Like a lot of kids during cold and flu season, our grandchildren have been trained for good health and good manners: Cover your mouth when you cough and say bless you when someone sneezes. Earlier in the day, one sneezed and another one said, "Hey! Don't bless on me!"
Three of the grands are spending the night. Their mother is putting them down and I have been summoned to tell a bedtime story. The baby is already asleep, another is on the verge of sleep, and the third apparently has been downing espresso on the sly.
The conversation between the very awake toddler and her rapidly fading mother turns to germs. "Grandma is going to tell you a story, because Mommy doesn't feel well."
"What's wrong, Mommy?" the three-year-old asks.
"I have a virus," Mommy says, getting up to leave.
"What's a virus?"
"A virus is caused by a germ."
"What's the germ's name, Mommy?"
Mommy sits back down. "I don't know."
"But, Mommy, what's the germ's name?"
"It's probably rhinovirus. All right? Mommy's going to leave now." Mommy gets up again.
"But wait, Mommy. Where is the germ?"
"It's in my mouth."
"How did it get there?"
"I don't know. Germs just travel this time of year."
"Oh. What's the germ's name?"
"Oh. I can't say that."
"It's a hard word to pronounce," says Mommy, who has inched her way to the door.
"And it's in your mouth?"
"Yes, it's in my mouth."
Mommy leaves the room. I begin telling a story about a heavy snowfall and a full moon. It is a captivating story, if I may say so myself, and yet I am interrupted.
"Mommy has a germ."
"I know. And on the most crooked branch of the tree sat a very round and puffy owl."
"What's its name?"
"What's what name? The owl or the germ?"
"Mommy's germ. What's the name?"
"I think it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
"I don't think that was it, Grandma."
"Maybe not. I don't remember the germ's name."
"It's hard to say, Grandma."
"Yes, I know. The owl had yellow eyes, pointed ears and a hook nose."
"Mommy has a germ. The germ has a name. The germ is in her mouth."
"Yes, that's why she has a sore throat and doesn't feel well."
"Do I have a germ in my mouth?" She opens her mouth wide.
"No, all you have in your mouth is your teeth and your tongue."
"Oh. That's good," she says with a yawn. "Good night, Grandma."
(Lori Borgman is the author of "My Memory is Shot, All I Retain Now is Water." Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)