(by Tracey Noonan)
Let me start by saying how much I love my daughter Dani. Unlike my other two children, Dani is my creative unicorn. She’s bubbly, a dreamer, definitely not a student, and relentlessly kind. My two older kids, also kind and thoughtful, have a more serious side. Being silly and playful doesn’t come as naturally to them. That’s why Dani’s decision to leave college in her senior year, and with just one class left to graduate, had me so concerned.
Dani stopped loving life. She became dark, withdrawn, and uninterested. In anything. She retreated to her room alone or with friends that I didn’t deem the best for her to be around, especially during this unexplained personality shift.
I tried desperately to reach her. I quit my blossoming career as a screenwriter and focused on helping her find her joy again. The challenge proved to be more and more difficult when she decided to move out of our home and “figure things out” on her own.
Normally, I wouldn’t have been such a “helicopter mom,” but finding my best friend after she had committed suicide, just a few months prior to this unexplained behavior, was enough to put me on “Mom” high alert.
I tried everything to light her fire. Knowing how creative she was, and is, I tried to get her interested in a hobby that had the potential to earn an income, like refinishing/restoring old furniture. She did make an aquarium out of an old console television, but that was unfortunately the extent of it. My final suggestion was that we take a cake decorating class together once a week. I felt like that would give me some precious time with her to try and assess which direction her heart and mind were headed.
To my extreme relief, she agreed. And so we met. And, I think to Dani’s surprise, we actually had a lot of fun, so much so that we decided to try and make a go of this new hobby we found and make it a legitimate business.
In October, 2011, we opened our first brick and mortar cupcake shop, outside of Boston, called Wicked Good Cupcakes. (If you’ve ever been to Boston, you’ll recognize the vernacular. Wicked is our go-to adjective, like “wicked smart” and “wicked pissah.”) The hours were long and the money was short, but we somehow found a way to learn on the fly and make our business work. We each focused on our strengths. Dani’s was definitely in the baking department, and mine was skewed more towards decorating. As we posted projects we were doing on Facebook, people began to order from us. The "proof of concept" was gratifying.
We were now together all the time. Dani moved back home because we weren’t able to pay ourselves in the beginning. What a blessing. It was then that we discovered she was suffering from bipolar disease and were able to get her the proper help she needed. The combination of family support, therapy sessions, and medications went a very long way.
The blessings continued. We had the opportunity as two adult women, running a growing business together, to see each other as individuals, not just as mother and daughter. Sure, we had our disagreements. And there were definitely some power struggles. But when we left the shop at the end of the day, we went home as family, and that made all the difference. Work issues stayed behind where they belonged, at work.
Dani and I have since had the extreme good fortune to appear together on ABC’s show “Shark Tank.” We’ve grown our tiny mother-daughter business to a national brand, all without college degrees, MBAs, or formal culinary training. Getting our hands dirty with flour, butter, and eggs, sculpting designs out of sugar, and then sending them off for people to enjoy was the recipe needed for us to move out of the dark and back into the light.
I’ll forever be grateful to all of those who helped guide me through some very, very scary times. I’ll forever be grateful to have had family recipes and stories to share with my girl. (My family includes some great aunts who baked for people out of their homes. My Great Aunt Dorcas was known for her creative approach towards displaying cakes at venues such as weddings. At one wedding, she put the different cake layers in baskets that were then hung on a tree. I always loved that story.)
But most importantly, I’m forever grateful about my daughter, someone who will live in my heart forever and be part of some of the most magnificent memories a mother could ever ask for—all because we baked together.
Tracey Noonan is the co-founder and CEO of Wicked Good Cupcakes in Hanover, Massachusetts.
Penuche Fudge Frosting
(Penuche is not common everywhere but well-loved in our home. And It's wicked easy.)
1 c. butter
2 c. brown sugar 1/2 c. hot (not scalded or boiled) milk
6 c. sifted confectioners’ sugar
Melt butter in saucepan and add brown sugar.
Cook over medium heat until it bubbles.
Cook for 1 minute more to thicken, and remove from heat.
Let set for 15 minutes.
Stir in hot milk and confectioners’ sugar.
Great poured over a maple cake.