And I’m proudly serving it straight up.
Whether we like it or not, the one person we will trust are our children’s doctor. So when in this ultra clean, highly sanitized world, a doctor recommends regular farm visits so that the children can come in contact with worms and microorganisms, I was but naturally taken aback. Actually Aghast! I wasnt going to start feeding my children worms, but that’s not what the doctors are asking of parents. Thankfully.
Leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.” “Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he added, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
Studies he has conducted with Dr. David Elliott, a gastroenterologist and immunologist at the University of Iowa, indicate that intestinal worms, which have been all but eliminated in developed countries, are “likely to be the biggest player” in regulating the immune system to respond appropriately, Dr. Elliott said in an interview.
Doctors in the UK are recommending regular farm visits (especially where animals are housed), for city based children to boost their immunity.
Peanut and Buttercup have been lucky that way, to have had mud / sand around them from day 1. For Peanut it started with the few pots that lined my balcony ( It may seem too little but its a start). If he ever went missing, we knew he would be found face grimy, nails brown, hand deep in one of those pots, and always with a big grin. It then moved to rolling with the dogs at their grandparents place, where again he had more than ample opportunity to dig out grass. If we found a patch missing, we knew Peanut had been there. Buttercup would go a step further and be found licking the grass. And nothing deterred these muddy musketeers. They would spend the afternoons out when the sun would be blazing close to 50 degrees c. It just wasn’t hot enough for them.
Last quarter of the year, we spent some time ( read: nearly 2 weeks) on my parents working organic farm. My parents get so happy when they see the budding farmer in Peanut or the little helper in Buttercup. And it wasn’t easy on the kiddos. Farmer’s grandchildren need to earn their meals. So Peanut and Buttercup would be up at the crack of dawn ( very close to it, anyway) and after a stroll around the farm and having literally rolled in the mud with the dogs, they would call out for their Nana and Nani in their booming voices. While my father pruned the trees, Peanut and Buttercup would collect the pruned sticks, pick up the fruits and then dash to my mother to show her, their ‘awesome’ loot. It would then be displayed on the table as the ‘find of the day’. Just when their enthusiasm would start to wane and they would get comfortable in the shade, they would be called for errands. Water boy and water girl would then rush with bottles of water to quench their hero’s ( their nana) thirst.
Finally by afternoon, they would get a pale of …no…not water.. but mud and water – thick oozy mud and then they would while away their time by either pretending its a birthday cake and decorating it with pretty white flowers or just make oozy mud figurines. Other times there would be a dance show where Peanut sang and Buttercup danced… on that same oozy mud. By the evening, I would write off their clothes for the day ( it didnt matter what colour clothes they wore, by the end of the day it was all brown) and then my dad in good old farmer style, would hoze them down, all the while they would be leaping with joy and an un-contained excitement that only a place like a farm could release.
Not sure whether all this helped strengthen their immunity ( too early to figure that out) but by the end of this Peanut and Buttercup were browned beyond imagination with their pearly whites gleaming at the thought of work well done.
When we moved cities, the first thing Buttercup wanted to do was go to the park. Excitedly we all trotted towards the park. Its a nice play area but Buttercup was visibly disappointed that there was no mud ( the area was covered with turf!). If it wasn’t for their school that provides ample opportunity to roll in the mud, they would be city slickers in all its glory. Concrete environments with not a touch of mother nature ( OK, save for the few specks of manicured garden – which no one is allowed to touch) is a far cry from what the doctors are advocating today. But it is the reality we live in.
Luckily for city dwellers, there exists a parallel pleasant reality too -the spurt of working farms with cattle and other animals and Eco-villages where one can reconnect back with nature. The best part, they are open and welcoming to the public. Forest reserves are doing more than just safari’s. They are arranging fun and interactive activities for children. And if we are not ready to take that plunge, then city parks is the next best thing. A picnic in the nearby park with no agenda but to have some fun and r&r would do wonders for everyone’s soul.
If we believe that we are responsible for our children’s health and not just for when they are in our care but also responsible for them growing up to be healthy adults, then we owe them a patch of grass to roll on, a worm to touch and lots of mud to dirty their clothes with.
After all, its what the doctor ordered.