That Smell is a classic song from the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Released on their 1977 Street Survivors Album. Since I was little, I often find myself mindlessly humming it whenever I encounter an odor. The song is about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. However, as a kid, I could not tell the difference between a skunk and an illegal substance. So, any strange scent found me humming or butchering the lyrics.
When I heard the song, I always imagined Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. His waft of earthiness strewn out behind him as he moved around. The sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd following him wherever he went. In the hands of 70’s era elementary school kids, the song was a weapon of insult to the unkempt.
Recently I came home at the same time as my youngest daughter. She is 11. As she got a snack, we stood together in the kitchen. There was a smell that I could only describe as sour. It emanated from somewhere unknown. I checked the trash. Open cabinets. Even insured it was not penetrating the fridge. Nothing!
Unable to discover the origin of the scent, we left for her rehearsal at a local theater. It was a beautiful Colorado afternoon, so we drove with the windows down. We enjoyed the hints of summer to come on the breeze passing through the car.
After rehearsal, we headed home. The sun had set, and it was much colder, so we left the windows up. I then found myself mindlessly humming. I had discovered the origin of the alien scent. It was my daughter.
At this point, I should reiterate this is my younger daughter. Her older sister is about two and half years older. We have gone through our share of funky smells together. She has the feet of a hobbit; in size and stench. In the summer I cannot even go near her room, without a mask.
I do not feel bad for her. It is the direct result of her refusing to wear socks with her shoes. Yes, mom, this is probably hereditary, but I am the one telling the story here. Plus, she seems to wear the foul fragrance like a badge of honor. That’ll change!
Our younger daughter is more self-conscious than her older sibling. As I sit with her in the car, I know that it is her body odor that I smell. Refrains of “That Smell” creep into my head. Thankfully, I maintain an inside head voice.
With my older daughter, I got out of the menstruation talk. More her choice than mine. We occasionally talk around the subject. But, it is one of the rare occasion where she goes to her mother first. Even though, I am the one that has permanently lost domain over his heating pad. Dad of the year, here I come!
As I sit with my youngest, I realize I am about to have one of those memorable talks. Get it right, and I am a hero. Get it wrong, and she grows up telling her friends, “My dad always said I smelled. I reminded him of some stupid southern rock band.” I don’t want to grow up with my daughter not loving Lynyrd Skynyrd, so I proceed with caution.
I crack my window, as well as hers, to create a subtle cross breeze. I adjust my driving direction home, so the breeze will be upwind of me. Giving me a chance to focus on the conversation. I gently ask her if she put on deodorant at any point today.
She immediately, insists that she is not the smell that we have both been trying to discern. Her protest is a clear admission of guilt. I can tell she has figured it out as well but does not want to admit it.
She is a tough kid. But, in some ways very sensitive. I ensure her that I mean no disrespect. I offer, “wouldn’t you prefer to talk to me about it over being teased, by other kids?” I think to myself, of the kids that may tease her behind her back. I do not want this for her.
I compliment her on the smell of active play and hard work. She is my Star Wars, Tolkien, Marvel loving kid, so, I attempt to meet her on a level playing field. I remind her that she does not want to smell like the innards of a Ton-Ton. That gets her attention.
I suspect the innards of a Ton-Ton are far more pungent, but I am going for effect. At the same time, the wind shifts, and I am forced to adjust our course home once again. Perhaps, I am not too far off in my comparison.
I tell her of personal challenges with sweat glands producing odorless perspiration. How this combines with skin bacteria to cause an odor. I tell of the allure of the corpse flower. How people lined up for hours for a chance to take in its off-putting scent. I explain how this desire comes from a phenomenon known as “benign masochism” according to psychologist Paul Rozin.
He explains this desire to smell stinky things as a “safe threat.” Similar to the sensation that comes from roller coasters, scary movies, the burn of chili pepper or the pain of a firm massage, or the sensation of popping pimples! I am really on a roll. Wowing her with my vast array of googled knowledge. On second thought, it’s probably best my wife continue to give the menstruation talks.
We continue our talk. I encourage her not to be ashamed. Letting her know everyone experiences B.O at times. That I love her no matter what. But, I also tell her, I am her only hope. A human R2-D2 to her Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here with a message that could save the universe; or at least her from a little embarrassment.
When we get home, my daughter and I hug. We talk about remembering deodorant before activity. I tell her that I love her. Adding, even if she does have the breath of a Wookie. But, that’s a conversation for another day. Yes, I have a hard time letting good Star Wars references go when she and I talk.
I laugh when people comment to me about having two girls. Asking, where I keep my shotgun in preparation for young suitors. I inform them that anyone brave enough to get past the smell of middle earth can triumphantly take their hand in marriage.
Of course, only if that is what my girls want. Just because someone passes through the caves beneath the Misty Mountains, past Gollum, once Sméagol, does not mean they get to marry my daughters. But, my older one has assured me that if Zach Efron appears, that she is “outa here.” As for the younger one, I think she is holding out for THOR! I am so proud!
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