Adventures in Parenting: “It’s Clean Enough”

Adventures in Parenting: “It’s Clean Enough”

Though it has been a few years since I’ve been without children, it’s always fun to look back at my life at how much I didn’t understand about families or what I wouldn’t have the guts to clean up. Between dirty diapers and being puked on, my willingness to tackle Mass and new-found gag suppression have developed beyond my wildest pre-fatherhood imaginings. Unfortunately, I have also found within myself alterations and inversions to my experiences of reality itself.

Photo by Monkwhy

The human survival rate has increased substantially over the last hundred years, largely attributed to the practice of hand-washing. That, and penicillin. In spite of this, the phrase “it’s clean enough” shoots through the mind of most parents several times each day. It seems silly to have such low standards of health, but the sheer number of things that kids want to lick, chew or eat make total cleanliness virtually impossible. Most items probably start out on a kid’s “eat” level and are either ingested, or downgraded to “chew” or “lick” based on some sort of combination of inherent chewiness* and overall taste. Regardless, since not everything can be Cloroxed, the instant a parent sees an object enter any kiddo’s mouth, that object is immediately categorized as:

  1. Clean – Probably just out of the dishwasher. Oral application is always okay and sometimes encouraged; unless, of course, the item is sharp or jewelry.
  2. Not Dirty – Indicates cleanliness about as much as not guilty indicates innocence. A child pulls a favorite toy from under the couch and stuffs it in his mouth and, from what his parent could see over the top of her paperback from across the living room, it was relatively clean. Studies have shown that the 5 second rule doesn’t work. Of course, if there were germs involved, they would certainly be benevolent enough to wait more than 5 seconds for a child. The alternative is unthinkable and, thus, impossible. Back to the novel.
  3. Dirty with risk of fragments – Covered with dirt, dust bunnies or other flakes of unknown origin. The greatest concerns are choking, germs from the fragments, and enjoyment. Another issue is the mere unpleasantness of cleaning pieces of junk out a child’s mouth, not only because sticking your fingers in someone else’s mouth is just plain gross, but also because there is the natural hazard of being chomped. If the child is munching on some type of leafy growth, parents may be tempted to write it off as unusual salad, pledging to catch the kid early next time.
  4. Dirty with risk of illness – Cleaning supplies, child-friendly roach traps, grapes with mold, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks – the things that will produce hazardous or psychotropic effects. A parent can secure all of these items in appropriate places, but that would only stop safe-crackers, acrobats and professional cragsmen. We’re talking about kids, for whom there is no obstacle too great, especially when nobody is looking (there is a possibility that children have magical, maneuvering powers which are deactivated in the presence of adults). There is no greater horror to a parent than catching their child in the middle of a Palmolive, Corona and espresso-bean bender.

My children have taught me a great deal about the durability of the human body and its ability to overcome most day-to-day… difficulties. Consider this the first in a series of posts exploring parenthood, willful delusion, and trusting in God.


*which has a positive time/saliva correlation


  1. Wait til all three boys are mobile. It only gets worse. There are whole new levels of the clean scale just for that.

  2. Great article! Very informative. I have never believed in the 5-second rule. If it fell to the ground, it is always considered dirty and to be thrown immediately. I would not take that kind of risk for my kids.