When a 3-year-old is sick, it sucks. You’re alternately snuggling with a sad-looking child, wiping an eternally runny nose, dealing with more emotional instability than usual, and trying to contain him from destroying your living room with a makeshift lightsaber.
I thought I knew how hard it was, but I was wrong. Now that I also have a baby, it’s 800 times harder.
It’s not that the exhaustion level is killer. (It is.) Or the fact that sometimes you can’t leave the house for days. (It’s maddening.) It’s not even that you have two very needy babies you need to take care of and you don’t have a minute to get dressed. (I didn’t get out of my pajamas for nearly two days last week.)
No, it’s that you sound like a crazy lunatic when you’re trying to get your older child to be semi-hygienic and stay semi-away from the baby, in a probably futile effort to keep the latter healthy.
Here were my refrains…
“Stop wiping your nose with your arm! Ask Mommy for a tissue if you need one!”
“Cough into your elbow, not on your sister!”
“Personal space! Please don’t get so close to the baby!”
“Hands out of your mouth, buddy! That’s how you got sick, and that’s how you spread germs!”
“Don’t touch the baby’s face! And don’t touch her hands either—she’s putting her hands in her mouth! Clothes and toes only! Clothes and toes only!!!”
Lots of panic. Lots of exclamation points.
By the end of Day 1, I was tired of hearing myself talk. By the end of Day 3, I was telling myself that alcohol kills germs so I should start doing shots ASAP.
Everyone says that moms are so much more relaxed with Baby #2, and that’s so true in my day-to-day life. But when it comes to germs? I’m way crazier the second time around. I’m not cool with passing the germs from sibling to sibling to build up the baby’s immunity. If the baby starts using a pacifier, I’m not going to be OK picking it up off the floor and popping it back in her mouth. I’m not comfortable bringing her along for the ride when I take my son to (germy) preschool and assorted (germy) activities. I do it…but I’m not happy about it.
I’ve never considered myself a germophobe, but maybe parenthood has turned me into one. The thing is, I know just how bad it can get when babies are sick. They’re sniffly and miserable. They don’t sleep. If they’re breastfeeding, they attach themselves to your boobs all night in an effort to feel better. They cry all day because they don’t know what’s making them feel so awful. And you worry at every spike in fever, every cough that sounds a little too deep, every pull on the ear that makes you wonder if an ear infection is imminent.
The other big part of the equation is that my baby is just 3 months old, and my mama-bear protectiveness is in full force. Unfortunately, last week, it was in full force against my beloved 3-year-old.
Cue the mom guilt.
It was seriously a no-win, Sophie’s Choice sort of situation. And no, I’m not being overly dramatic. OK, maybe I am, but did I mention the exhaustion?
Anyway, I was doing my best to hold the 3-month-old in one arm and the 3-year-old in the other, being the literal barrier against the germs. And I washed and Purelled and Cloroxed the hell out of everyone and everything as I hugged and comforted and provided Boogie Wipe after Boogie Wipe. I told my son how much I loved him as I simultaneously freaked out when he got half an inch from his sister’s face when she was in the bouncy seat. (I literally could not even leave the room to use the bathroom.)
Miraculously, my efforts seem to have worked. Sort of. The baby didn’t catch her brother’s cold…but unfortunately, I did.