April showers bring a lot of things. Among them is one of my favorite smells: the smell of the earth after a rain. There’s even a word for it. Petrichor. It smells simultaneously dirty and clean, cold and warm. It smells alive.
I’m a smell person. I love the moment when I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and inhale a particular scent so deeply that I can inhabit it. Smells are memories. Time machines. There are certain smells that are always home. These smells used to be the smells of places. Now that I’m an adult, home smells like the people that occupy space with me: the smells of my husband, the smells of my children.
There is a unique smell that is my young children at the end of a spring day. As the sunshine lasts well past naptime it pushes back our schedule, extending the day’s play. No matter how long we are outside in the mornings, it isn’t until dusk that this particular smell settles into the tops of their tiny bodies, into their necks, their hair. I catch a whiff as they beeline past me into the open door, swatting away gnats, their lungs out of breath and their bellies hungry.
Like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, my children offer a gourmet assortment of scents. There are some discontinued newborn baby varieties that I was more than happy to see go. There’s that very first smell, before the first bath, that my husband so affectionately referred to as “birth canal.”
There are the usual eye waterers: “old milk,” “curdled spit up in rolly baby neckfolds,” and “dirty diaper.” Then there’s ones that I wish I could keep like scented markers. I would love to uncap their individual sweet, warm, newborn baby smells and scribble them all over us, covering us in the color of simpler days when, even though I didn’t know exactly what they needed, I knew it would always be something that I could give.
As I stand behind them at the sink, helping to wash their hands before eating, I get close enough to fully take in this smell. First, there’s the obvious sweat in their hair, but then there are trees and dirt and grass, sunshine and dropping temperatures. There’s the faintly salty smell of the tear-stains of a long forgotten injury or injustice. There’s the dusty smell of playground sand that spills out of their shoes. There are joy and pride and the magic of their most recent adventure. I relish it. I soak it in, even when it’s a little pungent. This is spring.
This season stretches before us. The days will get longer by mere seconds and minutes and this smell will make way for the smells of summer. Feet sweaty with sand, skin slathered with sunscreen, watermelon and hose water.
I wonder, as I look over their heads into the bathroom mirror, how long will this smell last? Will it return next April? When will it join the ranks of Dreft washed swaddling blankets, of milk breath at midnight? I inhale these children, in all their sweet, dirty chaos. That last bitter note of sweat seems to plunge me forward.
I blink and my children tower over me, the smell of sweat coming from gym bags and underarms, hormones and body hair. It will all go by so fast. It already has. Splashes and laughter and the outside voices they’ve brought in with them call me back to the present. I swoop them up. I spin them around towards the dinner table and I inhale again. I can’t wait to come back to this memory.