HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: From germophobe to home-a-phobe


If you’re a parent who is privileged enough to send your kid to day-care as we are, well then you know what a life-changer it can be.

First prize for me would be to have our kid be with his grandma for the day, or to spend it with aunties and cousins, the way I grew up. But we live in a different world now where people live far away from each other, families are separated (by choice this time because we get to choose where we live now) and regardless of coronavirus, my wife and I have to work from home (which is a tiny flat instead of a baby-boomer full on house with a yard and all the extra trimmings). So like I said, we’re privileged enough to be able to resort to day-care. It was a long, well thought-out and researched process and as I said - it has been a life changer.

Our lives now have a semblance of order. We’re able to meet deadlines more efficiently and get admin out of the way instead of trying to cram it into a weekend when we would rather be doing fun stuff with our child. Overall, we’re just a lot more productive and working harder than ever to be done with all our projects and research and writing and admin by the time he gets home so that those moments are precious and filled with fun and games and laughter instead of either of us tapping in and out to see to this or that. Also, weekends are super special now. We get proper family time together, we look forward to it because he is so lovely and entertaining and just the most perfect creature that we can’t wait for a Saturday to roll around to give him 100% pure focus. But there’s another thing about sending your kid off to day-care: the number of times parents get sick because their child is literally a walking germ carrier and caregivers are a magnet for illness.

In the past two weeks alone, we have had a terrible stomach flu. I was convinced we were going to die. He obviously was fine. Aside from the “looser” than usual nappy production, he had no fever, no chills and no weakness. He walked around this place like a warrior all weekend while both of us just tried to stand for longer than a minute without wanting to crawl into a cave and just die. The other downside is that because we’re such close quarters because of the space issue, both parents go down at the same time. This house is more contagious than a COVID ward. This week, he is letting out the odd, very mild, undisturbing cough about every six hours and we are living off soup, a lot of liquids, extra vitamin C and more Advil and Corenza than I can count. Again, we are out for the count. And he, the germiest of little germs, is pretty much fine.

I am a self-confessed germophobe. It did not take a pandemic to morph me into one of these. I have always been one. I need every space I am in to be completely spotless and clean. I don’t use communal towels or even those dryer things in mall bathrooms. I hate air conditioners and fans for that matter because they just circulate whatever crap is in the air and it freaks me out. Since I have a child though, I have calmed down quite a bit about my own household. It is impossible to keep little fingerprints off the glass coffee table and to follow him around with a mop every time he eats a banana or another snack. So I’ve made peace with a lot of things. But I just cannot make peace with the fact that this may be my life now, that every one or two weeks he will run me to the ground with his toddler energy while I am already run to the ground with his latest infectious germ.

I never used to like going places, especially staying over. I hate sleeping over at other people's houses, especially because I don’t want to be that person, if you know what I mean. So I would rather be home, in my own bed, where I can control the germs and the dirt and the fans as much as I can. But how do you control something you can’t see? Children are basically rocks when it comes to this stuff; you literally have to split them open to see what’s moving around inside them because they don’t necessarily show whatever symptoms they’ve picked up from day-care. We, as parents, as older parents I might add, are not rocks. We’re just water. Dirty, diseased water that is stagnant and very ill and who need very little to be infected and take very long to be cured.

I mention the age thing because when you’re older, everything is more. Age has taught me this and so has my son. Illness, however mild, hits you more. Healing takes more time. You have to take more medication and vitamins. You need more sleep and soup and rest than a younger person and you can’t get it because toddlers need attention and love and care and more of you. More. More. More.

And fine. I get all of that. Have your children when you’re young is the great takeaway here and now, after judging young parents who don’t know themselves well enough to have kids, I understand why they do it. Because everything is not more when you're younger - it is, in fact, less. But here’s what I don’t get: how am I going to change being afraid of home-o-phobe? How long will I have to fear being in my own flat because while here, with a walking, mumbling, fumbling and very cute germinator, I am in constant fear of getting sick, at risk of dying, or at least wanting to?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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