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What It's Like to Be a Mom Who's a Germaphobe

Photograph by Twenty20

I hate germs, especially the pukey kind. I will turn the car around or make a quick stop at the store if the jumbo container of wipes in the cup holder falls empty. I may leave the house without my cell phone on occasion, but I never forget my Purell. I'm so obsessed with killing all the ickies, it’s affecting my parenting. I lose my shit whenever I see my kids put their hands in their mouths or eat without washing their hands first.

I know it’s irrational and most definitely a manifestation of my diagnosed OCD, but I still lose it. Once—probably when my kid ate something off the floor—my husband said, “I’m a dentist. You know I put my hands in people’s mouths for a living.”

For the record, he did not do this when I met him. I was already in too deep by the time he chose his future, germy profession.

“But you wear a mask and gloves and a face shield,” I said, considering the possibilities for our next trip to the touch museum.

“It won’t kill her to eat something off the floor,” he said.

“No, but it could make her puke," I said. "Then I will puke. I don’t want to puke. Ever.”

“Everyone pukes,” he said.

I’m such a killjoy, I sometimes stay behind. I let my husband watch them frolic on the microbe-encrusted playsets and play arcade games.

Yes, but why up your odds? As a mother of two young kids, I’m playing against a stacked deck. My youngest recently licked the tray table on a train (probably to mess with me). Her older sister screamed, “That’s disgusting! I don’t want to sit next to you anymore. You’re foul!”

And that’s when I realized two things: One, my 8-year-old is going to rock the SAT verbal. Two, I’m raising her to be just as afraid of germs as me.

It makes me sad. It makes me feel like a bad mom.

I want them to play, roll in the dirt and then lick their hands. I just don’t want to see them do it. I wish I wasn't like this because it makes me anxious in otherwise fun places, like the playground or restaurants. I want to watch them ride the carousel without thinking the horse pole looks like a giant germ popsicle my kid’s about to lick. I wish when my kids head for a public water fountain, I don’t scream “No!” like it’s radioactive. I wish I was the mom who shakes the mulch from her kid’s pacifier and plops it back in their mouth.

I’m just not. I’m such a killjoy, I sometimes stay behind. I let my husband watch them frolic on the microbe-encrusted playsets and play arcade games. I want them to play without hearing me shout, “Don’t put your hands in your mouth!” They come home smiling, smelling of sunscreen and sweat. I march them to the bathroom to wash their hands as they tell me the highlights of their trip in breathless giggles. I don’t ask if they licked anything. I don’t want to know.

If my kids ever question how much I love them, I tell them I love them enough to sit beside them while they vomit. (OK, I tell them some crap about the moon and back, but let’s be real, the vomit catching is the ultimate sign of my love and devotion.) Because even with my wipe-wielding offense, my kids still attract viruses like ants to sugar. But, I’m there to catch the vomit, which I guess means my germ phobia hasn’t completely taken the best from me, yet.

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