When Meg was a baby I went a bit overboard at times on protecting her. I kept her from playing and having fun in the name of safety. I have slowly come to terms with the fact that I cannot keep my kids from germs, viruses or worse. The world is a dirty place and we have amazing immune system that needs exposure to work at its finest.
One of the ways I came to this conclusion happened when I took Meg to a impromptu Doctors appointment. She was sick and I hadn’t scrubbed her from top to bottom before the visit as I normally did to prove I was an amazing parent with a perfectly clean child (you know you do this too so don’t judge me!). I was ashamed of Meg’s dirty toes and apologizing for them when the nurse said, “We want toes to look like that. We call it summer feet and it tells us that your child plays like a kid should.” That comment started me thinking about all the things I used to do as a kid and how letting Meg have a bit more freedom with playing in the dirt might be a good thing.
A couple of days ago I read a post on BlogHer. It was a well written, well-meaning piece about the condition of our nation’s indoor play-places and how filthy they are. I agree with everything this mom did and said, but as I mentioned in the comment section, I was surprised that she was surprised. She toured this play ground tube as if she was exploring a different planet and went on and on about the dirt and what was growing in the play place. I couldn’t help but wonder how this women has lived to be so amazed at grime and dirt. Of course it was appalling, and no I would not let me kids play in a obviously nasty place like she showed,however, the stuff she found growing on the tubes can just as easily be growing on her child’s school bus or on her own skin. Germs, viruses and bacteria are everywhere. You cannot hide from them.
Meg is now twelve (next month anyway). I have three more kids. With each child I’ve become a bit more relaxed with the germ thing. I do want them to be clean and healthy of course, but I don’t go into anxiety mode with a trip to an especially dirty bathroom anymore.
A few things I do make the girls do: Wash their hands when they come home from school or the store and before eating. They learned as soon as they were tall enough to squat on a public toilet rather than sit on it. I do have to say that I used to carry a Clorox spray bottle in my diaper bag and I would clean the toilet seat when they were potty training. If I am on my game I clean the door handles regularly. They also have Kleenex in their backpacks as well as alcohol based hand sanitizer for when they are away from soap and water. Remember that alcohol based sanitizer without the triclosan are best as the bacteria doesn’t become resistant to alcohol like they might with the triclosan, but watch the alcohol use with small kids who suck thumbs and fingers!
There is plenty of support for the dirt is good mantra, they are just a google away. Our hyper-clean society is breeding sicker kids with asthma and allergies as well as poor immune systems. I like this article from 2009. That and similar works have helped many overcome our out of control germ fears.
If I was superstitious I wouldn’t write this next sentence. My kids are healthy kids. Normal, healthy kids with bumps, bruises, summer toes and great immune systems. They get normal colds occasionally. Elle has mongo-sized tonsils and just got her second episode of tonsillitis (in her life). Normal kids stuff. Hopefully they will remain healthy and will be able to fight off the nasty stuff they will be exposed to in life.
There is nasty crap (literally crap) everywhere, even if you cannot see it, and our first line of defense is our skin. Then our nose and ear hairs and digestive juices, if germs get past these defenses our immune system kicks in. The more our bodies have been exposed to the better our immune system is equipped to fight the intruder. If our kids are not exposed to dogs, cats, dust and a bit of dirt and grime their immune system isn’t as strong.
My best advice. Let the kids play. Let them kiss the dog and run around barefoot. Play hard, wash hands and feed them well. That is all.