Please Pass the Germs

I went yesterday to buy some liquid soap for my kids’ bathroom. As a lazy person I’m glad they make liquid soap in pump bottles because it means I don’t ever have to wash out the soap dish. Oh, sure, I realize that washing something which is primarily “dirtied” by soap is probably considered easy, but I’m the type who’s always looking for cleaning jobs I can get out of.
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I went yesterday to buy some liquid soap for my kids’ bathroom. As a lazy person I’m glad they make liquid soap in pump bottles because it means I don’t ever have to wash out the soap dish. Oh, sure, I realize that washing something which is primarily “dirtied” by soap is probably considered easy, but I’m the type who’s always looking for cleaning jobs I can get out of.

That’s not the only reason I like liquid soaps, though. It’s also because I remember the grimy look of the green Lava bars we always had in our house when I was growing up. Even as a kid, picking one up from the mucky soap dish in our bathroom made me momentarily wonder if I would be removing dirt from my hands . . . or actually putting it on.

I must admit, though, that although Lava bars weren’t glamorous, they did work. I didn’t know until I left home that Lava got its name, back in 1893, because it actually contains pumice from volcanos, which is what gives it the abrasive quality that literally scrubs the dirt from your skin. My mom always said it was the only soap that could get the black axle grease off my dad’s hands when he came in from fixing a tractor on the cattle ranch where I grew up. Apparently that was good enough for her because Lava was our family soap.

I’m not trying to sell you on Lava, though. I’m just remembering, wistfully, when a mom could buy a soap for her family to use that simply scrubbed the germs away, rather than trying to kill them by poisoning them with chemicals. A soap, in other words, that didn’t have antibiotics in it.

As I stood, on sensory overload, in the soap aisle in the grocery store yesterday, I noticed that every one of the liquid soaps they stocked was antibacterial. This must be a feature that’s in high demand, especially for moms. In fact it’s basically impossible, just going by the selection at all the grocery stores near our house, to buy a soap marketed to children that’s not antibacterial. And there are now not only soaps but laundry detergents, shampoos, toothpastes, body washes, mouthwashes, dish detergents and lots of household cleaning products that are also lethal weapons in what is apparently an all-out war against bacteria.

I’d just like to know who decided that we needed to wage this particular war (Cheney? Rumsfeld? Who?), because even the American Medical Association does not endorse antibacterial soap. This might seem cynical, but I wonder if it could have been the soap marketers. I hate to think this about corporate America, but I just wonder if, in their determined zeal to fulfill their fiduciary duty to their stockholders, they might try to sell us something that we don’t really need. Or that might not even be good for us.

I’m no immunology expert myself, but our own pediatrician told me when my first child, Belle, was a baby, that indeed it’s important for children to be exposed to a certain amount of germs because it helps their immune systems develop. It might mean they have runny noses or diarrhea a couple times a year, but in the meantime they’re developing the ability to fight off really serious diseases for the rest of their lives. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.

I’ve also read that it’s overuse of antibiotics — and let’s be clear about this, antibacterial soap is an antibiotic — which has led to the emergence of new bacterial strains that are largely untreatable because they are resistant to existing drugs. Now that doesn’t sound like a good trade-off.

I saw a story on a month ago that asked “Are germs good for children’s health?” and, according to the doctors they interviewed, the answer was “yes.” Here’s what I really loved about the article, though. One doctor they spoke with, who’s a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist, let his own fourteen-month old daughter not only eat food off the floor but put a shoe and their dog’s toy in her mouth, right in front of the reporter. And he’s not just a dad, he’s an expert!

I’ve already said, I’m no expert, myself. But I think this is just one example of how there can sometimes be a big difference in what product marketing people tell us we need and what we actually need. And this must be especially true for moms. We mothers might be more fearful of falling down on the job than those in any other profession, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that makes us susceptible to marketing messages that prey on those fears. Especially if they’re telling us we’ve got to buy such-and-such a product to make our kids safe, or happy, or smart. I bet we need a lot fewer products than they would have us believe.

But speaking of products, I did just hear some good news. Lava now comes in a pump bottle.


We're Being Watched

A few weeks ago I asked my 6-year old son, Joe, to please get the dinner dishes off the table. But it was one of our first really nice spring days, and he was already on his way out the back door to play in the yard.

Calling All Idiots

I was watching TV the other night when I saw a commercial with a well-dressed housewife at the controls of an enormous road roller start to drive over the top of her old washing machine.

Hey! That f-bomb Just Landed on My Kid

Hey, That F-Bomb Just Landed on My Kid

I confess, I’m a bit of a redneck. I like rodeos, car racing and even demolition derbies, and now, I’m also a Supercross fan. I hadn’t been to a Supercross motorcycle race until just a few weeks ago, but it was a big WOW.

I Resolve to Be More Like a 6-Year Old

Joe and Belle had their first day of school yesterday after a nice, long holiday break, and Joe came home with a list of New Year’s Resolutions which his teacher had apparently asked the kids to formulate on their first day back.

Knee Deep in Memories

I was sweeping up debris in the driveway last Saturday when my daughter, Belle, came up out of our trash can. She said, “Mama!” and gave me a look that absolutely blistered me.

Santa with a Jack-o-Lantern

Season’s Greetings!

Am I paranoid? Or are the retailers conspiring every year to make me feel that I’m further and further behind and that only spending more money faster will save me from blowing my family’s chances for happy holidays altogether?

Retouching Childhood

I don’t think, looking back honestly, that I could be called “attractive” in any of my school pictures. Even my senior picture, the one I chose from among 20 proofs, makes me cringe when I peruse it with the benefit of 30 years’ perspective.

Brush Your Teeth and I’ll Buy You a Car

There was an interesting article the other day from the Associated Press about how parents use rewards, more inelegantly known as bribes, to get their kids to do what they want. One downside of this approach, of course, is that by continually giving your kids presents — or as many parents do, cold hard cash — in exchange for their acceptable behavior, you might run out of money before said kids ever get out of the house and on their own.