Before I had a baby, I had breezily assumed I'd be an easygoing parent. I became pregnant for the first time at 42 and figured that my advanced age, as well as two decades of closely observing my friends and family raise their children, would make me the sort of restrained, wise mother I had always admired. In my house, visitors would not be required to don a hazmat suit to avoid spreading germs to the baby. Instead, I would smile fondly as she rolled around on the floor and calmly remark that a little dirt builds up her immune system.
Then I actually gave birth. My daughter, Sylvie, has been the joy of my life. However, I now find that I am wracked with fears, some reasonable (ear infections), some loony (a marauding squirrel is going to attack the baby as we sit on our terrace! Violent news footage on television will imprint on her brain and send her straight to the therapist's couch! Her too-tight jammies will cut off circulation!). at the very top of my list is the fear of germs. I've made myself particularly nuts when I go to a crowded place, close my eyes, and listen to the phlegmy chorus of coughing, hacking, spitting, and sneezing. I do not recommend this self-punishing exercise, because you'll immediately want to hook your baby up to an IV of Purell.
Last month I took Sylvie out for a jaunt in the stroller, and as we left our building I spotted my superintendent dragging trash cans onto the sidewalk for collection.
"Hey, little lady!" he said, leaning into the stroller and wiping his hands on his jeans. "How are you?" as he squatted down and shook Sylvie's hand, my left eye began to twitch uncontrollably. Take it easy, I counseled myself. Take. It. Easy. Just go around the corner so he doesn't see you, whip out an antibacterial wipe, and everything will be okay.
Then he grabbed both of her hands to play pattycake. I couldn't take another second of this. Panicking, I gabbled that we were late for an appointment and speed-walked around the corner. I couldn't get that wipe out fast enough.