Keep Toddlers Running, But Not on Lada Lead

The Moscow Times' recent report on lead poisoning in children prompted one of those all too frequent "what are we doing here" waves of panic among expat parents. Lead poisoning, we all assume, comes mostly from those belching Ladas and Moskvichs clogging up the traffic. True enough, and the advice issued by one Western embassy doctor doesn't come as much of a surprise -- children should spend as little time as possible in cars or by main roads, and they shouldn't play with soil or dust near thoroughfares.

Further advice includes commonsense tips like having your apartment repainted with lead-free paint if you suspect the last remont was done with lead-based paint. Also, beware of locally-made toys painted with lead-based paint. And try to clean rugs, carpets, tiles and walls more regularly than natural inclination dictates.

The real shock in this newspaper's report was the paragraph about local pottery. Do not cool or store food in any of those pretty local bowls you bought at a Russian souvenir shop or Izmailovo. According to my doctor, this often unglazed or badly glazed local pottery is the main culprit -- even more than those Lada fumes -- of lead poisoning in Russia.

Another source of lead -- just in case anyone out there is tempted by turquoise eyes and orange lips -- is local cosmetics, especially eye shadow and mascara.

And while we're on the subject of health tips, a measles epidemic is expected to hit town in February, so if you have a baby due for vaccination around now -- Benedict, for example, is just up for the 12- to 18-month jab -- get it done sooner rather than later. It's not a nice disease.

Finally, stamina. This is the season of colds and coughs, and we all know they're more difficult to shake off here than anywhere else in the world. It is particularly vital in Moscow that children go to extra lengths to build up their stamina because development of the immune system depends on it.

Toddlers should run and run and run. But in Moscow, living in smallish apartments and the combination of months of deep snow and the restrictive clothing needed to keep warm outdoors prevents our kids from running as much as they might back home. Thus, they are poorly equipped to fight off the usual childhood infections and illnesses and more likely to resort to antibiotics, the overuse of which causes its own vicious circle.

Older children should be getting plenty of exercise. Littler ones might try the Toddler's Gym -- specifically founded to offer lots of indoor running and screaming -- and mother and toddler swimming sessions, details of which are available in the Toddler's Newsletter at the offices of the International Women's Club (tel. 147-2240).