I am that lady you see religiously wiping down the grocery cart. I do not put my tush on public toilets, and I visibly shudder when my kids play with the communal toys in doctors’ offices. Yes, I am a germophobe.
I came by this quite honestly, though. When I was 10 years old, my mom was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease. Getting a cold or the flu could mean a trip to the hospital for her, so for the past two decades, she has, quite understandably, doled out the Wet Ones and hand sanitizer like nobody’s business.
I have also had my fair share of illnesses. As a child, I got strep frequently, and in college, I ended up with mono not once, but twice (yes, that can happen). Let’s just say that although many 21 year olds can think of a lot better ways to spend their spring break, I count my tonsillectomy as one of the top five best decisions of my life.
And like many new teachers, I was sick throughout my first year and even had the good fortune to catch the swine flu during my second year. I blame all the English papers I was grading. Electronic submission really has its perks.
When I became a mom, my germophobia went into full effect. Having your first baby during flu season up North pretty much guarantees you’re a shut-in during the newborn phase, and when my husband would get home from work, he’d immediately hit the showers, scrubbing up like he was about to perform surgery before touching his beloved baby.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids get sick, and I know that. Despite yearly flu shots that I adamantly make all my loved ones receive, we never escape the winter without a family bout of sinusitis or bronchitis. My boys, neither of whom were even in preschool or daycare at the time, came down with croup the week of the younger one’s first birthday, which also meant no Halloween trick-or-treating for them. I still dressed them up, so they could enjoy the festivities from the comfort of the couch, but they were the two saddest superheroes you have ever seen.
And just last summer when I thought I was being a responsible parent and making my children eat their veggies, the boys and I got listeria thanks to some tainted frozen corn, part of the widespread recall that even included our beloved Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
As a mom of two boys who love all things dirt and germs, I think that the universe was trying to tell me to cool it on my germophobia. I recently read an article by a microbiologist discussing how we are not exposing ourselves to good bacteria anymore. She lets her kids play in the yard and then not wash their hands before eating. I figure, I can try that… as long as the yard has not just been treated with pesticides.
I also recently loosened my reigns when I let my toddler eat a cookie after he dropped it on the grocery cart seat. Of course I had wiped it down with my usual fervor before he sat down, but still, that was a step.
Most noteworthy, I met a friend a few weeks ago for lunch at our favorite kid-friendly restaurant. After she finished her chicken nuggets, my friend’s daughter wanted to go in the play area, and I do not let my kids in the play area. The boys started begging and looking fondly at the other children squealing with delight as they ran through the tubes. “Yes,” I finally said. “Sure, you can go in there today.” I knew I had just opened Pandora’s Box and that this one day would only be the first of many, but I also had come to realize that they wouldn’t die and would get over the cold they were sure to catch within a week.