Before I became a parent, I never thought about germs. If a cute guy showed up at a party sneezing up a storm, I’d totally hang out with him, maybe even take a sip of his beer. If a friend told me she’d been puking all night but felt better and wanted to come over and hang out for a bit, I’d welcome her with open arms. Hell, I’d even give her a friendly kiss on the cheek when she walked through the door. And I certainly wouldn’t sanitize the doorknob after she left. I mean, only freaking germaphobes do stuff like that.
But then I had kids and found that every time they get sick, I lose a week of sleep and a week of work. And if (god forbid) I catch the thing too, all hell breaks loose, and my household is in shambles. Even the most minor cold means a week of sleepless nights, especially with little kids. If you thought man colds were bad, try a toddler cold: The kid can’t breathe through their nose for three days and will only sleep on top of you, their snot pouring directly into your mouth all night.
I will confess: I will do anything to keep germs out of my kids’ bodies. If your kid has a cold, flu, rash, or puked recently, I will grab my kids and run the other way. Sorry to be rude, truly, but parenthood has turned me into a complete and total germaphobe.
Take, for example, a night a few weeks ago. My big kid woke up puking at 10 p.m., just as my husband and I were relaxing on the couch together, unwinding (thank god we still had our clothes on at that point). My son hadn’t been feeling too hot before bed, and so when I heard the first retch, I ran to his room. He hadn’t made it out of bed and was covered from head to toe in puke.
Immediately, I turned into a drill sergeant. I gave my husband clear instructions: Take him directly into the shower, don’t let him touch anything along the way, then discard contaminated towels in a trash bag. I tied my hair into a tight bun, donned latex gloves (yep, I’ve got a stash), and quickly fashioned a homemade hazmat suit out of old clothes. I went into my son’s room, stripped his bed, put everything into a trash bag (to be laundered separately from our other clothes), and sprayed Clorox bleach over any surface that could have been touched by vomit, even a microscopic speck.
As I was doing all this, I saw myself from the outside and realized what a freak of nature I was. I mean, really, germs are just part of life, right? Kids getting sick is par for the course. But since having kids, germs basically give me a panic attack.
It’s not even that I’m scared of my kids dying from the plague or something. Yes, it’s true that sometimes I get spooked when I hear of a new frightening or rare virus going around (hello, Zika virus, and fuck you). But mostly, it’s just the fact that kids seem to catch every germ that gets within 10 feet of them, and that each time they’re sick, our whole lives are turned upside down.
Now that I have two kids, there’s the whole domino effect thing, too. The ick spreads from one kid to another, then to my husband and me. One virus has the potential to knock out my household for two weeks.
That’s pretty much what happened with the cooties my son brought home a few weeks ago. It ended up not being a puking bug, but hand, foot, and mouth disease (the virus apparently starts with feeling generally unwell and sometimes puking). A few days later my son’s face, hands, and feet were covered in little red blistered spots. And of course, my overzealous cleaning was for nothing; the next week, it spread to my younger son.
Oh holy hell. Hand, foot, and fucking mouth disease. If that shit doesn’t turn you into a germaphobe, I don’t know what will.
I know I should probably just calm down about all the germs. For one, they are everywhere, and there’s no sense going out of my way to avoid them. And kids just get sick—all the time. I know that trying to control it is futile, and yet I can’t help myself from making my kids wash their hands like crazy, slathering them in hand sanitizer, and just generally freaking the fuck out about all the germs.
See? I told you. I’ve turned into a paranoid, neurotic, certified GERMAPHOBE.