I took my daughter on the Essex Steam Train's North Pole Express last night.
For those of you unfamiliar, The Essex Steam Train is a 100 year-old functioning steam train and museum run out of Essex, Connecticut. During the year, you can take a ride the train, celebrate your birthday or your wedding on the train, take the special Thomas the Tank Engine tour, and even take the train to their steamboat, where you can cruise the Connecticut River on their old fashioned steam boat.
There are dozens of special rides and events produced all year long, but their most popular option is the North Pole Express, a ride upriver to the North Pole, where Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves board the train. Santa hands each child a toy, the elves deliver cookies and hot chocolate, and Mrs. Claus stops by for photos and chit-chat. The train car is decked out in festive lights and garland, and the ride is hosted by an uproarious elf who leads the train car in song, games, and more.
For a child who believes in Santa Claus (as mine do), it is an amazing ride. And the thousands of tickets to these rides - which run from Thanksgiving through December 29 - sell out almost instantly.
We were supposed to take the ride last week, but the stomach bug hit my daughter hard, forcing us to sell our tickets and reschedule our ride for yesterday,
As fate would have it, the stomach bug then hit my son even harder, providing both him and his parents one of the worst nights of our lives. Unable to reschedule our ride again, we sold Elysha and Charlie's tickets (easily), and with heavy hearts, Clara and I went for the ride on our own.
The ride was spectacular as always. The train car was filled with music and laughter. Children peered into the night with the hope of catching a view of Santa in his sleigh. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the North Pole, a beautifully decorated location along the track (the steamboat port) where we stopped to allow Santa and his crew to board the train.
All was well until the elves arrived with the cookies. Clara is allergic to peanuts, so before I could even ask, she had grabbed an elf and inquired about the peanut status of the cookie. The elf informed Clara that although the cookie contained no peanuts, it was made in a factory that produced peanut products.
As a result, no cookie for Clara. She was disappointed to say the least. And yes, it was just one cookie, but watching a train filled with children eat cookies baked by Mrs. Claus and handed out by elves while you had none wasn't easy.
The best part came when Mrs. Claus boarded the train for photos. When she reached us, Clara leaned in close and said, "Why aren't your cookies made peanut safe for kids like me?"
Mrs. Claus was a bit flustered but recovered quickly saying, "I'm sorry. I just can't guarantee that they weren't made in a peanut-free environment."
Clara's response: "Why not?"
When Mrs. Claus didn't respond, Clara added, "You should fix this for next year. And what's an environment?"
Mrs. Claus did not answer Clara's question. She smiled and moved on. She probably didn't answer the question because there is no good answer. While I don't think that businesses are required to cater to my daughter's allergy or any food allergy, an attraction like the Polar Express, designed specifically for children, should probably seek to be peanut-free given the surprising prevalence of this allergy.
There are plenty of peanut-free cookies on the market, and they don't cost any more than the cookies produced with or alongside peanuts. Why not try to mitigate a food allergy that has become sadly and inexplicably common in today's world?
I explained to Clara what an environment is, and I promised to write a letter to the Essex Steam Train asking them to consider providing peanut-safe cookies next year.
She thought this was a great idea.
I also promised to bring cookies of our own next year in case they decided to ignore my letter.
Another winning proposal in Clara's estimation.
And on the way home, I bought her a donut at Dunkin' Donuts - a business that can ensure that their products are peanut free and have therefore earned my business.
Though she was still annoyed about the cookie, she felt that a chocolate glazed donut was an acceptable substitute for the sugar cookies that the elves were handing out on the train.