Q. "I am a 33-year-old mother staying at home with two preschool children. My husband and I are contemplating a move within the area. We feel our neighborhood have many other children? Will your children be able to walk to the playground or school alone in a few years and still later, will they be able to walk to the bus stop alone to take a course at The Smithsonian? It will be especially important for them to be independent if you go back to work.
While schools are the big problem in the District, transportation is the big one in the suburbs. You don't want to run a taxi service, which would make you feel resentful and your child feel incapable.
And finally, you want a neighborhood so varied that your child can have friends of all ages.
Q. "Are there any studies that connect diet and environment with learning disabilities and behavior?"
A. These studies seem to be popping up as fast as mushrooms. In fact, there have been enough for the Center for Science in the Public Interest to start a special project -- believed to be the only one like it in the country -- to correlate and evaluate them.
Project director Bambi Batts Young, who has her Ph.D. in biochemistry, is looking into claims that the central nervous system can be affected by many things. It is known that a child may be harmed if the mother drinks too much alcohol when pregnant, but there is also evidence that some kind of damage may be done if the father drinks too much before conception.
While lead is a known neurotoxin, there are other things that may upset the CNS, such as fluorescent lights, indoor air pollution, cigarette smoke, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. Studies claim that caffeine, sugar, dyes, common foods, simple cold remedies and PCBs in breast milk all may make some children think and act in distrubed ways, and so does the absence of some minerals or the poor absorption of others.
Most of this isn't conclusive, says Dr. Young, "but it is very suggestive."
The food a child eats -- or doesn't eat -- can change his behavior, but he decides what at least some of this food will be as soon as he starts to feed himself. That's why a mother has to teach her child what's best, and why.
A young grade-school child can learn a bit about nuttition -- and enjoy the lesson -- at "The Gingerbread Boy and Other Treats," a puppet show to be given at 9:30 and 11 a.m. this Saturday in the lobby of the National Theater. It's free, but call 783-3370 for a reservation.
Shirley Johannesen Levine, the puppeteer, backed up by Dawn Preuss as the dancer, will show your child that water really is the best thing to drink; fruit is a great dessert; vegetables are a dandy snack and why not try something new to eat anyway?
For some reason a puppet can be a lot more believable than a parent, especially when he's heard your lines so many times before.