Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Think It's High Time for Another "Things I Do" Post.

So to continue the very, very non-exhaustive list of Things I Do, today's installment is:

Things I Do: Restaurant Edition.

My anxiety reaches some of its highest heights when we visit a restaurant, especially a certain one that we frequent once a week for Trivia Night. It's a family-friendly pub, so we tote along the chitlins. And while in theory it's nice for this here stay-at-home-mom to get out of the house once a week, in actuality it really does cause large amounts of stress. But at the same time it's fun, because, TRIVIA NIGHT! I do love me some trivia. Also I love money. And we win a lot. :)

But at restaurants, particularly this one, here is a partial list of Things I Do:

  • We usually park in the lower parking lot, and take the elevator up with the kids. I use the bottom of my shirt to press the elevator button--it's just second nature--and I didn't even really think about it until one day I saw my three-year-old do the exact same thing. I laughed so hard, then I cried a little inside at the tiny germaphobe I was inadvertently creating, but then I laughed again. Because I couldn't believe she was so observant, especially with things I make no spectacle out of doing.
  • Upon arrival, before letting Maya touch anything ("DON'T TOUCH!"), we immediately break out the tub of antibacterial Sani-Hands and wipe down the table. This seemed appropriate when Maya was still a baby in a high chair (which we'd cover with a high-chair cover, natch), because her hands were all over the table and then they'd go straight in her mouth. But we still do this now that she's approaching four years old (although I always look around in embarrassment before and as we do it, because I feel like people are thinking we are nuts, much like you non-OCDer are thinking this very second). But do you know what? You would start wiping down your table if you saw what comes off on those wipes. If you place a disinfecting wipe flat on the table, and put your hand on it to wipe the whole bitch down, do you know what you find on that wipe? A completely black handprint. The tables are positively grimy. Every time we wipe them down, we stare at disbelief at the blackened wet-wipe.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on two separate occasions I took photographic evidence, just so that I could show you, faithful reader. Observe what remains on your restaurant table after it is everso hastily wiped down with a germ-ridden damp rag by a nonchalant waiter being paid minimum wage to keep your eating area clean:

I mean, what could even CAUSE that much grime? Are people changing their babies' shit-filled diapers on the table? Are people table-dancing in their farm boots? Are people's hands and arms really this dirty??* And this is a very respectable, very pleasant, very nice, and, to the naked eye, a very clean-looking joint. But behold what appears where you least expect it. Christ on a Saltine.


One article summarizes my thoughts quite well:

Surface Testing Reveals Restaurant Tables Have Higher Germ Count Than Changing Tables Or Shopping Carts 
"In tests conducted by Dr. Chuck Gerba, professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of Arizona, restaurant tabletops had more than double the bacteria count of the diaper changing tables tested. The analysis showed that changing tables had 106 colony forming units (CFU) of bacteria per square inch, while restaurant tabletops turned up 268 CFU per square inch.
'We knew that tabletops were problem areas,' said A.J. Mesalic... 'But we were surprised by how high the germ count was in comparison to the other surfaces tested. The preponderance of research tells us that surface germ protection is necessary. Sure adults are exposed to the same problem surfaces, but our immune systems are fully developed. Still these harmful microbes can make adults very sick as well.' 
According to Dr. Gerba, there is a minority view* in the public and medical profession that says germs are ‘good for you.' 'In fact, our studies have shown that many of the germs we find on public surfaces, and even in the home, absolutely will make children sick with no meaningful benefit of increased immunity,' he said."

God bless you, Dr. Gerba.

*"Minority view" my ass, though. The got-damn Hygiene Hypothesis is the New Black. Everyone's spouting off these days about how antibacterial soap is slaughtering our children and that kids need to lick the bottom of their shoes and give Eskimo kisses to the neighbor kid who has a snot waterfall on his face, all in the name of building their immune system.

  • We wash after handling the menu and deciding on our cuisine du jour. Have you ever seen anyone wash a menu? Funny, I haven't either. And have you ever noticed that they are streaked and grimy and fingerprinty with God knows what? Yeah. F to the Y to the I, they contain an estimated count of 185,000 bacteria. Enjoy browsing the food selection and then relishing your Santa Fe Burger, licking delicious e.coli, staph, rhinovirus, enterococcus, and shigella off your juicy digits.
  • We handle the ketchup, salt, and pepper with a napkin. All the above-mentioned bacteria and viruses, plus so many more, can and usually do appear on these things according to many a study. Sometimes Maya reaches for the condiments on the table, and I have a massive freak-out and scream quietly, "DON'T TOUCH!!" (Which by now you can certainly tell is a favorite phrase in our family, and we employ it regularly.)
  • We do not use the lemon slices in our iced tea, nor do we let our lemon-loving child eat them. You have no idea what is lingering on them, but you might want to read up.
  • When using the restroom, I use two layers of toilet-seat covers, placed ever so slightly off-center from each other. (Have you ever sat down, only to feel the insufficiently-sized seat cover shift under your weight, and feel the horrifying sensation of cold porcelain on your bum-bum? Well I have, and that was the last time I ever used just one seat cover.) Two seat covers seems to do the trick of covering all exposed toilet seat areas. And when I take my preschooler in to go potty? Sweet Jesus. First of all, I say a quick prayer to the Patron Saint of Public Restrooms, because using them is one of my most anxiety-ridden experiences, especially with a child. So when Maya goes potty, the first thing I do is tell her 14 times, "Don't touch ANYTHING." Then, I use FOUR seat covers (sorry, environment). I first place two covers half on the seat, half hanging down in front of the seat, because otherwise her legs touch the bowl of the porcelain god. Then on top of that, I place the two off-center seat covers for her to sit on. Then I have her drop trou, and I pick her up by her back and the crotch of said dropped-trou, and place her in one firm motion on the covered seat. When she is finished, I pick her straight up off it, lest she wiggle or touch it. Then as I flush with my foot (sorry, people stupid enough to flush with their hands), I tell Maya no fewer than eleven more times, "Don't touch anything." Then I go wash thoroughly. And since she has touched nothing, because I have trained her well she is a wise old soul, rather than risk using the restroom sink, I just take her back and use hand sani on her.
  • I REFUSE to use the strip of toilet paper that is already hanging from the dispenser. I tear off whatever toilet paper is hanging down and toss it, then use "new" TP.
  • The handwashing process, of course, is thus: First I roll down excessive amounts of paper towel (sorry again, environment). Then I turn on the water, use soap, and scrub up extremely well. Then, leaving the water still on (still sorry, environment), I rip off the paper towel, dry my hands, and then use said paper towel to turn off the faucets and open the bathroom door to exit. Sry 2 say, this is the only acceptable way to wash your hands in a public place. And if they have no paper towels but only blow-dryers? First, I curse the restaurant owners, their sons, and their sons' sons (a klebsiella plague on both your houses!), and then I use whatever means necessary to not touch the faucets (a handful of toilet seat covers in lieu of paper towel, or my sleeve, or in the worst case scenario, my wrist, which I will later disinfect).
  • And when all is said and done, and we are finished eating, we get in the car and apply large doses of hand sanitizer. This is before arriving home, washing our hands, and using yet more hand sanitizer.
  • Also, if I have worn a short-sleeved shirt to the restaurant that night, and thus my arms have rested on the table, I use alcohol-based Sani-Hands wipes all over my forearms. Yes. This one is a hard one to admit. Because, hello, embarrassing. But fuck! You saw what was on those tables!!
So you can see that going to a restaurant is quite an ordeal. Sometimes I'm not sure that it's worth it, with the undue amounts of anxiety it causes me. But I do love me a nice Reuben sandwich, the free desserts we win, and oh yeah, taking home the $$ POT $$, baby, because we kick some major bum-bum at trivia!

This article sums up my thoughts nicely and tidily:

"7 germiest places; Germs lurk on menus, lemon wedges, condiment and soap dispensers. Don't touch that dial - better yet don't touch anything, especially if you're germ-phobic."

"Better yet, don't touch anything" are the words I live by and are the most precious gift I could give my children. Er, I mean, will cause them to become paranoid psychotics like me.

Next up: Things I Do, Hotel Edition.


  1. Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasty pictures up there. I will now be bringing Clorox wipes to restaurants and wiping down the table ahead of time, especially since Caius likes to dump his food out and eat it off the table...although he then eats it without the use of his hands, so I guess that's one good thing? ;)

    (I will also mention that he's only been sick once this whole year though, so we've been lucky so far...).

  2. srsly, Chels. I always look on with horror at kids eating food straight off the table, not to be judgmental--take the judg off and it's just that I'm mental. :) But yes! Cloroxing his eating area, or the whole table like we freaky freaks do, is highly recommended in my book. Or if you don't want Clorox chemicals near him, you can use wipes sprayed with "Clorox Anywhere Spray," which is totally safe around kids and food. Or use an alcohol-based wipe. OK this comment is far too long. Anyway, take heed! Restaurant tables is NASSST!

  3. What do you think of natural based cleaners, specifically like vinegar? Just curious!

  4. I identify with you so much. Using public bathroom is a lengthy and stressful process for me as well. When people wait for me to use it, they always give me the "how can you take so long?" sigh.

    I was curious whether you use toilet paper to close and lock the bathroom stall door? As in, people's germ-infested hands touch the lock after they have been in the stall, now I don't want to touch it, and then touch my trousers and underwear, and very likely small parts of my hips in the act of partially undressing. I do this, but I have never thought of cleaning the restaurant table - I would just make sure my cutlery does not touch it! I may start doing it, but God forbids the waiter/waitress may get offended and spit in my food :(

  5. Aimee...that is too funny. That exact thing is on my "to blog about" list. I absolutely worry about the germs on the buttons/zippers of my jeans and such. I don't lock the door with TP, but that's a great idea, and then I don't have to wash my hands every time I unbutton/button my jeans to take them on or off when not using the bathroom (yeah, even this OCDer will wear jeans twice in a row). :) So funny that we both think of that, though. And I'm glad to hear someone identifies with me. Thanks for your comment!!

  6. I'm looking forward to reading more about the things you do. I am really enjoying reading your blog, as I don't know anyone who has OCD like me. And like you, I can also rationalise all the "weird" germaphobic things I do too! Perhaps I can learn a bit from you for when I finally have children :-)

  7. It's so funny, I figured most people would read this blog in horror at the things I do ("You're killing your kids with Lysol!!"), but it's so nice to find someone who understands. :) And since I think "my ways" are usually right and good and healthy, I love to teach people a few "tricks." ;)

  8. Darling, your great! Your a great writer (quite amusing and yet poingant (sp?). A lot of people joke that I have OCD, but, I do not....Believe me, your not nuts and almost any mom can relate (although, i have babysat for several who are much more like your "sick-more-often-than-not" firends. Following you via blog hop, follow back please:

  9. Thanks for your comments, Modern Mommy. :) I'd be happy to follow you back. Cute kids you have!!

  10. This whole post reminds me of how meeting you 10-odd years ago did kinda change my life in terms of heightening germ awareness. Especially in terms of getting in and out of bathrooms while touching as little as possible!!