My children have two grandmothers: the cheeseburger grandmother and the chicken-soup grandmother.

For my mother's cheeseburgers--small ones she invented decades ago as an idealized version of the old Little Tavern hamburgers--you have to be healthy, since they always involve a contest of who can eat the most. (Unfortunately, the family record was achieved before the children could count that high, and therefore is lost to history.) Chicken soup, is, of course, for when you are sick.

As anybody knows, for a working mother all the doubts and insecurities and guilts rise like scum to the surface when her children are sick. Thus I left my flu-struck son home one day with glasses of juice, piles of little white panaceas and homemade chicken soup thawing in the refrigerator, taking with me a case of guilt. When I returned I found the remains of a fresh pot of chicken soup.

"Where did this come from?" I asked, knowing that this son was no soup-cook.

"I called Nana and asked her to make me chicken soup," he explained.

Why? He already had chicken soup there, defrosting in plastic containers.

I should have already known the answer. Chicken soup is not just food, it is magic. Grandmothers are not just soup makers, they are alchemists. But Joe put it more simply:

"Yours doesn't work."