The worms will save us all.

Before you have babies, you think you’ve got a handle on how the parenting thing works. You feed them, you change them, you keep them clean. What’s so hard about that? And honestly, the answer, so far as I can tell from eleven months in the twin trenches, is nothing. Except for everything. Most particularly, the last item on the list.

Clean? Ha. My kids have mashed banana glued behind their ears from breakfast, and some chicken in their hair from last night. Robin is rubbing his nose on the couch to get out the booger that he won’t let me touch with a tissue. Wren is chewing on something she found in her stroller seat. After I scoop it from under her tongue, I can only guess that it was once something attached to a plant. A leaf? A piece of bark? Maybe some bird poo?

Thankfully, according to the New York Times, we are just good parents.

In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system.

I’ll buy the first round of tequila shots. Worms for everybody!

Dr. Ruebush deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria.

Rhinovirus Microbe

Rhinovirus Microbe

At the Farmer’s Market, we see mothers diligently scrubbing the tables with sanitary wipes before setting down their trays. They douse their children’s hands in antibacterial gel. They probably use those stupid shopping cart covers. They may think they’re doing good, but when the superbugs rise up to enslave us all in their germy armies of the End Times, you’ll know who to blame.

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18 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    S. said,

    Laughing! And amen.

  2. 2

    MonkeyGurrl said,

    Agree whole-heartedly. And even if I didn’t, I’d say I did, so that my distance from godliness would seem like a well-planned course of action.

    To be honest, all those anti-bacterial products scare me, especially when I start reading about the resistant strains o’ buggies. Which is why I constantly harp on the Jman and WMG that nothing is better than a little soap and water. (I’m so old-fashioned!)

  3. 3

    Jennifer said,

    One of the best things I ever saw was at an outdoor set of tables at Disneyland. on one side, a woman was determinedly wiping the table down with Purex. On the other, her toddler was using the (not-yet-Purexed) edge of the table as a teething ring.

  4. 4

    Sara R. said,

    And I just thought I was lazy. Thank you, New York Times!

  5. 5

    Natalie said,

    Eat dirt!
    Get dirty!
    Make mudpies!
    Go outside and play!

    Dirt is your friend.

  6. 6

    KS said,

    Preach it, sister! Thank you for calling out those shopping cart covers, although I am surprised we made it 5 comments in without anyone defending them. People love those things! In a way, it is pretty gross to just let your kid suck on the cart, but if I don’t think about it too much it’s fine, ha ha.

    Of course, in addition to the many unidentifiable objects I’ve caught my kids eating, I have also found other people’s peanut shells, lollipop sticks, and actual chicken shit in my kids mouths in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t encourage this, but I don’t freak out either.

    And baths? What are they???

  7. 7

    Andree said,

    That microbe sure is cute!

  8. 8

    Andree said,

    P.S. In its defense, that baby in the Clean Shopper looks comfortable.

  9. 9

    Anne-Marie said,

    Kids have been eating dirt and worms and birdpoo for years and years.

    I know I did (maybe not the poo) and I have only been really sick once in the last 6 years.

    Yay for good parenting :)

  10. 10

    Kate said,

    Wholeheartedly agree. Though I am a sucker for the pretty pretty Bath and Body Works antibacterial soap. But I think in general we’ve gone overboard with the antibacterial obsession and it’s going to come back to get us.

  11. 11

    Kate said,

    Michael Ruhlman’s got a good spin on antibacterial stuff today too:
    http://tinyurl.com/arqewn

  12. 12

    Hihankara said,

    I completely agree with you here. We were at a Mariner’s game and all of the sudden I was overwhelmed with a strong chemical smell, and in my oh-so-subtle way, I said “OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT STENCH” only to turn around and see a mother dousing her daughters with “clean” chemicals. Ugh.

    I also confess to grossing out my Sister-in-Law by refusing her offer of wipes after a day of shopping, and instead licking my fingers in response. THAT was fun.

  13. 13

    Rhonda Smart said,

    Hmm, I never thought of those cart covers as being clean, I thought they were for comfort. I distinctly remember getting pinched in a shopping cart when I was very small, so I thought I’d spare my kid the trauma. If she’d ever learn to sit up, that is…

  14. 14

    geckogrrl said,

    Okay, I have to admit that on occasion I do use the sanitizing wipes for the cart and was thinking about knitting a cart cover, but that was more to be cool that clean.

    We’re a mess too, though. I don’t have time to mop the floor — sweep 3 times a day though — and kiddo always has something stuck somewhere. I don’t know how she does it but she finds crackers in the funkiest places and small bits of rice.

    I’m with you that exposing our kids to some bugs is, as the Martha would say, a GOOD THING.

    Gotta love dirt, it’s what makes things grow!

  15. 15

    kathy a. said,

    i’m with you all on the “little dirt doesn’t hurt” front! one of my friends used to joke that with her first baby, anything dropped on the floor was boiled before re-use. with the second baby, she washed stuff with soap and water. with the third, she’d wipe obvious dirt off on her jeans before returning it to the baby. LOL

    i don’t like antibacterial soaps — but you need to really shop to find regular hand soap. and, we try to avoid unneeded antibiotics, and always finish the Rx if we do take them — doing a few doses and stopping apparently helps those suckers mutate.

    alcohol-based hand sanitizer, though, doesn’t contribute to mutant bacteria: http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/articles/400/400_2c1feat6.html sure, people can go overboard, but the stuff is useful in a pinch, or around hospitals or immune-suppressed folks.

  16. 16

    Writer2 said,

    Having a laissez-faire attitude towards dirt and other ingested crud comes in very handy in later life. The obvious example is food falling on the floor that’s subject to the 5-second rule — though in my case, it’s more like 20.

    Better yet is food testing, the old gender bias thing, where your average male can only determine if some long-hidden food substance sitting in the refrigerator is still “good” or not — by eating it. Usually it isn’t until after I’ve eaten it that I determine that it was okay, though it wouldn’t be okay for anyone else to eat it after that, and it’s gone.

    So our bodies have more internal margin of error than the sanitizers would think.

  17. 17

    AKS said,

    Once germs were not such a danger to my kid, I stopped using the shopping cart cover. But I thank heaven some paranoid mother invented that thing. Now that his health is relatively normal, he regularly uses the filthy seat belts in shopping carts as chew toys. He gets sick, I get sick; it’s all part of having kids, right?

    As for dirt, I hear you. And why can’t I keep myself clean? Sunday I walked around in public (including meeting a Realtor) wearing a sweatshirt with snot wiped all over the shoulder. Lovely.

  18. 18

    InkGypsy said,

    I must admit to encouraging Jack to get dirty in the garden, though I do insist he doesn’t actually swallow the bug/dirt lump/UDO (unidentified dirty object).

    Eating out though I do wipe Jack’s part of the table down because he tends to eat straight from the table top to speed things up after using a fork off the plate for half of it.

    But i must admit I rely on him getting his bugs in the environment and pre-immunity from me through breast milk to help him grow up healthy and strong. Heck – I grew up without being BF in a VERY dirty environment with blood sucking bugs and toe burrowing worms and turned out to have a pretty strong constitution compared to my kept-in-a-bubble contemporaries!

    As for cleaning ourselves? Let’s just say we save a lot of water. Fewer baths, lots of hand washing and you know what? It’s Jack who tells me when his hands need cleaning! Funny kid.

    Bring on the worms!


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