Toddlers in Nature IV: Germs are our Friends

by doodaddy on November 28, 2007

Boobaby kissed a worm yesterday.

She had been grabbing up handfuls of soil when she came across the little wriggler. After she exhausted her supply of friends to whom to show the critter, I told her to put it back in the dirt.

"Bai-bai, wumm!" she cooed at her new friend, then kissed it and chucked it against a tree with bone-crushing force — if worms had bones, that is. (Boo’s expressions of love need a little refinement.)

Boo and I get dirty a lot. In forest, shore, and stream, Boo and I stick our fingers and noses in lots of places that would have horrified my grandmother, and not just her: I’ve gotten odd looks on our outdoor adventures even from parents my own age. You may remember one even telling her daughter not to go where Boo and I were playing in the dirt: "You’ll get sick!" she said, pointing at me.

I was reminded of that today reading a New York Times review of a book called Good Germs, Bad Germs. There’s a lot of what most of us already know: overuse of antibiotics in people and livestock is breeding supergerms that can’t be killed by ordinary medicine. It came as a surprise to me, though, that our hygiene compulsion is also fueling allergies and asthma. When we kill off "bad" bacteria, we also kill some of the harmless fellow-traveler germs, and in the absence of these good or neutral microbes, our immune systems go nuts. From the article:

"Without routine early exposure to a wide array of microbes, the immune system may become jumpy and frightened, overreacting violently to harmless substances like pollen, peanuts or even the body’s own cells."

Wow. That totally makes sense to me. I get hay fever and asthma from time to time, but it’s always when I’ve spent too much time inside. Get me out on the trail — even the dusty, pollen-laden trail — and I breathe easy. Love that! By exploring the dirt with Boo, I’m actually keeping her healthy, no matter what the playground marms say.

When she wakes up from her nap we may just go find some more worms to kiss.

Once again, here’s a link to the New York Times article.

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tagged as in activities,nature,parenting ·

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

cryitout November 28, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Just anecdotally, on a preschool tour today, the director said the incoming 2 year old class is FILLED


cryitout November 28, 2007 at 6:59 pm


… Is filled with kids allergic to peanuts, and I can’t help but wonder, reading this, whether all those stupid antibacterial wipes and soaps has some small part to do with it?


Johnny November 28, 2007 at 7:18 pm

I try not to get too worked up when Rachel tries to eat some sand, or puts food that’s been on the floor too long in her mouth. In a bizarre twist of fate I understand that our obsession with cleanliness and hygiene is making our kids sicker.

Yeah. I sometimes worry about that one stray horrible germ in the dirt, but I figure all the good exposure should (should!) cancel it out… I hope… Dd.


Dawn November 28, 2007 at 7:19 pm

Well – Mike will love this – I know someone in town here who grew up where they process peanuts, so it’s in the air all the time – no one has peanut allergies according to her mom the school principal. And it’s not they have babies in the hospital asphyxiating and not surviving – they just don’t have the peanut allergy.

Which really, if you think about it, totally justifies all the peanut butter custard I had this summer, I was merely helping Alex build a tolerance.


cryitout November 28, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Mmm, one big delicious tolerance.


doodaddy November 29, 2007 at 10:01 am

How do you even know if your 2-year old is allergic to peanuts? We were told to avoid peanut products altogether until Boo is older (in college, maybe?)… is this another case of me alone succumbing to food paranoia?


twinbabiesdad November 29, 2007 at 10:08 am

We have some great pics of the girls with mouthfuls of good ‘ole Maine beach sand! Not high on my favorites list, but hey, kids need their minerals. And I’m sure they got a nice varity of bacteria for their immune system to play with.

Now that they are older, our biggest challenge is just making sure they wash their hands a lot, especially as we go into winter. We try to limit the anti-bac stuff, but sometimes ya just freak out about it all, ya know?


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