I’ll be the first to admit it. Mr. Apron and I don’t keep the cleanest home.  We tidy up so we don’t constantly feel like we’re living in squalor.  We do laundry often enough so we’re not turning underwear inside out.  And we try not to smear dog poop all over the floors.  But still we don’t keep it clean, and I know it.  I don’t change the hand-towels in the bathroom or the dishtowels in the kitchen as often as I should.  I don’t disinfect the toilets and sinks as thoroughly as I ought to, and I’m not maniacal about washing my hands.

At work, everyone is maniacal about hand-washing, and not just for themselves.  I’m pretty conscientious about my own hands at work.  I’ve learned the school protocol is that we’re supposed to wash our hands each time we enter a classroom, and before meals, and after toileting.  I’m also thorough about washing my hands after I get sneezed, drooled, or boogered on.  What I’m not as fanatic about is the method.  The specific protocol varies from room to room, from daycare to daycare, from teacher to teacher, but involves some aspects of not touching anything, rubbing one’s soapy hands together for six hours under scalding water, and doing this sixteen million times a day. 

One teacher asks for kids to count to 30 or sing the ABCs while working up lather.  She also asks them to use a tissue to turn on the tap, or to wait for a teacher to do it for them.  This results in nasty soggy tissues disintegrating on the ever-running tap.  Another teacher has a song the kids sing which helps them remember to wash the tops and bottoms of their hands, and between their fingers.  Most teachers just let the tap run on full pressure while the endless line of children parades up before meals, after meals, before and after using the sandbox or the water table, and each time they enter the room. 

I’m not against teaching good hand-washing, or trying to reduce cross-contamination in a germ-filled classroom.  I am against making children rewash their hands because they touched the tap, or opened the trashcan using a hand instead of the foot pedal.  I am against letting water run to make things easier rather than using a moment to teach water conservation.  I am against changing trashcans 3 times in a year. And I am suspect of the fervent belief that if we can just perfect hand-washing, that’ll be the end of the cesspool that is the preschool center.  Because we’ll never get it just right.  Kids are still touching the soap pump; they’re still shaking dripping hands all over; they’re still touching light switches; and they’re still messing with their zippers and buttons before and after they wash their hands.  They’re still sneezing on my arm and goobering on my shirt and drooling on the table.  They’re still licking their fingers when the class makes cookies. 

Do you use a towel to turn on and off the tap in your own home?

We all make efforts, but we can only do so much, even with regimented hand-washing drills.  At some point we all just have to calm down and do out best without making ourselves, or the children we’re supporting, absolutely crazy. 

Unfortunately, mass hysteria over H1N1 and airborne Pacific Monkey Virus has resulted in products such as no-touch soap for the home, no-touch faucets, no-touch toothpaste dispensers, and disposable Kleenex hand-towels that fit neatly into your now-defunct towel bar.  We have my mother-in-law, a confessed germophobe, who quarantined my sister-in-law in the 2nd floor of her home, away from my nephew, who is at the house 2 days a week, because she had a sore throat, opening the door to a restaurant by applying her handbag over the handle. 

We do all these things and we still get sick.  We still use bar soap, cloth towels, and pull up our pants before washing our hands.  At least my mother-in-law hasn’t discovered anti-viral tissues or disposable hand towels yet.  But wherever I draw my personal line between hygiene and hysteria, I am still loathe to eat a child-prepared confection unless it’s been baked for a long time at a very high temperature.   Cuz man, kid germs in my cookies — that’s just nasty: