For most of my adult life I have tried to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to dirt and germs. When I was growing up, bleach, antibacterial soap, and Lysol were used pretty liberally, and I was expected to clean my room on a regular basis, which included vacuuming and dusting. If hand sanitizer had been around back then, we would most certainly have used it. Disinfection was good, dirt and germs were bad, and you did what you could to eliminate them. My mom had worked as a nurse for many years before I was born, which definitely contributed to the emphasis on cleaning.
None of this was a bad thing, mind you, because when I became a mom, nobody needed to tell me that eradicating dirt and germs was an important part of my job! Look at all of the advertisements over the years for cleaning products, supplies, machines, devices, advice, hints, and suggestions. I already knew what I was supposed to do. When Connor was born, I think I had a bottle of hand sanitizer in every room. I had a housekeeping/cleaning schedule, and I stuck to it. Every room had its own day of attention, and I still remember with some fondness Thursday nights, which were scheduled kitchen nights, lovingly cleaning every surface and every appliance, mopping the tiny rectangle of ugly, torn linoleum, scrubbing the sink, wiping the windowsills and cabinet doors.
I also had postpartum depression. When you suddenly go from teaching at the Peabody Conservatory to being a stay-at-home mom in the middle of Nebraska, there’s a bit of a paradigm shift, along the lines of “I used to occasionally share an elevator with Leon Fleisher, but now I schedule my window washing!” I was accustomed to a demanding schedule, but one that revolved primarily around me and my instrument, not around a needy baby and the upkeep of our home. I didn’t really know many people in my new town, I was lonely, and I was bored. So I found some solace in germ- and dirt-busting, but it was an empty joy, because guess what I found out? Your kid (and ultimately you) will still get sick no matter how disinfected your house is, and the dirt always comes back.
What a disappointment.
Fast-forward almost twelve years. I’m still pretty meticulous about my kitchen being clean, and I make an effort to clean the bathroom sink and toilet at least once a week (god, what a nightmare it would be if I didn’t, with six people using it!). The rest of the house? HA HA HA HA HA. We actually ask my mother-in-law to bring her dog Maisie with her when she visits so at least the dining room floor and Eleanor’s booster seat get clean. Nothing beats a dog for keeping a high chair clean, let me tell you. I haven’t vacuumed our bedroom since we moved in September. And as far as hand washing and disinfecting and child bathing and all of that…well, nobody stinks too badly, and the kids wash their hands before dinner and after using the bathroom. Any other time is a bonus.
See, we’re emerging from a period of about 2 months where somebody in the house, or maybe two somebodies in the house, were ill. Not just sneezing-sniffling-coughing ill. SICK. We’re talking GERMS. First Eleanor had croup. Connor had walking pneumonia and some weird mystery fever-cold illness. I contracted mastitis after working a bridal show for eight hours with no place to pump (that’s another story for another blog post…). And Adrienne was sick on and off for a month; three doctor visits later she was finally diagnosed with pneumonia and is on two antibiotics. Since Frederick was born I’ve done the best I could do to stay on top of everything…and yet we all got hit, some of us harder than others. And I felt guilty for not disinfecting more, or sneaking vegetables into our meals.
Rather than knee-jerk run out and buy a dozen bottles of Purell along with those multiple prescriptions, though, I’m looking at other factors that I can change. We eat pretty healthy to begin with, but we can always improve in that area – less sugar, less coffee (sigh), more veggies. More sleep is never a bad thing, and we’re trying to enforce a stricter earlier bedtime for the girls (again, doing the best we can with that, what with our crazy schedule). I try to be in bed most nights between nine and ten, as this lovely little lump who’s fast asleep on my shoulder likes to snack during the night, and the alarm for school rings at six. I’m not going nuts, though. We have to live, and hovering over my kids to scrub their dry-skin hands for thirty seconds every time they blow their noses, denying treats, skipping the toddler gym and never staying up to watch a silly movie is no way to live. Because I know from experience that even if I did those things, we’d still get sick.
I’d also like to continue working on letting go of the things I cannot control. So pass the pink afghan and box of tissues when I need them.