Of all the indignities which are visited on us by motherhood, I vote that the sniff test is the worst.
You know: that horrid and humiliating practice we moms have of putting our noses way up close to the most gut-lurchingly awful things in order to correctly diagnose a predicament.
I have become one of those people.
I remember being pregnant with my eldest and attending a baby shower where one of the ice-breaker games involved a number of diapers with various types of chocolate smeared inside them. Bending low, we took deep sniffs and giggled as we scribbled: “milky way”, “reeses”, “junior mints”. Imagine eating that, we thought. Hardy har har.
My newborn smelled nothing like that chocolatey mess. Her head was pure heaven: baby and angel and natural and breathtaking. I sniffed her head like a hormone-addled addict. I tried not to think about where she’d just come from and why she might smell so good… but there was just nothing like the smell of her newborn head.
Input leads to output, as the lactation consultant euphemistically quipped, and pretty soon our sweet-smelling newborn was producing plenty of regular ‘output’. I took mental notes watching my adept-with-infants mom whose babies had all used cloth diapers: to check if a baby was wet, she would hold the baby up to her chest and gently feel inside the leg hold of the diaper to check the moisture level. Was baby wet? Yes? Grandma was quick to supply a dry outfit.
I followed my mom’s trick once, twice, three times. With the “stay dry” diaper technology, my baby always seemed dry enough. And then there was that paradigm-shifting fourth time – when I reached my finger into her little diaper to check for wetness, and was met with an immediate and sickening squelch. I pulled a bright yellow finger out, yowling for SOMEBODY TO GET ME A WIPE!
That was the day I started the sniff test.
It was cumbersome to get a winter-born baby sufficiently unbundled to see what was happening in their diaper, and far too dangerous to feel what was going on down there – so I became one of those people I had always silently judged for their Public Acts of Grossness. When I suspected that there was some output activity (<— see how tactful that was?), I would lift my baby high in the air and press my nose to her cushy tush. Relying on the science of olfactory sensitivity – it never took long to diagnose disaster.
Quick. Clean. Efficient. And still: totally gross.
I think what surprises me, though, is that seven years later, I am still doing the sniff test, and it just gets grosser.
Has this shirt been worn? (Let me smell)
Have these underpants been worn? (Let me smell)
What are you drinking? (Let me smell)
Did you make it to the potty on time or did you drip just enough to make you smell like a truckstop urinal? (Let me smell)
How long have you had milk in that cup? (Let me smell)
“Oh…. that’s what that smell is. Let Mommy get that moldy apple/old yogurt/soiled pair of shorts/dead mouse out of here…”
Ew. ew. ew.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. A friend and I were lamenting recently that we preferred the old Bible translations renditions of ‘patience’ as ‘long-suffering’ – because at least the latter admitted that what we were enduring was both suffering, and it was taking loooong. Parenting requires long-suffering. And encouragement. And a sense of humor. And lots of deep breaths.
Just don’t make them too deep.