Never mind Desperate Housewives; Teri Hatcher half-jokes that she and her working-mom friends are all “a bunch of tired, fried, overworked, empty shells of women.” Single or married, she says, they too often find themselves “vacillating between guilt for not taking care of their children or their husband’s every need and the need to take care of themselves.”

A divorced mom whose pals often “come to me for advice,” Hatcher, 41, shares that wisdom in a memoir that she hopes will inspire others treading the line between motherhood and martyrdom. Focusing on the challenges that most women share, Hatcher doesn’t get into the sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle that she revealed earlier this year. “I did write about it,” she says. “I never put it in the book because that’s not what the book is.” Yet she doesn’t regret breaking her silence. “The energy in me has shifted,” she says. “I feel lighter. It makes me feel really good to know that I’ve helped people.”

In Burnt Toast she covers other sensitive material, including rumors that she’s anorexic—not true, she says—and the passion that was missing in her marriage to actor Jon Tenney. Of her romantic life now, Hatcher reports, “I’m ready to find a man to be with in a monogamous way. I’m not so hot to get married, but I’m not a one-night-stand person.”

So does Hatcher herself, like the classic self-sacrificing mom, still eat the burnt toast after giving everyone else the good stuff? “It’s sometimes easier to tell people what to do than actually do it,” she admits. “I eat less burnt toast … but I eat it.”

There’s a kids’ book called Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina about a peddler who walks from village to village selling hats. He wears all of his merchandise stacked on his head, a high, teetering tower of hats.

That’s the image I have when I think of what it is to be a mother. Every hat is one of your responsibilities:

• You get up, make breakfast and pack lunches (chef hat)

• Drive kids to school (chauffeur hat)

• Drop car off at shop, pick up rental (maintenance hat)

• Walk dog (dog-walking hat)

• Go to work or manage the house, or both (professional hat)

• Coach the kids’ tennis team (visor)

• Drive kids home again (mom hat—okay, I know there’s no such thing as a mom hat, but there should be)

• Make them dinner (chef hat again)

• Get kids bathed, read to, tucked in (mom, mom, mom)

• Have sex with your husband (wife hat—or maybe a beret, depending on what his fantasies are)

• Then finally—you guessed it—it’s time for a night cap.

And of course, the parade of hats starts all over again the next day. You’re overscheduled, overstressed, trying to do too much.

I’ve lived my life like this, and lots of my friends have too. When my water broke with Emerson, I was in the middle of cooking dinner. I called the doctor, who told me to come straight to the hospital. I asked her if I had time to blow-dry my hair. She said, “What?” and I explained that I thought I looked better with my hair blown out straight, and I was afraid it would be the last time that I ever took any time for myself. So I did it. I stood there in front of the mirror, broken water and all, and blew out my hair. It did look better. And I was right. It was the last time I blew my hair dry in months.

It’s even tougher trying to do it alone. This past Labor Day weekend, in the middle of a crazy two months of shooting Desperate Housewives, doing press for the premiere of the second season, honoring my commitment to charities and Clairol, and solo parenting duty while my ex was away in Vancouver on a movie, I spent the weekend camping with Emerson. It was the weekend before she started second grade, and I’d promised. As much as I love getting away, it was tough for me to completely embrace the pine trees and sleeping bags when I couldn’t stop anticipating the zillions of obligations that awaited me at home, but I pulled it off and Emerson had no idea how far from relaxed her marshmallow-roasting mother really was.

We started home after dinner on Monday night because I wanted to avoid traffic. I packed up the car, which is a hardcore adult production (easy, boys, not that kind of hardcore) involving rooftop luggage racks. The van only goes 35 miles per hour so it was a four-hour drive back. When we finally got home at midnight I let her sleep while I unpacked the car, cleaned it out, hauled our stuff upstairs, got our sleepy puppy to do his business. Then I woke Emerson up. I hated to do it, but we’d been camping and she’d already gotten one tick, so I had to give her a shower to make sure she didn’t have any more. I combed her knotted hair, got her in pajamas, and put her in bed.

I finally climbed into bed myself. But not so fast: Emerson was awake now, asking for a tissue to blow her nose. Then a glass of water for her dry throat. Then lip balm for her sunburnt lips. It was the lip balm that nearly put me over the edge. I wanted to say, Isn’t it enough that I gave you my whole weekend? I flew a kite on the freezing beach all day, and now I have to wait on you hand, foot and nose? Oh my God. Do you know what takes just as much effort for you as coming into my room to ask me to get you a tissue? Getting the tissue yourself! But being a parent is a chronic condition. I knew that Emerson was extra needy and crabby because she was so tired. God knows I knew how she felt. But I was the only grown-up, so I grabbed my nurse’s cap and reported for duty. Sometimes that’s what motherhood is about.

When [our kids] are infants they need us desperately, 24 hours a day. We spend so much time focused on our children that our identities get wrapped up in theirs. But the best way for us to weather their changes, and to let them grow up, is to keep track of who we are. We need to remember ourselves not just as mothers, but as women. That’s how to be the best you and the best mom.

So remember to give and take. Whether you’re married or divorced or a single parent by choice, you need and deserve adult time. You need to teach her how to put bread in the toaster, wait for it to brown to perfection, pull it out, and enjoy it. You need to show her that if you’re distracted and the toast gets burnt, you’ll try again because you’re worth it. You value yourself, your body, your satisfaction in life. That’s the best way to teach your children to value themselves. Okay, now I’ll take off my preacher’s hat.

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