Washing and Singing Against the Flu


Recently, I instructed the children to sing the “Alphabet” song once or the “Happy Birthday” song twice while washing their hands as a way of insuring that they are indeed disinfecting their hands for a long enough period of time to completely eradicate the flu virus from their skin. In response to my instruction, Chloe nodded her head sternly, Max stared at me long and hard, Charlie rolled his eyes, but Gigi, well Gigi has taken on the task with great energy. She puts her heart and soul into every hand wash now.

Genevieve sings a combination version of both songs four or five times through. There is the sound of singing, with verses and lyrics all mixed together. There is the sound of rushing water, the water flow from both the cold and hot water faucets at top throttle. There is the sound of splashing — water slopping over the edge of the sink basin, onto the granite counter, then to the floor.

Yesterday afternoon, Charlie, who was trying to focus on his homework, became completely unhinged by his younger sister’s hand washing routine.

Charlie: Geeee-Geeee! Stop! That’s enough hand washing.

Gigi: (singing more loudly now) Happy Birthday to Genevieve….which is me…Happy Birthday to….

Charlie: Sing to yourself…in your head…you annoying thing!

Gigi: (still singing to the tune of “Happy Birthday”) That’s not how I do it…I sing out loud…

Charlie: (screaming at the top of his lungs) Oh. My. God. Shut. It.

Gigi: (singing stops…for a moment, then starts up again, still carrying the “Happy Birthday” melody) Shut It is a bad word. It is like Shut Up. You will be in trouble for saying it. Ye-es you will….

(I see that Charlie has snapped his pencil in two, a definite sign that a violent eruption is near. I rush from the kitchen sink — from which I’ve been loading the dishwasher and listening to the singing and outburst-ing — into the guest bathroom off the front hall. I turn off the water faucets. Gigi, smiling, flaps her hands this way and that, spraying water on me, the bathroom walls, the floor. Sighing, I pass her the blue hand towel and after she’s handed it back to me, I use it to mop up the entire area, except for the floor. I dab at the many droplets on the floor with handfuls of toilet paper that I’ve ripped from the roll nearby.)

Cassie: I think we’re all done in here, G.

Charlie: (from the kitchen) Thank God. If she gets the flu, you know, that would shut her up real good.

Cassie: (from the bathroom) That’s not very nice and don’t say shut up. I don’t care how frustrated you are, Char. Get back to your homework.

(I re-enter the kitchen and resume my dishwasher loading. I’m waiting for it…the comeback…the snarky comment from the boy who sits at the kitchen counter, steaming and snorting like a bull about to charge.)

Charlie: (singing now, himself, to the tune of “Happy Birthday”) She’s so freakin’ scared of the flu, she’s so freakin’ scared of the flu –”

Cassie: Don’t say “freakin” either.

Charlie: (still singing) ” — she’s a flu fre-eak, yes my mother is.”

(Flu Freak snaps shut the dishwasher door and leaves the kitchen to give Snorting Bull Boy some time alone to settle down. After a while, the Flu Freak mother peeks in on her son. There he sits, alone, at the granite counter top, humming the “Happy Birthday” tune to himself, quite cheerfully. He stares out the kitchen window, humming and tapping out the beat with a piece of the broken pencil in each of his hands.)

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