A Tale of Two Neighbors (Why Pam’s Kids Get Sick and Laura’s Don’t)
Pam Smith and Laura Jones were best friends for years. They lived right next door, traded recipes, traded play dates and babysat for each other, and had a blast splitting jumbo cases of toilet paper and toothpaste, Clorox wipes and Purell, sale-hopping from Sam’s Club to Aldi to Walmart—wherever they found the best bulk buy of the week.
Then one day, Pam called Laura. “Hey, there’s huge overstock sale at Costco on bleach. Wanna take your van?”
“Well, uh, I, um,” Laura hedged. “I don’t think so.”
“You sure? I’ll treat for lunch.”
“No, that’s OK. Not today.”
“OK,” said Pam. “I’ll just drop a couple of gallons by when I come back.”
“No, no,” said Laura hurriedly. “Don’t… I don’t need any…yet. I’ll see you tomorrow. I gotta go.”
Laura hung up the phone. Pam went to the sale alone. And to the next sale alone. And to the next. Laura stopped buying bleach and wipes, and antiseptic everything, and Pam began to grow suspicious. Finally, over the course of about six months, Laura went from Pam’s Best Friend and Wonderful Mom to Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Mother—at least as far as Pam was concerned. So just what horrible, unforgivable sin(s) did Laura commit? She’d gone rogue.
First, she stopped wiping down every inch of hard surface in her house with disinfectant wipes. Then she threw out all the hand sanitizer pumps. Next, she threw out all the antibacterial hand and body soap and forbade her kids to wash their hands with anything other than plain soap and warm water. The last straw? She let them kiss the dog!
Pam was horrified. Once she figured out what was going on, she stopped letting her kids go over to Laura’s house to play—which didn’t bother Laura that much anymore because Pam’s kids had always been sick with something. In the meantime, Laura’s kids slowly stopped sneezing (from bleach and chemical perfumes) and stopped scratching (from dry skin caused by oil-stripping antiseptic soap). On the rare occasions when Laura’s kids were allowed inside Pam’s house (Pam had taken to making up excuses why the kids had to play outside all the time), they came home complaining that Pam practically doused them in antiseptic before they were allowed to touch—let alone eat—a cookie. One day Laura’s oldest daughter overheard Pam’s oldest girl telling another kid that Pam was threatening to call child protective services if Laura didn’t wise up and go back to her cleanly ways.
Then Laura’s husband came home with the movie Silkwood (about the whistleblower in the nuclear processing plant). Laura and the kids curled up with him and their dog, Boomer, to watch the show. Everybody was enjoying it—until they came to the scene where Meryl Streep is scrubbed down with a wire brush to the point that her skin is practically bleeding. The kids gasped in unison and then started laughing.
Laura and her husband looked at each other. (After all, there is nothing particularly amusing about the movie Silkwood.)
“What’s so funny, guys?”
“Now we know.” And they started laughing again.
“Know what? And what’s so funny?”
“We know what Mrs. Smith meant when she said that if she ever caught us kissing Boomer again, she’d go Silkwood on us!”
Now, we forgot to tell you the happy/sad part:
As time passed, not only did Laura’s kids continue not to sneeze and itch, they started fighting off colds and getting over the flu sooner than Pam’s kids. Happy for Laura. Sad for Pam. As of this printing, Laura’s kids haven’t had any prescription antibiotics for close to three years except one time, last year for strep throat. But no matter how clean Pam keeps her house, her kids catch everything going around and then some. Other than the perfunctory “good morning” across the fence when they have the “misfortune” of running into each other, Pam has pretty much stopped speaking to Laura altogether because Pam simply can not fathom why a “filthy” house and kids with dog germs all over them isn’t a health hazard.
So where did Laura get all her “dirty “little ideas? Would you believe a science professor? We forgot to tell you one other thing:
Laura lives in the middle of the block. On one side is Clean Freak Pam. On the other side is Contagious Professor Carol. (She’s not really contagious—that’s what Pam called her when she saw Carol’s “disaster of a lifestyle” and knew for sure her kids would come down with something deadly, so Pam just pretends Carol doesn’t live in the neighborhood at all.) Carol has a Ph.D. in biology and teaches anatomy and physiology at the state university in the next town over. Carol and her crew—far “dirtier” and messier than Laura will ever be—moved in a few months before Laura stopped buying bleach. In spite of Pam’s overt loathing, Carol and Laura struck up a friendship. Then one day over coffee, Carol shared her “radical secret” for healthier kids.
“What do you do, Carol?”
“It’s not really what I do,” Carol said. “Well, there is one thing that I do. It’s more what I don’t do.”
“What is it you don’t do?” Laura asked.
Carol told Laura. Laura was floored. Could it really be that simple?
“Try it and find out,” Carol said. So Laura did.
Laura’s kids stopped getting sick as often. Laura and Carol grew to be even better friends. Pam started begging her husband to take a transfer, preferably to another state, just to get her away from Those Two and their Filthy Dirty Radical Ideas. And because we’re sure by now you want to know what those horrible ideas are…look out for next week’s newsletter. We will reveal to you exactly how to have a healthier home without ineffective hand sanitizers.