by connecting with our friends and checking in with our She Said Sisters, who did take the time to share those, those really personal intimate stories, like you have, and so grateful for you, for your heart, for your humor, you brought so much humor to that performance, which is sometimes the hardest thing to find. And um, and we really appreciate the laughter then and now. So, I think that’s all the time we have today.
Amber, thank you so much for being here, for joining us, sharing women’s stories is what we do. And we look forward to having more live performances. But for now, you know, tune in each week, here on The She Said Project Podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to http://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
We've all seen those women who look perfect and seemingly have it all together. In "My Fairytale Life," Amber Cook dismantles the facade and reveals to hosts Jenette and Kerry some of the less-than-glamorous truths of womanhood.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.