Monday, March 31, 2008

The smells of our lives

This story has a sweet ending. I promise.
I think about smells often. In fact, just the other day as I stood in the deodorant aisle in the pharmacy, I thought about my underarm choices for a long time. There are so many wonderful fragrances out there – orchard peach, wild raspberry, rain forest, tropical breeze – I just don’t think any of them belong in my armpits. For me, the purpose of deodorant is to de-odorize the not-so-pleasant smells that come about after a hard day’s work. The purpose is not to make me hungry or whisk my away to a tropical vacation when I start to sweat.
But I digress.
My point is that smells are incredibly important in our lives. The olfactory system, complex as it is, is something we rely on every day. Just this last weekend I had to sniff my son’s nose so that I could tell if he was coming down with a cold. (And if this sounds strange to you, ask your mother—I bet she knows the unmistakable “sick smell.”) This also comes after my daughter asked me how wolves know their own babies because the pups all look alike.
Smell.
It’s a mighty powerful thing.
Completely disregard the first paragraph about body odor, and think of your own favorite smell. I guarantee that the scent that comes to mind will trigger a memory, something special in the past that you associate with that smell.
It’s a documented fact that there is a direct connection between the sense of smell and memory. Any quick internet search will prove it, so I’ll spare you all of the scientific garble. I personally don’t need any hard proof; I only just have to light a match and smell the hint of sulfur that burns at the very beginning. Every time I strike one I am taken back to those summer days by the lake when I was finally old enough to play with bottle rockets, black snakes, and smoke bombs. I smile just thinking about it.
But enough of the past. What about the future?
Having a new baby in my house, I am basically bombarded by smells. Spit-up, diapers, and baby shampoo are constantly aiming themselves at my olfactory nerves. But the truth is that they, even in their most offensiveness, are wonderful odors. They are memories in the making.
As a mom, I try not to let the everyday stress of parenting get to me. When I’m on the verge of tears with whining kids and a chaotic house, I really try to remind myself that someday I’m really going to miss these frenzied times. So I do my best to find ways to remember my children in good times and bad.
I take a lot of pictures. In fact, my computer has nearly no hard drive left for the thousands of snapshots of the latest McAllister addition. I take a lot of videos. My favorite shots are the ones when the kids don’t know they’re being filmed—when they’re playing or sleeping in their food, or teaching each other how to do the polka.
So as far as my memories are concerned, I’m doing a fair job to preserve the way they look and the way they sound. But what about the sweet way my baby’s breath smells when she wakes up from a nap? What about the smell of my son’s sweat when he learned to ride a two-wheeler at age three? What about the lavender shampoo I used to use on my oldest daughter?
Those are the real smells of our lives, the most fantastic smells we will ever know. And they’ll never be found in a pharmacy.

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