The Rockwood Files: Mom and the magic beanstalk

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I read and watch a lot news coverage (sometimes too much), so I have a growing sense of unease that has me clutching my bottle of antibacterial soap extra tight lately. I’m considering making a holster for my precious Purell so I could have a bottle on each hip, ready for a quickdraw squirt at any moment.

My three teenagers said the Purell paranoia holster probably wouldn’t be a cool look for me. But given our current circumstances, there’s no denying it would be useful. Besides, I gave up on being cool 18 years ago when I started driving a minivan and saying things like “Do you need to go potty?”

The World Health Organization said the coronavirus is officially a pandemic now, so it feels like those virus-laden invisible droplets are only a breath or a touch away. And since I can’t hold my breath forever, I’m trying to stay home, wash my hands more often and stop touching my face.

Staying home and washing hands are the easiest parts of the public health protocol. And I’ve tried to stop touching my face but have decided it’s nearly as hard as holding my breath forever. I’m constantly catching myself rubbing an eye, resting my chin in my hand, or scratching a nose itch and then mentally berating myself for it. Why can’t I keep my hands off my face? Why is my face such a magnet for my fingers?

Remember how the evil villain Jason on the Friday the 13th movies wore a white hockey mask as he stalked people who always tripped while running for safety? Maybe he wasn’t really trying to mask his identity with that hockey mask. Maybe he was just a germaphobe who’d gone crazy after an unsuccessful mission to stop touching his face.

Lately, I’m not only failing at keeping my hands off my face, I’m also making our three kids nuts with my constant insistence that they sanitize their hands – again. I don’t know if it’s possible to sprain your eyes by rolling them too hard, but if it is, my teenagers are going to have a chronic case of eye sprain.

Every time one of them gets into my car, I hold up my bottle of Germ-X and begin the ritual:

Me: “Hi! How was school? Here, use this.” (Thrusting bottle of sanitizer at them while squirting a generous dollop into their hands.)

Kid: “Geez, Mom. My hands are fine.” (Insert exaggerated eye-rolling here.)

Me: “No, your hands are not fine. You just came from school which is basically a teenage petri dish of viruses, bacteria and adolescent angst. So, rub this magic soap into your hands and don’t be a whiner.”

At our house, products like Germ-X and Purell are known as “magic soap.” When the kids were little, it was too hard for them to say a phrase like “antibacterial sanitizer.” So, I started telling them it was magic soap – the kind of soap that doesn’t need water to work. The nickname stuck, and we’re still calling it magic soap 16 years later.

The other day at a lunch with fellow grown-ups, I retrieved my portable bottle of Germ-X from my purse and held it up as a gesture for sharing. “Magic soap, anyone?”

Confused, they looked at me in much the same way I imagine Jack’s mother must have looked at him when he came home and told her that, instead of selling their cow for money, he’d traded it for “magic beans.”

Sometimes I wish magic soap had the same power as those fairytale magic beans. If it did, I’d squirt a few dollops in the backyard and wait for a gigantic beanstalk to sprout overnight. Then I’d invite all of you over so we could climb the beanstalk and wait out the coronavirus from the safety of a magical land perched high in the sky.

Of course, it’s possible we’d encounter a hostile giant who bellows “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the Purell of a paranoid mum!”

I’d trick this giant by offering him “magic soap” and then I’d squirt Purell into his hands. Then he’d rub his eye (because even giants can’t stop touching their faces) and the Purell would sting like crazy, inducing temporary blindness. He’d stumble around, fall down the giant beanstalk to his untimely death, and we’d all live happily ever after.

The end. (And stay safe.)

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.