My poor mother: she had six of us, and one of us was always sick. She herself never missed a day’s work in her life, which is an incredible achievement across four decades of teaching children. As any elementary school teacher will tell you – little kids get, and transmit, every bug going around. Because my mother was out at school all day, a good share of nursing fell to our housekeeper Mrs. Ahern. She tended to sick O’Brien children during daylight hours on weekdays. Neither my mother nor Mrs. Ahern were coddlers; if you were sick you went to bed – if you got up you were better.
Out of the six of us, I did very well health wise. I’ve never been seriously ill in my life. Sure, I contracted all the major childhood complaints: measles, mumps, and chickenpox, as well as my share of colds and tummy bugs. I remember being taken to visit sick neighbors for play dates specifically so I would contract the abovementioned diseases. Nowadays the practice is common among anti-vaccinators and is called a pox party, however in late 70s and early 80s Ireland, it was the only way to ensure kids would go through those illnesses in childhood when they are relatively less dangerous. MMR inoculation wasn’t introduced in Ireland until 1988, long after I had had my time with swollen glands and red spots.
The practice of acquiring immunity was non-standard, and the remedy for childhood illnesses was sometimes similarly distinctive. There are hundreds of holy-wells all over Ireland; sources of spring water with supposed curative powers. Previously places of pagan worship, they took on new, saintly names under Christianity, and well-water, imbued with sacred powers, could supposedly cure a sore throat or heal a wound. My mother didn’t fully embrace the superstition, but she didn’t renounce it entirely either. She didn’t ply us with well-water when we were ill, but if we visited a spring she would opportunistically give us a cup of ice-cold water, and recount the legend behind its medical powers.
This month we look at the fundamentals of good health. Well-being begins with diet, so treat your family to pesticide-free produce, which they can harvest themselves, from one of Beijing’s outlying organic farms (p32). We’ve got suggestions on how to put those ingredients together (p24), and an amazing recipe for guilt-free cookies from store-cupboard ingredients (p28). If you’re hard-pressed for time, check out TRIBE nutrition’s meal-plan for kids for a wholesome alternative to home-made cooking (p26). We examine basic health-care issues for families living in Beijing: medical insurance (p50), getting treated at a Chinese public hospital (p46), and vaccinations (p54) – an issue also addressed by our student debaters from the International School of Beijing in our new column Open to Question (p38).
This article originally appeared on page 7 of the beijingkids September 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Aisling O’Brien