09 Oct Germ Concerns
Parenthood brought about an elevated awareness of hygiene in Caroline Illingworth.
As for non-essential germ-sharing environments, one of the biggies for me is play centres. I generally avoid these places, but have been a few times to meet friends on a rainy day, and have even (wince) let my children go in a ball pit. More than once.
Before kids, I didn’t worry too much about germs.
Having kids has made me more aware of a lot of things that weren’t really on my radar before. Like germs. Before kids, I didn’t worry too much about germs. I was hygienic enough, but not hyper-hygienic. I didn’t carry sanitising hand gel everywhere I went. Or use my pinkie to touch lift buttons. Or even think about the health hazards of touching supermarket trolleys. But since having kids, my germ awareness has increased to the point where although I don’t have a phobia, I probably do take it that little bit too far sometimes.
No, I never bought one of those brightly patterned trolley covers for my baby to sit in, but I used my pram to shop, rather than put my baby in a germy trolley. I try to avoid lifts so I’m not in close contact with others, especially in winter. I wait outside at the doctors’ surgery with my kids (or in my car if it’s cold) so they won’t be tempted to play with the toys in the waiting room (shudder) and so we don’t have to sit breathing the same air as 10 other sick people. I would prefer my kids didn’t touch lift buttons (a source of great fun for toddlers) or stair rails, and if they do I give their hands a wash as soon as we get home.
I feel slightly embarrassed admitting all of this, as I know others are probably not as uptight as I am about germs. I often have a laugh about my germ-phobic tendencies with friends who are much more relaxed. But there is a serious side to it too. I put part of my germ aversion down to the fact that my eldest son was a very sick toddler who had a number of recurring respiratory illnesses. One winter he ended up staying in the hospital twice with pneumonia.
While my second son was a much healthier child, the stress of my firstborn’s illness-plagued early years has no doubt made me more vigilant when it comes to germs. Although I don’t necessarily think germs alone caused my son’s illnesses – I think his immune system wasn’t as strong as other children’s – I feel that by being more cautious with hygiene, I can help to avoid or minimise illness in my children. Whether this works or not, at least it makes me feel as if I’ve done everything I can to make their lives, and mine, a little bit easier and healthier.
There are some situations that really test my germ-avoidance strategy. Shopping centres – specifically, ones with children’s rides and/or indoor play equipment – are the stuff of my nightmares. And don’t get me started on public toilets and public swimming pools! Needless to say, I am one of those people who always put paper on the toilet seat and wears thongs in the shower.
I have come to accept the fact that kids and germs generally go together
Preschool and school are of course breeding grounds for germs, with kids sharing food and toys, but as they are necessary places for my children to be, thankfully I don’t get too stressed about them. It helps that I am not there watching children sneeze all over each other and cough without covering their mouths.
As for non-essential germ-sharing environments, one of the biggies for me is play centres. I generally avoid these places, but have been a few times to meet friends on a rainy day, and have even (wince) let my children go in a ball pit. More than once. Of course, their hands were washed thoroughly before eating anything afterwards.
Even though I do make an effort to avoid certain situations and places, I have come to accept the fact that kids and germs generally go together. If my kids are going to catch bugs from being out in the world they will – and they do. My being more vigilant – okay, some might say neurotic – may not stop them from getting sick, but it makes me feel I am doing my best to protect them.
So we still go to playgroup, but we just don’t wash our hands in the shared basin with everyone else (and their germs). We still go to the park, the library, the museum, the local cafe and everywhere else that kids go. We just take our hand gel with us and try not to touch any buttons.
Illustrations by Dean Gorissen