It started with an offhand comment, one along the lines of comments I’ve heard frequently. “Ethan said I made a smelly,” Cameron said, looking a bit sad and confused. We giggle over ‘toots’ and sometimes laugh and call them ‘stinky toots’. Cameron loves Walter the Farting Dog, and now knows that fart equals toot. I figured he was just upset because he perceived that Ethan was making fun of him in a not-nice way.
Then on the walk home the other day he said something that surprised me. “Something smells aaawwwwful here, Mommy!” Indeed, someone had manured their garden and it did kind of stink. It surprised me as Cameron hasn’t ever really indicated that he has a sense of smell. He’ll say, “Mmm, smells good,” if prompted when supper is cooking. I’ve given him spices to smell, he’ll obligingly sniff at flowers, and if you ask him what he uses his nose for he’ll answer, “Smelling,” but it’s seemed that the concept hasn’t kicked in. So that he volunteered smelling something and evaluated its appeal without my asking and indicating was new!
He confirmed it later that same day. I was in the living room, and he was in the kitchen, chattering something about finishing washing the dishes (yes, by some miracle I had finished the dishes so he could play in the sink). “I’m smelling something, Mommy,” he called, sounding excited. “I’m smelling something!” I gave a routine answer to the effect of “That’s nice, dear,” before it hit me. He meant it! What the heck? Curious, I headed for the kitchen, where Cameron was up on a chair, leaning over the counter, and sniffing the sugar bowl. Not just any sugar bowl – the vanilla sugar, white sugar that’s been sitting for several months now with a vanilla bean in it. He had discovered it on his own as I’d never pointed it out to him, and he clearly really liked this scent! Still later I caught him wandering around with his nose shoved into the envelope of his bubble bath, a wonderful and mild lavender. Today he found my Karma powder from Lush, got some on his hands, and spent the next fifteen minutes sniffing at them.
Perhaps it’s his newfound sense of smell that has done it, but I’m finding myself suddenly more aware of scents myself, and of their effects.
Ripe strawberries at lunch yesterday brought me back to summer-time picking at Saunder’s Farm near home. Bright sun, hot wind, prickly straw, flags showing you where to start, weights squeaked on the bottom of buckets in black felt marker, the soft thump of the first berries going in.
Ice tea powder-mix reminded me of Grandma’s kitchen. Standing on tip-toe, opening the cupboard, Taboo (Tabu?) crankily purring about my ankles – I fed her when we were there, so she kind of sort of maybe almost liked me. She ignored me if I wasn’t in the kitchen.
A whiff of some solvent or other in the lab made me think of the garage from when I was little, cool and damp, Dad puttering around doing something.
That classic hospital-smell in the hallways as I left work reminded me of sleepy nights roaming the ward in BC Womens’ with an as-yet-unnamed newborn son in my arms. Squirmy, sighing in his sleep, as I shuffled around and around.
Tea had leaked out of a paper cup on my desk and dampened a few papers in the recycling bin. The faint odour of spoiling milk brought me back to being a teenager, driving Mom’s car. Julie had spilled milk on the floor; we’d gone for a trip to Kingston I think (or was it Montreal?), I hadn’t cleaned it up, and oh-my it stank. Sorry, Mom!
Plus many other scents that tweak some memory, sometimes so distant and minute that I’m only aware of a familiarity and a feeling that goes with the experience. No words, images, concrete ideas – just a fleeting sensation of “Oh-hey-wow … huh?”
Now that he is over three, Cameron is probably entering the range of what will stay with him as true memories. I can vaguely recall events when I was three, and I’m pretty certain that I can remember my third birthday. Maybe in thirty years he’ll come across vanilla sugar again, and be carried back – feel the cool smoothness of the sugar bowl, hear the ceramic clink as he lifts the ridged lid off, see the turquoise-flecked counter surface or maybe the green wooden chairs? Or maybe he’ll just have a vague, swift memory of the hug I gave him as I explained that it was sugar with vanilla, doesn’t it smell good?