Work in Progress
Middle school girls know their ABCs– angst, bewilderment and catastrophe. But in A LOT ON HER PLATE, twelve-year-old Eden Sterling also understands “D” for dejection. Especially after her mom urges her to Photoshop her pictures so she appears “healthier.” It’s DIETLAND meets DUMPLIN’ in this engaging novel about an aspiring chef who is starved for approval.
There is no easy recipe for survival in a home where the mother can’t eat, and the daughter can’t stop. Especially when dinner is referred to as “feedin’ Eden time.” But soon the tables turn. Eden’s mom is diagnosed with anorexia and Eden is certain she can cure her with her delicious cooking. She even sneaks into a culinary school to improve her skills, only to discover a mean-spirited classmate is more fat-phobic than her mom. Will Eden brave all this shaming or let her dream of being a chef go up in flames?
If Netflix made a TV show about my family, they could call it, The Sterling’s Are Insanely Busy. But I predict it would get cancelled after season one because we were also insanely boring. Every Sunday my mom gave out the new family calendar and it looked identical to one from the week before. Still, she’d beg us not to make changes because it would turn her life into a game of Jenga.
No worries. My dad barely glanced at the calendar. My fifteen-year-old brother, Jayden, couldn’t keep track if it was pinned to his shirt. And my life at twelve wasn’t so exciting that things happened unexpectedly.
Until one weekend something unexpected did happen.
It was the Saturday of Labor Day and everyone was doing their “thing”. My mom was stretching before her run through Central Park. My dad was mapping his bike ride to Brooklyn. And Jayden was dribbling a soccer ball because he thought he had practice in an hour. Wrong again, Bro.
But other than binge-watching the Food Network and collecting recipes, I didn’t have an official “thing”. So, when Mom asked me to pick up a package in our lobby, I said sure. Maybe I would bump into my building besties or catch up with our doorman, Alonzo. I missed everyone after spending the summer at camp in Pennsylvania.
“Thank you, Eden,” Mom said. “By the way, the package is for you.”
I perked up. “What is it?”
“It’s for back-to-school.”
Sweet! I had begged for these white jeweled sneakers my best friend, Faith, thought would be perfect for my first-day outfit. Mom said they were too expensive but maybe they had gone on sale. Or she could be surprising me with the puffy purple bag that I put in her Amazon cart. Shhhh. It had tons of pockets for hiding snacks.
“Please hurry back,” Mom said. “It’s our special day with Glamma.”
Special? We were going bra shopping with my grandmother at the store she brought my mother to when she was my age. Good times! “Do we have to go today?”
“Yes. It’s on the calendar.”
No point arguing because unlike TV shows family plans were rarely cancelled. But for someone who was obsessed with mommy bloggers mine was clueless. What girl was fine with standing half-naked in a dressing room while her mother and grandmother debated her cup size? Plus, I would give it thirty seconds before Mom made a wish. Let Eden thin out. She’ll be so much happier.
What she meant was she would be so much happier because on the upper east side of Manhattan, skinny daughters were like penthouse apartments. If you had one you were the envy of those who didn’t.
“Can we go to Verizon after?” I asked. “My phone keeps dying.”
“It keeps dying because you’re always on it.”
Run, I thought. Otherwise I’d get stuck listening to a lecture about the dangers of being a “screenager” and something called a dopamine brain. I tore out the door, pressed the elevator button and waited. And waited some more because one was always being repaired. But was I allowed to ride the service elevator like Jayden? “You’re too young to fend off a creepy delivery guy,” Mom said.
Not true. I’d crouch into the fighting stance I learned in gym and poke the guy’s eyes.
With no one in the hall watching, I practiced my moves in front of the shimmery gold mirror, but they were laughable. What about my selfie pose? Hand on hip. Lips pursed. Wink, wink. Meet Eden Sterling, the most popular seventh grader at Greystone Day School.
Cut, cut, cut, the director would have yelled if my life was a TV show.
Honestly, my snacks were popular than me. In the mood for Twizzlers? Find Eden. Thirsty? Eden has coconut water. Hopefully this wasn’t why hungry Henry Goodstein told Faith he liked me. Not that I would ever, ever like him back.
FAITH: Doesn’t matter why he likes you. Don’t you want your first kiss?
EDEN: With Corey Boxer!!!
FAITH: So? Practice on Henry and then you’ll be good at it with Corey
EDEN: Or, I could get a tutor
FAITH: They have those???
Pity there was no emoji for people who didn’t get jokes. But maybe Faith was right. If my first make out moment was with Henry, who cared if I was a classic underachiever.
Finally, the elevator opened.
“Good morning, Mademoiselle,” Alonzo bowed as I walked past his gleaming desk and plopped into my favorite red leather chair. I had forgotten how much I loved the glass sculptures and tall vases filled with rose-colored bouquets. And even though our lobby looked like other fancy doorman buildings, only ours served tea and scones every day at four.
“Alonzo! What is up?”
“The sky is up. The stock market is up and…”
“The ratings are up.” I finished his sentence because it made him happy to talk about his son, the TV actor. Maybe one day he would star in The Sterling’s Are Insanely Busy.
“Are you here for your package?” Alonzo asked.
“And to hang out.” Then I heard a familiar squeal. “It’s Eee-din!” Four-year-old Cooper ran over with his two-year-old sister tagging behind.
I shot up, just so they could knock me over. “It’s Super Cooper and Smiley Riley!”
Their mom, Shari, clapped. “My mother’s helper is back. We missed you so much.”
“Missed you guys, too. And thanks for sending me extra canteen money.”
“Oh, to be a kid again,” she said. “You can eat all the candy you want.”
Not with my mom, I thought. “Eden, check the label. How many carbs per serving?”
Shari helped me up. “I also missed your great recipe finds. Got any new ones?”
“A few,” I said. “But they look really hard.”
“Well, if anyone can figure them out it’s you. You’re going to be the next Rachel Ray.”
I smiled so she wouldn’t guess my crazy thought. Imagine the possibility if kids could be traded to a family they liked better than their own.
“Of course, it takes years to become a great chef,” Shari said. “So, you have to be fierce while you’re learning.”
I’d love to be fierce, but didn’t you have to be born with the gene? Or, hope one night your brain got magically updated to the 2.0 version of yourself?
Cooper and Riley tugged at their mom, so I didn’t have time to ask. Then Alonzo returned from the mailroom with the package. Yasss! It looked like the right size for sneakers and a bag.
“It’s heavy,” he said. “Can you manage?”
Lip gloss. That would remind him I was no longer five. “Thanks. I’m good.”
I ran to the elevator just as our retired neighbor, Mrs. Elder, and her miniature poodle, Millie, stepped off. I loved when a pet and their person resembled each other as they did with their chocolate brown curls and round behinds. “Give me kisses,” I nuzzled Millie, certain she would not think I needed a tutor. “Did you behave for the groomer?”
“She did, “Mrs. Elder said. “And I’m glad I ran into you because I’m baking apple pies tomorrow. Care to assist?”
“Yes, please!” I was obsessed with Mrs. Elder because she knew all these great kitchen tricks. Plus, she had these lucky measuring spoons which felt magical in my hands. I just hoped Mom wouldn’t turn the invitation into a teaching moment about butter insuring a relationship with a cardiologist. Or be in a bad mood when I walked in.
“What took so long?” Mom yelled. “I asked you to come right back up.”
“Sorry. Alonzo asked me to save the planet, and I couldn’t find my cape… Can I open the box now?”
Tough crowd. Not even a smile.
“Eden, we’re late,” she replied. “Do you need to pee?”
“No. Can we stop for bagels?”
Mom didn’t answer which meant she was adding up the calories in a scooped-out poppy seed with tuna and Swiss cheese. “Why don’t we grab yogurts instead?”
“Because yogurt isn’t filling,” I said. “At best it’s an appetizer.”
“Fine. Open the box.”
I had no idea 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. It made my heart quicken to imagine how many likes I’d get when I posted a picture of my fashionable feet. Then I pulled out a squishy package and felt my eyeballs sting. “Mom? Were you ever twelve?”
Of course,” she said. “And I remember it well.”
“So, you remember wanting adorable sneakers and getting protein shakes instead?”
“Once again, you’re overreacting.”
Once again, you’re trying to turn me into you. “Just tell me what protein shakes have to do with school. Wait. Do they taste like science experiments?”
“No, Eden. Studies show that students who start the day boosting their metabolism perform better on tests.”
Studies also showed what daughters of diet-crazed mothers knew. Boosting metabolism was code for losing weight and mine thought I was fat. “You are the worst!” I ran to my room and slammed the door.
“Eden!” Mom 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 mumbled something to Mom. 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.”