My mother, by her own admission, pretends to be an alcoholic every Sunday. She contemplated converting to Catholicism, not because Pope Francis was such an inspiring faith leader, but because forgoing the wine during communion is much more commonplace in the Catholic church, as opposed to the Episcopal. Why is she not so inconspicuously shooing it away in the first place? Germs.
Growing up, my mother forced me and my brother to dip our communion wafer in the wine, rather than take a full sip, hoping this would somehow cut down on the transference of germs. During flu season, she would tell us to “just pretend” to dip. Basically, my brother and I were encouraged to be deceitful while in the midst of taking the sacrament of communion.
Germaphobia was systematically ingrained into us from an early age, and it wasn’t relegated to Sunday mornings. There were no “quick” trips to a public bathroom in my youth. A visit to a public restroom meant a solid 15 minute disinfecting of the stall, which culminated with a layering of toilet paper over the seat, a feat executed with the precision of a master quilter. Nothing was eaten at a potluck event until my mother found out who prepared each dish and made an informed determination in regard to their personal hygiene and current state of health.
My brother and I were not exempt from this judgement. Whenever we asked her for a sip of her drink, my mother would take a final sip for herself, and then tell my brother or me that we could “finish it.” Her own children didn’t make the cut.
For years I made a point not only to repress any budding germaphobia I feared I might inherit, but to express my teenage rebellion through swapping spit with anyone I could – but not in the way of the wealthy floozy in a John Hughes film. No, I shared chapstick with classmates, brushed my teeth with borrowed toothbrushes at sleepovers, and was even known to take half of a friend’s already chewed gum if it was her last piece and I needed a “freshening.” My rebellion reached troubling heights when I began to sit down on public toilet seats with reckless abandon. These teenage shenanigans carried me well into adulthood and I felt confident that I had dodged the germaphobia gene. Until I had my own children.
Kids are gross. They are adorable, precious gifts who bring a joy you never knew existed, but they are disgusting. When a child’s nose runs, she doesn’t blow it with a tissue, she wipes her forearm across her cheek so that the snot may now blanket the entirety of her face. Toddlers believe that a single square of toilet paper is suitable for wiping their behinds and are basically inept at washing their hands – a fantastic combo. Have you seen children under the age of 7 brush their teeth? It basically entails making faces at themselves in the mirror while they lick bubble gum flavored toothpaste off a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toothbrush. I may have given birth to these kids, but I’d be a fool to let one of these petri dishes take a sip of my water.
Plus, kids go from zero to 60 in less than a minute in the sick department. One minute they are jumping off the coffee table and the next they’re barfing all over your kitchen floor. You never know when those little soldiers are going to fall down, so it’s best to just always assume that they are harboring some sort of bacterium.
Motherhood means living in constant fear that your children are going to be sick. Watching your child act listless with a fever is terrifying, and listening to her cough all night literally hurts your heart. Plus, the odds of parenthood mean that your child will be puking on the one night you have plans this month. Let’s be honest though, having a sick child means you live in a constant fear that your husband will catch whatever they have, which means that you will have to run your household while taking care of a man
on his deathbed with a cold, even if you yourself are rocking a 101 fever.
As a result, the mere mention of a cold or stomach bug fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread and I will anxiously countdown the days of the incubation period, praying my children do not fall ill. When my daughter mentions that someone left school early, she is met with a litany of questions. Did the office call them down or did they go to the nurse? Did they say they felt sick? Did you play with them today? Yesterday? Have they looked in your direction in the past week?
Since my children also seem to be aspiring to win a world record in public bathrooms visited, a trip to a new store or restaurant inevitably turns into me trying to stave off a germ-induced anxiety attack while I say “don’t touch anything” a minimum of 37 times. My older daughter once crawled under the door of the stall before I could stop her and I had to spend the next week convincing myself that a bath in lukewarm bleach would be a touch excessive.
Perhaps I’ve known it for a while now, but it took a fairly recent visit to church to discover a truth about myself. One might say I had an epiphany. While sitting in my pew, I watched some congregants drinking wine from the chalice, and, horrified, thought, “What are these heathens thinking? It’s flu season for God’s sake.” A revelation – I have officially become my mother. The only difference is that I am not generous enough to pull the “finish it” move. I prefer to go the “no, this has alcohol in it” route. I mean, let’s be honest, there probably is.