Have you ever taken a moment to step back and ponder the smells of parenthood? The feeling of dread when you watch your children eat certain foods, knowing you’re going to have to clean that up later. I have.
Have you ever been sitting in the car on a hot, summer day and all of the sudden gotten this sickening feeling in your stomach? Your nostrils suddenly begin to inform you of something terrible? Been there.
Let me take a moment to admit that I’m no saint here. Yes, it’s true. However, there’s just something about a child’s smells that tends to supersede that of even a grown man’s.
My five year-old is the light of my life. When he comes around, my entire day brightens and I know I’m in for a ride from the moment he opens his eyes. Like clockwork, each weekend morning, my little boy will wake up (early, of course) and come crawl into bed with my wife and I. What could be more sweet than having little toes and a little butt snuggling right next to you? Nothing, that’s what. I run my fingers through his hair before kissing that little nose of his and say, “Good morning little bear.” My response comes quick and usually with a lot of breathiness to it. “Heeeeeeeeeyyy Daaaaaddy. Good mooooorning.” Followed by a stretch and a huge exhale. It’s then that it hits me like a ton of bricks. The morning breath. “Aaaahhhhhhhhh, pppffffftttttt….huuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh,” he exhales in an invisible cloud of rot. Oh man, I didn’t read anything about this in the “So You’re Going to Be a Parent” handbook.
The stretch is typically followed by a well-placed fart and, unfortunately for me, he’s already crawled under the sheets. Dutch oven, anyone? I’m not sure I can accurately describe the acrid stench that follows my little boy’s appearance in the early morning hours of each weekend. I’m not sure that my vocabulary is vast enough to encompass the true horror of it all. “Hee, hee! Sorry Daddy!” is usually my response to the double-blow of funk. I’ve never stood at the foot of a volcano, to take in the choking smell of sulfur, but I think I’m now prepared to do so.
Now the typical culprits are not the only origin of unbelievable olfactory suffering. By this I mean the bathroom, the farts, and the morning breath. It’s not just the realization when you hit the top of the stairs that your nine year-old is on the toilet again. You reach the top of the stairs only to be hit in the face with an un-Godly odor that is as recognizable as a signature. Each unique, each like a fingerprint, each with its own identifying characteristics. “Buddy, did you remember to flush?” “No, I’m not done yet.” (Ever hear of a courtesy flush?) “Ok, don’t forget to do that, and also don’t forget to wipe your butt when you’re finished.” “Right, I almost forgot about that, thanks!” It’s at this point that I’m amazed the entire top floor of my house smells like a geographically, very small region on my son. “Uh, did you remember to close the door and turn the fan on?” …followed by stark silence, before a response. “No, I don’t like to have it closed,” he replies. Not sure his future wife will forgive me for not instilling this habit into him.
At this point, what’s the point? I begin to pace the house with a can of never-fully-working Febreze. A spray here, a spray there, a LONG spray towards the bathroom door (wide open, that is). Funny how a product that smells so good on the grocery store shelf begins to attach itself to the memory of more terrible things. You know the drill. You know what I’m talking about. You smell one, and after a while, you associate it with the other.
The change of seasons is not lost on me, either. With the arrival of spring and eventually summer, come the new blossoms of sweet-smelling flowers, late nights outside, freshly cut grass…and sweat. Lots of sweat. Foot stench that can send a person running for the hills, pits, sweaty foreheads – it’s all there for the smelling. Now, I’m not sure about little girls, you see, I have three boys. I imagine they smell like little perfume factories running around the house. Freshening every room that they enter! Yeah, probably not – but I can at least theorize, right?
I’ll end with these closing thoughts. Being a parent is full of ups and downs, bruises and scrapes, vomit and poop, gagging and watery eyes. We “sort of” know about this before we become parents, because we have heard some vague stories of the same from our parents. The great comedy of life is that we have NO idea of the sheer gravity and honesty that surround these somewhat funny stories from those who are now gray and laughing at your mistakes, while feeding your kids chocolate and giving them money behind your back.
Few memories linger for a lifetime and retain their original vigor. Your marriage, birth of your children, your first car, these all qualify as things that we don’t easily forget. Smells of parenthood also qualify. You know how you hear a song sometimes, and you are immediately transported back to a certain time and place? That’s a great memory to have. It’s something that no one can ever take from you. The same holds true of smells. From when your child is born, and they carry that sweet, indescribable smell of a baby to the time that they can fill a room with gas, feet, and breath – parenthood is very well connected with odors of all sorts. And I know for a fact that one day we’ll miss them all. Just like we miss the smell of a baby, we’ll miss the smell of a growing child learning how to use the restroom like a big kid. We’ll miss the smell of dirty laundry, sitting and marinating as it waits to be reacquainted with its old friend, soap. We’ll miss the smell of that morning breath of our five year-old coming in and wishing us a good morning. So next time you get side-tracked, next time you get stopped directly in your tracks by a stench so foul it could peel the wallpaper, remember that you’ll miss this all someday. Don’t ever forget to stop and smell the “roses” of parenthood.