I have never been what you'd call a germaphobe (yet another thing Howard Hughes and I don't have in common).
My home isn't exactly a sanctuary of immaculateness. Rattle my window blinds, and you'll inhale a cloud of dust. Open the microwave, and you'll see grains of Wednesday morning's oatmeal. Peek under my sofa cushions, and you'll discover an assortment of chocolate wrappers, earrings and the occasional Triscuit. (Any money you find is mine, by the way.)
Personal hygiene-wise, I'm a little better. I shower at least once a day, keep my fingernails dirt-free and wash my hands after using the restroom. On the other hand, when a peanut M&M falls on the floor, I have no problem invoking the "five-second rule." And if I described some of the public toilets I've used in desperation while on the road, you'd gag on your Post Toasties.
As a young mother, I'll admit I was loosey-goosey with the kids. If I could herd them into the tub every other day, soap 'em up and spray 'em down, I felt like I'd met my maternal responsibilities. Of course, I'd remind them to wash their hands before dinner and keep their fingers out of their mouths, but if their Popsicles dropped to the carpet and they popped them back into their mouths before I could stop them, I just looked the other way.
"A little dirt's good for them," I'd rationalize. "Builds character. Or, is that the Army?"
That was then; this is now.
Back in the day, we only had to worry about generic germs lurking on other kids' toys, currency and pieces of chewing gum lodged under cafe tables.
"Put that down, you don't know where it's been!" was our battle cry, though the worst scenario we could imagine was our child catching a head cold.
Now, there's a mind-boggling host of insidious bacteria lurking everywhere - streptococcus A, Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA), not to mention the H1N1 flu - that's turned this sanitation slacker into an obsessive-compulsive Lady MacBeth on steroids.
How bad is it?
Put it this way. Every time the World Health Organization raises the pandemic level, my throat immediately tightens, I swear I'm running a fever, and I douse myself from head-to-toe with hand sanitizer.
It's so bad that the Oprah/Dr. Oz show this week about flesh-eating bacteria (a subject I have personal, second-hand experience with) made me so afraid to go to the doctor, I've decided to become a Christian Scientist.
My drawers at home are filled with little bottles of freesia-scented anti-bacterial gel. I wear rubber gloves to church. And when my husband pulls me onto his lap to smooch, I screech, "Put me down, you don't know where I've been!"
I tried to order a lifetime's supply of surgical masks, but everywhere I looked online was sold out. In a fit of hysterical resourcefulness, I found a sale at Victoria's Secret. Did you know that placed squarely over the nose and mouth, low-rise cotton thongs really do the job?
It's so bad (as if the thong image wasn't bad enough), that I'm actually disinfecting my house! I don't mean a quick swipe of the kitchen floor with the mop. I mean down on my knees, ammonia-soaked sponge in hand, scrubbing the linoleum like Cinderella! My countertops get the full wipe-down treatment with Clorox six times a day. And I double-dog dare the CDC to find even one living microorganism in any of my three bathrooms.
(OK, the above paragraph is a pack of lies, but I'm about there, people! I really am!)
With every new swine flu story that breaks, my fearful fixation grows. I eye my co-workers with suspicion.
Does he look pale, I wonder? And why can't she stop clearing her throat? Didn't she go to Mexico during spring break?
When my daughter comes home from working at a local high school, I cower in the corner.
"Don't touch anything!" I cry. "Don't even breathe! Just run upstairs and shower with water as hot as you can stand!"
OK. Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm a sucker for worldwide panic. Maybe, on some sick level, I enjoy the drama.
I am taking precautions, however. Unfortunately, that means cleaning up a little more around the house, which I'm happy to do to ensure the health of my family and friends.
But if a peanut M&M falls to the floor, there's no way of revoking that "five second rule."
- Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.