Work in Progress
Is there a recipe for happiness when a mother can’t eat, and her daughter can’t stop? In this brave, funny novel a 12-year-old girl searches for acceptance when being bite-size seems the only choice.
Eden Sterling is a talented chef who is starved for her mother’s approval. A mother who thinks body shaming will keep her daughter out of the kitchen. Then the tables turn. Mom is diagnosed with anorexia and Eden hopes her cooking will save her. First stop is a kid’s culinary school to better her skills only to meet a fat-phobic rival who knows how to sharpen a knife. Now Eden must prove food is not her enemy. Unless it is. After binge-eating meals sent for the family, Eden hangs up her apron and Googles the latest diets. But it is game on when asked to compete against her rival in a cooking contest. Or game over if Mom gets her way. Will Eden get a sweet ending or watch her dreams go up in flames?
Some days my life felt like a YouTube channel without subscribers. I had friends, but nobody who was bored enough to follow me. Even I didn’t want to follow me. Every Sunday, Mom gave out the new family calendar and it looked identical to the one from the week before.
Until the weekend something crazy happened. Something unimaginable.
It was the Saturday of Labor Day and my ridiculously athletic family was doing their “thing.” Mom was stretching after her run through Central Park. Dad was mapping his bike ride to Brooklyn. And my fifteen-year-old brother, Jayden, was dribbling a soccer ball because Sir Clueless thought he had practice. Wrong again, bro.
I wished I had a “thing” so they would stop teasing me, but my idea of fun was binge watching the Food Network and hanging with people who liked me as I was. That’s why when Mom asked me to get a package in our lobby, I said sure. I could catch up with our doorman, Alonzo, and my building besties (the ones with cute kids and dogs). I missed everyone after spending the summer at camp and visiting my grandparents in Florida.
“Thank you, Eden,” Mom said. “By the way, it’s a back-to-school gift for you.”
“Sweet. Is it a new phone because mine keeps dying?”
“It keeps dying because you’re always on it.”
“I’m always on it because that’s what influencers do.”
As a trial lawyer she kept a million facts in her head like a walking Google. The one thing she didn’t know was how someone become an internet sensation though I could tell she doubted my story. Wouldn’t it require me having a talent of some kind? Instead of giving me a congratulatory hug she checked the time. “Please hurry back. It’s our special day with Glamma.”
Define special, I thought. We were going bra shopping with my grandmother at the store she brought my mother to when she was twelve. Because what girl wouldn’t want to continue such an awesome family tradition? But complaining would get me nowhere. Wherever Mom went Glamma followed and once they put a plan into place the voting was over.
Perhaps a different strategy. “Do we have to go today?”
“It’s on the calendar.”
She always made it sound as if our schedules were decided by the higher powers in a distant galaxy, and only they could change it.
“Why can’t we shop on-line like normal people?” I said.
“Because we don’t know your size now.”
“It’s the same as before.”
Mom lowered her glasses. “I’m afraid you’re bigger everywhere.”
Shame lodged in my throat. It was humiliating to be treated like a disappointing purchase she couldn’t return. But, welcome to the upper east side of Manhattan where skinny daughters were as valuable as penthouse apartments. If you had one you were the envy of those who didn’t.
And had she forgotten about something called puberty?
I raced to the elevator to avoid the lecture on healthy snacking (“Read labels!”) and good hydration (“Drink more water!”). Or as I called it, The Lori Sterling Method of Tortured Living.
Alone in the hall, I stood in front of the shimmery gold mirror and had our millionth invisible fight. “Do you think I want to be like you? What’s next? Intermittent fasting?”
Trouble was sticking up for myself took courage. Yes, she was my mom, but she was also a fist-banging attorney who made grown men cry. It was way less scary pretending to be a YouTube star. Hand on hip. Lips puckered. “I’m Eden Sterling, Greystone Academy’s latest influencer. I used to be a classic underachiever until…”
Joking. My snacks would get more followers than me. In the mood for Twizzlers? Ask Eden. Thirsty? Eden has coconut water. Must be why a boy in my class told my best friend he liked me.
I found Faith’s text.
FAITH: Doesn’t matter why Henry likes you. Don’t you want your first GOOD kiss?
EDEN: With Corey Boxer!!!
FAITH: Practice on Henry so you’re good at it with Corey
EDEN: Or I could get a kissing tutor
FAITH: They have those???
There should be an emoji for people who didn’t get jokes.
Finally, the elevator opened, and luckily, I was alone except for the security camera. But my buddy, Alonzo, wouldn’t snitch on me for popping a Starburst in my mouth. Then another.
“Welcome home, Mademoiselle,” he bowed as I walked past his gleaming desk.
“Alonzo! What is up?” I tossed the candy wrappers in the wastebasket and plopped into my favorite velvet chair.
“The sky is up and hopefully the stock market… Are you here for your package?”
“And to hang so my people know I’m back.”
Ding! The elevator opened and out walked our retired neighbor, Mrs. Adler, with her miniature poodle. “Millie! Give me kisses.” I nuzzled her nose and hoped she didn’t think I needed a tutor. “Did you behave for the groomer?”
“She did,” Mrs. Adler said. “And I’m so glad you are home because I’m baking apple pies this weekend. Care to join me?”
Hmm. Organize school supplies or spend the day turning squishy dough into a mouth-watering dessert? Hopefully Mom wouldn’t turn the invitation into a teaching moment. “Studies show that butter is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease.”
“Can’t wait,” I said. I loved baking with Mrs. Adler, but mostly I was obsessed with her lucky measuring spoons. For some reason they made my hands tingle as if there was magic tucked deep inside the wooden handles.
She smiled. “Come after lunch on Monday and bring your new recipes.”
“They look hard.”
“If anyone can figure them out it’s you. You’re the next Rachel Ray.”
I liked her positivity but doubted her psychic powers. Yes, I dreamed of being a chef. No, I would never be famous. Exciting things only happened to other people.
Mrs. Adler hugged me goodbye as Alonzo returned with a big box. I had begged for these white jeweled sneakers Faith thought would be perfect for my first-day outfit. Or maybe Mom was surprising me with the puffy purple bag I added to her Amazon cart. Shhh… It had lots of secret pockets for snacks.
Could they both be inside?
My heart raced. Maybe it was a sign she wanted to hang out more. Fight less. Be besties like her and Glamma. But as I juggled the box at our front door my good mood fizzled like a cheap sparkler.
My parents mentioned something about renovating the apartment while I was at camp. They failed to mention they would throw out half my childhood and donate the rest to Goodwill. Now I was finally taking a good look.
Buh-bye front closet where I used to play hide and seek. Adios dining room table, my homework headquarters. See ya comfy couch that was perfect for trivia night. Now we had a powder room with lighting bright enough for night games, stiff black leather seating and a granite table that looked like it had been ripped from the side of a mountain.
Fortunately, the wooden bar stools in our cozy kitchen were spared the dumpster.
I placed the box on the counter as Mom walked in. “What took so long?”
“Alonzo asked me to save the planet, and I couldn’t find my cape. Can I open my gift?”
“Eden, we’re late. And please go change. Those shorts are…”
“Tight,” she said. “Do you want people to judge you?”
By people do you mean, you?
“Please put on that cute romper Glamma bought you.”
Ewww. The romper’s bright floral prints were not my style and if it was also snug Mom would hold it up as Exhibit A. “The defendant is not drinking enough water.” Maybe if I cooperated, she would agree to my terms. “If I change can we stop for bagels?”
“Let’s have yogurt instead.”
“Yum. Yogurt. Says no one ever.”
“Fine,” she said. “Open the box.”
I wasn’t sure what my dream sneakers had to do with starvation, but I punched a hole through the center of the carton and ripped open a flap. The anticipation made my pulse quicken as I imagined how many likes I would get when I posted my fashionable feet. Then I peeked inside and felt my eyes sting like I was chopping onions. No sneakers. No bag. Just rows of squishy containers with names like Very Vanilla and Strawberry Sundae.
My old friends, Sad and Frustrated, returned from their summer vacay. “Mommm? Do you remember seventh grade?”
“So, you remember wanting adorable high tops and getting protein shakes instead?”
She folded her arms. “Must you always overreact?”
“I’m asking what they have to do with school. Do they taste like science experiments?”
“Studies show that students who start the day boosting their metabolism perform better on tests.”
Again, with the studies. Were there any showing what daughters of carb-deprived mothers knew? Boosting metabolism was code for losing weight and mine thought I was fat.
I ran to my room and slammed the door so hard my dresser mirror shook. But when I gazed into it, I didn’t see a girl who needed renovating like our apartment. I saw one who was tired of acting tough while dying inside.
Mom, I’m never going to be like you, but I still need you to like me. Please, please, please like me.
“Eden!” she yelled. “Glamma is waiting and you need bras.”
“Yeah, Eden,” Jayden mimicked from his room. “You need bras.”
“Knock it off,” Dad called from the kitchen. Then he lowered his voice. But when you are in the next room in an old building the heating vents tell all. “Go easy on her, Lori. She doesn’t even know yet.”