The Hygiene Hypothesis, Take Two

Jo has a problem with germs. A big problem. She hates them and has waged full-out war with them, and I, for one, support her cause…at least armchair style.  You see, Jo’s motto goes like this: ” Avoid What You Can, Deal With What You Can’t.”

I simply cannot avoid all the germs she can. I have a life.

The other day, Jo wrote about the “Hygiene Hypothesis” (something I hadn’t heard by that name, but, of course, knew what it was), using my children’s first day at preschool and subsequent immediate illness as an example.

Now, everybody told me my kids were going to be sick all year, from now until at least December, when maybe their unused immune systems would catch up to the rest of the world. They told me this because as a stay at home mom, the babies have seen me and the inside of this house about a million times more than they’ve seen anything else. They simply haven’t been exposed to real-life germs.  According to the hypothesis mentioned above, this means they’ll be prime real estate for those Mucinex-commercial guys. I bought into this, especially when the girls did indeed get sick the next afternoon. I referred to our lives as having been in a bubble.

Correctly, Jo informed me, that, no, we do not live in a bubble. She’s right. We go to the grocery store. We go to the park. We have playdates, go to the library. We go to the Playland at the mall (shudder). We use public restrooms (my daughter is finally coming back around to big potties after I flipped out about someone leaving a turd in there. Bum bum germs that I can’t see? Those don’t usually cross my mind. Bum bum germs sitting in log form in the toilet my babies have to use. ACK ACK ACK. My reaction, obviously, made a big impression on the girls.)

Which brings me to my point, my one weapon against the cleaner of the clean. The microcosm of the public restroom experience gives great insight into the mind of a child and that child’s relationship with her parents on a subconscious level. Dulce was more than ready to jump on the OMG I’m scared to death of this thing and that thing and this thing, and AHHHHHH! All she needed was a slight push from me. All she needed was to see me bolt from a bathroom one time, see me wrinkle my nose in disgust, see me complain to my husband about the indecency of some turd-leaving adults.

Those ten seconds of her life impacted her thoroughly for the next two months. We must be so careful.

I try never to go over the top with anything in our lives because I don’t know how my reactions impact my girls. I want to keep them on an even keel. I’m not saying Jo doesn’t, but I know in my family’s case (particular to Dulce) they take strong cues from me. Another example is hand-washing. After the babies got sick last week, I implemented an even stronger hand-washing rule. No more was hand-washing just for after bathroom breaks and before meals, and after play. Hand-washing was all the time. Let’s get rid of these foul germs, right? Let’s wash them away. You can never have too much hand washing, right?

Wrong. At least in my case.

Within a few hours of this new regiment, I had a toddler melting down about not being able to wash her hands 24 hours a day. She washed her hands, then dried them, then wanted to wash them again. And again. And again. She tantrumed for a long time because her hands had dried and I wouldn’t let her wash them again. Enough is enough.

Yes, washing your hands is good. Yes, it’s clean and I advocate it strongly for everyone. But to the point of compulsion? If I see a compulsive tendency popping up in my kid, taking care of that (provided they don’t have a mental block that predisposes them to compulsions in general) trumps hand washing.

Mental health as important as physical health.

I want my kids to be able to experience life to the fullest. I want them to run and play and jump and learn. They can’t do that in a sterilized bathroom while they wash their hands over and over again.

So, again, I advocate moderation. My babies know about germs. They know that we are to avoid them. They will repeat endlessly in a public restroom, “don’t touch ANYTHING,” because that’s what I tell them every time we enter.

But they touch grocery carts. The very same grocery carts that another child just wiped his nose all over, I’m sure. They slide down slides at the park and the playland and then, I’m sure, they touch their faces. I had to tell Natalina yesterday to please stop biting the outer wrapper of the goldfish bag. After the cashier and bagger had touched it, and the stocker and any number of children who wanted it before their parents put it back on the shelf.

They really haven’t lived in a bubble, and that’s okay. I’d rather them be sick sometimes if it allows them to live a little.

As far as the hypothesis goes, I don’t really know if I believe in it. I certainly think that the babies will not be able to catch all the germs they need to in preschool in order to be germless for the rest of their lives.

Whatever the case may be, I don’t think I’m better or worse than Jo. I do, however, feel pretty positive that we’re both better than her “Acid Test” friends. But who knows even that? Maybe in ten years, we’ll all succumb to a plague and the Acid Testers will be the only ones to survive because they’ve rendered themselves immune. Then the hypothesis will be a theory, won’t it?

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About parentwin

Parent of twins, blogger, writer and journalist. I write things. Sometimes people even read them.
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