Editor’s note: The author of this piece lives in Sydney, Australia, which recently emerged from a nearly four-month COVID lockdown.
While taking my toddler and doggo out to the park for our first post-lockdown walk, I was horrified to witness two friends-of-friends hug and kiss on the cheek upon greeting each other. While I am not in regular contact with these people, I can confirm that they do not live in the same household and they both have small children. I can also authenticate that these acquaintances do believe that COVID-19 is real (even for fully vaccinated people). They just don’t seem too fazed apparently.
Like many neurotic parents of my ilk, being “unfazed” is an unfamiliar state of being for me, especially in the context of global pandemics. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time something virus-related didn’t faze me.
In 2019 (simpler times), while pregnant, I sent out texts to clients and coffee dates a few hours before our scheduled appointment time asking, “Are you well?” Do not be fooled; this was not a platitude. My text was a genuine interrogation into the health status of the person I was about to share a confined space with. I learned quickly in my first trimester that pregnant people catch everything and everything takes forever to get over. Another common text my friends, family and colleagues received before catch-ups read, “A reminder not to hug me. Especially if your kids go to day care. Petri dishes of germs they are.”
Once the baby arrived my requests became more … direct. After an excited neighbor kissed my 3-week-old on the forehead (it all happened so quickly I didn’t have time to intercept), I laminated homemade “Do Not Touch the Baby” signs and stuck them to my pram and capsule.
I wish I could blame the germaphobia on pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones, but truth be told, I’ve always lived life on the edge (of a common cold). I come from a long line of illness-dodgers. My grandmother obsessively reminded her offspring to “wear the singlet so as not to catch a chill” (she spent a fair bit of time freezing in Chistopol during World War II, so who are we to judge?). My mother wouldn’t let me play with the chronically green-snotty-nosed kid at the playground. She still shudders when I mention his name.
The meningococcal disease messaging in New South Wales primary schools during the 1990s didn’t help either. Suddenly, sharing our water bottle with a dehydrated friend by the handball courts was a big no-no. Images of forlorn kids with amputated limbs and grieving families at gravesites suddenly entered the 8-year-old consciousness. Clearly, that was before the phrase “secondhand trauma” had been invented.
Then came the glandular fever (also known as mononucleosis, or “mono”) warnings in high school. Known colloquially as the “kissing disease,” students would hear horror stories of teenagers stuck in bed for months at a time and all because of one brief “tonsil hockey game” outside the Scout Hall at Mikey’s bar mitzvah disco. It’s no wonder I took so long to “get with someone” (that’s what the cooler people called it in the 2000s). When I reached the ripe old age of 14, my much wiser sister sat me down and told me I needed to overcome my fear of another person’s saliva.
She turned to the whiteboard by my desk and drew a graph that illustrated how the increase in social status that accompanied kissing far outweighed the risk of chronic fatigue and failing Year 9. So, I overcame. Well, I pretended to. While most kids experiencing their first kiss might think, “Wow this feels different but kinda nice,” I was thinking, “Saliva! Saliva! So much saliva!” The fact that we both had braces probably didn’t help.
So yeah, I’m pretty “fazed” when it comes to catching stuff.
Which brings us to March 2020. The ol’ coronavirus had just hit Australian shores and I had to attend a wedding in an official capacity. I greeted the happy unfazed couple, their unfazed family and unfazed guests with a smile, a wave and a boxing slip when they went in for a polite kiss. Everyone looked at me like I was a complete freak. Well, who’s the freak now? (Me. I’m still the freak.)
I’m still the freak who has hand sanitizer attached to every pram, scooter, tricycle and car door compartment. I’m still the freak who sprays my toddler’s ball with Glen20 if I notice another random child has touched it in the park. But like my fellow neurotic germaphobic parents, I’m still great value.
Because when you’re not laughing at our meshugas, you’re asking us for an antibacterial wipe that you know we’ll have stashed in our bag. You can count on us to intervene when a green-snotty-nosed kid invades your child’s personal space because you’re too awkward to say anything to their parents. You can rest assured that moving forward, we will never ruin that birthday party by putting a kid with gastro symptoms on the jumping castle. In short, our being “fazed” makes life safer and more enjoyable for the “unfazed” types. We’re basically taking on the mental germ load for you. You’re welcome.
If reading this has given you reason to believe that you might be an “unfazed” type and you’d like to know more about becoming a COVID-safe parent, feel free to get in touch digitally or stop me for a chat in the park. Just don’t initiate a hug or a kiss. It’s not 2019 anymore. PJC
Tami Sussman is a Sydney-based author with a background in theater, comedy, spoken word poetry and copywriting. She is a regular contributor of humorous opinion pieces for online and print magazines. This piece first appeared on The Times of Israel.