We recently visited a local cemetery to decorate a family grave-site on Memorial Day. My nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son eventually went off with great-grandpa to help him walk his little terrier dog and explore the grounds. Apparently, the dog found a chipmunk, chased it, and killed it. They told me my daughter helped bury the chipmunk with leaves, and I thought no more of it. And then…
We had all piled into the van to head home for lunch and a nap. I passed back the emergency “anti-whine” box of crackers for the kids to have a snack, and after they had doled out the crackers and eaten, my daughter again began to recount the sad tale of the chipmunk in the cemetery. I was half-listening, straightening up the van as we twisted down the narrow, winding road out of the cemetery, when I heard, “And then I put my hand under it’s soft body to move it…”
“WHAT!!??” I am the daughter of a microbiologist as well as a mom and germophobic Millennial, so you can imagine my sudden horror and disgust. My sweet girl HAD JUST EATEN after touching a dead animal! Not only that, she had plunged her hand into the cracker box to pass the crackers to her siblings. I was appalled as I immediately began to pour large amounts of hand-sanitizer (anti-bacterial hand gel) over everything and everyone, making a scene and shouting about parasites and rabies.
My daughter naturally began to cry, and my husband calmed me down with reminders about my dad (the microbiologist) who used to shoot squirrels as a teen, “How many dead squirrels do you suppose he handled? And he’s still in good shape.” As we continued home I apologized to my daughter who whimpered, “I thought I was being kind.” I assured her it was a very sweet thing she did, but maybe next time she could use a pair of sticks or a shovel.
I then launched into a calm lecture about the importance of hand-washing, animal diseases, and parasites. Once I concluded, feeling satisfied that I had achieved my educational goal and my words had made a lasting, positive impression that would be passed down to my great, great, grandchildren, my 7-year-old son who had been listening to all this politely and quietly with big blue eyes, piped up from the backseat, “Well, at least I only touched it’s soft head.”