Let Me Smell Your Bum

This morning’s walk to work had a sort of a ‘Baby’ theme to it.

But only in my own head.

First off, I saw a friend in the distance who will have her first baby soon. I gave her a wave but she didn’t see me. Then I thought a bit about how people use the word ‘baby’ like it is a cutie-pie thing, particularly people in advertising, and how that seems to annoy me a bit. Then, as I was mulling over that little conundrum and crossing the car park simultaneously, I saw a woman taking her child out of her car, presumably to go to the supermarket to do some shopping. There was another older woman too and my assumption was this this was the Mum’s own Mum. The Granny, if you will.

The Mum, not the Mum’s Mum, then proceeded to do that thing that Mums effortlessly do.

I heard her say, “I just need to check her before we go in,” and, with that, she flipped the baby almost upside down and sniffed her nappy region. 

“No,” she said to the Mum’s Mum, “she’s okay,” and off they went towards the shop.

It reminded me of the first moment I saw that routine in action and how shocked and appalled I was at that time. My brother and his wife had recently had their first kid and it was a first kid for all of us. First nephew, first grandson, all of those things. I don’t know what age the baby was when I came home from London to visit but that’s when I first caught the nappy routine. My sister in law, in the middle of a regular conversation, had a noticeable nose-twitch. She grabbed the baby, flipped it a bit, and inhaled deeply of the nappy, nose buried right in there. Whatever she detected there indicated fairly clearly that a nappy change was in order. This was all horrible enough in itself, and totally alien to me, but it was made infinitely worse by her declaiming the immortal words, “Let me smell your bum,” just before she did it.

“Let me smell your bum.”

What planet was this that I had temporarily landed on? What reduction in personal liberty and self-esteem could bring a previously composed and totally together person to the point of smelling bums effortlessly in public and, more than that, loudly declaring to the world a clear intent to do so?

Of course I eventually had to learn this the hard way and learn it I did. While I don’t think I ever got to a cheerful declaration of impending arse-inhaling activity, I too became a parent (twice over) and I too discovered, soon enough, that you couldn’t go around changing expensive nappies on instinct, routine, or timing alone. There had to be the olfactory element. 

Bums had to be sniffed.

It’s a microcosm of the whole baby business, this bum sniffing thing. At least I think it is.

When we become parents, we have to learn stuff. Just when we thought we had learned all the stuff there was to know.

As parents we have to cheerfully do things we thought we could never-ever do.

As parents, we embrace… we just embrace stuff.

This doesn’t go directly to explaining why the eternal commercial sing-song pandering of the word ‘baby’ annoys my own arse. Or maybe it does a little bit. It’s late now and I’m not entirely sure of anything anymore.

What I do know – what I think I know – is that the woman I know who is about to have her first baby is not just about to have a baby. It is so much more than that. You don’t just have a baby and then go on to do something else afterward. She is starting a family and, once started, a family doesn’t ever stop.

Doesn’t ever stop.

It changes your life forever. Long after the 'baby-gro's and the soft toys and the bum sniffing have all gone.

My children are grown now. There are no more babies bums to smell. But the thing that started with those babies, well, it continues. That amazing adventure. The pride, the worry, the anxiety, the fear, the pride – did I say pride – well I’ll say it again. The pride.

That’s it, I think. You don’t just have a baby, a cute wriggly baby to have and to hold until it’s not a baby anymore. You don’t just smell its bum and then somehow move on to something else.

It’s not the beginning of something small and cute and finite, as the commercial world might have us believe.

It’s the start of something very very big.

Something that doesn’t ever stop.


marty47 said...

Hi Ken,you just left an image that will remain with me for days, an old woman dangling a baby upside down sniffing it's ass outside a Tesco car park,surreal but true, I remember my granny doing it,not to me, memory isn't that good. However on the faeces identification aspect, I once heard an old Sligonian remark, as he met a teenager, he hadn't seen for years, 'I knew him when his Sh*t* was green, God Bless Him' I hope you're keeping well Ken
George H

Jim Murdoch said...

When I was a child I didn’t much like my hands being dirty. I wasn’t obsessive about it. I just didn’t like it. My dad was a foreman of a cotton-spinning mill growing up and often went in after hours to work on the machines. Sometimes he’d take me with him and I’d get to roam the place and generally get into as much bother as I could on my own. Once when I was older—I’m guessing about twelve—he took my along to help him with the rollers on the carding machine. Of course the spindles were coated in thick grease and after I’d lifted each one I would get a cloth and wipe my hands even though I was only going to get them messy in a couple of minutes. This, of course, annoyed the hell out of my dad but by then he’d realised I was never going to make a living with my hands which, I know, has nothing to do with bums but bear with me.

Children can afford to be fussbuckets. The older we get the less things like that can be allowed to matter. The practical takes over and we do what needs to be done; we sniff our children’s bums; we wash our parents’ arses. I wonder when I first described something non-excretory as “shit.” It’s a common enough expression these days—“This is shit”—but I don’t suppose those who use said expression think much about what they’re saying. As a child I was disgusted by faeces and I really couldn’t understand what God had been playing at when he designed us. The Bible said all his works are perfect but there seemed much that wasn’t ideal or even pleasant let alone perfect when it came to the process of defecation.

I still say things are shit—well, they are—but mostly these days I think of “shit” as a euphemism for “sad.” It took time but I’m not nearly as disgusted as I once was. Having been peed upon, shat on and thrown up over by my daughter went a long way to helping me get over my disgust. What we will endure for our kids! I mean it’s still disgusting but the word has become softened. It even has its funny side.