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Mama Bear
updated: Feb 23, 2013, 1:00 PM

By Sarah Gleason

I judge people. Specifically, I judge parents, at least I used to. I would judge parents for their children's transgressions. A tantrum in a grocery store earned an eye roll, a crying toddler in a restaurant, an exasperated sigh. A baby on an airplane? A snort of disgust.

And then it happened, I had a baby. I used to wince when a parent would say, "you'll understand when you have kids." Well, even though their smugness remains annoying, their message rings true. I do, in fact, get it now.

Germaphobia was perhaps the action I judged most. As a teacher, I had accepted that surfaces would never stay completely clean, that students wouldn't always use tissues, and that, in a class of 38, someone would always be sick. Germs were a part of my daily life, and I smirked at parents who thought they could eradicate germs with pocket-sized vials of sanitizer.

Well, it didn't take long after having my baby to realize how susceptible his little body was to illness. During a particularly bad month he was sick with croup, the stomach flu, and an ear infection. My response: scrub, clean, disinfect. I went as far as wiping-down playground equipment before letting him play on it. Other mothers watched me sanitize the swing, but said nothing. I knew they understood.

But then, I went too far. While eating at a local restaurant, an older woman (who was coughing and clearly sick) approached my son, extended her hand, and proceeded to rub his head. I glared at her, but the damage had been done. I instinctively reached into my diaper bag to retrieve my travel-size hand sanitizer, and before I could reflect on the sanity of my actions, I sanitized my baby's head. Yes, I actually squeezed sanitizer onto my hands and rubbed his hair and forehead.

I know that somewhere in that restaurant there was a young, non-mother, much like myself a year ago, who was certainly, and deservedly, rolling her eyes…and judging me.

# # #

Sarah is a full-time mom to her one-year-old son, Owen.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 377889 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-23 03:30 PM

I love that you are protective and trying to prevent! As humans , we build resistance as we grow. A rub on the head from the old women might look gross, but most like not going to get your baby sick. I myself am a father to one 3 year old !! Not too over protective when it comes to germs but do my fair share to prevent!
Her shots are up to date , many playground trips, and tons of people touching her head!! The most she has caught, thank God , is your common colds and flu( once). I have a friend that with every kid they had 3/4 days later were in Walmart!! Too much for me , but they enjoyed it. Some parents say your kid has to come out some day , might as well be now !


 COMMENT 377901 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-23 04:25 PM

...and then there are the "experts" who say that the more germs we expose kids to the better protected they will be because it builds up there immune system. Antibiotics and sanitizer is said to be building "super bugs" ever more resistant to the antibiotics. Do what you can mama bear and try not to worry about getting "every" germ wiped out. ... and perhaps try not to judge others as often as you have in the past. It's a bad habit that is only tricking your ego into thinking that you're "good" as long as you think there are "X" number of people who aren't as "good" as you are. Good is so very subjective.


 AUNTIE S. agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-23 05:10 PM

Thanks for this- it brightened my day. You'rea good writer. As kids we always said "you've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die" - and I guess that was my motto when my kids were growing up. .


 COMMENT 377930 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-23 05:15 PM

...and then one day your child is 30 years old. How did that happen?

Hopefully, you realized long ago that he is on his own journey despite your best efforts.

It's the most perilous and beautiful Lesson in deep humility that you will ever have.

Do your best, always, but realize that, at every moment, your child's life is his own dance with the Divine.

What we do, don't do, forget to do, remember always, are cautious of, are careless about - often has little bearing on how the path unfolds. You wipe your child's head with sanitizer and he picks up germs from the table. You teach him to cross the street and the neighbor's dog bites him.

The love and joy and worry and questions never end. It's a lifelong thing.


 COMMENT 377944 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-23 05:33 PM

From what I understand, kids that aren't exposed to normal germs can develop polio. You need exposure to develop immunity. It was common in the 1940's to disinfect everything and serious illnesses resulted from that.

So there must be a happy medium. Clean, but not too clean. Attentive, but not obsessive. Happy children, but not delirious.


 CORKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 07:18 AM

The polio concern seems off base, or maybe it's just that I've never heard that.


 COMMENT 378067 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 07:51 AM

I am sure they were always there..those noisy aggressive kids disturbing our peace......we now know many of those kids probably had autism.....please be kind and understanding when you see children like the one I saw the other day in Fresh Choice just tearing around like a bat out of hell. His poor Father did not know what to do....customers were glaring him down. Understanding.... we all need more of it. Happy Sunday to you all


 COMMENT 378124 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 12:20 PM

Polio is caused by the polio virus. Other exposures do not matter. You understand incorrectly.


 COMMENT 378128 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 12:52 PM

You're not that out of line. People are still coughing in their hands and then extending them. People are still using the bathroom and not washing their hands. Even if others say that we are paranoid about germs. Maybe all of these germs are not infectious but who really wants to shake a hand that just rubbed someones nose. You might not get sick but now you have nose juice (not to mention urine or worse) from someone else on your hands. It's gross.


 COMMENT 378147 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 01:45 PM


How did you come to understand that? It is certainly wrong, as 378124 explains.

The immune system is not like a muscle that must be exercised ... it is constantly working against pathogens. On thing the immune system does is produce antibodies -- proteins that target molecules specific to each type of pathogen; only a polio antibody will bind with a polio virus. Check the "antibody" Wikipedia page for more info. (And if you understand that you shouldn't use Wikipedia, that is mistaken too).

Also: the main reason you cough or sneeze when you're sick is that you've been infected by an organism that propagates by being air-borne; these organisms evolved to infect and irritate lung tissue or mucus membranes, causing the human body to expel them in the direction of other human beings that they infect. Sanitizers can help (see Wikipedia article) but not as much as masks or, for the flu, vaccines.


 COMMENT 378197P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 04:41 PM

As a mother you should be much more concerned about pesticide exposure and GMO foods.

Watch "Genetic Roulette" (YouTube). It is only 17 minutes long and will change your food shopping habits forever.

Don't use pesticides of any kind in your yard or house. Keep your use of plastics (food containers, drink containers) to a minimum.

Use of too much sanitizer can be more harmful than you know. Not all bacteria is bad bacteria. Cut way back on usage of any kind of bacterial soaps.


 COMMENT 378233P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 06:45 PM

the best thing that parents can do is pay attention to their children. Today in Best Buy, I watched as a dad completely ignored his daughter as he read and sent texts for a long time. His daughter who was about 5 was trying to get his attention, trying to engage, and he just kept ignoring her. I happened to be in her line of sight and she came over to me, and talked to me about the dinosaur nightlight she had found, she was animated and interested in sharing her find. Too bad her father didnt have the time to listen to her....I wish that parents would put their electronics away when parenting..and pay attention to their kids!


 COMMENT 378290P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-24 11:03 PM

Yes, entertaining and well written. Welcome!
I greatly admire your honesty.
Not criticizing, but do take the advice about antibacterials to heart. Do some research; they probably do more bad than good. Hope your kid gets a pet and lots of time to play in dirt. :-)
I look forward to more posts.


 COMMENT 378380 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-25 09:09 AM

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing as I pictured you giving this sick woman the evil eye while sanitizing your son's head!

I think every new mom goes off the deep end a little in the beginning, and it takes some time to find your balance. Having a good sense of humor, as you appear to, about it helps!

Keep up the wonderful writing, and I look forward to your future articles :)


 RAINE5360 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-26 03:36 PM

Germs are a losing battle. I will never forget keeping things out of the mouth my imposssibly curious infant son, and cleaning his pacifier, only to have him reach behind me AS I HELD HIM IN MY ARMS and grab a tuft off the stairway carpet behind me to put it in his mouth. He still manages to outfox me now that he's 30 years old.


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