Dirt, Germs, and Everything Gross


“I was watching a PBS series on Yellow Fever,” said my husband. “I’m sorry I forgot to tell you, since you’re interested in infectious diseases and all.”

I took a semester-year long of a biology class on “Infectious Diseases” many many years ago, and for a while the conversations between my then boyfriend and I were peppered with “Heptitus B” and “blood feeding bacteria”, etc. Ever since then I was proclaimed the “expert” of infectious diseases in our family and with our circle of friends.

It’s true that I won’t kiss my husband (or anyone for that matter) after his face has been slobbered by his parents’ dog, and I insist on handwashing after petting any animals, house cleaning, diaper changing, using the toilet, riding the subway, coming home from work, and before meals.

But all our hygienic practices started to fall apart as soon as my daughter started to crawl. Every speck of dropped crumb, dust bunny, utensil, she’d pick up and thrust into her mouth without the learned hesitation grownups have. Anything except food.

After she witnessed us cleaning with static wipes and brooms, she started helping us on that front. Picking up a piece of tissue paper, she’d first wipe her own face, then hands, then floor, then baseboard, then desks and all the remaining surfaces. Then, she would bring out the broom and hand it to one of us, and then sit in the dust pan.

Lately though she’d point at a piece of lint or hair on the floor and yell excitedly. At first I couldn’t figure out where she picked up the “new learning”, until one day I thought she picked up a dead bug, and while I jerked it off her hand, I shrieked involuntarily for fear she’d put that into her mouth. Then I thought, “Oh.”

The pediatrician told us this is a good time to start fostering good habits, like brushing her teeth and washing behind the ears. So far we’ve been able to coax her to open her mouth as long as we use the Grins and Giggles toothpaste and not the other kind that she didn’t like. And after she allowed us to brush her teeth, she demanded to hold the tooth brush to practice on her own, which then led to my husband and I falling over each other trying to keep her from also brushing the toilet seat, diaper pail, floor, and the radiator.

From the trend of things, it really wasn’t terribly surprising yesterday when, during laundry sorting, we turned around to find her wearing a big boxer on her head. I think she’s building her immunity.


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