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Just The Vax, Ma’am, Just The Vax….

Prevention is better than cure, right? So why do so many people get all agitated at the notion of vaccinations?

It’s one of the few areas of parenting where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you do vaccinate, you are introducing foreign elements into your child’s system, the effects of which you can’t be sure of. If you don’t vaccinate, you are willfully putting your child’s health at risk.

Before my eldest was born, I researched the pros and cons of vaccinations. Or, to be more accurate, I tried to. I found it very difficult to get balanced information from any source.

I found that middle-class and affluent women in their thirties were most likely to shun the notion of vaccinations. When I asked why, I was told that ‘things like polio are dying out naturally, anyway, so there’s no need to vaccinate’. I asked for evidence and was met with stony silence.

One friend blithely told me that as long as I was breastfeeding, my kids would be fine because they would get my antibodies. Her theory was that I didn’t need to give much thought to vaccinations until my kids were no longer breastfed. That idea didn’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny, though.

Pharmaceutical companies have their own agendas – naturally (or unnaturally?!) – and they can be very persuasive, so doctors tended to be biased in favour of vaccinations.

Dr Google left me bleary-eyed and none the wiser.

When my eldest daughter was born, I looked around and saw children with the paralysed arms and legs that result from polio. There was no room for a blasé attitude; Ishthara was vaccinated.

Since then, both my children have received nearly every vaccination they were offered. Last year, the Swine Flu vaccine was rolled out. Ishthara has asthma and I asked my doctor’s advice on whether or not to get her vaccinated.

‘It’s a no-brainer,’ my GP told me. ‘She already has a chest difficulty. This flu is a chest-based virus. We don’t want to play with that.’

I read what I could, took my GP’s thoughts onboard and had Ishthara vaccinated. Kashmira and I – who do not have asthma – were not vaccinated.

Apart from the strong impetus provided by the visual of seeing people damaged by a preventable disease, personal experience prompted my decision to vaccinate my kids.

When my sister was 4, she got measles and she got them bad. She was so ill that the paediatrician called to the house. In serious silence, he examined my sister.

‘She needs to be in hospital,’ he told my mother before adding ‘But she’s too sick to take her there.’

To my 12 year old mind, this made no sense. How could she be too sick to go to hospital? It was only years later that I realised what he meant; the journey would have killed her.

I remember my mother – who you would not call ‘maternal’ or ‘loving’ by any stretch of the imagination – sitting up two nights in a row keeping vigil by my sister’s side. She was sure the child would die and she wanted to be with her when she went.

Today, my sister is a strapping six-footer of 30 who plays rugby and loves cats. But she was so very nearly a three-foot-six-inch corpse. I didn’t want that experience for myself, so my kids were vaccinated against childhood illnesses.

The following year, my youngest brother was born with whooping cough. It wasn’t diagnosed until he was 4 weeks old. He spent a further 4 weeks in hospital. Twice, when my mother went to visit him, she was met with a nurse saying ‘We nearly lost him last night’.

They were words I never wanted to hear, so my children were vaccinated against whooping cough.

Kashmira received her initial vaccinations in Singapore and the one for TB, which blisters and scars, was delivered to her buttock – for cosmetic reasons! In order to leave arms blemish-free for the wearing of sleeveless and short-sleeved tops, doctors are in the habit of giving the shot in the bum rather than the arm.

Somewhere between 2002 and 2004, I learnt that Singapore (where we were living when Kashmira was born) offers the vaccination against chicken-pox to children over the age of 12 months. We left before she was a year old, so she wasn’t vaccinated. Neither was her sister. I thought chickenpox was a fairly innocuous virus – a bit like a cold. I revised that thought when both girls got a really bad dose, and Ishthara ended up in hospital as a result.

I’ve never regretted getting a vaccination, but I have regretted not getting that one.

When it comes to the health of our children, no parent wants to compromise. Vaccinations are a thorny issue, but I would urge every parent to weigh up the pros and cons and make informed decisions.

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Mini Fashionista

My eldest is a wee fashionista. She’s only 8.5 years old, but she loves style, fashion, fabrics, textures and everything to do with putting an outfit or a ‘look’ together.

From the age of about 4, she has been vocal about clothes and accessories. Not only does she know what she likes, she knows what suits other people. We could be walking through a department store and she will reach out to a top or a skirt or something and proclaim it ‘perfect’ for some friend of mine or other. She’s never wrong.

When she was 5, we were in Next and she spotted a dress and asked if she could have it. Personally, I thought it would look dreadful on her. I felt that the brown in it was too close to her skin-tone, that the print was so big it would dwarf her (she’s very fine-boned) and that, really, it just wouldn’t do her any favours.  I suggested to her that it wouldn’t suit her.

‘At least let me try it on,’ she reasoned.

I acquiesced. She disappeared into the changing room while I stood vigil outside with her sister. The eldest came out of the changing room and looked amazing. She brought the dress to life – the brown that I thought would look dreadful on her made her skin look more chocolate-y than ever, the big print looked wonderful and emphasised how petite she is. The drape of the dress made the most of her slender frame. She looked amazing. She made the dress look good.

Yesterday, we were going past Monsoon on Grafton Street

and she noticed that there was an advertisement in the window for a ‘Sales Assistant’. Immediately, her interest was arrested. This, as far as she is concerned, is her ideal job.  Working with clothes and helping people dress themselves would send her into paroxysms of happiness. Never mind the staff discount!

‘How old do you have to be to work in Monsoon?’ she asked.

‘Ummmm, 16, I think,’ I told her.

‘But you’re not sure?’

‘I’m pretty sure that you need to be 16 to work a few hours a week.’

‘If I wore heels……’

I smiled before explaining to her that potential employers would require proof of age. She wasn’t convinced. Instead, once we’d completed all our business, she asked if she could go in and ask for the job.

The lady at the counter was very kind. She took my daughter’s enquiry seriously, but told her what I already had – that she’d need to be 16 to apply for a job.

‘Come back when you’re 16 and I’ll have an application form ready for you,’ she told her.

Slightly disappointed, my little one left the shop with me – wishing the next 7.5 years away so she could go back and work.

I was struck by how lucky we are. Unlike so many children in the country of her birth (India), my daughter does not have to go out to work. There is no question of her being sent out to seek paid employment before she’s 16. Even then, there are tight controls and restrictions on what she can do and how many hours she can work – and rightly so.

So many children in so many countries are forced to work – on rubbish dumps, as house boys/girls, in markets, in factories, on farms and even in the sex trade. I am eternally grateful that my children are not among them.

Between now and when she’s old enough to work in a clothes shop, my daughter is going to have to content herself with making the product look good. 🙂

If you would like to help children in India who are victims of child labour, buy The Big Book of Hope: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Big-Book-Hope-Various/dp/1842234676/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284712383&sr=8-1

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HOPE For All

The Big Book Of Hope launched last Thursday. Proceeds from sales of the book are in aid of The HOPE Foundation and I urge you to buy a copy. It’s a wonderful book packed from cover to cover with pieces that will inspire you; make you laugh; make you cry and make you count your blessings.

On a day in February last year, the idea first came to me. I wanted to do something to help and the idea of a book came to mind – an obvious fund-raising vehicle, I suppose, seeing as I’m a writer. I decided it needed to be a ‘big’ book – because there are plenty of ‘little’ books around – and that each story, written by a well-known Irish personality,  needed to hold ‘hope’ as its central theme.

Getting a wisp of a thought to a proper book of over 400 pages and bearing a ringing endorsement from Vikas Swarup on the front cover was a challenge, but it was worth every moment.

There were a lot of late nights, a lot of emails, a lot of phone-calls, a lot of disappointments, a lot of joy and a lot of lessons along the way. I am delighted with the finished product and the reception it has received from the media and the general public. At lunch-time today, Amazon was reporting that it had just two copies of the book left. That thrilled me plenty, I can tell you.

In a time when the news is dominated by doom and gloom, we can all do with a little lift and a sprinkle of hope.  This book provides exactly that. Why are you still here? Go and buy a copy!

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