One day Anni was twirling and singing one of her original compositions.
"It's my gift!" she declared.
Dizzy, she fell with spectacular gracelessness.
Laying on her back on the tile floor she began flapping her arms and legs
as if she were making a snow angel.
"Falling down is also a gift!" says she.

Friday, August 12, 2005

about rings and things

I don't wear my wedding ring anymore. It's not at all some sort of statement that I'm making, "I am married, but am not marked by possession...Physical adornment by heavy jewelry is simply a stand-in for the shackles of an ever-pervasive patriarchy...Advertising economic status on one's fingers only encourages the unhealthy urge to attain more more more in the pursuit of happiness defined by material accoutrements..." Pshaw. My fingers have just grown too fat. Plus, my hands are subjected to so much soap and water and hand sanitizer in the course of one day's living that I'm never going to get back into the career world following my dream of being a hand-model. And I keep my nails really short, to discourage gathering bacteria under them. Really, drawing attention to my stubby-nailed, soap-roughened fingers with rings is just not a great idea. Still, I've been thinking about getting my wedding band resized. But that feels like giving up on my plan of losing weight. And then there would still be the issue of washing hands every 5 minutes or so. Not only will my hands probably continue on their course of aging at the average canine's speed (7 years for every year actually lived), but I will also have to contend with my own personal phobia concerning jewelry. Back when I was 16, I became obsessed with owning an opal and diamond ring. I pored over pages and pages of rings displayed in the circulars that arrived stuffed behind the daily newspaper, fantasizing about the certain glow that would surround my entire being with such a piece of beauty on my finger. I took a part-time job working in food service at the hospital, saving my earnings until I had a reasonable start on my first year's college expenses. Which was when I decided that I also had enough money to sneak out a bit to finally purchase my ticket to instant loveliness, a gold ring with a little circle of opal in the middle, with the merest chip of a diamond nestled next to it. I painted my nails, shaping them lovingly with an emery board, and wore my ring proudly every day, depositing it carefully into its velvet box on my nightstand every evening before bed. This went on for three glorious weeks. However, working food service in a hospital means that frequent hand washing is a requirement of the job. The sinks were actually set out in the open, so the supervisor could be sure that her band of irresponsible teens were actually satisfying the hygienic demands of the hospital satisfactorily. Of course, being 16 also meant that I was just one big walking tidal wave of hormones. So, naturally, when the guy I had a crush on decided to chat with me one day while I was washing up before work, I didn't notice the ring, slippery with soap, slide off my finger and down the drain. In the interest of sanitation, the elbow below the sink was welded closed, and the physical plant guys did not deem the $50 ring of a hormone-addled teenager reason enough to open the bend. I was miserable and, for the first time, I didn't spare a sympathetic thought for the poor souls in the floors above me who were about to be served a "soft/bland diet" off of bright orange plastic trays. I felt silly crying over that ring. I really did. So I decided right then and there never again to wear any piece of jewelry costing more than $10. When my parents bought me a beautiful garnet necklace as a graduation present, I wore it on graduation day and then tucked it away to give to my own daughter someday. Judging by Annika's fondness for adorning herself with shiny plastic things, despite the fact that she hardly ever sees me in jewelry, I won't have to wait long for her to love that necklace. Frankie will get the opal necklace and earrings that my sister bought me to soften the blow of losing the ring. Of course, I did wear my wedding band for several years, and it did cost more than $10 (but less than $50, if I remember correctly). I did not have, or want, an engagement ring, much to Jörg's relief. Still, I'm missing that band. I mean, if I have it resized bigger, I can surely downsize it when I finally get myself back in shape, right? It's not like giving up altogether, surely. But there still is the issue of the non-stop hand washing, which has turned into something very like an obsession with me, post-transplant. Frankie, at 22 months, can already say "hand sanitizer" perfectly, and Annika is so well-trained that she cleans her hands in a thoroughly automatic fashion at the appropriate times (after the toilet, after touching the cat, after throwing something away, after wiping her nose, before eating, upon entering the house, upon leaving the hospital for blood draws, upon entering the car, and every 5 minutes when we're in a place crowded with children or animals). Recently one of my favorite famous bloggers, mimi smartypants, wrote a little paragraph wondering about the necessity of washing hands after using the toilet. (Notice by "recently" I mean in May. See? I really do get behind on my internet reading and response duties. If you're looking, the paragraph is about halfway down, under the heading "Blasphemer.") After I picked myself up off the floor where I was writhing in pain at the mental picture of unused bathroom sinks and poop-covered hands reaching out to stroke my daughter's soft head, I fired off an email: [blah blah blah, who I am, how much I love her writing, etc. segue to:] But, EEEWWWWW! Questioning post-toilet hand washing? Most tummy bugs and such friendly things as Hepatitis A are spread via oral-fecal transmission (official medical terminology!). Since I assume that most people, like me, would never intentionally put shit in their mouths, it seems safe to assume that people sometimes gets poop on their hands unintentionally while wiping or flushing or sitting down or whatever. If everyone in the world would just wash their hands with soap really well after using the toilet...(sighs dreamily)...just think of all the nasty illnesses we could wipe out (wipe out! ha!). No ill will, though. Just a bit concerned at the thought of a new wave of rebellious hipsters skipping the soap and water. So I guess I'm practically a hand washing activist, although my efforts are usually a bit more passive-aggressive. For instance, as I stand in public restrooms making sure that my daughter rubs her sudsy hands together for at least 15 seconds, I have to fight back the urge to correct other people's less-than-perfect hand washing techniques. Instead I usually just "remind" Annika a little too loudly to do correctly whatever it is that that poor person is doing wrong ("OK, Anni, be sure that you don't start rinsing until the full 15 seconds is up, and, no, rubbing your hands under the water with the soap still on them doesn't count!") Honestly, it's no wonder I'm not the most popular mommy around. This little control quirk of mine is exactly why my mom could only stand to stay with me for 2 weeks after the birth of Frankie. Still, I think our society is becoming a more clean-handed one. At Annika's preschool the kids are required to wash their hands with soap and water before entering the classroom, where they are also given a squirt of Purell, just in case the hand washing was a typical preschooler's half-assed job. And then at the county fair this past week, Annika had to use one of the port-a-potties. On the blue plastic door was a sign that advertised the fact that they were equipped with "hand-sanitizing stations" inside, which made my heart do little flutter-y things. But then, even better, after Annika was done and we turned to leave we were confronted with a cheery little sign that featured an arrow pointing to the hand sanitizer and asked, "Did you clean your hands?" Exactly like a nagging mom. Awesome. Just awesome. So maybe someday soon having reddish hands roughened by repeated use of soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers will be the new mark of beauty ("Hey, look! She must have really clean hands!"). Hey, it could happen. I still think I might get that ring resized, though. I missed Jörg while he was gone.


Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I am not kidding when I say that we have Purell hand pumps in every room in the house. Plus the cute little keychain Purell.

But we're still not as well trained as Annika. You are amazing, Moreena.

8/12/2005 7:52 PM  
Blogger Moreena said...

Well, thanks. But really, it's not so amazing. Kids are amazingly easily trained to all sorts of behaviors, bless their little impressionable minds.

Purell rocks.

8/12/2005 10:03 PM  
Blogger liz said...

Muffin Man's daycare is being accredited by NAEYC. Their rules for handwashing are as follows:

Scrub while singing the "ABC's"
Grab a towel
Turn off the faucet with the towel
Dry hands

After going to the bathroom/getting diaper changes
After coming in from outside
Before meals
After meals

I'm buying paper towel for all the bathrooms in our house so that we can keep his handwashing consistant.

My pet peeve? Public restrooms with no paper towels. Only those stupid blowers. One in particular is almost too high-up for me to use, MM is terrified of it.

8/13/2005 7:09 PM  
Blogger PPB said...

Put the ring on a chain and wear it around your neck. It's what my grandma did. She said it was so it was next to her heart. My grandpa said it was because the jeweler refused to keep resizing it. (She tended to lose and gain and lose and gain).

I am a big hand washing fan. Not so much the purell, which makes my hands really raw and red, but loving me the soap. And at camp we sing 2 happy birthdays to wash and the kids actually like it. What's not to like....water, soap,'s a party!

8/14/2005 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

But--aren't those little antibacterial thingies supposed to be the tools of the devil or something?

I remember reading that the purells of the world did more harm than good.... I know that they found them a key factor in the spread of SARS in TO--the nurses counted on the purell etc. to kill the germies so they didn't wash thoroughly.

8/15/2005 6:31 AM  
Blogger Moreena said...

Liz--your daycare sounds incredible. Especially the turning off the water with the towel - that's a hard one to get little ones to do. Usually I just turn off the water for her. We had paper towels in our bathrooms for a while, but then the holder kept falling out of the wall and Annika kept unrolling them all the time and we were generally creating way too much trash. So I went back to hand towels, but I change them super frequently. Of course, then I don't have the paper towel to turn off the faucet, but instead I just turn on the water with my left hand, which hasn't usually been doing the dirty business. Still, that's not perfect, I know. So I just clean the faucets with a bleach-based cleaner frequently (up to 2-3 times a day if there's a GI bug in the house).

PPB - what a great idea. And a funny/sweet story, to boot.

Andrea - Hmmm. I haven't heard anything but good things about alcohol-based cleaners like Purell. For health care workers, a big problem is that they are so pressed for time that doing a thorough hand-washing before entering a room and after leaving a room is just not feasible. Also, frequent soap and water washings, believe it or not, are actually harder on your skin than frequent Purell-ings. Still, in our hospital the rule (posted by the Purell dispenser) is that you are only supposed to use the stuff 8 times before you give a good hand-washing. The fact of the matter is that studies here have shown that having Purell stations posted outside each room has been a huge boon in helping to stop the spread of bugs in hospitals, as health care workers (here, anyway) just weren't washing as frequently as they should with the soap and water.

As far as SARS is concerned, I don't know of any studies that showed Purell increased the spread. In fact, the CDC recommends alcohol-based cleansers to prevent the spread of SARS. I suppose, just as with soap and water, the alcohol stuff could be used wrong (like insufficient amounts to cover the hands or wiping hands on a towel or clothes before it had a chance to dry). Still, that story sounds a little off-kilter to me.

It is true that the one major medical study (actual study with controls and all, not just anecdotal speculation) has shown that using Purell around the house decreases the spread of tummy bugs by a whopping 59%! The spread of respiratory infections (like SARS) has not been shown to be significantly decreased by having hand sanitizer around the house, but that could very well be because people don't use it after wiping their noses or sneezing. Plus, you know, respiratory stuff is not just spread on the hands, but can also be spread through the air.

Anyway, you also mention the word "antibacterial." Now, while alcohol-based sanitizers are "antibacterial" in the sense that they kill bacteria (by drying them up), they don't do it by using a chemical compound like triclosan, which has not shown to be any more effective against everyday bugs and germs than regular soap and water, and brings along the possibility of breeding drug-resistant superbugs. So those types of antibacterials are really suspect (I should google the AMA's study on this- you are always so good at finding these things). So, in this sense, alcohol-based sanitizers are better than soap and water, given how hard it is to find a handsoap that doesn't contain these agents.

Still, I always use soap and water after anything really dirty, and use the sanitizer when there's no sink available.

I did a quick google on SARS and hand sanitizers and didn't find anything official looking, but I didn't search beyond the first couple of pages. And maybe I was using the wrong search terms. I'd be interested if you found something like that, you wonderful researcher, you!

8/15/2005 9:42 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

You're describing a great protocol for the immune-compromised and those who care for them, but I'm not sure it's the best way to go for regular kids.

I've read studies that exposure to contagions in early life are key to developing a healthy immune system, and that kids who don't get that exposure are more likely to develop allergies later in life.

I've had my share of intestinal bugs, colds, and flus, and none of them have put my life in danger. The still-unidentified (and likely unidentifiable) food allergy that surfaced in my thirties? That did.

8/15/2005 11:36 AM  
Blogger Moreena said...

Well, Mike, I agree, sort of. The fact of the matter is that you are going to be exposed to illness no matter how good you are about keeping your hands clean. That's just life. So I don't think anyone need worry that good hand-cleaning is suddenly going to cast our children into a protective bubble from which they will emerge as adults with ill-developed immune systems. Certainly I don't think that regular kids necessarily need clean their hands when they enter the car, for instance. The truth, though, is that many kids also do not learn to clean their hands when they *really* should, such as before eating or after the toilet (in all the potty training books I bought for Annika, precious few mentioned cleaning hands afterward). And the sad fact of the matter is that bugs like e. coli, which show up at petting zoos, can kill perfectly healthy children. I know, I know, it's a rarity...but really it seems surprising that teaching proper hand cleaning (in exactly the situations Liz describes above, not quite the overboard approach we take) hasn't quite taken off quite like the realization that we need to apply sunscreen to our children. I mean, we also need a certain amount of sun in order to stay healthy, so keeping your children inside during daylight hours would also lead to health problems. The key seems to be education about the proper use of handwashing and really understanding the impact of not washing.

But I do get that there is an argument to be made here. I suppose that I also buy into the whole "social contract" approach, that is that we are required sometimes to behave in ways meant to protect one another, and also the weakest members of the society (such as babies and the immunocompromised).

8/15/2005 11:57 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Well put. There's a funny little story on Salon today about a Mom who's fed up with strangers tell her how to parent. The best part, though, is when she catches herself giving unsolicited advice to some poor pregnant woman in the grocery store. It's like I always say: we're all crazy about something.

Good luck today. Hope all's going well.

8/15/2005 1:47 PM  
Blogger Moreena said...

I can't leave this alone, can I?

Thanks, Mike. I posted a whole new ramble about this just now. However, I feel compelled to add that I do understand that the social contract approach that I mention above doesn't actually say anything about protecting the weakest members of a society, but rather behaving in a manner that brings the greatest benefit to the society as a whole, even if it entails some small individual risk. This is usually brought up in the context of the vaccine debate, and I am, in general, very pro-vaccine. However, I don't think that this approach means that you shouldn't do your damnedest to figure out why some minority are being harmed and try to fix it. Just so that's clear.

8/15/2005 3:13 PM  
Blogger Sarahlynn said...

About the rings (talk about being behind on my reading! I'm responding to two months of Moreena at once):

My wedding and engagement rings are larger now than they once were. When I gained weight they got stuck and I had to have them cut off. Since they were already cut, I had them resized.

When I was pregnant and puffy, I bought an inexpensive larger size ring to wear. For Christmas one year, Paul got me a simple silver ring carved in Hebrew. Now I wear that whenever I don't feel like wearing my wedding and engagement ring but I'm not puffy enough for my fall-back "wedding" ring. It all sounds much more confusing than it is. (The Hebrew ring is maybe 1/4 size larger than my wedding ring, and it cost under $50.)

About the Purell, I think that the thinking is that by overusing germ-killing agents, we're creating superbugs that are immune to our best current weapons. I think this perception stems from a confusion about the difference between the way antibiotics fight germs and the way alcohol kills germs.

9/08/2005 8:50 PM  

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