The well pump had failed in the middle of the afternoon. Hours later we still hadn’t made it to the store to buy water, so take-out seemed like a sensible dinner plan. We stopped at the lone restaurant between guitar lessons and our house and placed an order.
The restaurant was not a fast-food restaurant, in name or in fact, so we lingered long in the not-spacious waiting area. As we waited, Sonny and Ace ran their hands over every possible surface: the candy machine, the counter, the door, the menu rack. The walls. The floor. They stopped when I asked them, but then, bored, would find something else to touch.
Everything seems grimier when you know you can’t turn on the water and scrub something, or someone, down. I quickly became squicked out.
To distract myself, I thought about the local schools that had already canceled the next day’s classes due to illness: strep and gastrointestinal wretchedness, mainly. I thought about the strep and gastrointestinal-wretchedness germs hunkering on the candy machine, the counter, the door, the menu rack. The walls. The floor. The obvious solution—packing Sonny and Ace off into the restroom to wash their hands—was not a viable one, as apparently restrooms aren’t a guaranteed amenity in restaurants whose services are limited to carry-out and delivery.
The other obvious solution—stopping to buy water on the way home instead of waiting until later in the evening—would have worked had I been willing for the food to get cold and were we not all in the process of rapidly evolving from hungry to hangry. Besides, I had a plan.
When we got home, I stood between my sons and their supper and brandished the hand sanitizer.
“You need to use this before you touch your food,” I said.
They were hungry enough that you’d think they wouldn’t have objected. You’d be wrong.
“Hand sanitizer doesn’t work so well, Mom,” Sonny said. “It doesn’t get dirt off, and it doesn’t even kill all viruses.”
“And? AND! It kills the good germs along with the bad,” Ace said, tucking his hands behind his back for safekeeping.
They spoke the truth. I knew they spoke the truth. (But where did they learn these things? Not from me.) But I was still squicked out, and they were hungry, and I was in charge of the food, and we hadn’t yet gone out to buy water, and hand sanitizer was all we had. So they used the hand sanitizer. Sorry, good germs.
The next morning neither child wanted to get up. When they got up, they did not want to move along as befits a school day. They laughed and consulted and sat on the vent to read, but they did ready themselves for school. After asking nicely once or twice—okay, probably just once—I dipped into my bag of tricks and pulled out Nagging and The Raising of the Voice. Go get your socks, why is your lunchbox still in the van, why are you playing in there when you should be eating in here, why haven’t you brushed your teeth? And through the nagging and raised voice nagged another voice, in my head:
“Nagging and raising your voice don’t work so well. They don’t inspire anyone to do better. And? They backfire, both short-term and long-term, and they are antithetical to what should be modeled to kids. AND? They suppress good moods and exacerbate already-bad ones.”
That voice whispered the truth. I knew it whispered the truth. But time was marching on, and the kids weren’t, and I was crabby about various things, such as the defunct well, so I nagged and raised my voice. Sorry, good moods.
Two days after the hand sanitizer, Ace woke up hacking and feverish. Did he get sick from a candy-machine germ or from a kid at school? I don’t know. Would soap and water have killed off that germ better than the hand sanitizer had? I don’t know. Did the hand sanitizer keep Sonny from getting sick? I don’t know.
About 20 minutes after the nagging commenced, we were on the road to school. Would my kids move more promptly in the future after this morning of nagging? I don’t know. Would we have been more punctual had I shown more patience instead of nagging? I don’t know. Would gentleness instead of The Raising of the Voice have effected more cheerfulness on the way to school and throughout the day? I don’t know.
A lot of things have drawbacks. Hand sanitizer. Nagging. Life in general.
But sometimes we just do our best and try again next time.