jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

The Nose, A Life in Smells

This smells like Halloween October 2014

This smells like Halloween
October 2014

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.

Bird Sanctuary  October 2014

Bird Sanctuary
October 2014

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.

Bird Sanctuary <br> October 2014

Bird Sanctuary
October 2014

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.”

Holy cow.

Jennie and Dad
c. 1976

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.

Vivid. Visceral.

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.

Bird Sanctuary with a friend <br> October 2014

Bird Sanctuary with a friend
What does this smell like?
October 2014

(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.)

20 comments on “The Nose, A Life in Smells

  1. Steph Kasten
    October 9, 2014

    I still remember the words you put to the smell of your hair after a few days post-wash, shall we say. It smelled like “straw.” I still hear that word every time I give a sniff to my little one’s unwashed hair after a few days. It’s earthy, salty, leafy. That’s not what life smells like, but when I’m close enough to grab a sniff, that is what life is all about! Miss you and love you! Waiting for you to come down and grab some Bluefin. We can do a sniff test there!!

    • jgroeber
      October 11, 2014

      Straw or wet dog!! I still love to sniff my kids because that truly is what life is all about. That and the hopes for a future Bluefin date with lovely you. (Btw- hanging a show at Shipley on 11/9… Hmmm “food” for thought. I assure you, I’ll smell as good as straw only if we’re lucky.)

  2. kellylmckenzie
    October 9, 2014

    Apples. My life right now smells like apples. Every year my great uncle/Great Uncle drives down with a carload of apples. As I’m the closest house I am the family distributor. He drives 5 1/2 hours, stays for lunch and heads back. This year we’re treated to Spartans, Honey Crisp and Ambrosia. Smells heavenly . Now should you be in my car you’d smell dog. The spilled cereal days are done. Now it’s dog. Happy smelling to you and The Nose!

    • jgroeber
      October 11, 2014

      How I love this. Sigh. Someone great enough to drive 5 1/2 hours to bring you apples. That is the smell of family-love. Ambrosia is right. (I’ll pass on dog though.)

  3. Burns the Fire
    October 9, 2014

    The Nose knows and I totally relate. My husband smells like a bakery and that’s why I married him.

    • jgroeber
      October 11, 2014

      I would totally marry a bakery. Especially if it was one that makes scones.

  4. motherhendiaries
    October 9, 2014

    Ohmigosh… I think we must be related. I already love The Nose, since I am A Nose as well. I have been an avid hand sniffer, to my family’s dismay for decades. Also, I cannot BEAR dirty hands of any kind. But smells! Goodness… roast beef and yesterday’s cold coffee smells like my grandparents. My mum smells of Werther’s Originals, though since she’s diabetic, this is really, really bad… also, she smells of lipstick and lotion and popovers and stew. My grandsons (5 and 7) smell like sunshine, but when they have been playing hard, they smell of sweaty pennies, all coppery and warm and cool at the same time. Hubby smells like Joop and cotton and fabric softener. And new car. My kitchen smells of roast lamb, so I guess that is my scent of the day… along with dish soap and … vanilla, maybe? Lovely, lovely post… instant follow. xx Mother Hen

  5. Sing Better English
    October 10, 2014

    Satsumas have just started appearing in shops here. They smell like Christmas. (Is it a tradition in the US to put a satsuma in the toe of a child’s Christmas stocking? The last thing you reach and a wonderfully precious thing in a land where oranges etc. don’t grow)

    Saw an ancient blog the other day, all about smell and scent:
    Thought you might find it interesting. Your own blog is a joy to read. You have a gift for focusing in very close in observation of your own family and then zooming out to encompass life itself.

    • jgroeber
      November 15, 2014

      Love this comment. I apologize that I’ve been so long in replying. I think of you every time we tear open a small orange, although sadly, our stockings are filled with candy canes and a small present or two.

      • Sing Better English
        November 15, 2014

        You can always start your own new family tradition – a satsuma at the bottom of the Christmas stocking tradition. It’ll only need a couple of generations to bed in. 🙂

        We used to have the satsuma and a few walnuts or hazelnuts in their shells in the toe of our stockings. Made a lovely sound as the shells knocked together. And an excuse to get out The Nutcracker

        You’d have to go a long way to find a candy cane in the UK. They’re exotically American for us.

  6. Jenn Berney
    October 11, 2014

    I love this. I’m always wondering what I smell like to my children, especially to the one who is still a baby and always nuzzling.
    This morning my house smelled like burnt French toast and this evening it smells like a fart because I cooked cauliflower–just in case the Nose is curious. Also, the arctic foxes at the zoo today smelled just like skunks.

    • jgroeber
      October 11, 2014

      The Nose liked your comment the best. It was the cauliflower, I think, that won The Nose over. And the arctic foxes. Also I described the families of each writer and you four sounded the most like his best friend’s family and his godmother’s family (right down to the teacher part) although those mama duos both had three kids… Just saying. 😉

      • Jenn Berney
        October 14, 2014

        Haha–3 is not happening! But I’m so happy that my comment won The Nose award.

  7. Samara
    October 12, 2014

    My life smells like a crisp fall day. It smells like breakfast out and then Halloween shopping and then decorating the front lawn really creepy.

    That was my day today.

    I love your posts. But honestly, I always feel like such a lazy mom compared to you! I need to take Little Dude on some kind of hike upstate. The leaves will be peaking next weekend. xo

  8. rcinc
    October 14, 2014

    Today it smells like burnt coffee breath; toothpaste on baby morning breath because we didn’t have enough time to rinse our mouth out well; humid, warm Jersey Indian summer morning; musty leaves mixed with rain; smelly car from a minivan door left open for 15 hours in the rain and no one noticed; wood and insulation mixed with the old bricks in the fireplace discovered as we take down the back of our house; eggs; dirty soccer cleats and dance shoes piled by the door; 6 pairs of muddy boots piled by the same door from walking around and around in the corn maze; fluorescent lights in my office as I wish I was home walking a child through the muddy forest instead of hurrying them to the babysitters again; and deodorant on a 9 year old because he thinks he smells like wet dog.

  9. Bespoke Traveler
    October 16, 2014

    It is amazing how different smells take us instantly back to certain moments in our lives. Chai, lavender, and pumpkin were the three smells that popped up in answer to your question.

  10. Eli Pacheco
    October 22, 2014

    I worked with a girl in a hotel who used to smell the keycards. Even after she knew what they smelled like, she’d smell them again.

    My life? It smells like warming tortillas and dollar-store body wash. Dollar-store aftershave, too. It smells like vanilla, like a teenage girl who wants to smell nice. It smells like funnel cakes, although that’s just the sweet potato fries cooking on the floor below me at work.

    And it smells like I could write a post about what it smells like.

  11. bethteliho
    October 23, 2014

    How much do I love Jen Groeber? Let me count the ways……

    Today my life smells like throat lozenges because my youngest has a sore throat. Speaking of my youngest, your story reminded me of him because he’s a collector of tokens, and it always baffled me until I realized he was collecting memories. He will take things from places, like a leaf, or the lid of a soda bottle, or rocks – omg the rocks – and he’ll run to me and ask me to hold it for him “to save”. And god forbid I throw anything away, because he remembers all of it. That Gatorade lid from that time at the park with his best school buddy? I’d better have it when he inquires about it. The rock from the trip to Austin? Check. He even brings me stuff he finds from the bottom of pools. He knows where every single thing came from, even years later. I have bowls and bowls of his memories.

    Kids are fascinating.

  12. talesfromthemotherland
    November 9, 2014

    I’m a Nose too… though I’ve learned to be socially acceptable about it. It’s become redundant to say, but love, love this. Just a gorgeous post, Jen.
    (Can you tell I’m catching up on reading again!). xox

  13. Pingback: A to Z Challenge: B is for Breakfast | Coach Daddy

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