When I was nine and a member of Mrs. Chase’s fourth grade class, the Scholastic book catalogs came home from school with me several times a year. They sold everything from chapter books and sticker books to scented erasers and crossword puzzles, and I wanted ALL OF IT. I pored over them for hours, circling and starring items and eventually presenting my parents with my wish list, organized by catalog. Though they were not wealthy, you wouldn’t know it from the way they indulged my bottomless desire to own more books. Though they sometimes limited the stickers and Hello Kitty pencils, I usually got to order whatever I wanted from the book section. At age nine, they bought me a book called ALL ABOUT ME.
ALL ABOUT ME was a fill-in-the-blank book, full of questions to answer. “What is your favorite color?” “Who are your best friends?” I deliberated, chewing my pencil. The most memorable question, though, the one I answered definitively and without a moment’s hesitation was “What will you be when you grow up?”
Carefully, I printed the answer: “An author.”
Next week, I’ll make my 9-year-old dream come true when my first book, Kitchen Medicine: How I Fed My Daughter out of Failure to Thrive is released. Coincidentally, the book ends with my daughter Sammi reaching the age I was when I promised myself I would grow up to become an author. If I were superstitious, I’d say that this is the universe making me whole, closing a circle which I opened when I admitted what I wanted to do.
Sammi’s first nine years, as evidenced by this blog, were fraught. My experience of self during that time was almost completely wrapped up in my identity as her mother, further fractured into micro-identities like mom of sick child, mom of child with dietary restrictions, mom of child with a 504 plan, mom of child in hospital, reluctant stay-at-home mom. For the first nine years of her life, I wasn’t able to consider other versions of myself, but just as I knew when I was nine what I wanted to do with my life, I knew when she was nine that I might finally get the chance to do it.
Writing memoir is by nature reliving the experiences as they enter the page. Promoting memoir is doing it again, several steps back, to see the larger themes that we were too close to see maybe even while we were writing it. As I’ve been doing podcast interviews over the last few weeks, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about my own story through other people’s eyes (and questions). While most of these podcasts will come out over the coming weeks, one is out today: my interview with Ivan Farber’s Conversations About Conversations, which you can hear at his web site or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and all kinds of other podcasting platforms. Ivan was a wonderful interviewer; I feel very luck to have had the chance to talk with him about Kitchen Medicine.
Some of the ideas I had about being a writer at age nine were not-quite-reality (somehow, despite my allergies, I pictured doing most of my writing with a cat on my lap), but one thing I always dreamed about really IS coming true: I’m doing a real reading. Actually, I’m doing two! If you’d like to take part virtually, you can join me and my fellow writer Aileen Weintraub for a virtual panel, moderated by Megan Margulies, via Chicago’s treasured independent bookstore, The Book Cellar, on Wednesday, March 16, at 7pm Central. You can register on their site to get the Zoom link.
If you’re in the Chicago area, you can come join me in person for my official book launch at my beloved Brothers K Coffeehouse! This coffeehouse is where my book opens and where I spent hours and hours writing it. Hosted by the wonderful bookstore Booked, we’ll begin at 7pm on Thursday, March 17. I’ll bring cake and berries, read a little, answer some questions, and sign your copies. You can pre-order from Booked by emailing email@example.com.
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Most importantly, the real reason for my story is that the challenges my daughter Sammi faced with eating gave me the chance to fall in love with my kitchen and with food as everything it is, for all of us: nourishment, love, community, history, wonder, and delight. Ivan Farber asked me why I called the book Kitchen Medicine, since it wasn’t food, exactly, that healed Sammi. The truth is that the medicine was for me: for my nine-year-old self, for my teenaged and adult self, for my self as a woman. My kitchen healed me.
Thank you for your witnessing of this journey.