Of course, all the worrying began from the day I brought my first born home from the hospital, and was instructed by his pediatrician to boil all his bottles. I'd watch them bob on the surface of my spaghetti pot, wondering, hoping, I was boiling away every last microscopic trace of nasty bacteria. Later, when he was a toddler, I'd fret about any tiny scratch, and just to stem the dramatic tears, I'd freely dole out Diego Band-Aids.
But as my first born and his brother have gotten older, I'm perhaps less attentive to such little things as scratches, as well as perfectly-timed bi or tri-weekly baths. And I don't wash their clothes after one wear (especially after the repairman told me that, to extend the life of the washing machine, I needed to do less laundry).
I've become less obsessive about proving myself the perfect mom, a little more impatient, more apt to vacuum up a tiny Star Wars lego than stoop to dig it out of the carpet. Band-Aids had become far too popular in this house, and now I only resort to Batman or Spiderman ones if our boys are truly bleeding. Gushing. And if they drop a cookie on the floor, and ask if they can still eat it, I say yes.
So the other day, during my tri-weekly escape onto the treadmill, I read on my little compact iphone this little New York Times article about how children should never eat food dropped on the floor. That we should forget the five-second rule for how long it has been on the floor, a rule I never heard of, anyway.
"So can I still eat it?" my seven-year-old often has asked warily, after dropping a Oreo on the floor. Because he has food allergies, he IS cautious, but I always thought perhaps too cautious as to this issue; I'm sure countless times as a child I myself ate more than just dropped food off the floor...
"YES..."I call out to him impatiently, from wherever I am, emptying the garbage or catching up on the morning's dishes before starting dinner. I'm not throwing away a perfectly good Oreo, just because it fell on our carpet, which I DO vacuum once a week.
I suppose my rule of thumb is – though, frankly, I never stopped to actually CONSIDER my rule of thumb on this issue, until now – that if it falls on the floor in our house, it's ok to eat it. If it falls on the ground outside, throw it out. Then again, I'm sure that in summer when they have snacks outside and they drop a cookie in the grass, I'm not running inside to get another fresh, spotlessly clean cookie.
On the other hand, "Well, it really IS dirty," my husband might answer. I might roll my eyes. My son might then toss a perfectly good cookie into the garbage.
Now that our boys are seven and almost six, as every year passes, I drop a bit more of my overly-cautious-have-to-boil-baby-bottles perspective, as if shedding pounds. Just as I've stopped washing their clothes after only one wear, and doling out Band-Aids. Sometimes I even forget when they last had a bath, especially since it has become torture to get them into the tub, and then torture to get them out...
But according to this New York TImes article, it not only doesn't matter where food is dropped, inside or outside. It doesn't matter for how long, as long as it's longer than a second. Harmful bacteria are savvy and ready to pounce, just waiting there, crouching like tiny hungry cats in your carpet. They wait for that dropped Oreo:
"In a study published in 2006 in The Journal of Applied Microbiology, Clemson University researchers tested salmonella placed on wood, tile or carpet, and dropped bologna on the surfaces for 5, 30 or 60 seconds. With both wood and tile, more than 99 percent of the bacteria were transferred nearly immediately, and there was no difference by the time of contact. Carpet transferred a smaller number of bacteria, again with no difference by contact time. The amount transferred decreased over hours, but there were still thousands of the bacteria per square centimeter on the surfaces after 24 hours, and hundreds survived on the surfaces for as long as four weeks. "
So it's about time to go pick up the kids from school, and when they come home, they will ask for their afternoon cookie snack. And one will drop it on the floor. I'm already sweating my answer. Maybe I've become too underly-cautious the older I grow as a mommy? Maybe my husband is right, as he was right about the tiny pustule being more than what I tossed off as a cold-sore on my son's gum.
"That's no cold sore," the dentist said, looking up from my son's mouth, but down at me, over his glasses. It was a possible tooth infection, the only solution an extraction.
So if I was wrong about the tooth, am I wrong about eating cookies off the floor? Or is this second-guessing just part of being a mom? Or is life, like bacteria in your carpet, being examined too up close under too many microscopes?