When Victoria Fedden’s parents went to prison, the Fort Lauderdale resident decided to take her reality and make lemonade—by writing her memoir This Is Not My Beautiful Life.
My family moved to Fort Lauderdale from New York in 1989. I was 15 years old, and one of the first things I noticed was that the news here, well … it was weird. Being a writer from the time I was a kid, I found our local headlines such as “Florida man once arrested for fighting drag queen with tiki torch while dressed like KKK member now running for mayor” extremely entertaining.
I felt the same way about a lot of the characters who showed up at my parents’ waterfront mansion, which included not one but several reality TV stars, alleged Russian mobsters, sex workers, an aging dominatrix, a number of elderly millionaires and their younger, silicone-enhanced trophy wives, guys who looked like extras from the set of “The Sopranos,” and one time even Michael Bolton. I always laughed them off in the same way I did the outrageous news stories, and I always maintained a safe distance from the chaos.
At least I thought I did, until one early morning in October 2010 when the Feds came knocking on my parents’ front door, and I answered it. My husband and I had been staying there while our own house was being renovated. Oh, and did I mention I was nine months pregnant? Yeah, I greeted a group of intimidating federal agents while I was wearing gigantic maternity underwear. Luckily by the time they hauled my mom to the Broward County Jail on wire fraud and conspiracy charges (after executing a three-hour-long search warrant), I was able to put on some pants.
A year later, my dad was arrested and his charges were even more serious. My parents were accused of masterminding elaborate “pump and dump” stock schemes, among other things. I’d always heard that South Florida was the white collar crime capital of the world, but I never imagined that my own family would be part of the reason.
Suddenly, I wasn’t just reading the South Florida headlines—I was living them. At the same time I was trying to take care of a baby, dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, adjusting to the unexpected changes that parenthood brings to a marriage and trying to figure out who on earth I was, and how I was going to lead a happy life in spite of it all.
The middle of a family crisis (while breastfeeding) probably isn’t the best time to embark on a deep spiritual journey, but the truth is that kind of growth is rarely convenient and never painless. Plus, I only meant to try yoga as a way to melt off the baby weight. That definitely didn’t happen, but something more important did—I learned to calm down, to stop resisting and to start loving myself. I like to say that my yoga before and after isn’t something that shows up in photographs. To this day I still can’t do a handstand. But what I have learned are coping skills.
Life is imperfect. I used to strive for a fantasy family, thinking I had to be a perfect mom with a perfect husband and a kid who ate broccoli and could read early. When my parents went to prison, I felt embarrassed and abandoned, but I realized that everyone has problems, and all families face tough times—even though most don’t involve handcuffs. What matters is that when things look hopeless and nothing turns out the way we’d planned, and when the people we love most disappoint us, we stay optimistic and strong. We keep our integrity, realizing that the only things we can control are ourselves.
It’s not about creating a beautiful life—luxurious vacations, fancy cars, mink eyelash extensions and looking hot in your Lululemon. This was where my parents had it all wrong. Instead, it’s about seeing the beauty in life that’s already there—the beauty that’s inside each of us—regardless of our circumstances.
Victoria Fedden is an author and blogger who has taught writing at Florida Atlantic University, Barry University and Palm Beach State College. Her memoir This Is Not My Beautiful Life is available at Barnes & Noble, amazon.com and independent bookstores.