I recently published an article for Today Parenting, and it ended up on the Today Show’s Facebook page! I got a ton of (mostly) constructive feedback from others, many of whom are experiencing the same phenomenon. Now, as is the nature of the beast that is the internet, I did get a few less-than-helpful comments. My favorites were these two gems:
“Here’s an idea. Keep you [sic] “immune-compromised” baby in your house. Not all germs are transferred through touch. Some are airborne and none of them care who they land on.” (I’m sorry, why the quotations around immune compromised? As if I’m making this up??)
“If its [sic] sick, keep it at home… DUH!!” (I’m assuming the “it” here is my child…)
It took everything I had in me, but I resisted the urge to *gently educate* these people on how asinine their comments are. For one, you can’t fix stupid, and two, my Momma always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. But believe you me, my inside voice was a hootin’ and a hollerin’ some choice words. I promise a couple of them were ladylike…
Anyway, after wading through the less-than-kind remarks, I did find some great tips! They range from very subtle to unavoidably obvious. Depending on your comfort level and situational severity, you could choose any or all of these! And if you have any more suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
The bottom line is this: you can’t just hole up in your house forever (contrary to what some of my readers seemed to think). You have every right to live your life, and your transplant warrior deserves the opportunity to explore the world around them. We didn’t receive the gift of life to hide inside! We must all live our lives to the fullest!
Several moms indicated that they used bug nets over their strollers to keep more than just the mosquitoes out. I love this solution, because it doesn’t draw any additional attention to your kiddo, and it also keeps away strangers’ germy fingers! You can quietly go about your shopping while not worrying about people reaching into your stroller or having to openly confront anyone! Win win.
My N is now to the age where a bug net just won’t cut it. It’s just something else for him to pull on and try to put into his mouth. We actually have one specifically for the black flies, and he just tugs on it and fusses whenever it’s over the stroller. To that end, some other moms commented that they used stroller signs. Many were red and in the shape of stop signs, so they would be easily seen and imply no touching without the person even needing to even read it.
Lots of them say something adorable like “Stop! Please wash your hands before touching mine.” Others have sweet poems and cuddly cartoon images, but they all really say the same thing: stay away. And the best part is that they say it nicely, so you don’t have to!
This method is comparable to the stop signs in the stroller, but they also help when your tot wants to be a big kid and walk on their own. I know N wouldn’t like me hanging the sign directly on him, so that’s when shirts like these come in handy! We have a few of these, and I’ve noticed that when people see his shirt, they tend to leave him alone. Instead of reaching for him, they smile awkwardly at me and look away quickly, as if to prove they weren’t staring. Hopefully this doesn’t eventually make him feel like a freak show. Sometimes I catch myself getting self-conscious about his shirt, but then I remember how proud I am of my warrior and I pluck up some confidence.
Our other method is to just give him a wipe down whenever he touches something or someone touches him. Between the three of us, we actually went through almost an entire several-hundred-count bag of baby wipes when we went to the zoo, aquarium, and several museums this past weekend. People at restaurants wanted high-fives, he’d touch the glass of an exhibit, or someone would brush up against him and knock him over and he’d touch the floor (SO GROSS!!). I’d cringe and my skin would crawl every time I thought about the germs involved. Barf. Anyway, we have these awesome, resealable wipe bags that we just hook onto our stroller or backpack. While I understand that using that many wipes is awful for the environment, sanitizing gel just isn’t an option for him right now. It might kill the germs, but it doesn’t remove the dirt. Besides, it’s not like we go through that many every weekend. Typically it takes us several outings to go through a whole “refill’s worth” of wipes. Still, they are wicked handy! We always have them with us.
Physical or Verbal Intervention
Another option is to just go about your business as usual until someone forces your hand. This is our final approach. It’s not terribly often that people reach out to touch him, so we’ve only had to do this a couple of times. When there are lots of people around and they want high-fives, we usually just make sure his hands stay out of his mouth and then wipe him down afterward; we don’t want to call anyone out publicly and embarrass them or make them feel bad when they were just being kind (this is mostly the case with family gatherings and friends rather than strangers… we don’t let strangers touch him). But when it’s more one-on-one, or if someone we don’t know is reaching into the stroller (which I just find awfully rude to begin with!!), it’s very different. Typically, I’ll gently place my hand and arm between him and the individual and kindly ask them not to touch him because he’s immune compromised. This is usually enough to make them recoil and apologize profusely. However, I have had to pull the stroller back from someone who simply didn’t listen, thank them for the sweet remarks about my son, and walk away briskly. At some point, you can’t be concerned about offending people. But it’s still difficult and awkward. I will say, though, that it gets a little easier each time I have to do it!
Empower Your Kids
As they get older, you can teach them to avoid unwanted contact on their own. This can also be combined with lessons on Stranger Danger (this idea came from another awesome transplant mama!). If someone asks for a high five or a hug, teach them that it’s perfectly ok to politely decline!
You can also teach them proper hand washing techniques, about how certain surfaces are especially dirty (hand rails and door knobs, light switches, you name it!), and how not everyone washes their hands, so people can be germy, too. That way, they can be empowered to high five if they wish, so long as they understand proper hygiene and how to clean their hands afterwards.