As some of you may remember from The Case of the Missing Dirty Diapers, I am a bit of a “Sherlock.” I see a mysterious situation, and I dive in full force until I figure it out. Just the other day my almost 12-yr-old son, Max, had a couple of friends from the neighborhood over to hang out. Shortly after they arrived, I thought I smelled something very bad. Very wrong. Dangerous, even. It kinda smelled like burning chemicals, or scorched plastic. We had just turned on the heat for the first time since late spring, so I worried that maybe something was smouldering downstairs or on one of the radiators. I started sniffing around, trying to locate it.
With my urgency, I got the kids all worked up about it, too. None of us could figure out where it was coming from, but we all agreed (except for the one kid who didn’t seem to smell anything at all) that it was getting stronger. We all became increasingly alarmed. Max yelled, “WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE, RIGHT NOW!”
I said, “Calm down, we’ll figure this out.” I opened some windows, and when that didn’t seem to help, I called my husband Jeff at work, and said, “I need you to come home right now. There’s a bad smell, and I can’t locate it, and it’s freaking me out.” I was almost on the verge of tears. Max’s hysteria was spreading.
Jeff came home, and was like, “What the? What IS that?” As he started investigating, I noticed that the smell got considerably stronger around this particular child, the same child who “didn’t smell anything.” I tried to discreetly call him into the kitchen and ask his permission to give him a sniff, but he jokingly said, “What? Am I the source of the evil smell?” His smile faded when he saw the look on my face.
I led him into the kitchen and said, “I think you are, but it’s probably not you personally. Did you step in something? Did you roll around in your back yard before you came over?”
After some deductive reasoning, I realized it was a simple case of preteen, pubescent body odor. I’d forgotten how pungent it could be. He offered to change his shirt, but I knew that wasn’t going to do it. Jeff thought I was overstepping boundaries when I said, “Maybe just go home and wash your arm pits?” His mouth dropped, and he gave me the “cut-it-out” signal, but I waved him off with a look that said, “Oh, I’ve got this.”
I’m the mother of three boys, so trust me, I knew exactly what the young boy needed to hear to feel better about the whole thing. I said, “Hey, this isn’t a bad thing. It just means you are going through puberty. You’re going to be a MAN soon. How great is that?!” The room went silent. Max looked at me like I’d just birthed a calf. Jeff stepped in and told the kid to go on and do what he needed to do. When he left, Max said, “I sure am glad I wasn’t the one you just had that little talk with!”
While I had forgotten how stinky puberty could be, I had not forgotten how embarrassing it was. That poor, poor child. How unfortunate for him that his “stench awakening” had to happen in my house of all places. You may be thinking, “Oh it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.” That’s true, but what you don’t know is that I am a horrible person with a history of embarrassing myself, my family, and others in situations like this, and I should know better by now. I have more than once pulled something like, say, announcing at an outdoor barbecue full of people eating pork and beans, “Everyone stop! Do you smell that? I think there may be a dead animal nearby. <sniff sniff> Yes, that is definitely rotting matter.”
This kid was not my first victim, but you know what? I am going to try and be sure that he is my last. People can change, right? I just need to remember the next time I’m faced with an unpleasant odor. I will take a moment to assess, and choose the path of least humiliation.