Living in a plastic bubble might not be bad

Published 7:38 pm Saturday, August 17, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, By Alexandra Kloster

Remember that TV movie from the 1970s about the boy who was born with an immune system that was all kerflooey and he had to live in a germ-free environment? It was called “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” starring Vinnie Barbarino, the actor later known as the guy from “Grease” and costarring the dad from “The Brady Bunch.”

It was a pretty ridiculous movie based on a serious condition, and it fascinated me. That bubble had everything a person could possibly want, and I wanted to live in it. I’ve always been kind of a homebody, and the idea that I could be hermetically sealed indoors with a stereo, television, books and snacks was fine by me.

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When my daughters, Gertie and Clara, were born I found myself thinking back to that movie. I wanted to put them in a bubble. We fought so hard and so long to get them here that when they finally made the scene I became obsessed with keeping them healthy.

Everything from pet dander to plain old dirt was my enemy. A pacifier fell on the floor? Boil it! Is that water from the tap? Filter it! Take off your shoes, get your shots, wash your hands and breathe in the other direction if you want to see come into my house and see my babies.

I said, “Bless you,” when they sneezed, but a second sneeze warranted a “God bless you.” Even the suggestion that they might have a cold meant it was time to bring God into the situation.

I was at war with my environment, a war I couldn’t possibly win.

Friends, I’ll give you a second to roll your eyes at me. Really, go ahead. I’ve rolled my eyes at myself so much that I see little else than the underside of my own eyebrows.

Fear drove out reason and common sense. I knew that some germs were good for them, and that a sterile environment would not allow them to build up immunities to anything. Even Sidney, our Yorkie, provided some protection from allergies just by lying around the house, but I couldn’t stop myself from building that bubble one squirt of Purell at a time.

Then one day I had a moment of clarity and a small panic attack. Gertie crept over to me and ate a Cheerio that was stuck to my sock. I stared at her, horrified, waiting for something awful to happen. She did not turn green, her ears did not fall off; she did not start speaking in tongues or pass out. She looked pleased with her ability to forage for food and moved her hunt to my other foot.

Thank you, you wise little baby, I thought. Thank you for the come to Gertie moment that showed me the error of my ways.

The bubble popped.

We started applying the three-second rule to Clara’s pacifiers when they fell to the floor. That rule gave way to the “Just blow on it” principle. Now we practice the, “If it’s been on the floor less than a week, bon appetit,” philosophy.

Recently a friend was watching me give the twins their lunch and caught me scraping food from one girl’s mouth and feeding it to the other. “Yes, I just did that, and I’m not sorry,” I said. My friend explained to me that I was actually strengthening their immune systems by swapping a bit of spit. How about that?

When Clara pulled a handful of dirt from of my parents’ yard, half my family dove in to stop her from eating it. “Relax,” I said. “Do you think she’s the first kid to eat dirt?”

Last night my husband, Graham, threw two perfectly clean pairs of pajamas in the hamper because Sidney had been caught lounging on them. “Do you really think a little dog sweat is going to hurt the girls? They may even like it!” I told him.

OK, it’s possible the pendulum swung a little too far in the opposite direction, and I need to find some balance. All I know is that the girls are healthy and thriving, and whether it’s because of germs, the absence of germs or just dumb luck, I’m grateful.

I found a copy of “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” and watched it again. I still think that bubble would be a great place to visit, but now I know I wouldn’t want to live there.


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is at