I was a germaphobe when my baby was born. Everything within eyeshot of my child required daily spot checks and thorough disinfection. There were half-empty bottles of antibacterial hand soap wherever you stood, and visitors were each given one healthy pump upon entering our front door. It was absolute sterility, and if you had to, you could have eaten off the floor.
Cleanliness is easy when controlled, but everyone knows that babies are loose cannons. When my daughter graduated from a puréed diet to solid food, my need for purification took a backseat. Dinner was everywhere: dripping from my shirt, smeared all over the walls, in her hair, and peppered like a fine slab of meat on the floor. Still, they were germs, and I disposed of them with caution.
The first time she whacked me in the head with a carrot was when I had my back turned to pick up her spork. She giggled through my frustration and quickly threw another. I remember thinking how clean my floor was that day and how far away the fridge was from where I was standing. So I brushed off the dirt and laughed along with her: “Five-Second Rule!”
When she took the carrots from my hand, I felt a twinge of regret. Was I a bad mother for feeding my only child the filth from underneath my slipper? I think not. For the first time since her birth, I felt liberated. She nibbled on her orange treat like The White Rabbit following me down a hole into the Motherland. I was free!
It became sort of a thing between her and me. She would toss a noodle high into the air and we’d watch as it danced its way across my living room floor. Then, I’d scoop it up with my hand and stick it back into her bowl, crediting the performance to our beloved Five-Second Rule.
One night, while having a pea fight in the kitchen, her father walked in and saw me put one back on her plate. “Five-Second Rule!” she cheered while shoving it into her mouth. He looked at me as if I had swallowed the cat and pointed to a bottle of antibacterial soap sitting on the counter. “What gives?”
The thought of my over-the-top sterilization process still makes me laugh. In those days, I would have poured jalapeño juice in my eyes before allowing anyone to hold my baby without washing their hands first. Now, a simple blow of dust is all I need to rinse off a French fry at the mall.
There is a pathological fear of contamination when babies are born. We freak out at the thought of bacteria and compensate by overdosing on germicidal products. Everything is padded, sterile and locked up like a patient in the psyche ward. At least that’s how it was for me. The only thing my house was missing back then was an IV drip and Nurse Ratched. Even then, it felt like a parasitic free-for-all.
There comes a point in every mother’s life when purity no longer matters. It could be as simple as a carrot slapping you on the back of the neck or a mild case of women’s intuition. But one day, you will wake up from that self-inflicted coma and embrace The Five-Second Rule as I have.
Last week, my daughter dropped part of her hot dog on the ground at Target. It sat there for a good 10 seconds before either one of us bent down to pick it up. Then, without missing a beat, she leaned over and shouted, “Two-Minute Rule!” We laughed like schoolgirls when she bit into it, and no one died.
When you think about all of the crap your child finds on the floor and sticks in their mouth, five seconds really doesn’t seem that bad.