I am, without a doubt, a high-test parent. When my first-born was an infant, I had somehow missed the memo that breast-fed babies were protected by their mother’s immunity. So, the first two years of my daughter’s life were literally swathed with an advance-guard of Purell. It was like a parting of the Red Sea, only opposite. In my daughter’s case, wherever she was set down, or happened to crawl, a splooge of Purell was slathered in front of her. My parents joked that they should have bought stock in Purell prior to my daughter’s birth, but it was only a half point of humor… I think part of them really regretted the chance to make some money!
After my son was born, my germophobic standards dropped, thank goodness. By this point I’d learned about the protective properties of breast milk and, honestly, I was simply worn out from being wound tight all the time. I’d known all along that my perspective would change with the second baby. After all, it’s easy to view someone else’s toddler as a snot-infested disease machine that’s trying to slop wet kisses on your newborn’s forehead, but when it’s your own boogery kid giving super squeezes on their little brother’s face… you just see them differently.
Now I’m pregnant with #3. I wonder how much I will get to let go of this time. Hopefully, a lot. It’s nice to let go sometimes and just see what happens. I wonder how much I’m damaging my children’s fragile sense of self mastery and ability every time I grab their hand to prevent them from exploring something less than sanitary, or lurch in front of them to prevent a minor fall that ultimately could help them learn about gravity.
I watched a YouTube video a few weeks ago that I keep reflecting on. It pops to mind every time I want to yank my son away from a gicky looking puddle, or tell my daughter to keep her shoes on in the sandbox. The video truly can only speak for itself, so in all it’s glory, here’s the “Little Girl, Dead Squirrel” video.
Look how cool and calm those parents are! Mortified, sure, but that girl is simply joyous. Plus, really, what’s the harm? The animal just died – it’s not like they found some festering piece of road kill and decided to let their daughter lick it like a lollipop.
When I write about lowering my standards, and point to this video as an example, I mean it as the highest compliment. Instead of swathing the world with Purell or gasping at every near-fall, clutching the dashboard of life (I can still see my mother’s snow-white knuckles gripped solidly to the dash of our Chevy station wagon as I learned to drive), how about I relax a little and learn to let go? After all, it’s one of the best ways to let my kids learn so they can be prepared for the real world on their own.
For now, when I catch myself wanting to seize my children and yank them from false harms, I remember this video and smile. There are other low water-marks of childhood sanitation to reflect on as well. Like the time when I was traveling with my 18 month old daughter alone. Airports, airplanes and hospitals are by far the skeeviest germ places for me, where my hackles are constantly raised and my hand keeps a tight grip on the Purell bottle in my pocket. While standing in line to board a flight, my daughter broke away from me, sauntered to the nearest row of chairs and proceeded to slowly drag her tongue across three of the seats, all the while eyeballing me in a challenge to see who would break first. I held firm and didn’t flinch, knowing that if I leapt at her she would think it the funniest thing and surely make this part of her airport repertoire.
And then there’s the story my neighbor told me of the time when she caught one of her twin boys licking the snot-glazed glass wall in front of the San Francisco Zoo’s flamingo exhibit. For those who’ve never been, zoos are (A) inherently filthy and stinky and (B) the flamingo exhibit at the SF Zoo is set conveniently next to the food area, so every child who visits the zoo has the chance to smear their snack-strewn fingers all over the glass, much less sneeze on it.
Finally, there’s the swell little story I read today about the adventures of a dad taking his three year old for a grand poop in a filthy men’s restroom. The article is aptly named “Aiming Low, the Bowels of Hell.”
Rather than making my germophobia worse, these stories liberate me to get reasonable and ask myself, truly, what’s the worst that could happen?