To be completely honest, I have never worried much about exposing children to germs. Children face so few threats from infection nowadays that it is beneficial for their immune systems to expose them to as many microbes as possible. When parents ask about the necessity of hand sanitizer, my advice is that stomach acid takes care of almost everything a child may put in their mouth. Let them eat something when it falls on the ground. Washing their hands before they eat sounds like a good idea conceptually but may not makes a significant difference in their health because they are always sucking on their fingers anyway.
We have one glass in the upstairs bathroom my children drink from after brushing their teeth, which makes this story about germs and the need for stomach acid all the more fitting. My second summer as a mom to four was physically exhausting; my children were 5, 4, 2 and fourteen months old. We spent the day outside playing in the sun because that seemed like the best way to exhaust my young ones so they slept well when it is overwhelmingly hot.
The evening routine went something like this: 4:30pm dinner, then clean up the kitchen, do dishes, and put away leftovers. Baths were started by 5:30 or 6 pm and took about an hour from start to finish, including getting into pajamas, giving them fluoride, combing their hair, and brushing their teeth. Barring any notable injuries or unforeseen events, we would then read bedtime stories, snuggle, and talk about our day as I tucked each one into bed. The goal was to finish by 8pm, so I could read a few minutes by myself and go to sleep.
By this particular hot August evening, I was tired and especially thirsty. Do you remember how thirsty you were when you were nursing your infant? After baths, we were sitting on my bed getting ready to read stories. I was nursing the baby and trying not to sweat too much in our house with no air conditioning. My two year old daughter came in with a plastic glass full of cold water. I took a sip and it was really good. We finished the glass together and she went to get a refill.
I thought how great it was she was being so “helpful.” She came back a second time with another full cup and all three children and I drank out of it. When she returned for the third time, I realized I had not heard the faucet running in between trips and wondered from where she was getting the water. This is one of those moments when you ask a question, knowing the answer right at that very instant.
“From the toilet,” she said. The thoughts that went through my head at that moment cannot be repeated on the internet but suffice it to say I was speechless. My kids all started laughing as they did not exactly understand why drinking water from the toilet is not a good idea. If I had not been so tired, I might have panicked at the thought of what could happen to children who drink water from the toilet.
However, the reality of having four children in four years is you are so exhausted just getting through that day alone; nothing upsets you as long as no one is profusely bleeding. Instead, you hope for the best and put them to bed anyway. We all ended up fine and no one became ill, which lends some credibility to my theory about the value of stomach acid. Nevertheless, beware if your 2 year old brings you a cool glass of water on a hot day. You might want to double check the water source before just blithely taking a sip.