4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
We have a smeller in the house.
One would think I mean that we have someone who’s making the house smell bad, which isn’t that inaccurate. All four of my kids regularly make the house smell fairly awful.
But I mean I have a child who likes to smell everything all the time, especially the hands. Like Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher from late 90’s SNL? Hands to armpits and then, snifffffff.
We’ll call this child The Nose, to protect the identity, and The Nose’s hands are right up under The Nose’s nose pretty much all day long.
It’s always been a charming aside, this smelling, until last weekend when I caught The Nose face down on a soccer ball… during a soccer game. And The Nose hadn’t fallen. The Nose was simply smelling the soccer ball. (And for your information, later reports confirmed that soccer balls smell of “leather and dirt” which was a shocker only to The Nose, apparently.)
Yesterday in the car, The Nose was all up in The Nose’s hands, sniffing and smelling. I caught my husband’s eye and he glanced in the rearview mirror to see the avid sniffing.
“What are you smelling?!” my husband asked.
“I’m getting new smells for my smell collection.”
But of course.
My husband and I exchanged surprised and impressed looks.
“And what will you do with these smells you collect?” I asked.
“Um. I mix and match them later.”
“What do your hands smell like now?”
“Uh, lemon and sugar cookies and bread.”
Just so you know, Dad smells like sweaty fleeces and I smell like one of The Nose’s younger siblings… plus broccoli if I’ve been working out. Which was disappointing. I was hoping for ginger or lemon. On the other hand, The Nose could have said I smelled like a hoagie… so there’s that.
And so today, walking through the bird sanctuary with a lovely Mama pal, I shared the smell-story. I pointed out how much The Nose was smelling The Nose’s own hands, the bird seed we were holding, the leaves we were tearing. We both shuddered when the Nose picked up a snake and then minutes later said, “Oh, no! My hands smell like old pee! That snake peed on me!”
My mama friend and I continued on as the kids ran along beside us. We talked about the upcoming birthdays of the twins, the parent social at our house next week, the school and the kids and the moms and the lives. We tore leaves into lacy fish-bone patterns for the kids and they ran up and down the hills, along the paths.
I finished tearing a leaf, smelled it and said, “Oh, this smells like Halloween. When we were kids, we’d sit in the VW bus, and it was one of the only things my father would do with us, no matter how sick he was. He’d drive us through the neighborhoods with the big houses and the huge lawns, where they’d give out dollar bills or full-size candy bars. When the houses had no lights on, we’d sit on the floor of the VW, legs hanging out into the gutters, kicking the piles of leaves along the curb as we’d drive to the next lit up house. The kicked up leaves smelled like this. This is what Halloween smells like.”
A few of our collective kids picked up leaves and smelled them, shrugging, dropping them and running off, but The Nose nodded.
“You just did it,” my friend said. “You just did the smell thing The Nose does.”
Marlboro Reds are my father, honeysuckle is Chatham Cape Cod, beach roses are Cape Cod, too, but also a house in Nova Scotia during a fogged in vacation with my husband when we had finally come to terms with our inability to have children.
Tonight, after baths, I cuddled in bed with The Nose and we read. The Nose sniffed and sniffed The Nose’s fingers.
“Snake smell gone?” I asked.
The Nose nodded and smiled.
I couldn’t help but wonder what this smelled like: Mom cuddling up with you and reading each night before turning off the lights, the safety of a bed covered in soft blankets, the feeling of hope for an exciting day of school, trepidation at things to come, boredom, frustration. What does childhood smell like?
And so finally, just this very minute, before heading to bed myself, I made my husband a cup of tea, decaffeinated chai tea to be exact. And it smelled like pregnancy.
It smelled like my first pregnancy, when my husband would make me breakfast in bed; oatmeal with raisins, juice, a banana and chai tea with honey. And I would lay in our still warm bed, with my huge belly lolling to one side rubbing the stretched skin in circles feeling our unborn baby lurch and yawn with the morning.
I would watch my husband through the door in the tiny bathroom just beyond the foot of our bed in our little house in Philadelphia. I would watch him shower and dry and get dressed, and I’d call it “The Tim Show.” And through it all I would eat what I could fit in my already full body, sip that tea that smelled both sweet and spicy. There was trepidation there at the upcoming birth of our first child, but mostly comfort and love and hope: hope for the future and for our family.
So what then does a life smell like? Marlboros, honeysuckle, beach roses, beach roses, lemon and sugar cookies, fresh snake pee and your younger sibling, and broccoli and warm fleece, crushed leaves and beds and tea and love.
(And so now I can’t help but wonder,what does your life smell like? Tell me and I’ll pass it on to The Nose.)