Work in Progress
Is there a recipe for happiness when a mother can’t eat, and a daughter can’t stop? In A LOT ON HER PLATE, a 12-year-old girl starving for approval is challenged by diet culture and the fear she’ll have to give in to fit in.
Eden Sterling has quit every activity except for cooking because of the yummy prize at the end, and the exciting discovery it’s the one thing she is better at than her mom and her friends. Trouble is her body is growing wider instead of taller and now her bat mitzvah dress will have to be ordered one size up (possibly two). Oh, yes there are tears at the store. Mom’s tears and that’s before she faints.
The tables turn when Mom is diagnosed with anorexia and must eat to survive. Eden prays her cooking can save her life until Mom is moved into a treatment center and suddenly Eden savors her first taste of freedom. She sneaks into a kids’ culinary school and meets Chloe, a skinny rival who can sharpen a knife and her tongue. Chloe eyes Eden’s body (in front of a boy!) and warns her not to lick the mixing spoons which so mortifies her she goes home and binge eats food platters sent for the family. Ashamed of her lack of self-control Eden vows to hang up her apron until she is asked to enter the baking competition Chloe wins every year. Now Eden is torn. Will she go for a sweet ending or let her dreams go up in flames?
Girl Power You Are Dead to Me
Sleepaway camp was so awesome my parents told everyone I lived ten months for two. Seriously. Nothing beat hanging out at the lake, sharing secrets and laughing until our stomachs hurt. Then there was the night the toilets in our bunk overflowed and we got to sleep at a hotel. Best life ever…
Until the summer of seventh grade.
After three days, I begged my counselor, Ella from Australia, to let me switch bunks.
“What’s wrong, love?” she asked. “Your mates not tickling your fancy?”
“Everyone changed… They’re being so mean.”
“How about giving them a wee more time?”
I squirmed because counselors, even the ones who came from a different country, were supposed to act like half moms, half friends. The kind who put their arms around you and promised to help. Trouble was if Ella thought we were problem solving then she was terrible at her job because spending more time with these girls meant one thing. More pretending we were all the same, like aliens.
For one thing, I liked boys I just didn’t get the point of being obsessed with them. And I liked clothes, but nobody told me to pack enough outfits to dress our entire bunk. Then Ava Zelinsky decided we didn’t need to win another gaga ball championship because the trophy that mattered this year was the one for Best Flirts in Skirts.
And that still didn’t explain my misery.
What explained it perfectly was the giggling behind my back when I changed into a bathing suit and my so-called friends leaving for activities without me. Plus, how many times did I have to ask them to scoot over at our dining table?
I felt like a star of a TV show that suddenly got written out of the script.
A week later I couldn’t take the rudeness and begged Ella to please, please, please let me move into to Bunk Eleven. “The girls are way nicer,” I said.
“Sorry, Eden. No more room at the Inn. Might ya talk to Olivia and Hannah?”
I had talked to my two best friends, but they said they had no idea why everyone was being so @#$%^ yet somehow, they knew everything else– who pretended to have cramps, still sucked their thumb and was hoping for their first real kiss.
That night, I tossed in bed feeling shaky and sweaty. Go home, Anxiety whispered. “I can’t,” I whispered back. “Mom will call me a quitter.” Then like magic I thought of the coolest idea to win everyone over.
I would act like the star of my own show.
First, I’d mention the Eiffel Tower cake I’d made out of silver fondant and that I might be a guest chef on “Baker Babes.” Next, I’d talk about my cooking video that could go viral so everyone would want to take selfies with me. And though none of this was true neither was half the stuff that they bragged about.
Oh, hello my new bestie, Attitude.
The next morning on the way to breakfast me and Attitude inhaled the Pennsylvania mountain air while admiring the rain-soaked berries which twinkled like holiday lights. Soon I heard my name called and my mood brightened.
“We’ll tell you what happened,” an out of breath Hannah said.
“But you can’t repeat it,” Olivia huffed.
I felt breathless too. “I won’t.”
Olivia looked around to make sure no one else could hear. “So, Ava texted everyone before camp and said to ghost you.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “Why?”
“She said you don’t care about your looks.”
“Because I’m bad at makeup?” I asked.
“Because you need to go on a diet,” Hannah whispered.
I kicked a pebble so hard it ricocheted off a tree.
“It’s cool,” Olivia said. “We told her you want to be a chef, so you have to try everything.”
I did want to be a chef because cooking was the only thing I did better than Mom and my friends. Plus, all I had to do was follow a recipe and get a yummy prize at the end. What I didn’t want was to spend the summer with my old friend, Low Self Esteem. “Do you think I should lose weight?” I asked.
Hannah tapped her lips. “Maybe like ten pounds…or even five.”
“Unless you don’t want to diet,” Olivia said. “We don’t all have to look alike.”
“Yay for girl power,” Hannah added.
“Yay for girl power,” I repeated even though there was no such thing.
In actual life girl power was invented by guidance counselors and people who sold cute t-shirts, but even the shirts with really good sayings changed nothing because everyone knew the only girls with power were skinny, pretty and perfect. Also, if I complained about being judged, I’d get picked on even more.
“Could you tell Ava I’m going to be a famous chef so she’s nicer to me?”
The warning worked! That night, she asked me to hang out on the porch and I felt like a genius for doing my own problem solving. At least until I found out the invitation was a set-up so our bunk could play, “You’re Hot! You’re Not.” It was a stupid game where we had to vote on which of your body parts were good and which ones needed fixing.
Guess who lost points for having a jiggly belly and tree trunk thighs?
Soon it was Ava’s turn and I almost mentioned her weird-shaped eyes but decided to say she was fine the way she was. That we all were. “Don’t you think our looks should be the most boring thing about us?” I asked.
“NO!” everyone said as if I had offended the host country at the Olympics.
Sheesh. I was only repeating a lesson my Glamma taught me after winning three beauty contests and using the prize money to pay for law school. Sadly, Team Ava didn’t appreciate my grandmother’s opinion because the next day they left the sweetest note under my pillow. We think you should wear a bathing suit under your clothes so it holds in your big gut!!!
I did what any sad girl would do. I locked myself in a bathroom stall, quiet-cried into scratchy toilet paper and wished someone had warned me that feelings hurt way worse at twelve than at eleven. I also wished I could make a video that went viral so everyone would beg to be my friend and get a text from my assistant, Julia. No wait. Julianna!
JULIANNA: Sorry guys. Eden and her rescue dogs are headed to Miami for a big bash with Nick Jonas. Raincheck?
But daydreams weren’t as good as Plan B’s.
Later that day I announced a bunk event where everyone could take turns taming my crazy curls before evening activity. So fun, I thought until not even Olivia and Hannah volunteered, and my phone calls home began sounding like a country song. “Why can’t I leave? Oh, please, please, please let me leave…”
Mom, a lawyer like Glamma, made her opening argument. “Sorry, Eden. I’m swamped with cases, and you know how I feel about quitters.” Dad said, “Manhattan is stifling, but lucky you camp has a lake and a pool.” And Jayden, my fifteen-year-old bro, let the defense rest. “Dude! No one misses you.”
But what upset me more than my family not caring about my happiness was knowing Ava wouldn’t be the last girl to body shame me which was ridiculously unfair. Did people think I wanted to inherit Dad’s short, round genes instead of Mom’s and Glamma’s thinny-thin ones? Not to mention, who decided there was only ONE PERFECT LOOK?
No one at camp seemed to know, especially Ella of Australia who was so in love with her first iPhone she didn’t notice me walk out the bunk during clean up. Or realize I was carrying t-shirts and the trowel I’d borrowed from the lady who ran the FlowerPower club.
Down, down, down to the lakefront I trudged, waving at our Division Director and a few girls from my softball team. I thought someone would ask where I was going, but no one did, and the hurt and anger swirled inside like a nasty stew. Just wait until I am famous, and I ignore all of you.
And sure, revenge dreaming wasn’t my best trait, but it did make me walk faster and soon, I found my perfect tree—a large one for shade with a spot to dig a hole. In two secs I fell to my knees and sunk the trowel into the dirt with such force it sent a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. Didn’t care. I was burying the awful t-shirts Mom made me pack: MY LIFE, MY RULES… WE RISE BY LIFTING OTHERS… DREAM BIG. NO, BIGGER!
“Girl Power you are dead to me,” I said as I shoved them into the hole and kicked dirt over the top. Oops. I still had one more but decided to spare its life.
“What are you doing?” a girl’s voice startled me.
Molly, a younger camper, was staring at the lumpy heap.
“Getting rid of some things I don’t want anymore,” I said.
“Why don’t you want them anymore?”
I didn’t feel like explaining my life to an annoying fifth grader, but when she dug her heels into the dirt, I knew she’d never leave until I answered. “The sayings on them are big lies and also they make me feel worse not better.”
“Worse about what?”
My friends are super judgy and think anyone that doesn’t look like them is gross. Trouble was camp rumors oozed like s’mores and I would be toast if Molly repeated that. “I’m tired of pretending to be like everyone else.”
I didn’t think she’d come barreling at me with a hug. “Same.”
I wondered how a skinny girl with THE PERFECT LOOK would understand what I meant unless… “Molly, are you being bullied?”
“Ghosted,” she said.
“Me too! What’s your story?”
“So, I told a friend I get confused because sometimes I think a boy is cute but sometimes, I think a girl is very cute and now nobody will talk to me… can I bury something too?”
“I guess,” I said.
She sped off and returned with a white frilly skirt and matching top. “My mom made me bring this outfit and it’s so ugly.”
“But the hole is too small.”
She sat Indian style and dug with her fiercest might. “I’ll make it bigger.”
Soon, we added her clothes to the burial ground and when she looked up her braces sparkled in the sun. “Best day of camp ever.”
Then I remembered I was holding the shirt I still liked but had a feeling Molly needed it more. “Want this?”
She read the saying: IF YOU DO YOU CAN I DO ME? “Thank you so, so much!” she said as she pulled it over her shirt and gave me a fist bump. “Girl power!”
I laughed. “There’s no such thing.”
“Yeah, there is,” she replied. “It’s when one of them gives you a reason to keep living.”