The first time I met Digger, I thought his smell was strange, and truth be told, unpleasant, vaguely off-putting. It made me very worried. How could I bond with him if I didn’t like the way he smelt? Was it a fundamental dislike I had sensed? Was adopting him going to unravel because of it?
I love the way my husband smells, and have always done so. I fell in love with it and him at the same time. But with Digger was different. It felt like a barrier I had to break through, and I didn’t know how.
Few months later, the perfume of Digger was as intoxicating and wonderful to me as that of my husband. After a good work out in the park or the playground, it is always that little bit stronger. Especially if the sun is out. I can bury my nose in his soft, wild curls and inhale him. It has become familiar, and completely connected to this little person who I love.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it all changed. I guess I was too busy to dwell it. But by October I found myself in love – he had moved in in August. I imagine I started to like the scent of him sometime in that two-three month window.
Perhaps it was the diet then that initially made him smell so peculiar to me – along the lines of Europeans smelling a lot like old cheese to the Japanese, because of our diary intake as opposed to theirs. And I wonder whether he now smells like us. I guess we smell like a family, The Norwoods. Or perhaps it is simply the love I feel for him. But one thing is certain: It is.
Our Norwood smell would have been an omnipresent signifier of how things had changed. I imagine he must have felt something similar to what I was going through, only he had landed in our world.
No doubt Digger thought we smelt odd at first. As did our house and everything in it. He couldn’t turn away from it.
Digger has a keen sense of smell. Nowhere is it more obvious than when he is trying new food. He is very confident in declaring likes and dislikes. I think smell is at the heart of this. He doesn’t need to taste it to know.
I guess, after a while you grow used to a scent. Or it could continue to grate. Or you begin to love it.
Now when he turns towards me as he falls asleep at night, it is not only the closeness he wants. I sense he wants my smell too. And that it adds to his sense of safety.
In preparation for transition we were told to copy and transfer as much as possible from his foster homes into our house, his new forever home. We were told to begin using the same washing powder and softener as his foster mum, and we did so as soon as we had met her, and continued to do so for months after wards. I still like the particular transition-softener smell very much, and sometimes use it for our towels even now – for sentimental reasons.
I can’t help but to think that it is actually impossible to transfer very much from the foster homes. Bringing the physical things from one home to the new is the easy bit. It is whole context that is difficult to translate and is mostly lost. Because the overwhelming sense and reality of the situation will be changed, forever. This is not to undermine the sound and obvious advice in being very sensitive and in trying. It is to remind myself of just how much these children lose through adoption. As good as everything vanishes overnight. Expect for their little bodies and some physical memories. Smells and scents are but one aspect of it.
We were conscientious to bring some the smell of his foster home with us. And we expected not to wash his bedding for a long while. On Placement Day, the foster mum wasn’t going to let Digger go with dirty laundry, so everything was spinky spam and smelt of her clean home. We left the bedding on for two weeks. Then he peed on it, which neatly ended the discussion of when to wash it.
Whenever we travel we make sure to bring along something with Digger’s distinct smell on it – his pillow, for instance, or better still duvet. And one (or two) of his beloved soft transition bunnies without which he will not leave the house and cannot sleep (we haven’t really tested this – we trust his judgement on the subject). Bringing these items helps him sleep in a new environment.
The only malodour around Digger’s two-year-old self (well… expect an obvious one) is that occasional pungent waft of a too well-loved soft bunny, when he sweetly offered it to our cheeks for comfort. That can be really hard on the old nostrils – stale regurgitated milk and sleep dripple, and whatever else it has been in contact with over the last few days.
I am grateful to Digger’s foster mum that she always kept everything so very clean, that it is easy for me too to stick everything – bar Digger himself, or my husband for that matter – in the washing machine when it needs it, without fear of losing too much redolence.
My sons are still only 7 and 8 years old and ‘that’ blog is hopefully still a few years away. Thankfully they are so far not showing any signs of being ‘allergic’ to soap and water, in fact quite the opposite as they really seem to enjoy their nightly shower and are evidently pleased to emerge from it smelling of some weird and exotic aroma that is current ‘en trend’ in the shampoo and shower gel industry.
In fact it’s one of my favourite things to sit down with them all showered and in their pyjamas for our nightly read together, all three of us huddled together with the odd whiff of coconut, honey, lime, Bamboo Milk… Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup.
But this blog isn’t even about the multitude of artificial smells created to make us part with our money, this blog is about their natural smell.
Yes, they smell.
As a new parent this really surprised me and I can’t help feeling that the surprise was all to do with being an adoptive parent. I now assume that all children must smell and that it is something that I was totally unaware of – or am I misguided and should I be rushing my boys off to a specialist to have them de aroma’d?
I am also assuming that babies and children must carry the smell of their birth parents and consequently the smell goes unnoticed, at least on a conscious level. However to an adoptive parent the smell is new and alien and I will be honest, at times when particularly pungent not all that pleasant and it can take you by surprise.
It is only really noticeable in the early mornings when they are fresh out of bed, having been cocooned under the warm bedding I guess the smell has accumulated and intensified. It is not sweat as that would need to be washed away and this smell simply leaves their body (or no doubt it dulls down and is unnoticeable) as they wind up for the day.
Yes it is certainly a touch of ‘morning breath’ , but the intensity of that clears before they have brushed their teeth too which suggests that it is most definitely not just the regular bad breath we adults wake up with – and inflict on our partners daily.
It is a smell from within and it seems to literally seep from their pores.
I think that maybe we underestimate the importance of smell to us humans and that in fact we are more in tune with this sense than we are aware.
I know that before adopted babies are moved in with a new forever family, the new parents are asked to sleep with a cuddly toy so that the toy takes on their odour, it is then placed in the crib at the foster home, familiarising the baby to its new parents in advance. The theory being that there is then a connection that will comfort the baby in otherwise totally new and alien surroundings.
That’s quite powerful stuff when you think about it and yet so totally obvious too.
We spend so much effort – and indeed money – trying to erase or mask our natural smell that I think perhaps it has misguided us about its importance, maybe we need to use less manufactured odours and look to embrace the natural which is within us all far more readily.
Having said that, it has been a long day and I so need to go take a shower, where did I put that Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup shower gel?
There is a strong current in our society to fix our surroundings. Mainly if they evoke negative feelings. Or if someone just sticks out.
Like my son who likes ballet. Eeeeuw say other five year olds, quick learners. Even adults are stunned. Really? Whose idea was that?? Karate sits better. With boys. But not with girls. We may let these things go. As just not important. We stand up for our children when they are the odd one out. That’s not too difficult, if it is only the after school activity.
What’s more difficult than to keep brushing off unwanted advice is the need to fix raw emotion. Especially anger. I can get angry about stuff. And I can rant. My husband and son can attest to that. And then I just need to vent and rant till I am done. I don’t need the ‘oh, well, never mind’ or the myriad of variations on that. I just need it to be acknowledged.
I fix my husband too. He once shared something with me that really troubled him. And when he finished I ventured how hard it must have been. For the other person. His eyes widened in incredibility. Without a word he turned on his heels and walked out of the room. I thought I’d opened the discussion. When in fact I just shut it down. Oh well… I’ve made many similar mistakes. So it’s not like I don’t recognise the urge. To advice, gloss over, change subject, to keep it light. As we grow up we learn to swallow many a camel. Of un-aknowledged anything.
It’s just that I’ve just about had it with blooming fixing. It stands in the way of so many things. Mainly relationships.
‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND’ my son will shout if I’ve assumed I know how he feels. Assuming too much, or even at all, if talking to an upset person, is just adding fuel to the fire. Pouring gasoline on the fire.
‘Sorry, you’re right. I just tried to fix it. I’m sorry.’
‘Is that a question or an assumption?’ Is an effective, if firm, way of getting things back on track. Depending on tone it may be a downright F U. It generally is.
I’ve learned to defend or deal with unwanted comments and advice. For the most part. I assume people mean well. I assume positive intend. I’ve made a mantra out of it. I sing it to myself when I meet ignorant or rude people. Lord knows I can be ignorant and let’s hope only unintentionally rude.
But sometimes, just sometimes, ignorance just really gets to me. I’m reaching another saturation point.
At the moment it is about the finer details of adoption. Please don’t say it’s all normal. Or that you best friend in childhood was adopted, and you know exactly what it means. ‘He will hate you when he grows up. Because you are not his real mum’ ermmm whatttt? ‘Just you wait. He will.’ And don’t get me started on thing like ‘So he has been with you for 4 years? Then he’s fine. He has forgotten everything.’
Next time you feel that urge to jump in with your opinion. Next time you need to interrupt to get your point across. Try to pause and listen. Don’t correct. Just hear it out. Chances are you may learn something. I tell myself this too. It’s hard. I know.
Ok. Chances are also you’re not interested. You’re just trying to cancel out the noise. Fine. I’ll move on.
But if you are dealing with my son, and hurting him by insisting you know better, soon it’ll be me who shouts
‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!’
Please don’t pretend that you do.
And please don’t just put me down as a fuzzy overthinking mum. Who reads too much. That most definitely isn’t the whole story.
It really does at times feel like listening is too much to ask.
I’m still working on myself on this one. And continue to shallow insults borne of ignorance. Often I’m itching to have the last word. Or explain so people will understand.
Oh well, never mind. They probably won’t. Probably never will.
Really?! Is this where this ends?
I was struck by a weekend away with some friends recently when it slowly dawned on me that in their eyes, my status as a mother was way below their own as ‘biological’ parents.
The experience hurt and surprised me. I had expected that there would be lots to catch up on and share between us all about being new parents but it quickly became clear to me that in their eyes I was in a very separate camp to them.
There was an element of pity and fear for the future when the subject of my son came up and an absence of the sheer joy I had expressed out the birth of their daughter.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe it was not pity but uneasiness. They simply didn’t know how to talk about and enjoy my adoptive motherhood in the same way that they did their own.
Why I wonder does adoption do this to people?
The birth of a child into a family is generally marked with cards and unfettered celebration from family and friends, but as new adoptive parents we don’t seem to warrant this. Some of our friends and relatives don’t know how to behave around us and it makes me sad. Not just for us as parents but for our children too because surely they will pick up on it in some way.
A few months after our sons moved in we went to visit a dear friend who was dying, he had arranged for somebody to buy presents for the boys, he engaged with them and he gave them lots of attention. Even though he was very poorly and in quite a bit of pain he made every effort to smile and welcome them and he clearly left an impression.
Although they saw him only once again they still remember him and talk about him, as far as we know this was the first death the boys had experienced and we did our best to be totally honest and to give them as much understanding that we felt their 5 & 6 years merited.
Of course they had questions, some simple matter of fact queries, others quite deep and difficult to know how to respond to. The most difficult was in response to my saying that death was very natural, that everybody dies and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. To which our 6 year old asked ‘so are you going to die and leave us Daddy?’. They had been with us for just over 6 months at this point and we had been reassuring them almost daily that we were a forever family and that we will always be here for them.
The temptation was of course to say no, which is no doubt what he wanted and maybe even needed to hear, but instinctively I maintained the honest approach we have when confronted with any questions from our sons and said ‘yes of course like everybody else I will die’, but added that hopefully it will be a long time from now when they are both grown up and maybe have families of their own. This appeared to work and seemed to put his mind at rest.
However, the subject of my death did raise its head in little remarks here and there quite a few times over the next couple of months, which made me realise that it was clearly something he was still thinking about and was possibly worrying him.
Eighteens months later the boys experienced another death and this time is was much closer to home when my sister died, she had built a wonderful relationship with the boys and they both thought the world of her and in fact our youngest seemed to have a particularly close bond with his special new Aunty.
Again lots of questions which we answered as honestly as we always have. However 18 months older meant that their questioning had a little more maturity behind it and that they were less willing to simply accept our answers at face value.
My ‘when you are both much older’ was now met with ‘how old Daddy?’ And my response of ‘when you are grown up and both men’ resulted in uncharacteristic on the spot mathematics and them pointing out that I would be nearly 70 when they were 20 and that people died much younger than that, like their Aunty who was only 53.
More attempts at reassurance and I pointed out that both their daddies (we are 2 dads) ate well, that we didn’t smoke, that we drank very little and that we were reasonably healthy which meant that there was nothing to suggest that we would not live until we are in our 80’s and that by then they would probably have children of their own. I also pointed out that their other daddy is almost 8 years younger so would likely be around a lot longer than me.
Again we could see them considering this and then with rather a glum expression we were met with ‘our uncle is older than Aunty and she died first’ A slight pause and then ‘and what if you both die together, who will look after us then?’
At which point we caved in and all our principles disappeared as I replied ‘Don’t be silly, that is never going to happen. I am sure that you will always have both of us and that we will always be able to look after you’.
Not the thruth that I put so much value in of course, but not exactly a lie either. Most importantly though it was clearly the reassurance they both needed as our deaths have not been mentioned since.
Under the Christmas tree this year is a new family! Let me explain. As a gay man family has always been a challenge. However, I would like to think I navigated it quite well, until I adopted. Forever family is key to who we are as a family and now my extended family are fighting with each other. I’m not even going to give that story space. But what I would put under the Christmas tree this year is a new extended family.
I’m pee’d off and I would happily un-wrap a new extended family who I could present to my boys as their new forever extended family. It’s difficult I know but it’s often heightened because it’s Christmas.