It was an evening before bed time like any other. The kids and I were having our ritual storytelling session when I caught a whiff of something funny in the air.
I halted my reading mid-sentence. Automatically, being an extremely self-conscious individual, I brought the collar of my tee-shirt up to my nose and breathed in. Nothing wrong with the way I smelled. Relieved, I continued reading as though nothing happened.
Megan did not allow me to continue. She risked being scolded by me for interrupting to ask her question. “MaMa, (bringing the collar of her pyjamas top to her nose as I did), why did you do this?”
Exasperated by her interruption and mildly irritated that her eyes were so sharp, I had no choice but to explain that I smelled something funny and thought it came from me.
Matthew, being curious, immediately bent his head to smell me (my tee shirt) and declared I didn’t smell funny.
Megan, not to be outdone, also bent her head and smelled the other side of me. Nothing funny there either. I smelled like me.
Finally, with all the sniffing done and curiosity satiated, I wanted to return to the storytelling. Again, Megan would not let me.
She said with slightly downcast eyes and an embarrassed look on her face, “Erm, MaMa, I think it’s my tee shirt…” as she held up the collar to her pyjamas top.
In retrospect, I had probably reacted more than I should have. But I have always been very conscious of body smells and I immediately took a corner of her tee shirt and sniffed. Yup, origin of smell identified. Megan was right. I opened my mouth in an attempt to explain.
Matthew, being nosy and with all the insensitivity gathered in a 6yo boy, appeared out in front of Megan. With lightning speed, he pulled Megan’s tee-shirt sleeve to his nose and sniffed. “Yah, the funny smell is from MeiMei!” he exclaimed in his high-pitched booming voice.
With a half-stricken look on her face, Megan implored me with her eyes. Activating damage control mode, I quickly explained the ‘funny’ smell came about because Megan had chosen a pyjamas top she had not worn for a long time and hence the top had gotten the woody smell of the wardrobe. It was normal for a humid country we live in, but I did not elaborate.
I could literally see Megan’s troubled eyes clear up a little as she ascertained there was nothing wrong with her. With all the sensitivity of a 4yo girl, she reached out to me for a bear hug and I gladly obliged. I stroked her bony back and patted her hair; she hugged me for a while before letting go.
It never occurred to me that a 4yo girl is already so self-conscious of herself, but I am happy I realise it now. Because I will have to tread more carefully around this little package of sensitivity from now on, and teach her to be comfortable in her own skin (and reinforcing my own value at the same time). And I will also have to watch that the other little package of insensitivity does not embarrass his little sister too much. The problem with having kids of both genders. Double the diversity, double the confusion…