Excerpt: 'Burnt Toast' by Teri Hatcher

May 4, 2006 — -- Despite her successful acting career and the current fame she is enjoying with her starring role on "Desperate Housewives," Teri Hatcher, a single mother, says she can still feel "very fragile and very insecure."

She explores these feelings in "Burnt Toast: And Other Philosophies of Life," in which she speaks frankly about her life -- including her sexless honeymoon and the tabloid headlines that call her anorexic -- in hopes that other women will learn from what she has gone through and become stronger from it.

In fact, the title of her new book, "Burnt Toast," is a metaphor for women who too often take the leftovers for themselves -- something Hatcher says she is trying not to do as much, but still does.

You can visit Hatcher's website at www.myburnttoast.com.

Below is an excerpt from the book.

Toast. Think about it for a moment. It probably has the simplest recipe in the world: one ingredient, one instruction. Still, you know when you're trying to make it and you just can't get it right? It's too light or too soft, then... totally burnt. Charred in a matter of seconds -- now it's more like a brick than a piece of toast. So what do you do? Are you the kind of person who tries to scrape off the black? Or do you smother it with jam to hide the taste? Do you throw it away, or do you just eat it? If you shrug and eat the toast, is it because you're willing to settle for less? Maybe you don't want to be wasteful, but if you go ahead and eat that blackened square of bread, then what you're really saying -- to yourself and to the world -- is that the piece of bread is worth more than your own satisfaction.

Up 'til now, I ate the burnt toast. I learned that from my mother -- metaphorically if not literally. I can't actually remember if she even likes toast or how she eats it. But what I know for sure is that although she was a loving and devoted wife and mother, she always took care of everyone and everything else before herself. This habitual self-sacrifice was well intended, but ultimately it's a mixed message for a child. It taught me that in order for me to succeed, someone else had to suffer. I learned to accept whatever was in front of me without complaint because I didn't think I deserved good things.

I can toast bread just fine. I don't know about you, but my toaster only has one button. It's a no-brainer. And still, I've been eating that metaphoric burnt toast all my life, and I think other people do too. Then I hit forty. Jules Renard said, "We don't understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but we know it and admit it." Admitting that there were things I still needed to figure out made me see this new decade as a chance to reconsider some of my behaviors. Did I really want to spend another ten years this way? The easy answer: no. The harder realization was that in order to change, I needed to stop eating the burnt toast. I had to be done anticipating failure. I had to be done feeling like I didn't deserve good things, tasty things. And I was. I decided I was too old to continue this way. I didn't want to do it anymore, and I don't want other people to do it either. There is a way for us to value ourselves without taking away from anyone else. We should settle for nothing less than being good to ourselves and others. But it's hard to break old habits. You can make a new piece of toast in a couple minutes, but happiness takes work. That's why I wrote this book. It's my wacky, serious, skittish, heartfelt attempt to share my jagged route to happiness with other people like me.

Toast is small and simple, and maybe eating a lousy piece of it doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world. Agreed. I can think of far worse things. But this isn't a book about surviving worst-case scenarios. It's about weathering the small challenges that we encounter every day. This scar that I have on my left shin might give you an idea of what I'm talking about. I got it when I was at the beach with my daughter, Emerson Rose. It was the first morning of our trip, and Emerson and I spent it playing in the sand and walking along the beach. In front of our hotel, about fifteen feet off the shore in a calm area of the ocean, there was a floating trampoline. Pretty cool, huh? I'd never seen that before. It looked like it was intended to be fun, but was it something I really wanted to do? Not so much. I didn't want to be bouncing around in front of the whole beach in my less-than-supportive bikini. Nor did I want to plunge into the deep, dark ocean to swim out to the trampoline. Wading was just fine with me. Before I was a mother, I wouldn't have gone near something like that. But I am a mother now, and I could see that Emerson was afraid, but curious. As a single mom I find myself in this situation a lot -- there's some adventure that doesn't appeal to me, but there's no one I can turn to and say, "Your turn, honey. Take Emerson out onto the trampoline."

We swam out to the trampoline and bounced around for a while. Then Emerson wanted to jump off, but she was scared. I said, "Oh sure, let's do it. It'll be really fun. I'll go first." You and I both know that I did not want to jump off that trampoline. I was scared. But I don't want to teach that to her. I don't want to project my overblown imaginative worries onto her wide-eyed innocent hope. Now the thing about this floating trampoline is that it wasn't very bouncy, and what little bounce it had was weird and off-kilter, so you couldn't really plan your trajectory. But my daughter was waiting and watching, so what could I do? I flew off the trampoline into -- a huge belly flop. A belly flop looks funny. It even sounds funny. But I'm here to say: It's. Not. Funny. My stomach, my arms, my legs -- all my skin burned. I was instantly red and tender all over, but I didn't want Emerson to see that I was in serious pain. That wasn't the lesson I wanted to teach. I knew she could do it and I knew that she, unlike her aging mom, would be fine. So I popped my head out of the water and said, "That was so fun! Give it a try." She jumped straight off, loved it, of course, and did it again and again. When we got back to the beach, I saw that I had a long cut on my leg from the water (who knew that could happen?). Emerson noticed the blood, and I shrugged it off with some stupid excuse.

I was in agony, but I didn't want to cry in front of Emerson. Instead, I got a rum-infused coconut beverage from the guy walking down the beach and subtly iced my wound.

Now I look at the scar on my leg and wonder if I did the right thing. Should I have let Emerson know that I was hurt? Should I have called over a (preferably cute) lifeguard for some first aid? Why didn't I do that? Why did I hide the truth about what was going on with me? Did I do it for her or for me? Was I trying to be cool or tough? There's an emotional experience embedded in that scar. There's a lesson locked in it. I'm done making silent self-sacrifices. I'm done hiding the truth. Here it is. Have at it.

I hope you'll discover as you read this book that vulnerability plays a key role in my life. It's hard for me -- I have trouble admitting that I need other people. I've always tried to be honest about my fears and insecurities and self-doubt.

In my scrapbook from 1999 there's a fortune-cookie fortune that says, "Your luck has been completely changed today." But you don't change in a day. Just because you're getting older or more successful doesn't mean you automatically grow as a human being. You learn things when life presents you with an opportunity and you're ready to receive it.

When Desperate Housewives came along, I was, like many an aging female actress in Hollywood, a big has-been. I've made no secret of that. I never expected to get a second chance, though I must have saved that fortune in hope that everything actually could change overnight.

When it did, when Desperate Housewives became a hit, I suddenly had the job and security and affirmation that I'd given up on long before.

The lessons here are about how to forgive, love, enjoy, and explore yourself as a woman. I've finally gotten to a place where I'm easier on myself. I'm comfortable and happy being a mother. Being in my body. Feeling sensual as a forty-year-old woman. Most of the time. If you've ever felt like a spicy gumbo of fear and confidence, despair and hope, desire and satisfaction, mother and child, pretty and ugly, strong and weak, then keep listening. The journey's a whole lot easier if we take it together.

Excerpted from BURNT TOAST by Teri Hatcher. Copyright © 2006 Teri Hatcher. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.