I Fed a Man a Peanut…Just to Watch Him Die.

One of January’s little amusements was a sudden and unexplained increase in bandwidth that crashed my site several times over the course of the month. God knows it wasn’t from traffic, as it’s a miracle anyone still comes around here anymore—you people have the patience of saints—and according to my hosting company the culprit appears to be a Hot Link. (Not just a spicy sausage, but also an impolite Web practice! Who knew?) As I understand it—which is poorly—this link, to an image, has not yet been found, and yesterday evening I was in the middle of posting when January decided to go out with a bang by bringing the site down around my ears one last time. Thank you to those who wrote to make sure I knew things were all broken to bits over here, and I’m sorry for the annoyance. The link remains Hot, but a new month means a new bandwidth allowance, so I should be fine for long enough for my intrepid hosting person, Emily, to get to the bottom of things. And January? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I’m ashamed to say I was unfit for human company all month, and with no good reason. Mediocre ones, sure, but it’s not like anyone died or anything, which historically speaking puts this January above the pale, assuming you confine yourself to the history of the past decade. Besides a new bandwidth allowance, a new month means an arbitrarily new page of our arbitrary calendar, and I wanted to begin February focusing on victories and accomplishments. As my own accomplishments lately have been, let’s say…modest, I thought I’d highlight those of my daughter, which have been immodest formidable:

1. Playing the Harmonica
I mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating as it was no small feat. Simone had been trying to play the harmonica, off and on, for almost a whole year. (Practice makes tuneless-but-enthusiastic!) I knew she could do it, as the harmonica is in her blood: Did I ever tell you about picking up a harmonica years ago and discovering that I could play a song on it, just one song, as if I’d played it a million times before? And that this song was Taps? I’ve never been sure if that story is funny or just deeply disturbing.

2. Growing Hair
After a slow start, Simone has finally bucked down and applied herself. I tried to get some pictures of her remarkable follicular achievement, but if you have ever tried to take pictures of a preschooler you know that you end up with a lot of Blurry:
…some Playful Nose-Wrinkling/Dramatic Angry Face:
Angry Face
…and eventually you call it a day and settle for At Least Partially In Focus And Not Actively Frightening:
Still More Curls More Curls

Her hair is exactly like mine at her age, only darker: curly, but so fine that the curls that spring up after bath time vanish as soon as they’re slept upon. When mushed straight by sleep her “bangs” (such as they are) are long enough to merit the application of a barrette. Simone became enchanted by the idea one day last week and insisted upon applying barrettes to all members of the household—including the cats, who were actually excellent sports about it. (Again, getting a picture was nigh on impossible, complicated by the fact that she is most excited by barrettes in the morning, when our apartment has all the cheerful natural light of Plato’s Cave.)
Ta Da
Usually Simone decides she’s done with barrette-wearing after a few seconds, but the fact that her hair is long enough to hold one at all is evidence of just how much progress she has made in this particular area. Why, look at this picture, taken on her birthday last year:
Age Two With Harmonica
Practically hairless (and failing to produce any sound at all on that harmonica, I might add).

3. Baking
I told you about the cookies, but did you know Simone made a pie? It turns out she’s a natural with a rolling pin. At first I mocked my mother for breaking out The Apple Master to peel the apples—cheating, you know, for lazy people who don’t appreciate the soothing task of apple-peeling—but I had to grudgingly admit that Simone is too young to be trusted with a paring knife, and she did enjoy turning the handle. (You will be relieved to know I at least cut the apples by hand, to avoid uniformity and thus ensure a proper balance of soft/toothsome for the filling.)

That day I didn’t have a camera at all, only my cell phone, but here you can see her rolling the dough:
And here she is displaying the finished product, into the crust of which she has poked several crucial, finger-shaped ventilation holes.

4. Installation Art
At the end of October, my mother and I took Simone to the park, where she made a beeline for two large trucks sitting in the sand. Naively, we assumed she wanted to use them in some conventional, hackneyed way—as trucks, maybe. But no. Instead she painstakingly dragged each to the nearby table, where she hoisted and arranged the two just so.
I am not even kidding. Afterward she sat on the seat admiring her handiwork, the weirdo.

Later there was this more functional piece:
Installation 2
(She removed a section from time to time to take a tissue/paper towel, then carefully replaced it.)

5. Spelling Her Name
One of Simone’s favorite things to do is to write letters, or rather to force others into letter-writing on her behalf. She holds a pen or crayon in her hand while an assistant holds said hand in their own. Then she calls out a letter and the assistant obligingly guides her in tracing its form. It’s a little like having an Ouija board that yells at you. This has the potential to be just as creepy as as the original board game, as when Simone, letter by letter, somehow spelled out “STOP U,” but usually she is intent upon one thing—writing her name.

“ESSSSSSSSS,” she says, and pauses.
It’s funny, because we came this close to naming her “Soimne,” which is an old Hebrew name meaning “Blessed is she by dog (and dyslexia).”

I haven’t felt like correcting her just yet. After all, she knows it starts with an “S” and ends with “NE,” and I’m sure the middle letters will work themselves out in time.

6. Composing Original Songs
She sings a lot, my daughter. She has a keen appreciation of the standards—”Old McDonald,” “Sing (Sing a Song),” “Wheels on the Bus,” et cetera—but lately has been making her own contributions to the world of music.
Here she is after playing “Happy Song,” which in my opinion may be actionably derivative of “Elmo’s Song,” though I admit the piano part is very complicated and like nothing I have ever heard on Sesame Street.
Happy Song
Other works include “I Take It!” and “Ya Ya Ya, Simone Simone Simone.”

7. Continuing to Age
Simone’s birthday—her THIRD, if you believe the calendar, which I am not at all certain I do—is nearly upon us. This is the first year she hasn’t been quarantined for her Special Day, and I was sorely tempted to throw her a proper birthday party, especially now that she has friends from school to invite, making my own dearth of friends less conspicuous. In the end I decided against it due to a lack of money, a surfeit of laziness, and the fact that I’d have better odds at Roulette than at predicting whether Simone will be well on any given day. (Yes, Simone got sick again mid last week, though this time it was only a cold.) (I know she was sick AGAIN rather than sick STILL because we did have a golden five or so days where she was footloose and symptom-free.) (I am unclear as to whether *I* am sick again or still, and suspect that what we have in my case is something of a Melanie/Beth situation—GWTW/Little Women—wherein my health has been permanently compromised.)

We’ll have a cake that night at home, but Simone has school on the day of her birthday—and before you ask why I don’t keep her home for said birthday, I should mention that Simone regards a day without school as a day without sunshine—so assuming she is not sick again/still, the plan is for me to show up with a Special Birthday Snack for the class. Besides bringing a Special Birthday Snack, parents are invited to read a favorite book aloud or just join in the general revelry.

I decided right away that The Adventures of Louise: Story of a Chicken would be a good choice for the book, partially because I’ll have an especially chicken-friendly audience, and partially because I do an excellent accent for Mitzi the Aerialist. The Special Birthday Snack was a bit trickier. It must be store-bought, which is disappointing, given our recent fervor for baking. It must also be healthy, (which makes it rather less special, in my opinion), and free of poisons, ground glass, and those most notorious of child-killers, nuts.

Simone’s school is a Nut-Free Zone, which has been the bane of my lunchmaking since September. Besides being easy to make and pack, peanut butter sandwiches are Simone’s favorite food. There is no one with a nut allergy in her class, and still we wash her hands and brush her teeth before school should she dare to eat a peach peanut for breakfast, having been warned that even the breath of a nut-eater can be deadly to an allergic child.

I do not mean to make light of peanut allergies, which are a serious business, to be sure—especially for the children not in Simone’s class, some of whom actually suffer from them. It gives me a chill, frankly, to contemplate how fast and loose our parents played it when WE were young. It’s a wonder any of us survived! And what’s REALLY alarming is how little attention today’s youth pay to the true challenges ahead, those for which my generation was much more thoroughly prepared.*

Anyhow, I settled on cheese and crackers. A nice sharp cheddar Simone particularly likes and an as yet undecided brand of nutless cracker. I plan to vent my pathetic need for whimsy by slicing the cheese and using a small set of numeral fondant cutters to stamp it into festive number 3s. (Unless it is determined that this violates the nothing-homemade rule, in which case I will…pack up my supplies and do it at the school. Yes, I have a problem.)

Unrelated to anything above, Chinese New Year is Thursday. I wasn’t kidding about celebrating it in lieu of the Here Comes January version (my favorite New Year holiday is Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, but Chinese New Year is both closer to the beginning of the calendar year and pleasingly aligned with the end of January), but so far our celebratory plans consist of a) wearing red b) decorating with rabbits and c) ordering Szechuan for dinner. If anyone has any ideas, particularly ones that involve burning something/ululating magical words/ritual drinking to usher in a fresh new annum, I’d love to hear them.

*Killer Bees, The Metric Revolution


  1. celia says:

    I belonged to a HUGE messageboard and occasionally a member would hotlink to a site, saying “heeeey this is cool” and that would cause the site problems. Perhaps that is what is happening. I was thinking of you today, so it is nice to have a new blog post to read. I was thinking( as I complained of being trapped in the house with my son due to weather) that you had to do it every year because of RSV ( right? that flu)and I wondered how on Earth you kept Simone busy- because Peter is DISPLEASED with house arrest.

    • Alexa says:

      Oh, yes, children are always displeased with house arrest. I think I have blocked much of it out, because I honestly don’t remember what we did, really. I think mostly dancing? There was lots and lots of dancing.

    • Alexa says:

      Alas, it is my mother’s piano and resides at my brother’s house, so Simone only gets to play it once in a while. We have a keyboard, but it is just not the same. (Chiefly because Simone usually plays with some hideous keyboard beat track playing making the effect less “Carnegie Hall” and more “Cheap Porn Soundtrack.”)

  2. sharon says:

    Gorgeous updates. Not much of the baby left now. Love those curls.

    And yeah – good riddance January – Happy New Rabbit Year to you all. May your ears be floppy and your tails fluffy ;-)

  3. Lindsey says:

    Sunflower butter! It is the answer! Kids with peanut allergies aren’t allergic to sunflower seeds, and our No Nut Schools allow it. It tastes just as good–maybe even a little sweeter than–peanut butter. The brand we buy in California is called Sunbutter.

    • Alexa says:

      I will have to check on this seed loophole…I am suspicious. However if it is truly allowed, and this “Sunflower Butter” you speak of is both acceptable to Simone and sufficiently protein-y, I will owe you a vast debt of gratitude.

  4. Sprogblogger says:

    No good Lunar New Year ideas, but just wanted to weigh in with a few clucks about The Adventures of Louise – a fine book that my son has yet to appreciate as much as I do. Hope they enjoy it!

  5. Andi says:

    Louise is a hero of mine, living life to its burstingest even in the face of rowdy danger. I hope the little school chicks appreciate your Mitzi!

  6. I LOVE your idea for the numeric “three” cheese cutouts! What a perfect way to work within the rules and still be festive!

    I was also going to suggest what Lindsey already did–the sunflower butter. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard good things. Let us know what you think if you do try it.

    Happy Birthday, Soimne!

    • Alexa says:

      Well, it turns out that it DOES violate the rules to cut and/or plate the snack at home, so I am going to have to do it at school. So I am getting there early and cutting my damn threes out on the premises. I will not bow to the tyranny of food safety hysteria!

      • ticked off says:

        Seriously…shame on you! Your title of this post is completely insane! What if I had a post that said…I coughed on a baby in the NICU…just to watch it die??? How many times did you have to scrub your hands before entering the NICU? Was that also over the top?? Peanut allergies are a real danger! Kids do die from peanut allergies. Yes, allergies are on the rise, but that does not mean that they are made up. Allergic children can die from tiny amounts of pb that you forgot to wash off your cutting board when you cut out your little number three’s…because they are so much more important than a child’s life! Then, you write about book about your experience with suffering and have no compassion for others living with a life-long threat? Yes, I am sure this is all such a huge inconvenience for you. But, do you really want to be the kind of person who cannot make a simple change to help another child? Let me guess…you do all the time…you probably do kind things for people quite often. But, is it only because it is on your own terms that you do not bitch about it???? True compassion is doing something even though it may be an inconvenience to you!

  7. Kristin says:

    Before we were married, my husband and I lived in Minnesota. Before my husband lived in Minnesota, he lived in Vietnam. Tet (lunar new year) is, of course, a big deal in Vietnam. We visited his family in Vietnam during Tet in 2009. Popular festivities included visiting pagodas (particularly those pagodas located in hard-to-reach-locations – mountain tops, for example), burning incense, singing songs about spring (which, by their calendar, begins after Tet), visiting neighbors, giving children “lucky money”, visiting cemeteries, and eating candied fruits, watermelon seeds, and rice cakes. I particularly enjoyed visiting the local pagoda on New Year’s eve. They sounded gongs and released sky lanterns; it was very majestic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yi_peng_sky_lantern_festival_San_Sai_Thailand.jpg You have a nice local pagoda: http://www.phatan.org/vn/ Unfortunately, there are no pagodas near to where we live now.

    • Alexa says:

      I thought for sure you were teasing me with “you have a nice local pagoda” (I don’t know WHY, as I am well aware of our active Vietnamese community, mostly in that I eat my way through it on a regular basis) but you weren’t kidding at all, and it isn’t far from us. I LOVE that spring begins after Tet. I think visiting for the big celebration tonight at midnight will be too late for Simone, buy perhaps we will go tomorrow. It does say the temple will be open all day…

  8. Di says:

    We love “Chicken Louise” as Claire used to call it.

    I particularly like the bit with the pirates, and gave them all separate voices. Happy birthday Simone!

  9. Kathy says:

    Fireworks! You can’t have Chinese New Year without them. And it covers ioff your “burning something” criteria. :-)

    Of course if your neighbours/city officials won’t allow fireworks, maybe sparklers instead?

    • Alexa says:

      Er…I am afraid of fireworks, even sparklers. (I know.)

      They just seem awfully like FIRE, and I was taught never to play with fire, as which holding it in my hand on a stick while it fizzles its way toward my fingers would seem to qualify. Maybe I’ll wiggle a candle around (carefully, so as not to spill the wax) and make firecracker-y noises.

  10. I am deeply disappointed that there are no videos of Simone’s musical experiments. Deeply!

    But I am somewhat soothed by all the photos of her adorable curls. She certainly has excelled at growing them!

    Happy birthday to Simone – I hope the chicken book and the cheese and crackers are a hit.

  11. Kymmi says:

    In my day, it was killer flour. My daughter’s daycare/preschool spoke of a child so allergic to flour that they couldn’t even have play-dough. No, instead they had a blubber like homemade concoction. It was an insane year, but either the child left or it came clear that the presence could be allowed, because I saw some crackers served at lunch before she graduated.

  12. Miss Grace says:

    My hair was like that, only blonder. I was effectively bald until I was almost three, and then just sort of wispy haired from that point onward.
    My curls are STILL like that. My hair is very curly, but if I wear it up, or sleep on it, it all flattens out to a point of….somewhat mussed, but not curly exactly.

    • Alexa says:

      We are Hair Twins! (Which sounds like a sideshow act!) My hair is still just like that as well, and can be very very curly or not, as its mood dictates. ITS mood, mind, not my own.

  13. Lori says:

    I read this in my google reader really too late last night and was laughing so hard it caused my “i thought I was over this cold/flu” cough to come back and then I ended up coughing for almost 20 minutes and that’s the excuse i had ready incase I got in trouble for being late this morning.

    Anyway, my point is: this was hilarious and thank you for providing me with a somewhat specious excuse for being late for work.

    I don’t have any awesome ideas for Chinese New Year but I think we should all celebrate it. The January New Year can be the practice one.

  14. silver says:

    There are lots of things that it is thought one should (or should not) do on the Chinese New Year to ensure good fortune/luck in the coming year.

    Right now all I can remember are red envelopes with money for the children. And gold coins. Those gold foil covered chocolate coins could be fun.

  15. JB says:

    “It’s like having an Ouija board that yells at you,” OMG that just about slayed me with laughter.

    Here’s to a good February!!

      • Jessica says:

        That was the line that made me laugh, inhale my own spit and then cough like I was dying. That, Alexa, is one of your best lines ever. And I’ll come to your blog every day even if you only post once a month. You are worth every second of my attention.

  16. Jill says:

    Where did all of these Weak Willies come from? In my day (May 9, 1972, to be precise) no self-respecting kid ever died from eating a damn peanut. They died from ingesting the ant poison that their cigarette-smoking, wine-quaffing mothers carelessly left under the kitchen sink. or they fell off the monkey bars onto cement playgrounds and split their heads open. Or they got run over. I personally knew three kids in my fourth grade class who got run over.
    Kids today are just wimpy.

  17. Diane says:

    As a parent of a peanut and tree nut allergic kid, it’s hard for us as well to come up with quick easy lunches too. Here’s some we have found to work.

    Sunbutter and Jelly sandwich. Sunbutter is a peanut butter like spread made with sunflower seeds. It actually a little but healthier than peanut butter. It’s found right next to the peanut butter.
    Cream cheese and jelly sandwich.
    Soy butter and jelly sandwich.

    Can she have tree nuts at school? There is almond butter (so yummy), but it may be hard to find one that isn’t made in a pant with peanuts.

    Health Valley organic and Cascadian Farms makes some granola bars that are peanut free. Health Valley also make some cereal bars and so does Nutragrain that are safe.

    I hope this helps. I’m sorry for your frustration. It’s very understandable.

    • Laura says:

      I have a peanut allergy child too. I almost killed him with ice cream on his first birthday. Man, that was fun. That being said, I try to make up for this defect in character by letting him ride his bike in the middle of the street without a helmet. No wimps in this house. We pack cream cheese and jelly sandwiches for lunch a few times a week. He loves them. On the days we don’t, let me tell you it is soooo much more work to slap together a piece of cheese and a piece of roast beef on two slices of bread. Exhausting!

  18. amy says:

    You are too funny. We also have had the “only store-bought food” restriction, which I thought was so weird. And then this year they sent a letter home saying that, in lieu of birthday treats, please bring a special book to give to the classroom. The letter actually included the sentence, “Treats last only a few minutes, but the gift of reading lasts a lifetime.” I think I heard the sad trombone when I read it.

  19. Monika says:

    Alexa – and everyone else’

    The new issue of the New Yorker magazine has a fascinating article about food allergies, from the perspective of allergy physician/researchers who are searching for a possible evolutionary reason for the huge uptick in food allergies. They wonder if earlier exposure (not the delayed exposure to foods now recommended) might not be protective.

    There’s an “abstract” on the New Yorker website (www.newyorker.com) but the full article requires purchasing a subscription. There is always the library . .

    On another topic, I just don’t get the preschool/sliced cheese/plating issue. What actually IS the issue? Cheese is cheese, no matter where or when it’s sliced, no?

    • Kim says:

      I wondered about that too, but then it occurred to me that the fear is that the cheese has been cut adjacent to peanut molecules unknowingly present on a cutting board at home. Or something along those lines.

      I’m also astonished that I, and then my children (now in their 30s) survived childhood, what with the monkey bars over cement and all. I think also there’s a whole lot to be said for that pound of dirt kids eat before they’re one year old, when it comes to building up immunities.

  20. Briar says:

    I was commenting to suggest that someone should give you red envelopes full of money. I am not sure from whence they are to come, but surely they should.

  21. Slim says:

    Congratulations! Your humble kitchen has been promoted to Shared Facility (a nut-free no-no) and your cutting accoutrements are now Shared Equipment. Providing snacks for preschool nearly did me in because of the shared facility rule — the only safe food was heavily processed stuff.

    I am not jealous of Laura, exactly, having spent my oldest’s early years on full alert for milk protein –pretty much a day at the spa compared with parenting a PA kid– but I would like a kid who will eat Sandwich B or C if Sandwich A is not an option.

  22. Simone’s curls are absolutely delicious! They remind me so of my daughter’ Zoë’s at that age. I was certain the first 2½ years of her life or so that she would be always bald but hope and delicious auburn curls soon sprang forth restoring my hope. Her curls are still oh so amazing on her soon to be 19 year old head.
    For my former 24 weeker, the third birthday was such fun. He FINALLY began walking, running and climbing proving once again that my life would always be re-set to Preemie Time,he aged out of the Early Start Program with all the different therapies that was our life after NICU. Happy, happy birthday to Simone!

  23. Sciencemom says:

    As the mother of a kid with nut and egg allergies, I do feel bad that my child’s allergies mean that other kids can’t bring a PB&J sandwich for lunch. But, as other commenters have pointed out, there actually are great alternatives such as sunflower seed butter (you can get it at Trader Joe’s) and soy nut butter.

    I too find it frustrating that food allergies in a daycare/school setting are often handled in an unreasonable way, such as what you have described. I have no problem providing special treats for my child that are safe for him so that other kids are not restricted (within reason!) and this is how I handle things at his current school. I think the unreasonable policies reflect both a lack of knowledge about food allergies and safe food handling and the fear factor – fear that Something Bad Will Happen. As frustrating as it is, the lack of knowledge is understandable as the pediatric allergy field does not itself seem to agree on many aspects of food allergies….

  24. elana says:

    i know food restrictions in schools suck. but as a mother of a boy with severe dairy (and yes, nut) allergies, it’s just how it has to be. i hate that because of my kid, people have to be more careful. but it’s a serious matter and not really that funny.

    there is sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds) and it tastes exactly like peanut butter and is nut-free. it’s awesome…we love it here!

  25. Kelsey says:

    As another parent of a severely allergic child I can tell you that we wish those precautions were not necessary either. Next year my daughter will be in first grade and I worry a lot about the peanut butter filled lunchroom. She has broken out in hives from brief hand contact with a child who’d eaten a peanut containing granola bar – if she’d put her fingers in her mouth it would have required using an epi-pen, calling 911, and several hours in the hospital in case of a secondary (biphasic) reaction. And no, there weren’t as many kids with allergies when we were young, and maybe some people are misdiagnosed today. I’ve seen enough reactions to know that my child isn’t one of them.

    When we were kids lots of people didn’t use car seats, seat belts, bike helmets, air bags – etc. Are we wimps for using those?

    I know the no-nuts, only processed food, etc. rules are a pain in the arse. Just be glad you don’t have those restrictions in your own home every day!

    I hope Simone remains allergy free! And congrats on reaching that 3rd birthday. My preemie, who is not my allergic child (not so far anyway) will be three next month. Each birthday is a triumph!

  26. motheroad says:

    For your Chinese New Year tradition, you could wear red socks and red underwear and put red food coloring in your milk, which wouldn’t really make it red but rather sort of pinkish, and then you could open a pile of fortune cookies and glue the best fortunes onto a piece of paper and frame it and hang it up and wait and see if any of the fortunes come true.

    The red is for good luck. The milk is for calcium. The socks are to keep your feet warm. The underwear is for…well, what IS underwear for, anyway?

  27. Dani says:

    My five-year-old is allergic to peanuts and even the title of this post makes me…uneasy? Because of course (of course!) I know you’re not being literal, but still. I don’t mean to be a downer, but I guess it’s impossible for me to see any humor when it comes to this damn allergy. I worry everyday.

  28. Mama Fuss says:

    I HATED throwing little kid birthday parties, so I did the 1st birthday, but have thus avoided doing another since. (My girl is a couple weeks younger than Simone) We’re taking her to an amusement park the weekend of her birthday this year.

    But I just had a baby 5 months ago and I’m already dreading the 1st birthday party I’ll inevitably have to throw for him.

    Trust me, you’re not missing anything!

  29. caedmon says:


    I just finished your book and loved it. There is much I want to say, but I think for now its enough to say that your book was wonderful. (And to be frank, I am a bit critical of memoirs, and still reluctant to be swept away by tales of motherhood…but yours was, is, different). Being able to see your daughter a few years later through this blog is just some icing on the cake. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for writing.
    ps. nice font.

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