Work in Progress
Is there a recipe for happiness when a mother can’t eat, and a daughter can’t stop? In this brave, funny novel a 12-year-old girl searches for acceptance when being bite-sized 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… and her tongue. Now Eden must prove food is not her enemy. Unless it is. While binge-eating trays of food sent for the family she discovers she must defeat that rival in a cooking competition. But when an already anxious Eden is accused of sabotage, will she fight for her sweet ending or watch her dreams go up in flames?
Every year I counted down until school ended and sleepaway camp began. My dad called it living ten for two, and until this past summer he was right. Soon after I arrived, I wondered if I was the only girl in my bunk who didn’t get the group text. NOBODY CARES IF WE’RE GAGA BALL CHAMPS. Seems our new thing was being flirts in skirts and wearing tons of makeup to evening activity.
If only someone warned me being twelve was so, so different from being eleven.
I tried explaining to my supposed friends, the girls I’d spent every summer with since second grade, our looks were the most boring thing about us. A lesson I learned from my grandma who won three beauty contests and used the prize money to pay for law school. But instead of appreciating my help they turned against me like I said something bad about selfies.
First, they pranked me by moving my clothes into a boy’s cabin. Then they left a note under my pillow. Eden!!! We think you should wear a bathing suit under your clothes so your stomach doesn’t stick out!!
Well sorr-eee if I still had a baby belly and no sign of a growth spurt.
For the first time, I was the camper who was packed when my parents arrived on visiting day. I knew Mom would lecture me about the unfortunate things that happened to quitters, but it would be worth it if I could sleep in my comfy bed again. Whip up a tray of my famous mac and cheese. Poop in private!
“Don’t leave us with them,” Shelby begged.
“We’ll pay you to stay,” Mia said.
I did hate abandoning the only other girls who weren’t obsessed with getting kissed or playing with eyelash extensions. But Shelby and Mia didn’t have to worry about me leaving. On visiting day, my parents unpacked my trunk faster than you could say, we paid for seven weeks.
Mom, the trial lawyer, scanned the bunk for suspects. “Show me who the bullies are, and I’ll put a stop to it.” Maybe I would have if camp offered a witness protection program. Instead I blamed my misery on homesickness.
“Sorry, Eden,” she said. “I’m swamped at the office.”
“And the city is stifling,” Dad added. “At least here you have a lake and a pool.”
My fifteen-year-old brother, Jayden, closed the case. “Nobody misses you.”
Really? He made his own snacks now?
Adding to the festivities, Mom “suggested” Girl Time before heading back to Manhattan. I wished this meant we could have a laugh/chat over sushi. Instead, our conversations ran like meetings. She’d start by saying something nice about me and then point out what I was doing wrong. Nicely, of course, because there wasn’t room in my after-school schedule for therapy.
And big surprise. She scheduled our little talk at the same time as my cooking demonstration. “I’ve seen you make pasta before,” she said as we headed up Wolf Hill. Once we reached the top, we spread a quilt so we could stare at the jagged Pennsylvania mountains and clink our water bottles. But the special moment we were toasting was good hydration, her second favorite topic after dieting.
“The more water we drink the more fat we pee out,” she reminded me.
I blew on a fuzzy dandelion and wished I could blow away with the seeds.
Girl Time turned serious in a flash. High cholesterol ran in the family. Protein was healthier than carbohydrates. Blah, blah, blah. What was different was Mom was shivering in Dad’s golf jacket. In the middle of July.
“You’re cold?” I said.
“I’m always chilly in mountain air.”
Maybe if she ate more the breeze wouldn’t blow right through her. But the only weather report on her mind was a storm warning.
“It’s wonderful how much you love to cook,” Mom said.
The problem is…
“The problem is you seem to be spending all your time in the kitchen. How is softball?”
I bit a hang nail. “The girls acted like every game was the World Series.”
“And the swim team?”
“Practice was before breakfast and the pool was freezing.”
She blew a deep yoga breath. “You can’t keep bailing on things because they’re hard.”
“I don’t!” I said.
It made me mad she thought of me as a quitter when I was more of a tryer-outer. Someone searching for things I was good at so I could earn Mom’s approval like my brother, Trophy Boy. And had she forgotten the Sterling Family Motto: Thou Shalt Not Be Average?
At least cooking was fun, and I was a lot better at it than her.
But during Girl Time, Mom never listened to understand me. She only listened so she knew when it was her turn to talk.
She rubbed my shoulder. “Eden, you need more physical activity … I’m concerned about your health.”
If I had a game show buzzer, I would have pushed it. The correct answer was she was concerned I wasn’t turning out like her.
Lori Sterling loved working out. I hated sweating. She finished law school at the top of her class. My best subject was studying recipes. She was tall and thin like her mother. I resembled Dad’s family (hint: the opposite of tall and thin).
“And don’t forget you’re older now,” she said. “You should eat to live not live to eat.”
“Mom! I get it. Can we please not talk about this anymore?”
Maybe my dream of being a chef wouldn’t be her worst nightmare if I told her about Jersey Jonathan. He was so happy I let him sample my cooking he asked me to camp prom.
She folded the quilt. “One last request… Get in your ten-thousand steps a day and stop eating candy at Canteen.”
I believe that was two requests. Luckily, she didn’t know I lost my FitBit and was hoarding Skittles. But rather than confess I told her about Jersey Jonathan’s dad. His office was near our apartment in New York so Jon and I could make a date after camp.
“He sounds sweet,” Mom said.
“Actually, he’s a pain in the butt.”
She laughed. “Get used to it.”
A few hours later, it was time for our goodbyes and to hear Mom tell me for the millionth time she loved me to the moon and back. But when she hugged me, her arms were so frail she could barely hold a squeeze. Then she slipped into the front seat of our car, took off Dad’s jacket and made me shiver. She was always bony. Now she looked see through.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Her chin jutted out. “Perfectly fine.”
Can you tell the jury why you hid under a jacket all day? Of course, she would be mad at being cross examined so I introduced Exhibit A. “Want a bag of Skittles for the ride?”
“No, I do not!”
“I’ll take it,” Jayden said.
“Me too,” Dad said.
She shook a finger at me. “This ends at home.”