Every night my family sits down together for a good, home-cooked meal. Last night, as I looked around the table at my beautiful loved ones, something unsettling caught my attention. My six-year-old was happily shoving bread into his mouth with his bare hands.
The fact that he was eating with his hands is not what bothered me. Bread is meant to be eaten with one’s hands. This is acceptable (unlike the many times that he has attempted to consume soup in this manner). No, what raised my chagrin were his hands, which were encrusted in a thick, black layer of mucky dirt. There were actual, three-dimensional chunks of mud adhering to his skin. Also what looked like a thin coat of reddish dust, presumably from the mildly rusted chains of the playground swings. And what was that blue streak?!
I paused, muted by horror, just long enough for his mucky fingers to slide around the crust of his bread and directly into his butter. I watched in incredulous disbelief as he raised his fingertips to his lips and sucked them clean. I waited for him to recoil at the realization of what he had done. Instead he murmured a quiet and thoughtful, “Hmmm,” while contemplating this unexpected new flavor.
This was all that I could take. “Ugh!” I groaned. “Go wash your hands RIGHT NOW!” “Why?” My child whined in reply. Actually it was more like, “Wwwwhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyy-YAH!?!”
My eyes immediately combusted into flames. My voice lowered to that special motherly tone meant to generate results, the one that my friend affectionately refers to as my “Satan” voice. “Go. Now.”
Finally he acquiesced.
As he scampered off, I contemplated the situation. How could my son come to the table in this soiled condition? And how could he eat off of those hands? How could he suck on them?! It was ludicrous! Not only did the mud not bother him, but he actually wanted to keep it!
My son returned 1.5 seconds later. His hands were less three-dimensionally soiled, but still clearly blackened. He had to be sent away to re-wash, not once but twice. What was happening?! Did my children always look like extras in Les Miserables and I was just now noticing? Besides, wasn’t there some sort of evolutionary development which made humans naturally averse to filth? And if so, why had it skipped my genetic line?
My children seem to hate cleanliness. They are always trying to get away without bathing. Or with bathing, but without shampoo … or soap … so basically just swimming.
Then there is the hand washing which, as evidenced by the mud-sucking incident, is not going well. After a thorough evaluation of facts and evidence, I am forced to conclude that my family is largely failing in this area. We are knocking off the top 5% of filth, at best.
My three-year-old daughter is under the assumption that hand-washing is completely unnecessary unless explicitly requested by an adult who is also standing guard over her the entire time. My boys dash in and out of the bathroom like it’s a pit stop at the Indy 500. Their washing usually consists of splashing their hands with just enough water to effectively wet any fecal remnants without actually removing them.
Some people would say that this is not really a problem, that children’s immune systems are strong enough to handle their poor hygiene and that a few extra germs will only make them stronger. I see the merit in this. My only argument is Ew and also, Gross.
This sentiment stems in no small part from my many experiences of being snuggled by my precious offspring, who inevitably run their sweet, soiled hands down my face and, on more than one occasion, into my mouth. Ew. Gross.
It is only a matter of time until we all come down with the plague. Or hand, foot and mouth disease, which I had assumed ceased to exist with the filth-ridden hovels of the middle ages, but was disconcerted to discover was still very much alive (and coming for us). We’ve avoided it and its gang of hideous cousins so far, but with this rampant disregard for cleanliness, how long can that last?
I saw my daughter kissing a chicken yesterday … right on it’s salmonella-encrusted head. She was really nuzzling into it like a puppy worrying an old shoe. The moment was actually kind of beautiful. She delved into the sensory joy of being alive in the moment. I gagged a little bit.
Maybe the germ-aversion instinct that has propagated other people’s DNA has missed my line. But perhaps we have our own survival skills. Maybe my offspring consume such a wealth and diversity of germs that they all kill each other off, leaving their host free and clear. Maybe we have a more highly evolved immune system because of it. If there is a global plague, perhaps we will be the last ones standing. Maybe the mud and the rust and the chicken germs are our ticket to survival!
Or maybe they’re our ticket to an incurable face fungus ….