For the past several months, running a childcare center that has remained open throughout the pandemic, one simple action has kept me grounded: washing my hands. Perhaps the most important of all our many health and safety precautions, for me handwashing has become not only vital protection against the virus but also a regular moment of mindfulness, grounding and calming amid uncertainty and high demands.
Following the same guidelines I have put in place for the children and staff at my child care center, I wash my hands very frequently – between each activity, when I touch something another person has handled, of course before and after eating and after going to the bathroom, and at a minimum once every 30 minutes. Sometimes I use hand sanitizer, but whenever possible, I use soap and water. While the CDC recommends hand washing for 20 seconds, child care center regulations call for hand washing for 30 seconds. And so, at least once every 30 minutes, I give myself a 30-second pause.
I breathe and focus, experiencing the feel of the moisture and temperature of the water, the lathering of the soap suds, and the gentle massage of my own hands as I wash. I attempt to clear my mind, to be fully present and aware only of the moment, my hands, the soap, and the water. I take several breaths and offer a silent prayer of gratitude for something positive that happened since the last time I washed my hands. I then offer an intention of something I will do before the next time I wash my hands. With that, I return to the demands of my day.
The practice of handwashing has become central to life at my child care center. During the early days of the pandemic, “wash your hands” was a constant refrain from the adults. Yet, it did not take long for children to adapt, joyfully skipping to the bathroom between each and every activity without even being asked.
I observed as children delighted in the feel of the water splashing over their hands, the bubbles in the soap suds, and the moment to simply be. I found myself deeply influenced by the children, feeling joyful at the opportunity to wash my hands, rather than irritated by the interruption in my day. Teachers noticed as well.
We realized that hand washing had become integral to the rhythm of each day, a transition between activities for our children, a moment for them to pause, to relax their bodies and their minds, and mentally prepare to shift attention to something new. A protocol integral to health and safety had become an organizing principle structuring our day, giving us a sense of routine amidst uncertainty, as well as the joy of playful possibility.
I admit, there are moments when my focus on handwashing is not pleasant. Sometimes, in my mindful handwashing practice, I focus closely on my hands and am not pleased with what I see. Unmanicured, dry from so much handwashing, the beginning of wrinkles appearing, my hands can remind me of my grief, insecurity, and fear; the toll these months have taken. At those times, I remember I need to stretch and exercise my hands more, moisturize more. I remember that self-care is essential.
While handwashing is perhaps the most important action we can take to protect ourselves from contracting COVID-19, for me, handwashing has also taken on additional meaning. Marking the rhythm of my days, handwashing offers regular moments of mindfulness, punctuating life with frequent expressions of gratitude and determination, a 30-second pause to focus on blessing and possibility.
Wishing you joy in your own handwashing, health, and hope!