A Healthy Paranoia
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Apr 2011)


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            Think of a mother who is unusually worried about her children. This can be your mother, or anyone else’s. Do you have someone in mind? I bet my mother’s worrying can beat up your mother’s worrying. Some of you doubt me. Surely you’ve never met _____, you might be thinking. No competition, I say, unless the woman you are thinking of works in children’s health. And if she does, let us share this moment of understanding. (Moment.)

            My mother’s professional background is in pediatric nursing. I once saw a picture of her from her early days working with premature infants. She’s wearing scrubs, sporting a huge afro, and carrying a tiny baby with great care in the palms of her hands. Whether working with patients and their families out on the floor or from the administrative side, this woman has spent her entire career surrounded by childhood’s worst-case scenarios.

            On the positive side, hats off to the people who make an effort every day to help get a family through a traumatic time. On the minus side, they have all seen things you hope never to see, let alone see a child experience, let alone see your child experience. Trouble is, you can’t unsee these things, or unknow how they came about. As a result, people with jobs like this are at risk for becoming hyper-aware of possible danger.

            My mother has developed a keen eye for potential mishaps; I bet she can look at a room and name ten possible accidents that could befall a wayward child. And God forbid a toddler with a dangling winter scarf or untied shoes gets anywhere near an escalator. Use your imagination to understand why she will push through a crowd to alert you of this if it is your child. Be sure to thank her when she does. Better yet, make sure your child is all tucked and tied before getting anywhere near an escalator.

            Now, having read that, you may find yourself in an interesting predicament. Let’s say tomorrow you see a child with a dangling scarf or untied shoes getting on an escalator. What do you do? Welcome to my life. Now you have to say something because, if you don’t, you risk awful things happening due to your silence. Now, a little bit of my mother lives inside of you! Mwa-ha ha ha!

            A quiz: Seatbelts? Obligatory. Fresh fruit? Rinse thoroughly before eating. Toddler-height coffee tables with sharp corners? Designed and shipped straight from the corners of hell.

            Did you pass? Let’s continue. Broken glass on the sidewalk? Obviously, from now on, you have to kick it off to the side. A child could trip and land hands or face first on the broken glass. Duh. Of course you won’t pick it up; Lord knows what’s living on it, and you take your very life into your hands if you get cut. Microbiology class is part of the Nursing curriculum, you know.

            If you must touch such things, then wash your hands thoroughly and you may just escape danger. Unless your only option is a public bathroom with communal bar soap, in which case you may as well swim laps in a cesspool, lick your lips, and eat a urinal cake. You see, Mom is not a fan of public bathroom communal bar soap. Evidently, when sharing soap with hundreds of strangers emerging from their bathroom stalls freshly coated in E. Coli, it’s nice to have a little faith in the cleanliness of the soap itself. I bet my mother’s dream public restroom is the new, magical kind where you just wave your hand, and blurg! Out comes beautiful, untainted soap, the water runs itself, and unicorns aim wall dryer spouts at your glistening, fresh-smelling, E. Coli-free hands.

            I won’t lie. Those are my favorite, too. And I accept it. I am my mother’s daughter. I am not in a health profession, but the long arm of paranoia has reached me. Yes, I was a “Safety” in elementary school. Yes, I’m the one my friends turn to for hand sanitizer. Yes, I wear my seatbelt in taxicabs. (And so should you. There, I said it.) Why shouldn’t I celebrate technology that allows us to live in a world where I can enter one of the potentially grossest places in civilization, but wash and dry my hands without having to touch anything? It’s genius!

            In light of cold and flu season, I say we take it one step further. Let’s rid ourselves of this “shaking hands” nonsense. There’s the hand coming towards you. Did that woman let loose with a wet, slimy sneeze into her palm ten seconds ago? Did that man wash his hands when he left the restroom before your lunch meeting? You don’t know, do you? Huh? DO YOU??! And yet, there you are, bound by social contract to reach out and grasp that hand in return. It’s just not right, I tell you! Bah. Humbug. There must be a better way.

            Waving is pleasant enough, but perhaps odd when the wavee is only twelve inches away. Bowing does the job, though I don’t know if that will ever catch on in this country. The “double point” is effective, yet cheesy, as though you’re really saying, “Hey, there, champ! Pow, pow!” Sigh. The answer is out there somewhere. One day we as a society will agree upon an alternative gesture, one that says:

            Greetings, my friend. I may have the flu.
            I may not have washed my hands after poo poo.
            Yet you’re not in danger! I’m not touching you!

Until that blessed day, Mom and I will hold fast to our hand sanitizer and soldier on.