I have said before that I don’t see much of myself in my daughter Ruby. But that is starting to change, and I’m not entirely happy about it.
I’m not sure exactly where, when or how it started, but she is going through a sort of Howard Hughes phase in which she is washing her hands or drenching them in sanitizer every 10 seconds. At first, I blamed myself for this entirely. I wouldn’t say I’m compulsive about it, but I do appreciate a set of germ-free hands – especially now that Ruby is always touching the baby.
So the first time Ruby came to me and said, “I touched the bottom of my shoe, so then I washed my hands,” I said, “Hey, cool! Clean hands high-five, kiddo!” And then she said, “I touched my Barbie, but then I realized that she had been on the floor, so then I washed my hands,” and I said, “OK, well, I guess you can never be too careful.” And then she said, “I touched the sofa and then I realized that the baby had been sitting on it, and she also was sitting on the floor, and so the germs from the floor might be on the sofa, and so I washed my hands,” and I said, “Whoa, Ruby, let’s have a little talk, OK?”
I talked to her about moderation and hysteria and immune systems. And she said all right and nodded like she understood, but then not an hour later, she found a penny on the ground and picked it up and said, “Ooh, a lucky penny! Oops – I better go wash my hands; no telling where that penny’s been!” And then she got a book out of the school library called Germ Wars – and insisted on wiping it down with hand sanitizer before reading it.
I talked to her teacher, who explained, much to my relief, that they had been studying germs in school – so this new obsession couldn’t all be laid at the feet of me and my beloved Wet Ones Antibacterial wipes.
I know children change so rapidly at this age, but I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the kid who two months ago cavalierly ate beef jerky of indeterminate age now squeals with joy when I say I got a new canister of wet wipes for the car.
I am so torn right now – I want to stress the importance of hand-washing and hygiene. I want her to wash her hands after school, after using the bathroom, before eating and before touching the baby, but I don’t want her to wash them every two seconds. And yet I find it incredibly hard to model this behavior because I want to wash my hands every two seconds. A friend whose daughter went through a similar phase said she cured her daughter by dropping an apple slice on the floor and then picking it up and eating it. I am glad that worked for her, but I honestly don’t know if I could eat a floor apple with a gun to my head.
I guess when I said I wished I saw more of myself in my daughter, I meant more of what I vainly consider my “good qualities”: caution, good judgment, a mostly level head. I didn’t really mean I wanted her to have my neuroses.
And yet, even with this new quirk, Ruby is still very much herself, a daredevil who has nothing to fear except germs themselves. She is still 100 percent ready to jump out of a plane – she’s just going to do so with very clean hands.