She HAD to know, being a AAAA cup herself: Do all the women out here in The OC really have boobs as big as the ones on The Real Housewives?
And that was my first email from Laura Bennett.
Who is Laura Bennett, you ask? If you don't watch Project Runway (that was tough to type, people. I mean, how can you NOT watch PR? I will need your reason, in writing, so that I may point out the huge gaping maw in your life), then you might not have heard of her. But if you are a watcher, think back to Season 3.
Tall red head? Pregnant? Outspoken architect who was a better designer than most of them? Finished second? You'd kill to have her design an evening dress for you?
Yes, THAT Laura Bennett.
She has a new book coming out called, "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos." It's mostly about her family - she has six kids. SIX! - and her irreverent take on parenthood, with a few style pointers and a little dish about PR thrown in (keep reading this post to find out how you can win an autographed copy!). It's less a guide and more of a momoir and how she's managed to stay so fab amid the chaos.
I couldn't wait to read it. (I mean, I loved her first email to me!) She was my favorite contestant that season and the book was what you'd expect: funny, sarcastic and clearly, she's not entirely serious about a lot of stuff, so don't get your knickers all in a twist. I don't think she is, anyway. Because I'm sure she (or someone) does feed her kids more than once a week, and she seems sane, even if she lets her tortoise have free range of their two-bedroom Manhattan loft.
I'm reading, smiling, reading and then WHOMP.
My knickers were BEYOND twisted.
She went there.
If you've read this blog for awhile, you know that's a topic I feel passionately about, as Sawyer has a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts (you can read about it here and here).
Laura talks about Munchausen's by Peanut, where "faker" moms invent an allergy in their children to get attention. She writes about how the allergy wasn't around when we were kids (true, I mean, I never heard of anyone having it when I was growing up), and that technically there are more people with shrimp allergy. She also writes "Ironically, science shows that exposure to peanuts in school-age children actually reduces the risk of allergies. Avoiding nuts out of fear becomes a self-fulfilling snack-time prophecy."
I can tell you that science does NOT conclusively show this, other than one study that, while interesting and optimistic, is not exactly scientific.
So I crafted an email. I couldn't in good conscience blog about her book - or give one or two away - without calling her on it. Frankly, I was pissed. She has a child with learning disability. She should know better than to question the validity of another - in this case, potentially life-threatening - disability!
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I mean, she's not one to mince words. She's the mom you'd be totally intimidated by if her child was at your school. You know, the one who's always put together, in awesome Manolo Blahniks and carrying a fab Birkin bag. Who NEVER has spit-up on her shoulder or chocolate fingerprints on her impeccably tailored trousers.
Then again, you might never see her: she has nannies and even a manny who help shuttle five of her kids around New York City. You'd pee your pants if she asked you out for a drink (you'd of course go, after nine wardrobe changes, and you'd find out she's actually a lot of fun).
I pulled on my Big Girl britches and pressed "send."
And you know what? She was lovely. And classy. We might not completely agree on stuff, but I appreciated her taking time to respond.
Here's my email:
I wanted to love this book - I really did! And for the most part, it was just as I thought it would be.
But then, well, the peanut allergy thing. Now I know you love to be controversial and I'm sure the way you've written it is meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek and clever and all that. At least I hope so, anyway.
Thing is, it's painful for those mothers, like myself, who live in fear that every time they send their child to school, they may not see them again. Every time. Can you imagine that life?
We live it every day. My kid is 6 and he's been hospitalized twice after accidentally eating something with peanuts. He will have to deal with this allergy the rest of his life.
And tho I guess technically more people are allergic to shrimp, most elementary school kids aren't bringing shrimp salad sandwiches for lunch. You don't see toddlers downing a shrimp cocktail up on the playground equipment at the park and then smearing their grubby hands everywhere. And most stuff isn't made on shared equipment with shrimp.
Actually, the most deaths from food allergy occur between ages 15-35, so the danger only gets worse.
We all know a "crazy allergy mom" who's invented something for their child. But that shouldn't diminish the reality of a child - like mine - who really has a life-threatening allergy to something that doesn't need to be in our schools (I would LOVE a peanut-free school, but unfortunately, too many parents complain about the Right to Eat Jiff for our district to act on it).
You have a child with a disability (FYI, peanut allergy is covered by the Federal Disability Act). How would you feel if people - other moms, in particular - laughed and said it wasn't a big deal? That therapy was just the mother looking for attention? Now add to it that he could die without certain precautions, and you have some idea of what it's like.
Anyway. I'd love to talk about your book on my blog. I found it smart and sarcastic and fun. But it'd be disingenuous of me not to mention the part about the peanuts - or to promote a book that propagated such hurtful misinformation. There's already enough of it out there, believe me.
And Laura? She encouraged me to speak my truth. And here was her response:
I do know that life threatening food allergies exist in children. I once saw a classmate of my son’s sit on a paper bag that had been used for a peanut butter sandwich. His eyes were swollen shut within a matter of minutes and he began to have alarmingly labored breathing. We were in the playground after school and his mother was able to get him to the hospital immediately. Ironically, his father is one of New York’s top Thai chefs, a cuisine more laden with peanuts than any other in the world. I also know of a wonderful, funny little boy who has a terrible wheat allergy. At social gatherings he likes to embarrass his mom by saying, “Hey Mom, remember the time you tried to kill me on my birthday?” She mistook regular flour for a wheat-free product she usually bakes with. So I have seen food allergies first hand.
That said, I have also seen faker moms first hand. In my book I call it Munchausen’s by Peanut. Moms who stand up at class meetings and ask that no one in the class bring peanut butter sandwiches, but when asked for more details, because we are concerned and want to help, find out that granola bars are OK. Well is there an allergy or not?
I have a child with a learning disability. He goes to a school that specializes in his particular flavor, among several others. The school is publicly funded, so while there are children there who come from wealthy families, most are from families of more moderate means. One little boy had Leukemia at an early age and the extensive chemotherapy has left him with developmental disabilities. Another child was the unlucky twin in twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. There are children with brain function speech delays, and braces on their little tortured limbs. In this school, where the parents have real medical and financial concerns, miraculously, there is not a single peanut allergy. In my other children’s fancy private school armies of moms run screaming in the halls posting Peanut Free Zone posters.
I think the worst crime committed by the faker moms is not frightening their children about ghost allergies, but the fact that they de-sensitize the mom population. Hearing about peanut allergies has become a kind of white noise, and when a child comes along with a legitimate allergy, one that is truly life threatening, where the parents have had to take great measures and make real sacrifices to ensure the safety of their child, everyone questions whether this one is for real.
And I hope I never again have to see proof that an allergy exists.
I'm really sad - and scared - that some mothers see peanut allergy as "white noise" because some other mothers have no idea what they're talking about (there actually are "safe" granola bars, but in general, they're not okay).
Thing is, peanut allergy IS real. I flip into Mama Bear mode when I feel my child is being threatened. That is, when unsafe foods are being served in his kindergarten class. When another mother suggests he can "eat a cracker" when all the other kids are getting cookies. When I see the eye rolls when I bring up my concerns over the menu for the school party.
I will get in your face if I have to. You can call me Crazy Peanut Mom if you want. And then I'll show you the pictures of Sawyer, when he was just 2, in the hospital with IVs in his arm, bravely smiling at the camera.
What really bugs me? When mothers dismiss other mothers as being hysterical. Because ultimately, we're all trying to protect our kids.
Mostly, it's a matter of education. And looking out for each other.
I know Laura and I agree on that.
Now, there was a part of her book that really spoke to me (aside from where she gives wardrobe tips, because Lord knows I desperately need to get out of Frumpy Mom Mode). In the beginning, she talks about being on a plane and, while trying to contain the mess that comes with traveling with a passel of kids, she hears the flight attendant talking about how you need to put your own oxygen mask on first - before helping your child.
That struck a nerve.
She writes in her book:
"I always take care of myself, and I parent my children my way, not the way others expect me to. I get my oxygen first. When I stop and think about it, I often find that my worst days are in direct proportion to how far I let myself drift away from that yellow plastic mask."
It's a great reminder, because what mom doesn't sometimes lose herself in the daily (sometimes minute-to-minute) struggle of taking care of her kids?
The book is a glimpse into a very different life than mine, but in the end, we're all the same, trying to do what's best for our family. Even if some of us (me) are doing it in ancient running shoes instead of skyscraping stilettos.
How cute are her kids, by the way? Seriously! But five boys? Gah!
Anyway. This brings me to my very first giveaway! Two lucky winners will get a copy of "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?" personally inscribed by Laura! Because despite the peanut part (which I know you will cover with a black Sharpie) it was a good time.
What do you have to do? I'll make it easy. You don't have to follow, tweet it, Facebook it or make out with it. But I'd sure love it if you would. Except for maybe the making out part.
You DO have to leave a comment, with either your favorite style tip or your best "how to look like I've got it all together even when I, you know, don't but you'd never know it" advice.
That's it! I'll randomly select two winners Sunday, April 4th.
This is my first contest, so don't let me down! Enter!
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