Motherhood: A Haunting (Smell)
When I was growing up in California, my family would sometimes drive up the coast to Oregon, where we’d stop at the Sea Lion Caves outside of Florence and stare at all the loud, brown, floppy sea lion bodies flapping around on the rocks. Being a kid who liked animals, I always really loved these visits, but was horrified when the smell of salt water and sea lion poo lingered in my nose for several days after.
A similar experience happened when, as a teenager, I went to the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, England, and was haunted for three days by the smell of human excrement that was pumped out from the true-to-life Viking village latrine. It’s a particularly unpleasant thing, being followed by the smell of poop, but at least I used to be able to look around a hotel room or movie theater and remind myself that despite what my nose was telling my brain, I was not in fact still standing inside a sea lion cave or passing by a wax figure of a Viking squatting over a pretend cess pit (Ed. Note: that is an actual thing you can see at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York).
I used to be able to confidently remind myself that I wasn’t actually covered in poo. That was until I had a baby…
Now, sometimes, when I change an especially rancid diaper and the smell lingers in my nostrils, I have to do a full sweep of the entire house several times — checking diapers and clothes, sniffing bed sheets, shining lights onto carpets and under dressers, washing and rewashing my hands — because poo could actually be anywhere. I now live a life in which finding another person’s poo on my pillow, clothing, or skin would not be a surprise.
Poop is definitely the most fragrant baby bodily waste that challenges me as a mother. I have to walk around smelling it (and potentially smelling like it) while pretending
1)not to be horrified and
2) like I’m a normal person walking around the supermarket, just like everyone else, despite the fact that I’m convinced I’m smeared with crap and also I haven’t showered in three days so I probably am.
Poop is challenging. However, it’s certainly not the only hard part of Motherhood. I have to make tough choices about where my limits on filth are all the time.
For example, this morning, I’d already decided I was just going to wash my bangs. I desperately needed to shampoo my hair. I just didn’t have the energy for a full shower, which currently requires listening to my toddler losing his mind at the edge of the bathtub until I finish hosing myself off and bring him in with me. I needed to look presentable enough to go run a few errands, so washing my bangs over the sink while my son clung to my legs screaming seemed like a fair compromise. Unfortunately, while we were playing in his room, my son climbed onto my back and drooled his canine-teething drool all along the nape of my neck. And then, I, an adult woman who used to sometimes order pitchers of margaritas with lunch or sleep in past 6am, spent several seconds running my hands over my hairline, trying to decide how much drool was too much, all while wondering to myself: how did I get here?
In the end, I showered (verdict: too much drool), but stories like these don’t always end this way. Sometimes, I wake up for the day after being up all night with a sick baby and only discover (okay, okay: remember) that a baby puked over my shoulder overnight when I absentmindedly twirl my hair and smell the vomit on the ends. Other times, I know the jeans I’ve just put on have snot smeared on them from the day before, but they’re the only ones that kinda fit me right now and I wear them anyway. Or: instead of showering, I scrub my armpits with a few baby wipes, put on a fresh swipe of aluminum-free deodorant (read: useless stink juice), and go out into the world.
I cut hygiene corners for myself every single day. I accept that I may smell/smell like poop; I allow varying levels of snot, drool, and tears to ooze into my clothes before I change; I go out in public with hummus hand prints on my sleeves; I never look too closely in the mirror; I am grateful for the impending hat weather.
But god forbid if my child is wearing socks that don’t match his outfit!