ONE OF THE things I am most grateful for is being able to raise our kids here in Marin. We have access to miles of open space, wild beaches, progressive thinkers and, of course, our Plymouth Avenue annual egg hunt.
When we moved into that Mill Valley neighborhood in 1997 there were a dozen kids under the age of 5, and by the time our oldest was old enough to spot a purple plastic egg in the bushes that number had soared to more than 20.
As my mother noted, we lived in our very own Truman Show, with friendly, attractive neighbors often waving hello as we passed. Mix this enthusiasm with 20-plus adorable children clad in pastels and fresh diapers trampling through budding spring gardens in search of plastic eggs as bleary-eyed parents coddled strong cups of coffee and homemade coffee cake, and we ended up with Peeps-sweetened memories to last a lifetime.
Raising kids here in Marin was top of mind when I drove to the Health and Human Services building to interview Matt Willis, our county’s public health officer, for this month’s Conversation. While his focus is on everyone in the county, he has addressed many serious youth issues. Matt’s work has come up in our pages a few times; his Rx Safe Marin program was one of our most shared items on social media, and he was interviewed for our September-issue article on kids and drugs, written by Melanie Haiken, a veteran reporter on the issue of addiction (see her new story on the legalization of marijuana on page 58).
Ever the investigative journalist, Haiken was a senior editor at Parenting magazine back in the ’90s when I was there as a dutiful fact checker. Back then the public health topics were phthalates, the evils of disposable diapers, the pros of natural childbirth and one controversy that seemingly doesn’t go away: vaccinations. It’s a topic my Plymouth Avenue neighbors and I had hashed out over chardonnay ad nauseam.
Pre-kids and armed with my Parenting fact-checking ammo, I was determined to ban all plastic, sign up for a cloth diaper service, write up a birth plan eschewing an epidural and was opposed to vaccination. I eventually relented on all and my husband and I decided that trusting our pediatrician’s vaccination advice to avoid illnesses like measles and polio was the right decision.
That said, I understand how daunting the vaccination decision can be. Here is my pediatrician’s recommended immunization schedule for the first year: at birth hepatitis B#1 and one month later the follow-up shot; at 2 months Pentacel, Rotavirus and Prevnar 13, and at 4 and 6 months follow-ups on these; at 9 months hepatitis B#3; and at 12 months MMR#1, Prevnar 13 and hepatitis A#1. And just when you think you’re done, there’s a new one for teenage girls called HPV, which protects against cervical cancer. It all makes my head spin.
However, I was reassured by Matt Willis’ data-intensive approach to the topic; one of his early successes was encouraging dialogue between parents and their pediatricians to address reasons people oppose vaccination. His enthusiasm for his job and for the health of the entire county is inspiring. I left the meeting thinking we are lucky to live not only in the healthiest county in the country, but in a place with amazing medical advances like vaccines. Now if we can just figure out our nation’s health care system, maybe everyone can enjoy these benefits.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Neighborhood Life“.