“Did I forget deodorant today?” I asked myself as my kids ran past me playing hide-and-go-seek in the women’s section of the department store. I stood amidst the clothing and discreetly bent my head toward my armpit to take a sniff. Oh good, not me. “Someone really stinks,” I said to myself, then felt bad about thinking that, as I am always striving to be a less judgmental person.
Later that night on the couch, the same onion-like aroma wafted my way again. “What the heck!” I said (out loud this time) and took a deep inhale of my armpit. My nine-year-old son looked away from the TV with one eyebrow raised. Right then it dawned on me. “Come here,” I said to him, “let me smell you!” I had him raise his arm, inhaled, and to my amazement, his little hairless pit was odorous. “What are you doing, mom?” he asked, because of course it was quite unnatural for one person to be inspecting another in this way.
I hit pause in this moment. I’m glad I did, because my son is very sensitive. His feelings are hurt so easily, and I didn’t want him to feel ashamed. But in all honesty I really wasn’t sure how to handle this and needed a second to gather my thoughts. The baby books I read all stopped well before the age of nine. After a deep breath, I came up with the best answer I could. I told him he was getting a little bit older and with that came some normal body changes like getting stinky in places such as under arms. Now the fun part comes, like using deodorant like mom and dad. “Do you want to pick one out on Amazon?” I asked. He shrugged and was happy to be able to buy something on my phone, something he sees me doing almost every day.
He didn’t cry and that was good enough for me. But then I found myself in a panic. Are children supposed to have body odor this young? Was I too soon to jump into giving him deodorant? I immediately texted two of my friends. One of them told me her daughter had been using it since the first grade. Another told me her kids started around 9-10 years old. The internet also eased some of my fears, but it all just seemed so fast — he’s so young. Why didn’t someone warn me? “Here’s your baby, ma’am, and when we say it all happens fast, we mean that he will still look like a young child but he will start to mature before you want him to.” That’s the statement that makes more sense to me now.
My son has always been very responsible and follows the rules and pays attention but at a recent dentist appointment I found out that his memory regarding hygiene is apparently very short. When the hygienist asked if he was brushing twice a day, she was probably expecting a simple nod from my nine-year-old. As was I, his mother, who sends him off to the bathroom to do this task every morning and every night. Instead, a sly smile came across his face and he shrugged. I felt like Homer Simpson in that moment: “why you little!!!!”
I shook my head and decided a nice lengthy talk about cavities would have to be had yet again. I jokingly said, “Well, at least he knows how to use soap!” At which point this child had the audacity to turn to me and ask, “Which one is the soap?” I’m sure my embarrassment was audible at that moment. Against my better judgment I asked, “What about shampoo?”
“I don’t know what any of the bottles are, Mom.”
My son had been showering on his own for at least three years by this point. We had taught him how to use a washcloth and soap, the sequence of shampoo followed by thorough rinsing. But somewhere between little boy and tween, he either decided to stop or simply forgot. Lesson learned: As kids get older, they might need reminders every once in a while about the basics. I’m setting my alarm for a year from now labeled simply: teeth/shampoo/soap.
In some ways, I still see my firstborn baby when I look at him. When he is quiet or when he laughs, he has the same face to me. But I’m noticing many big changes in him almost daily as well — which I didn’t realize would be so difficult to face. He’s starting to take a different interest in girls, and he asks more complicated and in-depth questions about life. He tries to participate in every conversation my husband and I are having. I want to tell him to hold onto his childhood, but that’s because I know the struggles that lie ahead in the teen years and beyond.
It’s only natural he wants to grow and explore. It’s a privilege to watch him mature and become his own person. But I want to kick and scream because even though almost every single person who finds out I’m a parent tells me it all happens so fast, how can anyone possibly know what that means until they are in the moment? An open dialogue about these later years is important because I need more warning about what else is coming down the road. I’m always happy to share what I’m learning along the way as well even though most of the time it might read like a horror story. The lesson of this particular story is though my bright funny intelligent son doesn’t always want to hug me anymore he apparently still needs me, and I’m more than okay with that.
Chandi Kelsey is a wife and mother two and she had her family live in the metro Detroit area. She works as a physical therapist and in her spare time enjoys reading, baking and writing in her blog mommingonfumes.com.