In the real world, when another human being contaminates your stuff, one of three things happens:
- You burn the thing.
- You burn the other human.
Okay, it’s only two things, because in the real world, if somebody else spits, sneezes, coughs, barfs, pees, poops, or otherwise gets their fluids on your stuff then that stuff is as good as quarantined and that somebody else deserves to have their throat slit and their precious blood evacuated as they hang upside down in the walk-in freezer in your murder basement. …You don’t have a murder basement? …Yeah, me neither.
When you have a toddler, or even an infant, that rule goes out the window. And not just because if you bleed out your infant, the infant’s mother gets mad. But because something inside you, some fundamental self-preservational instinct, gets rewired. And when I say rewired, I mean ripped out of the wall and left dangling there, waiting to burn the house down.
Here are a couple of real scenarios which have actually happened within the four walls of my house in the past few months:
- The toddler has explosive diarrhea. Like, launder-the-bedsheets and scrub-the-carpets time. I clean up the mess, shower down the boy, and then possibly forget to wash my hands before having food some time later.
- The infant, suffering from a snuffly nose which is probably a watered-down version of what the wife and I had a week prior, gets hold of my fingers and sucks on them for a while. I pluck my fingers from the infant’s mouth and immediately use them to shovel a handful of popcorn or something into my own mouth.
- The toddler likes to drink out of big-people cups and bottles. I have a swanky water bottle that he loves to get hold of and sip out of. Did I mention that he’s got the same snuffly nose that the infant had in the previous instance? He drinks from my bottle, visibly backwashes because that’s what toddlers do, and I forget and drink from the bottle five minutes later.
- I’m multitasking, trying to shovel in a few bites of dinner while carrying and soothing the infant. (Your time does not belong to you when you have an infant, doubly so when you also have a toddler. You therefore do the things crucial to your existence only when you are also doing things of middling importance to the kids’ … I can’t even say happiness … I’ll say, baseline for not throwing a screaming hissy fit.) I’ve got a steaming forkful of home-cooked, perfectly seasoned spaghetti six inches from my mouth. She coughs directly onto my fork. I feel droplets of goo splatter on the backs of my fingers grasping the fork. I look at my wife, who is trying unsuccessfully to stifle spasms of body-rocking laughter. I eat the spaghetti anyway.
- I’m carrying the toddler around, because even though he’s perfectly capable of walking and in fact running as if the devil himself were at his heels, he still likes to be carried, especially when I’m tired from a long day at work and would really rather just sit down now. So I’m carrying him and talking to my wife about my day, and without warning, he reels back and sneezes. A deep, phlegm-thick, lung-clearing sneeze. A sneeze that deserves to be captured on high-speed slow-motion camera. Right into my mouth. The plague-mist dampens the back of my throat. I clear my throat and finish telling my wife about the student who’s obstinately determined to fail my class.
The disturbing thing about the previous vignettes (and rest assured, they are not examples in isolation, but merely the most recent iterations of a horrorshow of infection and disgust in memory) is not the fact that they happened. No, the moment you become a parent, you realize that there are so many bodily fluids that are now a part of your day-to-day existence that it’s silly getting upset about their presence. The disturbing thing is that, in each of the above examples, I encountered the vehicles of infection, I allowed them into my body, and did so without blinking an eye, or in fact even considering blinking an eye.
I don’t have an explanation for this. To reiterate, if any of the above were to happen in the real world, the response would start at fisticuffs and top out at nuclear annihilation. But when it’s your kid’s snot, spit, and other varied germ transmission vectors, somehow that instinct to protect yourself just shuts down. Looks the other way. Retreats into itself and sobs quietly in the corner like a 40-year-old regressing into memories of an abusive uncle.
Which is probably a good thing, because otherwise no poor soul on this planet would survive their first month.
When you become a parent, you will be poisoned by your child at every opportunity. This is the way of things. So let it be done.