Being a Germaphobe. And a Parent.

Have you heard the latest illness that could terrify a germaphobe parent like myself?

Enterovirus — EV-D68

It’s that rare respiratory virus you might have read about in your Facebook feed. The one that starts like your garden variety cold, then quickly ramps up to respiratory distress and could land your child in medical care. It’s particularly threatening to children who struggle with asthma.  And it’s popping up in the Midwest, including the state in which my children reside.

I hate seeing stuff like this.

Not because I empathize with the kids who are ill, but because it sets off all those bells and whistles in my head that make me want to douse our home and our children with sanitizer.

My kids do not have asthma, and they’re relatively healthy.  I should have no reason to worry.

And yet, I do. I find myself flocking to those stories like a Real Housewife to an open bar.

Parenthood is already ripe for worry enough. Is my child happy? Is my child developing normally? Will my child do okay socially? Will my child be free from bullies? Will the world be a better or worse place from them a decade from now?

Will my child need therapy later from all of the stuff I bring to the table as a parent?

Slap on health scares like this, and it’s almost enough to send me over the edge.

I get it. Kids are petri dishes. This is not the first time we’ve faced weird bugs, and it certainly won’t be the last. So, I need to get over it.

I don’t know when I got all weird about illness. I think it was dormant when I was single, but now that I have children and love them to pieces, I just don’t want to see them suffer.

So, when I read news stories like this, instead of blowing stuff like this off as a “hmmm…that’s interesting,” I let tiny bubbles of panic float around in the back of my mind. Every now and then, one of those bubbles will pop, and my mind will give in to those thoughts of worry.

Like, “Is my son sniffling too much?” or “Why is she coughing all of a sudden? WHY IS SHE COUGHING?”

And then, I catch myself. I tell myself to calm down. If my kids are truly sick, my mother’s instinct will tell me. In the meantime, I need to dial back the freak factor a few notches.

I know deep down that it does no good to worry about something that is out of my control. I also know that my kids don’t need that type of phobic parent, and I don’t want them to become germaphobes either.

All I can do is encourage my kids to wash their hands regularly and hope that all of the surfaces they’ve ever licked has helped to build a healthy immune system.

And perhaps I should disable my news notifications.

After I wipe down my phone, of course.

Kids and Car Crashes

I was originally going to post today about road trips, being that the Labor Day weekend coming up is a huge traveling holiday.

And then I was involved in a car accident yesterday.

It was a five-car collision, with the force and trajectory of a pinball machine.  One car was hit by another, then went careening across three lanes of traffic, nearly missing the back of my car, only to hit the car behind me, which was catapulted forward, sideswiping my car and the one in the lane next to me as we were stopped at a red light.

Luckily, thankfully, everyone is okay.

Including my two children who were sitting in the backseat.

“Are you guys okay?” was the first thing that blurted from my mouth, before I could even assess, or process, what had just happened. My kids were all right. My kids were all right. My kids were all right.

It’s the first thing you check on when something like that happens, right? I mean, I could have cared less if I was paralyzed from the neck down. As long as my children were unscathed, everything would be fine.

In the chaos of arriving fire trucks, police cars and EMT’s, amidst the vocal barrage of the hysterical and belligerent driver that came pouring out of the skidding vehicle, all I wanted to do was make sure my children stayed safe and sound inside of my car.

My dented vehicle was drivable, in the mere sense that I could lurch it over to the nearest parking lot where the police corralled us all to get our accounts of the incident, but had to be towed away. I’ll be driving a rental until our insurance can appraise the damage and make repairs. And I can’t imagine what impact this will have on our premiums.

But really, does all of that matter?

All I can think about now is how grateful I am that I wasn’t a mere three feet further back in the lane.

Or that my eight year-old son, after much begging and pleading on his part and much internet searching for legality and safety on my part, just graduated to a big kid seat belt instead of his booster seat, and that I’m kicking myself now for allowing that to happen.

That thing my mom used to say to me as a teenager that I would roll my eyes at keeps coming up. The one that goes “it’s not YOU I worry about on the road, it’s all of the other idiots.”

I realize that car accidents happen all the time, that I am a safe driver, blah blah blah.

But the thoughts that ran through my head last night went something like this:

I’m thinking that perhaps I should purchase a military vehicle. A Hummer. Made out of solid titanium.  Equipped even bigger versions of those gigantic fenders you see on bumper cars so that we’d take up two whole lanes. Ideally, with a movement-activated force field set to shield us completely at the first sign of something moving in our direction.  That’s right. Shut. That. Thing. Down.

And then, I think before they even get buckled in to their seatbelts, I’ll envelope my children from head to toe in bubble wrap, layering them in even MORE bubble wrap once they’re finally strapped in.

I’ll maybe even make them wear a helmet.

And to make us super-duper über-safe, I should put ALL of us in five point harnesses. Yes, I expect some protest. But my husband will just have to get used to it.

Sure, this would take us an hour to leave the house, and probably just as long to get out of the car when we arrived at school, but we’d all be safe and sound, right?

In all seriousness, the only armor I could provide for my family yesterday was the invisible kind. The kind that didn’t show alarm or panic, the one that reassured my kids that everything would be okay, and they had nothing to fear. Not then, not now, not ever.

In the adrenaline and excitement of the afternoon, my kids went a little bonkers. I’m sure they will tell just about everyone at school today that they were in a car crash.  It was all they could talk about last night, and I’m sure it’s all they will be able to talk about today. But I really, really, really hope they never have another story like this to tell, ever.

In the meantime, I’m going to Google the heck out of that force-field thing.

Dealing With Pet Loss

You know what’s funny about life? You never know when it’s going to take you by surprise and knock you on your ass.

Last week, we came thisclose to losing our pet fish.

Wait, let me rephrase that. My daughter came thisclose to killing her pet fish.

It was by no means intentional. Actually, it was quite sweet.

I was changing the water in the fish tank, and had moved her little beta fish, Golden, to the tiny plastic cup that brought the fish home from the pet store a month ago. As I walked in to my daughter’s room with fresh water, she quickly threw her fish back in to the cup and started to look guilty.

I ran over to make sure the fish was okay, then asked my daughter was she was doing.

Petting the fish. That’s what she was doing.




Can you get any cuter than that? It was pretty hard to get angry with her, when I know that all she wanted to do was show her pet some love. I reminded her that fish need water to survive, and that they’re better off in the tank than in her palm.

When we checked the tank, Golden swam around a little, so we moved on with our afternoon.

But later, the swimming stopped.

The poor fish started sinking down to the bottom, finally coming to rest atop bright, florescent gravel. And I thought, “Okay, here we go. Get the ‘Circle of Life speech ready.”

My daughter felt absolutely horrible. Her fish sat listless at the bottom, but banging on the tank produced some flutters, so we hadn’t pronounced the fish dead just yet. We decided to wait and see how the fish was doing in the morning before making the crucial decision: backyard burial, or burial at sea.

Because I knew, I just knew that fish was as dead as a doornail.

The next morning, my daughter shuffled downstairs, hair in every direction, and swore she saw her fish swimming around during the night.

Oh, honey.

I walked in to the room, bracing myself for having to discuss death with my five year-old.

When sure as shit, that fish was swimming around the tank. SWIMMING. It was like a resurrection.

I have never seen anything like it, and my daughter was convinced that all of her love had brought the fish back from the brink of death.

So when our beloved parakeet started looking like crap four days later, it came as a shock.

Fish? Yes, I’m prepared for fish to live short lives. But our bird? I wasn’t ready for her to die yet.

Our little cutie, Coco

We adopted Coco two years ago. My husband (a.k.a. “Bubble Boy”) is horribly allergic to anything with fur, and this bird gave our kids the closest experience to a pet they could cuddle. Well, except for my daughter’s fish-caressing.

Coco was a social little bird, who greeted us every morning with tweets and chirps.  The kids adored her, often perching Coco on their shoulders while reading books or playing with toys. And my son loved to tell everyone he had a pet bird at home.

She was a wonderful addition to our family. And I thought we’d have more time with her.

The thing with birds is, once they start looking sick, it’s usually too late. So when Coco got all fluffed-up on Thursday night, I knew things would probably not end well, I just didn’t want to believe it.

Not seeing any improvement on Friday morning, I took our bird in to the vet. They diagnosed her with a gastric ulcer, which was causing her red blood count to be extremely low. By Saturday morning, she was so weak she couldn’t stand up, so I took her back to the vet, who suggested hospitalization in the hopes of getting the bird stabilized.

I left her at the vet at 10:30am, and at 11:30 as I was standing in line at Whole Foods, I got the call that our bird had passed on her own.

It was the first time I’d ever lost a substantial family pet. And it was the first time my children had ever lost a substantial family pet.

I wasn’t sure how the kids would handle the pet loss. My daughter cried, my son processed it slowly. And I took it worst of all.

I’m sure the folks at the vet think I’m The Crazy Bird Lady, hemming and hawing over how I’d like them to dispose of her teeny body as if I’d lost a dear relative.

Yes, I realize it was a one-ounce bird. But she was our sweet pet and she will be missed.

Through the whole ordeal, I kept thinking, “If only that miraculous coming-back-to-life thing had blessed our bird, instead of the $5 fish.”  But life never works out how you expect it to.

Surely, the swift and sudden death of our pet has made us stop for a few minutes and appreciate the brevity of life, and to hold tight the ones we love, for we never know when they’ll be taken from us.

I just need to tell my daughter that “holding tight” is figurative, and not literal. Or we’ll be dealing with another pet loss soon.

When I Realized My Kids Are Good Kids

Seated at the fancy Grand Hotel, in Mackinac Island, MI, I started to sweat. A slight panic attack lurked in the back of my mind as I glanced down at the fine china on the table, the massive assortment of silverware stacked around the place setting, and our two young kids eyeballing them with wonder and mischief.

We were on vacation and, on a whim, decided to bike over to the swankiest resort on the island and fork out a small fortune to stuff our bellies full with the lunch buffet.

It was a gorgeous hotel, full of history and old-school luxury, and expensive decor.

And my kids can’t tell the difference between a $1 plate from the Target bargain bin, and the $100 plate they were about to carry back from the buffet line.

Throw in the fact that my kids’ squabbling had reached an all-time fever pitch, lunch in this fancy hotel seemed rife for disaster.

I ate my meal in a state of heightened alertness, whispering quick reminders to my kids not to use the butter knife as a drum stick, and to “please use your napkin to wipe off that glob of fruit on your chin instead of your forearm.”  I prayed they wouldn’t spill that outlandishly heavy crystal goblet of lemonade all over their laps under the eyes of all the older folks surrounding us that were probably ridiculously rich and ridiculously annoyed by young children.

And, even though I spent the meal worrying about how my kids would do, we ate our shrimp cocktail, high-end mac and cheese, and piled-too-high plates of the teeniest pastries without much drama.  Sure, there were some small mishaps.  And the tablecloth didn’t fare well. But we didn’t get kicked out, either.

At the end of our meal, as we pushed our chairs back to leave, the woman next to us leaned over and said, “Excuse me.”

I thought she was going to let us know the back of my daughter’s dress was crammed into her underpants. Or that we’d left a flip-flop under the table.

Instead, I heard her say, “I just wanted to tell you, your kids were so amazingly well-behaved! And I have nine grand-kids, so I know what I’m talking about. They’re not all like that.”

I blushed with embarrassment. My kids gave her a quick “thank you” as they rushed out of the dining room to pounce on the plush, circular sofa in the lobby, and I expressed my gratitude for her lovely comment.

Then I immediately felt ashamed.

Ashamed that I’d thought less of my children. Ashamed that I didn’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Ashamed that I thought they would behave like wild animals, when in reality, that’s not how they are.

My kids are good kids. And I need to remember that.

Being in public magnifies the lens in which I view my kids, especially in places that seem, and pardon the Southern in me coming out here, high falutin’ . Every noise they utter sounds like it’s coming through a bullhorn.  Every wiggle seems like I’m sitting with a herd (A herd? A litter? A barrel?) of monkeys.  Every fork drop sounds like parental failure.

But when I really step back (and I do have to step several yards back) to see my kids for who they are, they are good, well-behaved children.

They remember to use their Excuse Me’s, Please’s, Thank You’s and May I’s. They have the ability to remain at their seats and not run around like lunatics anymore.  And they listen to me and my husband (for the most part) when we ask them to do something. They are considerate and kind and adorably charming.

And they are children.

I shouldn’t expect them to behave like adults, because they are not adults. They are 8 and 5 and behave as such.

Yes, they are curious. Yes, they can be loud. Yes, they are not quite the masters of the fork and spoon and napkin as I would like.  But they are not the pack of wild animals my mind makes them out to be.

It’s so easy for me to feel as if my kids behavior is a reflection of not only me as a parent, but as a person. And my kids are NOT me. They’re not even an extension of myself. I need to let them be, and trust that I’ve given them the tools they need to get by in public. And I have, because they’re doing it, and doing it beautifully.

It just took a total stranger to make me see it.

When it comes down to it, that lunch at the Grand Hotel was more my issue than theirs. My sense of paranoia was more about how I thought we would be perceived, than it was because of any history of rotten behavior on my children’s part.

In the future, I’ll stress out less when we’re out as a family. I’ll remember that my kids are good kids. Even with fruit smeared on their faces.


Why I Can’t Eat At Indian Restaurants…

I have a fear of vomit.

There. I said it. I’ve alluded to it here in the past, but I’m going to come clean and own this right now…I think I am emetophobic.  Barf-phobic.  Deathly afraid of the stomach flu.

I’m not sure how this started, but it’s surfaced in the last three years since my children have been old enough to puke all over me, and certainly compounded by my recent bout of stomach issues.

I have barf bags hidden in my purse and in my car.  Homeopathic remedies for nausea at the ready.  A stash of ginger in my pantry.  There are large portions of Tosh.0 that I cannot watch.

What I’d like to wear to clean up puke…
Photo: Rainer Hungershausen

Thinking that I was crazy, I googled “fear of vomit” a few days ago, and up popped a whole slew of articles about this phobia. I had no idea it was a real thing. And look!  I’m not alone!  The Wikipedia article I read (and since it’s Wikipedia, it MUST be true) said that celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Matt Lauer also join me in this quirk.

I can’t really say what has spurred this all of this nonsense.  The last time I got sick enough to barf was the stomach bug I inherited from dancers in the company, mere hours before boarding a plane to New York City for my big Weaning Trip.  I spent days not wanting to eat, which in a city like NYC is down-right sacrilegious.  But man, did I look fabulous when running in to folks who last saw me 6 months pregnant!  Besides that, my last major memories of non-stop hurling involved bouts of food poisoning.  Encountering this gastrointestinal horror in a quaint Bed & Breakfast in a tiny village in Ireland was less than ideal.  Or romantic.

But perhaps the most crippling side effect of this vomit phobia is how I deal with my kids.  They’re little germ pools, and I’ve had a few rounds of GI distress with both of them.  Clean-up makes me squeamish.  My sympathetic nausea kicks in.  And usually I end up actually contracting the bug a day or so later.  So, now, every time one of them starts acting squirrely or gets the hint of a fever, I go in to panic mode.  Grabbing buckets and looking for any sign that stomach contents might be projecting their way on to my clothing or upholstery.   Even if the kids have never even said their stomach hurts.  I’m sure they’re picking up on this energy, and yet I don’t know how to stop it.

Thankfully Jon is immune to all of this.  He’s been in the trenches with me during the darkest times with the kids, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

The last time Mr. B got really sick, he was about two years old.  He had thrown up a few times and we got him back on track in a few days by the sworn BRAT diet and eliminating milk from his menu for the week.  He seemed normal in a few days, so at the end of the week, we met friends for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant that we loved.

Mr. B had a well visit with his pediatrician earlier that day, and he had given the green light for milk, so we gave Mr. B a sippy cup for the road and got in the car.  After we ordered our meal, we were catching up with our friends when Mr. B started getting really antsy and whiny.  I thought maybe he just wasn’t feeling the need to sit in his high chair.

When, all of a sudden, he blew chunks all over the table.  And the floor.  And Jon’s lap.  Jon picked him up and carried him outside, Mr. B leaving a trail of vomit all they way through the restaurant and out in to the parking lot.

I was mortified.  For the rest of the time we lived in Denver, I couldn’t bring myself to step foot back in to that Indian restaurant.  And subsequently, I can’t really entertain the idea of eating at any Indian restaurant.  One day, perhaps, I’ll tackle this phobia and be able to scarf down poppadoms and chicken tikka masala in an actual establishment.  Until then, I’ll continue to stock up on Lysol and probiotics.
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