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Germophobes & ‘Philes: Can’t We All Get Along?

This is a safe space, right? I have a confession: I’ve held your babies with hands I haven’t just washed or sanitized. Sorry! I always mean to, but sometimes I forget because your little peanut is so cute and smells so good and I get so excited.

Also, I’ve sneezed into one hand while holding your newborn with the other, even as I scolded my own child to sneeze into his elbow. Once I even sneezed onto my shoulder, which is decidedly not a Kleenex. I’m really sorry.

Wait – but also while we’re on the topic:

I’ve worn the same shoes I wear to the grocery store and playground into your baby’s nursery.

It gets worse.

I’ve microwaved plastic sippy cups.

I’ve put pacifiers that I’ve dropped on the floor in public places — including a pediatrician’s office and an airplane — back into my baby’s mouth after, like, wiping it on my pants leg (maybe?). Once I took one out of the mouth of a friend’s golden retriever and put it directly into that of my screaming baby.

Are you guys still reading? I’m sorry! Truly!

The thing is, I know you think I’m disgusting and should be reported to Child Protective Services. You sincerely believe you’re doing right by your children by doing everything in your power to protect them – especially the littlest ones – from germs. Of course,  hose early newborn days and weeks feel particularly vulnerable. And they are. But in general I sincerely think I’m doing right by my children, too, by helping them develop robust immune systems by allowing germs in their lives, and onto their bodies. I’m sincerely positive we’re both following the advice of our well-trained and skilled pediatricians.

So can we still be friends?  Pretty please? Look, I’ve even come up with some strategies to help us live in peace and harmony:

1) YOU will put hand-sanitizer all over your house, in prominent and easily accessible locations, including right inside the entrance. I will see it, understand the signal you are sending to me, and use it.

2) I will not bring my children to meet your newborn, even the older two who are (generally) not gross. (But if they’re explicitly invited, YOU really should assume that each and every one them is either actively contagious with some cold and or/virus, or carrying one that will make itself known with in hours. That is because my children go to school, meaning that by definition they are incubators of disease.  If you don’t want incubators of disease in your house, you will be sure not to invite them over.)

2a) I will obviously not bring a child to your house if he or she is sick or coming down with something. If one of them has something I consider benign, like a runny nose, I’ll mention it to you before we leave our house and you can be honest with me about what you want to do.

3) If you are a shoe-free house, great! To help me, YOU will greet me in sock feet and/or have a place by the door where it is clear that shoes are to be left, and/or simply ask me to remove my shoes before I enter. And I will make a point of asking if you want me to remove my shoes, especially if I note that you are not wearing yours.

4) I will keep track of all my family’s pacifiers and make sure none of your children chomp on any of them; if I notice any of my children with any of your pacifiers, I will immediately tell you so that you can clean/burn them as you see fit.

5) YOU should be clear about the anti-germ policies in your house in a way that attempts to be low-key and displays some self-awareness. For example, you will say something like “sorry to be such a weirdo but would you mind washing your hands before you hold little Walter? I’m flu-paranoid.”

5a) I will internalize that comment, and subsequently redouble my efforts to keep my hands (and those of my children, when present) disinfected, especially in and around food and ESPECIALLY around newborns. That will include a deliberate attempt not to use any shared food or any of your children as Kleenex.

6) I promise not to roll my eyes or make a sarcastic comment when you say something like “BRB, I’m going to take my baby in the other room to feed her, because, you know…germs.”  I also promise not to then aggressively tell the story of when I made my pediatrician give my son his two-month shots early so I could take him on not one but two flights to a wedding in Lake Tahoe, where I left him with a local babysitter I found on care.com so I could get drunk with my friends.

7) In the event that that story comes up, likely while I’m microwaving Similac or non-organic milk in a plastic bottle or sippy-cup, YOU promise not to start talking about studies you read or “stuff you saw” on Dateline that resulted in instant death of a child from the precise thing I did/am doing right then.

Ok? Ok! I feel much better and hope you do too! When can I come over?



Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at alice@aliceleiter.com.