Families Belong Together

One day, during my daughter’s last hospital stay, she needed an MRI. She couldn’t be fully sedated for the procedure, but the doctors and nurses assured my husband and I that we could go with her, to help keep her calm. This was important because she was two years old and living through months of extreme medical trauma. She was terrified of anyone who wasn’t us. But when we got to the radiology lab, the rules — abruptly and inexplicably — changed. Our daughter was whisked into the procedure room on a gurney, and before I could slip in behind her, the door slammed in my face. Dan and I stood on the other side of that locked door for twenty minutes, listening to her scream for me from the MRI tube.

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On Gwyneth Paltrow and Reading My Book Out Loud

So that pile of papers is…my book!

In the biz, we call this “First Pass.” The manuscript has been revised, copy-edited, fact-checked and typeset… so this was the first time I got to read my words on pages that look like actual book pages, not a Word document. This is the second time I’ve edited a hard copy — I printed the whole Word doc out to line edit before I submitted my first draft last fall. But I did something a little different this time, which was to read the whole manuscript out loud. I got this tip from Anna Quindlen when I heard her interviewed on my favorite writing podcast; apparently she always reads her manuscripts out loud in their entirety. It sounds sort of obvious, but I can see why most people don’t do it. It is surprisingly exhausting to read a whole book out loud. One chapter takes several hours when you’re stopping to edit and also drink a lot of water. It took me the better part of two weeks to get through the whole thing.

But it was excellent advice. I found I caught far more mistakes and word reps and run-on sentences than I ever do reading silently. So much so that I am now slightly despairing that galleys (advance reading copies — the things that look a lot more like books but don’t have hard covers) are made from these First Pass pages before all my corrections went in. So if you get a galley from me in the next few weeks, please know the final book really is going to be oh so much better and maybe don’t even really read the galley, but just admire it from afar? (Unless I’m asking you to blurb, of course. And even then, maybe sort of skim?)

Okay but here are some things you can read — silently or out loud, your choice — while you’re waiting to read my book.

“If I can afford steak, why worry about buying beans?” Fascinating interviews with black men on how they perceive their food environments.

Should we use prisoners to study salt

Almost everybody gets unhealthy eventually: I love how Dr. Arya Sharma breaks down a new LANCET study, which tried to conclude that even if you’re “healthy fat” now, you’ll end up “unhealthy fat” later. (Short version: You probably will. But so will your “healthy thin” friend. It’s called aging!)

President Obama’s Lucky Pasta

It’s just not nice (or helpful!) to call your kid a picky eater. (And if there’s one thing I learned researching my book: Pickiness is in the eye of the beholder.)

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The Snack Drawer Experiment

I posted this pic on Instagram a few weeks ago, of my effort to give our 4-year-old choices she would enjoy (rather than whine about) at snack time. The goal here was not to police her sugar intake or anything like that, but rather, to get on top of the endless “I need a snack!”-itis that we sometimes (often) endure. A lot of folks chimed in, because whoa, the snack struggle is real. It’s such a weird invented meal, stemming partly from legit need (kid bellies do need filling every few hours and often more frequently than adults) but partly from our snack-on-demand food culture, that encourages kids to think they need to eat whenever their hands aren’t busy.

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This is Why a Perfect Pregnancy is BS (Parents Magazine)

Why A Perfect Pregnancy is BS, Parents Magazine, Virginia Sole-Smith

It was the 18th week of my second pregnancy. I lay in a fake-leather recliner, holding my breath and my husband’s hand as a maternal fetal medicine specialist slid an ultrasound wand over my abdomen. This wasn’t your standard anatomy check. The doctor was trying to see if our baby had all four chambers of her heart. And if she would be spared the 12 surgeries, six months of hospital life, and countless moments of pain and panic that our first daughter endured during her early years.

 Violet was born with a rare collection of life-threatening congenital heart defects, all of which were somehow missed on the half-dozen ultrasounds I had during my pregnancy with her. We didn’t know anything was wrong until her heart began shutting down when she was a month old. Violet is now a happy and healthy 4-year-old who begins every sentence with “Actually… ” But her heart condition is lifelong. The question that haunted every conversation Dan and I had about a second child was: What if it happens again?

The odds of that were small, but much bigger than if it hadn’t happened the first time. So my second pregnancy was immediately classified as high risk. I underwent every genetic test and screening because my doctor was determined not to miss so much as a prenatal pimple. And so, after searching the grainy images of our baby on the ultrasound monitor for about ten minutes, my doctor turned to me with a huge smile. “Her heart is developing normally,” he said. “This baby gets an A+. Good work, Mom!”

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On Feeding Beatrix

 

If you’ve followed my work for the past few years, you know that feeding our first baby was…fraught. Also terrifying, heartbreaking, and ultimately, rewarding. But never simple. I spent last year thinking a lot about how we learned to feed Violet, mostly because I was writing my book at the same time. But also because I was pregnant and quietly dreading the fact that I was going to have to do it again.

I wanted to breastfeed again. But I don’t think I had the greatest reasons. It wasn’t really about the baby’s health: I’ve been through the scientific literature enough times to know that as long as you have access to safe drinking water, breast is not necessarily best or even all that much better than formula. (It offers some immune system-boosting advantages, but that’s something of a wash with the fact that formula is a more reliable source of iron and vitamin D. All the stuff about its ability to boost IQs and prevent obesity is pure correlation. Hanna Rosin’s 2009 article reviewing the evidence is still my favorite if you need more details.) It also wasn’t a feminist thing. I get that breastfeeding is, for many mothers, a profound way to celebrate womanhood. I also see how much it complicates a couple’s ability to equally share parenting responsibilities. And it doesn’t save money because my time has value.

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Filing Under Terrible: Weight Watchers for Teens and Blue Apron for Poor People

Potluck Buffet

I’ve got two seemingly unrelated food things on my mind this week: Earlier this month, Weight Watchers announced plans to offer free memberships to teenagers this summer. And then last week, the Trump administration announced a proposal to replace half of a family’s food stamps budget with an “American Harvest Box,” of USA-grown food. White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney described the new plan as “a Blue Apron-type program,” which was immediately mocked as an obvious reach. (Somehow I don’t see the USDA springing for full-color recipe cards — plus, what gourmet delicacy can you whip up with shelf stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruit and cereal?)

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On #MeToo and Food Shaming


Hello and happy February!

I realize seeing this post pop up may come as a bit of a surprise, since the last time I did this was, oh, May 2017. It turns out that maintaining an active newsletter while also finishing a book manuscript (and then, having a baby!) was a bit ambitious. But it’s a new year, and the book, while still several steps away away from publication, is written. So I’m excited to get back to newslettering, both so I can continue to share my thoughts on food, culture and writing, and so I can tell you more about the book as we get closer to its release into the wild… which should happen mid-November.

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Talking Jimmy Kimmel, Heart Kids and Saving the ACA on CNN’s Don Lemon

I had a quick appearance on CNN with Don Lemon last night (watch it here). Pretty much everyone has been talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s beautiful monologue about his son Billy, who was born a few weeks ago with complex congenital heart defects. It’s thoughtful and eloquent (and still funny!), all the more so because he delivered it so soon after Billy’s first open heart surgery. Their family is just beginning to process this diagnosis and the traumatic journey they’re now on. But he recognized the importance of using his platform to raise awareness about protecting the Affordable Care Act, as the Republicans try once again to take it down.

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The Healthy Size Debate

Some Thoughts on What Makes a “Healthy Size.”I’ve been writing about the Health At Every Size movement for several years now. (Pictured above is a feature I wrote for Marie Claire in 2014; here are the archives of the body image blog I wrote for the now-defunct iVillage back in 2011.) And I’m revisiting it again this month because I’m writing the book’s chapter on obesity, and what it’s like to eat when you live in a larger body. So I thought I’d talk about it a little here, in case you’re not familiar with it. Health At Every Size (HAES for short, and I’ve heard it pronounced “hace” or “has”) is part public health strategy and part social justice movement. Proponents argue that we should let go of our national obesity obsession and focus on healthy habits (like eating well and moving more) to pursue improved health directly, regardless of whether we lose any weight in the process.

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On Lunchboxes.

There’s a story making the rounds right now about a mom in Australia who packed a slice of chocolate cake in her three-year-old’s lunch — and received a firm note back from the teacher: “Please choose healthier options for Kindy.” And while this particular incident is news, the phenomenon is not. Teachers grading lunchboxes make the rounds about once every year or two and that’s probably because it happens way more often than that. See this 2015 story from the Today Show about the Colorado mom who packed Oreos and received a note in response detailing a rather arbitrary set of school food rules. “All children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable, and a healthy snack from home, along with a milk.” Okay, fair enough. But there’s also this: ”If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it.” What?

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