Scents have the ability to tickle, jog or finger flick, depending on the situation, our memories. They take us to another time and place; a single whiff of this-or-that can change our mood, make us reach for the phone, long for the beach, or quicken our pace to get to the next stop.

There are smells that I relate back to my childhood – newsprint in a bathroom, certain perfumes, and the smell of a cool, musty Wisconsin basement in August. When I breathe in something similar to the aforementioned smells, I am blasted back to the place where I first, or most often, encountered them, and typically it’s a comforting feeling – a memory from childhood.

A. has quite the ‘sniffer’, and an ability to compare what she smells to something else. We walk into a hardware store, she’ll look at me, look around, and say, “Dad, um, it kind of smells like…” she squints her nose while looking around again, I’m not sure if she has figured out the effect this creates in her presentation, or if she is actually taking in the scent until she can assign a mixed-up combination of objects or foods to it “…lemons and pennies in here”. Okay? Another time, we had raced from a store to the car in a rainstorm, hopped in, A. sat in her seat dry, while drops of water and mist soaked my back and H.’s face respectively. Of course, in the middle of a downpour, H. was adamant about buckling herself in, I fumbled with the straps – putting my hands over hers, stomping my feet in an effort to avoid the rain?, guiding the buckles together, and finally, click – I ran around the car, opened and shut the door, wiped my face, put the key in the ignition, and heard “Dad, it really smells like Grandma’s house and avocados in here” Well, can’t really argue or contribute to that thought – she stunned me into silence. We drove home quietly, trying, in our minds, to fill Grandma’s house with avocados and take a huge whiff, I couldn’t get there.

Whoaaa. What is that smell?

It is in acknowledging that smells trigger memories, and the fact that our daughters are no longer drooling observers of the world, but active participants, that we have become more aware of the smells we have in our home, and where they come from.

I smoke. I don’t smoke around the kids, I typically smoke after they are in bed, and if someone is visiting I go to a secure location, wash my hands and face when I finish, put a few pieces of gum in my mouth, and voila, um, yah, they still totally smell the smoke, but they don’t connect, yet, what the smell is. It’s the smell they smell if they need a glass of water a half hour after bed time, it’s what they smell more often when family is around, and, perhaps, it will one day be the smell of happy memories.

Do I want cigarette, I should have clarified earlier, smoke to be a piece in their olfactory memory making machines? My gut says no. “Well, quit.” you may say, and I’ll reply with a “I know”, and I’ll think about it and move on – curbing my habit for a few days, and then; the phone will ring, it’ll be a familiar voice, and I’ll grab my vice.

My Papa Sense tells me: One day they’ll figure it out, and that will be that, unless I actually quit and put it behind me. I can beat myself up, on many levels, for all of the effects that everything I do will have on our girls, I can live in a pretend bubble of perfection and convince myself that I am in complete control of their future happiness, and that I have to shoulder the weight of their childhood memories, and if I step sideways, gasp, their childhood memories will be tainted, smashed, or not what they could have been. No, no one thing, place, or person will shoulder the weight of those memories. Their memories will be cultivated from a myriad of people, places, and things. Our girls will have fond memories triggered when they step into a ba…, well, actually, where can you smoke these days, wait a sec., by the time they are my age the smell that will trigger some of their memories of me won’t exist. Maybe I should bathe in sulphur. At least they’ll think of me at ‘the end’.

What smells trigger your memories? Do you put too much pressure on yourself to create a picture ‘perfect’ childhood for your kids? Do you steer away from showing your kids who or what you are – in hopes of preserving their pristine image of childhood?

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