It’s not that I hate people. No, actually, that’s not true: I do hate people. When they’re sick and disgusting and in public and COUGHING ALL OVER MY CHILDREN, I really, really hate them.
Last month, two people (on the same day!) coughed on my toddler while she was in her stroller. They didn’t cover their mouths, they didn’t apologize, they didn’t care. I was livid.
And guess who got sick a few days later.
Of course, if one of us gets sick in my house, there’s a good chance we’re all getting sick. And who’s going to be sick the longest and pretty much for the entire winter? ME. Because as we all know, moms don’t get a day off to rest and recuperate when they’re sick. They have to get up, be functional, get everyone clothed and fed and entertained, and be effing rock stars.
Anyway, anger aside, here’s my point in telling this long-winded story: People are jerks, and germs happen. As much as I’d like to keep my kids in a bubble, I can’t. But if I can at all help it, I’m going to do my best to avoid as many germs as I can by making a few tiny tweaks to my family’s life.
Here are 16 rules that help to keep my kids healthy—and me, too!—at this incredibly snotty time of the year.
16. I’m all about the pacifier.
For every person who loves a binky, there are 10 others who will tell you that it’s Satan’s nipple. (What? You know that’s what they’re thinking.) I’ll be the first to admit that I love pacifiers because they’re soothing, they help with ear-popping on planes and they make teething 3,000 times better. But to be completely honest, my favorite use for one is as a plug. If we’re in public and I don’t want my toddler to put her grimy hands or some disgusting toy in her mouth, in goes the pacifier. Voila! Germs avoided!
15. My winter, spring, summer and fall mantra is: “Take your hands out of your mouth!”
I inherited this insanity from my mother. Yes, yes, that’s what kids do…but that’s not what my kids are going to do. As much as I can help it, anyway. My daughter is teething, so if we’re home and everyone’s healthy, I let it go. My preschooler, on the other hand? Nope. If he’s lounging around at home, idly chewing on his fingers, all I have to say is “Hands!” and those hands fly right out of his mouth.
14. I clean instruments at music classes with baby wipes.
I am the crazy mom who wipes down the instruments that are already supposed to be clean. Obviously the wipes don’t have alcohol in them, so I’m not really disinfecting them, but any cursory wipe really seems to help. I swear it’s not my imagination. If I forget to do this even one time, my kid always gets sick. Also, this is a great way to find your people—the other moms who see what you’re doing and say, “Ooooh, that’s a good idea! Do you have an extra wipe?” That’s your new BFF right there!
13. And speaking of those communal instruments, they stay out of my kid’s mouth.
Teething babies and toddlers love to chomp on rhythm sticks, bells and whatever else, and it’s a normal part of development and teething, and—no, just no. I will repeatedly tell my toddler not to put the object in her mouth, cleaned by a baby wipe or not, and I will pop in that pacifier plug if she’s insistent about it.
I am not more relaxed about this—about any of this—with my second child. If anything, I’m crazier, because I know the fresh hell that each new illness will bring to my life.
12. We don’t believe in the 5-second rule.
If it hits the floor, it is done. This isn’t even a question in public spaces, but I also often follow the same rule in our home, unless the food has been dropped in a very low-traffic area. Why? We have a dog and she’s not washing her paws when she comes inside; plus, my husband often treks through the hallways and in the kitchen with his shoes. Our floors? Definitely not clean enough to eat off.
11. That goes for pacifiers, too.
If one gets dropped nipple-down, it’s getting washed, not popped back in a mouth. And no, I am not more relaxed about this—about any of this—with my second child. If anything, I’m crazier, because I know the fresh hell that each new illness will bring to my life.
10. No sharing!
No sharing of cups and utensils, that is—even between siblings. Also, snacks are put into bowls or snack traps, not eaten out of the box. After all, you never know which kid is harboring some horrible germ that’s just waiting to make its big debut and take down everyone in the house.
9. I have created a mini army of hand-washers.
Every time we come inside, my son knows to take off his shoes and then head straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. It’s become second nature to him, and thank God: It’s the single-best way to prevent the spread of germs, according to the CDC. Plus, anyone who comes into my house and wants to hold my baby is also washing their hands. This is not excessive. This is common sense.
8. I always have hand sanitizer stashed in my purse, just in case.
If you aren’t near a bathroom and you’re in a pinch, Purell is where it’s at. People will argue with me and say that germs are necessary to develop a kid’s immune system and that I’m oversanitizing, but you know what? Between preschool, kiddie play spaces and awful people in Manhattan, we’re all good with the germs, thank you very much. Those immune systems are developing just fine. Plus, I’ve gotten sick a helluva lot less since I started sanitizing my hands immediately after a subway or taxi ride—and certainly after a trip to a children’s museum. Obviously this shouldn’t be used on young babies, but for older babies…well, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
Safety note! Be very, very careful not to let your child put her hands in her mouth shortly after using hand sanitizer, and never leave it in a place where little hands can get at it. Children can actually overdose on alcohol if they swallow more than a tiny bit of this stuff.
7. I constantly sanitize my own hands at home.
If I use a tissue on myself, if I use Boogie Wipe on my child, if I have to get the laundry in the basement of our apartment building, if I need to pick up the healthy child after holding the sick child…my hands are getting washed or Purelled. Every time. In my own house. Those germs have to stop spreading somehow!
Fellow parents are sometimes shocked that I’ll cancel over a common cold, but I will—without hesitation.
6. The house gets a scrub-down every day if anyone’s sick.
Door knobs, toilets, phones and anything else germy hands have touched get disinfected at the end of the day with Clorox wipes or alcohol-based sprays.
5. I’m fanatical about the flu shot.
You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine, and when I do get the flu, I am incapacitated for weeks. Plus, if my littles get it, it can be dangerous. Sure, you can still get another strain of flu not covered by the shot, but I’d rather hedge my bets than leave us all unprotected.
4. Good hygiene is enforced at all times.
I’m talking about coughing into your elbow, not using your sleeve as a tissue, not sticking your fingers up your nose, not getting too close to siblings when you’re sick and so on. Granted, this is a constant learning process and my children have been known to somehow cough into my mouth, but it’ll sink in one day—or so I keep telling myself.
3. We talk about germs and why we want to stay away from them.
It’s a science lesson and a parenting lesson all rolled into one. Plus, as I tell my son: “If you get sick, we won’t be able to do any of the fun stuff that we have planned.”
2. I put the kibosh on play dates with sick kids.
Yep, Mom is a party pooper…but Mom is also amazed that so many people do not tell you when their kids are sick. During cold and flu season (and during any season when I have a baby), I will always ask if everyone’s healthy when we’re confirming our plans. Fellow parents are sometimes shocked that I’ll cancel over a common cold, but I will—without hesitation.
1. I am not shy about getting my kids the hell away from sick kids in public.
Sweet, healthy child of mine: I do not care if you’re having the time of your life with a new friend. You can have an equal amount of fun with the kid who doesn’t have a layer of snot bubbling down his face. Truth!