Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Many Smells of Matthew

Babies smell. Okay, I’ll just get that out of the way right up front, so you know where I’m going with this; I haven’t been near a baby yet that smelled good to me, and I feel that I’m missing out on something special when I hear women (as it is nearly always a woman who will delight in the smell of a baby) rave about the scent of a little one. It’s like a new car smell to them. Me? I can’t walk up behind a baby, take in a deep whiff off of the back of his furry head and sigh, with my eyes rolled back into my head with delight, at the wonderful aromas of an infant. I smell day-old milk and dirty diapers every time. Am I missing something? Is there some sort of good smell button you push when you want a pleasing fragrance to waft from a baby, or am I smelling the wrong part? Are babies like honeydew and they only smell good at the stem end, and if so, which end is that? Maybe you have to hold them a certain way.

There’s probably many a mother out there reading this, wondering what prayer to God will smite me down the quickest for my most insensitive thoughts on my olfactory opinions of infants, but I can’t help how I feel and certainly can’t help what I’m smelling. It’s not like I’m asking for a bad smell, as I certainly don’t go out of my way to find them. They seem to find me.

Matthew gets into a rut of funk that is nearly indescribably at times, but it isn’t just him 10 minutes before his bath and two days after his last one, it is all of the stuff that goes along with babies that I generally deal with the most that fills my head with a horrific stench: the formula, the diapers… dear God, the diapers, the spit ups, the gas, the dirty clothes, the milk breath, his cereal, old bottles… everything on my end of the operation smells old, smells used, and smells lethal, like burning rice. I don’t see him right after his bath as he is whisked away to sleep; his best smelling hours are when he’s sleeping and I miss it all unless I sign up for the midnight shift (which is where I am now).

But, on my regular day shift, as the supervisor of the custodial arts around here, I’m subjected to the darker side of child rearing, the Darth Vadar, Death Star darker side, and my predominate function is to provide cleaning support after a successful day of milk digestion, as that’s all that Matthew is really good at right now: drinking and digesting milk and disposing of what his stomach has no use for. He’s really good at this…sometimes two or three times a day good.

That’s where I come in. I wear a clothes pin. I carry tongs.

With Natalie, we used a Diaper Genie, and if you’re not familiar with those little contraptions, let me catch you up on the latest, cutting edge technology in the diaper disposal industry. It’s is basically a trash can with a special lid, that’s all, a $30 trash can. You place a used diaper into the receptacle, twist the top a few times and the diaper is packed into a connected string of similarly fated diapers, as part of an oversized links of sausage, curling up into the bottom of the container. You’d think, being a lover of hot dogs (and sausages) that I am, I would find this fascinating, as if I’m pressing my own links right there in her room, but I got over it pretty quick… especially since its primary design function, to keep the smell incased inside these links, doesn’t work. Soon, after a day or two, it begins to smell like a morgue, a medicated death bathed in rose-scented sprays, and the underlying element to the tang was a spine-tingling unpleasantness that curdled your blood and triggered your gag reflex every time you pass near the Genie.

Something to consider: When one diaper smells, it isn’t that big of a deal, but when you’ve got a string of 20 diapers all compacted into this tub and linked together in a long smelly chain—and they go south (and they always do)—you’ve got a HAZMAT situation on your hands. You’re looking at a total teardown, floor to ceiling, to get out the smell; did you ever notice that the paint scheme and carpet were always different upstairs every couple of weeks?

With Matthew, we now employ the “throw it away after he uses it” method, which has its pros and cons. One of the benefits of the immediate disposal system is that it is out of the house moments after it is soiled… one of the detriments of this method is that there are 50 such diapers just like it lurking somewhere in the big trash can outside, unprotected, exposed to the elements and slowly gaining strength in numbers that far surpasses smells the human nose was designed to endure. When you open that lid to dispose of your single offending diaper, the blast of hot reeking air that hits you will literally take your eyebrows and blow them to the back of your head. My watch stopped once, just went completely dead. I chipped a tooth off of the smell, it packs that much of a punch… and just forget it if we’ve had a hot spell; that black trashcan begins to cook up a diaper banquet the likes from which your nose will never recover. In fact, I’m just now getting over smelling a fierce gale of a stinkstorm from three weeks ago: a blistering weekend mixed with a humid rainstorm the following week merged to form a fetid, rank, squalid stench that, for several days, hung in a green cloud around the side of the garage where we keep the cans.

Elsa wouldn’t go near it, and for her, that’s a big deal. And Elsa loves things that stink; she’ll chew on a cow bone that she buried two weeks prior, and she’ll even sleep next to it that night. She got a hold of one of Matthews more, ahem… creative diapers one time, had the thing filleted open on the lawn and… well, I spare you the nitty-gritty details, but I wouldn’t let her back in the house again until I was able to wash off her face both the nitty and the gritty.

Some mornings, it is my responsibility to feed Matthew his cereal, as he is beginning the long road to solid foods, and the brew is mixed up with a powder form from a box and a splash of formula to create this viscous, gooey concoction that is very much the consistency of watery paste or thin gravy with chunks. Now, I love cereal, a big mixing bowl full of cereal is a great midnight snack (not to mention three week’s worth of fiber in one sitting…well, two sittings if you count the sometimes dramatic affects of fiber), but baby cereal is repugnant, and I can’t understand how Matthew can eat it, much less get it near his nose. The very smell, like a mixture of orange juice and milk set over a simmering heat for five minutes and injected right into the limbic region of your brain is enough for spasms of the esophagus and a sudden volatile projection from the stomach.

Matty loves the stuff… but if that’s all you’ve had in your life, you’ve got nothing to compare it with, so go figure.

As I have lamented on endlessly before, one of my primary duties as a father and, I think, as a human being, is that I’m the chief bottle washer at this truck stop, and that means I have to first, find them scattered about the house. For some reason, the 13 bottles get strewn randomly from room to room, depending on solely in which location he is being fed. When Matthew’s done with the bottle, it usually gets deposited on the floor by the rocker and promptly forgotten about…and forgotten about… and forgotten about. When it is time for another bottle washing session, I have to hire a search party to scout the house and explore the whereabouts of the missing 13 bottles. Most of them end up rinsed out by the sink, and I’m usually only missing one or two during any given mission. When everything goes well, I’ll find them all and it won’t be too bad, as long as you don’t get your nose too close the them when they’re first opened. A job hazard is that the hot water I use to initially rinse them out only constricts the air molecules around my face, which causes the smell to travel quicker to my nose and with higher potency of offend.

Usually, after a couple of hours of sitting, the formula will attempt to revert back to its original elements, as it begins to separate. The heavier portion that settles to the bottom of the bottle is a mocha-colored coffee with cream hue, while the lighter top portion reminds me of the fluffy top to a lemon meringue pie, and when you see it begin to split, you know your nose is in for a severe spanking.

Sometimes my expeditions to find all 13 are unsuccessful, and that’s when I get to discover exactly what happens to one or two ounces of baby formula after two days… maybe three. Folks, it isn’t pretty, but if I catch it after the third day, all that may be left is a small puddle of green glowing toxic liquid, a runny pond of plastic that used to be the bottle and a scorched area on the carpet. If you get to close to it, you’ll hear it growl. Elsa will usually stay by my side when we search for them, and I know when she has found one as she’ll let out a long howling wail, as if the ghost of an old bird dog has finally found the downed quail, and it’s creeping along the long dark trail into a fog bank that has settled around a graveyard. That’s followed by some of the most disturbing whimpers ever to emanate from beast on the land or fowl of the air. Then again, Elsa’s nose is pretty sensitive.

Usually, it is rare for a bottle to get lost for that long a period of time, and since I know what can happen to one if it is, I’m rather diligent on finding them before nightfall (when expeditions are more difficult due to the sleeping inhabitants of the various rooms of the house), but most times, a missing bottle has only rolled under the couch or it is hiding amongst the stuff on the bathroom sink. Transporting a bottle of two-day-old baby formula is a tricky endeavor, best left up to professionals specifically trained to handle such hazardous material. You need the reflexes of a jaguar, the agility of a mountain lion and the cradling care of a mine detector, and what ever you do, don’t unscrew the top to that bottle in open air; you’ll have to sell your house. It is that bad, so much so, that instead of opening it, I’ve had to wrap the offending bottle in a triple layer of plastic, encase it in a block of concrete, then bury it in a six-foot-deep hole in the backyard with a bronze plaque warning all who come near: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” I just pray a Jumanji syndrome doesn’t happen 50 years from now, but throwing it away is much safer than trying to clean it.

Matthew smelled worse when he was younger, as sometimes milk would dribble down into the many folds of his six-layer chin and you could never quite get it all out between baths. And he spit up a lot more than he does now, so I was changing his outfits several times a day when I was on Daddy Duty. Lately, I haven’t had to dab a little Vicks under my nose when I go into his room, so I think the worst is behind us I’m glad to say.

Maybe I’m just getting used to it, but I’d hate to have one of those houses where people visit, I open the door, and they jerk their hand over their mouth and nose, cough with a chortling wheeze and say, “Your house smells like a baby.” I don’t think that’s a compliment.

Then again, smell or no smell (I’d prefer the latter), how can you think ill of such a cute and happy little baby, such as Matthew. I’ve got four other senses that delight in my experience with him, and where I come from, four out of five is a great deal. And if it takes a tiptoe through the tulips with a bottle of rancid formula that’s almost completely turned into cottage cheese in one hand and a diaper that can kill a low-flying bird on a hot sunny day in the other hand, then it is certainly worth it to blow out a few olfactory bulbs in my nose, have perpetual nightly dreams of a giant diaper engulfing Tokyo and have to constantly draw on new eyebrows. So what.

Just because I think babies smell funny and I’m constantly subjected to the pong of being a father, that doesn’t mean I don’t love him; he’s my son, smells and all.

However, he probably thinks I stink too… And some days I do.

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