When you're the mother of over-active two-year-old twins, there is plenty to be worried about. Extra-large grapes they can choke on, busy residential streets they can run into, jungle gyms they can fall from. H1N1 has been an unwelcome anxiety added to the mix.
What follows is a day in the life of my kids and me in a post-swine Toronto.
9:35 AM It's time to hit the local community centre with my girls. I've considered keeping them out of programs for a while, but Sadie and Bridget will not be caged. Besides, music class is their favourite. We head out into the big, germy world.
9:50 AM We arrive. The girls clamour for a drink from the water fountain, and I hesitate. I decide it's not worth the howls of indignation, so I acquiesce. Afterwards I give their hands and faces a scrub with unscented baby wipes, feeling slightly paranoid.
10:15 AM The girls are particularly wild in class today, spending more time running around and putting their mouths on the mirrored walls of the dance studio than singing. A child coughs, and his nanny admonishes him gently: "Cover your mouth." Bridget and Sadie both have a mild cold, and despite the fact that most people know runny noses aren't a common symptom of H1N1, I feel like I should broadcast that they don't have a fever. I wield Kleenex like a ninja.
10:35 AM We hit the indoor playground in the community centre gymnasium, which is bustling as usual. Other parents, it seems, don't want to lock their kids up at home either. I quickly scan the room for sick kids, and notice a couple of runny noses - no big deal. It's funny how before H1N1 a runny nose would have caused some alarm, but now it's almost a relief. A cold is the least of my worries. The girls and I cavort with wild abandon.
11:15 AM It's time to leave. I debate washing their hands in the community centre bathroom, but I decide against it. Twins in a public bathroom is always tricky. While I'm busy soaping up one of them in the sink, the other one usually takes the opportunity to closely inspect the toilet, the doorknob, the floor. So it's another synthetic wipedown. I wonder about the ingredients of my baby wipes, and the hand sanitizer in my purse. I give the kids organic food whenever possible and I am always sure to use BPA-free plastic, or stainless steel. Now I'm coating them with chemicals on a regular basis.
11:30 AM At home, all of our hands get a good scrubbing before lunch. I run my palm over their foreheads, as I've been doing obsessively since the H1N1 symptom list came out (we've got a clipping taped to the fridge). Bridget dressed as a doctor for Halloween and now she's following my lead, taking my temperature and giving me a "needle" every so often. I wondered after the fact if her costume was in poor taste (it included a facemask and a syringe), but hey, she picked it out.
12:15 PM Nap time. I hear a few phlegmy coughs through the monitor and I am uneasy. I know they just have colds, but I still can't help but think of the face of a heartbroken father on the front page of the newspaper. I love my children fiercely, and this virus has unleashed a deep, irrational fear that resides in the pit of my stomach. And that's the worst part: the constant nagging feeling that there could be something lurking in the shadows threatening my children. And, yes, although I know it's irrational, I still worry.
1:00 PM I check the Internet for news about the H1N1 vaccine lineups in downtown Toronto. When it comes to the merits of vaccinations, my husband Sean and I generally come out on the side of science. But in this case, it's far from simple. We know it's a valid way of preventing H1N1, but the idea of giving our two-year-olds an adjuvanted vaccine is nerve-wracking. At the moment, we are undecided.
I receive an e-mail from Sean: His aunt has informed him through Facebook that her husband and two kids have come down with swine flu. It feels like it's all around us.
2:35 PM We head out for a walk, and despite a nippy wind, we stay outdoors - one indoor germ-fest is enough for today. A passerby approaches to get a good look at the twins (it happens). She leans in and speaks animatedly to the girls, and I'm quite sure she is about to reach out a hand. I don't want to be rude, but I'm never cool with strangers touching the girls, and H1N1 hasn't made me any more relaxed. Then I realize Sadie's nose is running copiously so it seems to be acting as a deterrent. Hooray!
4:20 PM Sean gets the girls ready for a pre-dinner jaunt to the playground down the street. I'm pleased the weather has held up this afternoon. It's been nice to keep the girls entertained where air-borne viruses are swept away by the autumn wind. Sean tells me our friend Bill's two children have come down with fevers. Bill was supposed to come around for a beer tomorrow night, but we cancel the hangout session.
7:00 PM It's stories, kisses, lullabies and bedtime. Thankfully, no one is coughing this time.