As moms we know that sometimes parenthood is no bed of roses. We’ve all had our share of less than fragrant close encounters, from dirty diapers and baby vomit to being stuck in a conversation with someone at the PTA breakfast whose breath smells like they were a little too generous with the onion cream cheese from the bagel platter. At least these situations are usually short-lived events – something we can clean up or excuse ourselves from.
But what happens when the offensive odor makes its way into your home in the form of your son’s pubescent best friend? Most of my son’s friends are at some point on the puberty spectrum: a little peach fuzz here, some voice-changing there, but this poor kid needs help for his B.O. problem, stat!
A thorny issue, to be sure, because what do you say to the little kid you’ve known since the first grade, now sitting at your table scarfing down Mallomars and imbuing your upholstered dining room chair with his big kid stank?
Which brings me to the real question: If you smell something, should you say something?
On this particular afternoon, another one of my son’s friends provided me the opportunity to broach the subject:
“Dude, get your feet away from me! Gross!” one of the kids exclaimed as the three of them were bouncing around in the living room.
“What is that smell?” he proclaimed loudly.
I knew what that smell was – puberty. But what should I do? If it was my son, would I want someone to say something to him? How would my son feel? And would I be offended? Mortified? Embarrassed? Mortified, perhaps, but not offended. And embarrassment never killed anyone, but that stench might prove to be social suicide for this kid.
Perhaps I’d be grateful? Yeah, I’m going with grateful, and eager to rectify the situation as soon as possible. After all, who wants to be the smelly kid in school? Furthermore, who wants to be friends with the smelly kid in school? The boys just called him out on it – if they can smell it so can everyone else. Yes, I was doing him and his friends a solid by saying something.
Stifling my sensitive gag reflex, and armed with a bottle of Febreze, I called him over to the laundry room, out of earshot of the other boys….
“Sometimes I forget to put on clean socks and they start to smell,” he explained.
One whiff of him and I knew this went way beyond smelly socks. This kid was pungent – a mix of sweaty gym bag and stinky armpits, I tried to hold my breath as I smilingly asked him to hold out one foot and then the other so I could spray each sock. While I was at it I took the liberty of just casually crop dusting spraying his pants and shirt too. He didn’t seem to mind. Or be surprised. Has this happened to him before?
I gathered my mom wits about me and went for it:
“You know sweetie, you guys are growing up, and now when you run around and start to sweat, your bodies can get a little stinky, and not just your feet. Um, do you wear any deodorant?”
“Nah, I don’t use any of that stuff,” he laughed.
“Well, maybe it might be a good idea to have a talk with your mom about wearing some, okay? I’m sure there are kids in your class using it already. Because you don’t want other kids telling you smell funny, right? That’s not cool,” I said as nonchalantly as possible.
He thought about this for a fraction of a second, looking a little confused. Oh no, I thought. Have I overstepped?
“Yeah, okay!” he shrugged, bounding brightly away from me and back to play with the other kids.
In that moment it hit me that my tween was hurtling toward teen right along with his friends and there is nothing I can do to stop it; my only option is to just go along for the ride. And be there to guide his hygiene choices.
Will my son’s friend take my advice and stock up on the Axe products? Will he go home and tell his mom that I said her son stinks? I don’t know, but I’m keeping a keen nose out for my kid. And a bottle of Febreze handy.
Because puberty takes its time, and I can’t hold my breath that long.