I have very likely molded my impressionable young children into germaphobes.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I had no idea about microorganisms and their nasty effects. Naturally I washed my hands after using the restroom and kept up with my personal hygiene. I am sure as a little girl I didn’t have any qualms about scooping up a dry piece of food that had dropped on the floor and popping it right into my mouth. Perhaps I thought twice about eating something wet or moist that dropped on the floor. Perhaps not. My idea of cleaning up my family room was tossing all untidy objects like balled up socks and scraps of paper and pencils behind my couch. I likely pressed my round little face up against many a germ-laden window or mirror, touched a handrail and then rubbed my eyes or stuck a finger in mouth after touching my feet. I probably touched my lips to a telephone receiver in a hotel or at a public library before the days of personal mobile phones. I’m sure there were countless scenarios in which I would have cringed at my unsanitary young self.
Unfortunately after taking microbiology in college and medical school, engrossing myself in the science that demonstrates the ingenious techniques that bacteria, viruses and parasites used to mutate and reproduce. Microorganisms are amazing and can develop resistance to antibiotics, anti-virals and anti-parasitic medications. Subsequently, I started becoming a bit of a germaphobe. As I have witnessed the noxious effects of Rotavirus, Coxsackievirus, Respiratory Synctial Virus, Group A Strep, Norwalk virus, Parvovirus, Cytomegalovirus, Ebstein-Barr virus, Staph aureus (the list really goes on and on), I wanted my kids to avoid some of these pesky viruses and bacteria as reasonably as possible.
For several years, I found myself scolding my poor children when we were out and about in the world at large. I shuddered when we were at Disney World and my preschoolers stuck their fingers in well-chewed pewter colored gum adorning the Dumbo Ride. I flipped out when I saw them sucking on the handrails that encountered many unwashed hands and shoe soles at Soaring in Epcot. The cilia in my ears were shivering when I noticed my little ones rolling around the hotel carpet floor or rubbing their sweet clean faces against the comforter cover that likely housed semen and incubated MRSA. My husband and I felt our blood pressures skyrocket when the kids greedily pressed their lips or tongues to the faucet of many a public drinking fountain. I remember limping (in the midst of a reactive arthritis flare) and chasing my 2nd son when he was a toddler, around a Toronto restaurant while he attempted to stick a dropped ice cream spoon into his mouth, oblivious of the hair and lint stuck to said spoon.
However, over the years, my husband and I started to come to the realization that we needed to take a step back and regroup. AKA GET A GRIP! Constant reprimands over a little dirt were tiresome and laborious to say the least. We also realized that our kids weren’t misbehaving in the hygiene scenario when we traveled. We likely were. We noticed so many other children doing much worse repugnant acts while their parents were oblivious to the germs abounding. But the key fact was that these parents and kids were happy and probably healthy in their slovenly ways. And truly were my kids really avoiding that many bouts of acute gastroenteritis or strep throat or rhinovirus? We have learned to pick our battles over truly disgusting encounters and slightly disgusting scenarios. Now, I won’t even flinch when my kids drop food on the floor and then pop it into their equally bacterial laden mouths. I take a deep breath when they are rolling around unsanitary floors. After all, they are just arming their immune systems and desensitizing themselves against future allergens.
Nevertheless, old germaphobes do breed young germaphobes. My children are fastidious in their hand washing. They don’t like getting their hands sticky or dirty. Sometimes it is to the point of cracked skin on their sensitive eczematous hands! The other week, my 6 year old was terribly upset because just after taking a shower, his little brother and sister “smeared their dirty faces and hands” on him, and they had not even bathed yet! While eating dinner, my 4 year old son had dropped food on his underwear (that is a story for another day) and refused to eat a perfectly good piece of vegetable because of cross contamination! Several months ago, my 8 year old was inordinately disturbed when he had a cold sore on his tongue which we explained was due to a virus. He always uses a paper towel to turn off public restroom faucets and open restroom doors. As parents, we do certainly reap what we sow. Hopefully, since my children’s ideas of germs are terribly inconsistent, they can be easily swayed towards a moderately feculent but happy existence.