It’s never a pleasant surprise to get a call from the school nurse. When that call comes not because your child has fallen off of the swing set or has thrown up in the hallway (the most primal fear of all for the elementary set), but rather because their odor has disrupted the class, well, that’s probably the least pleasant surprise of all. Especially when it happens for the second time.
The first time I got a call about my son, Clyde, smelling too nasty to attend class was when he was in kindergarten and a family of skunks had a domestic disturbance underneath our house. Or maybe it was a swinging skunk party. Either way, everyone in my family was woken up at three am by a smell so dreadful that after a few hours our noses all collectively checked out, and by the time school rolled around none of us could smell anything at all anymore, let alone each other.
A call later that morning from the school nurse told me, however, that the smell was still very apparent to the rest of the world. And, by the way, would I like to take home this pamphlet on “How to Keep a Clean House”? I’m sure she meant well. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be condescending and belittling. And I’m sure that, one day, the story of me standing in the hallway screaming a series of increasingly bizarre sleep-deprived profanities at her—until Clyde’s teacher gently led me outside—will just be another urban myth. Probably.
This most recent odor call, while a little different, was no less mortifying, because this time the odor in question came from Clyde himself. Or, at least, this time the odor was of his own making. You know the adage “a skunk can’t smell its own scent?” Well, as it turns out, it is also true that a boy can’t smell his own feet. That’s right: this time, the smell in question came from Clyde’s feet.
Clyde’s feet (or rather, his shoes) smelled so rank that he was sent to the school nurse (poor woman), who once again called me at home to let me know about the problem. Oh, and by the way, would I like to participate in this program they had for struggling families who couldn’t afford to buy their children new shoes?
Luckily it wasn’t the same nurse, and also luckily my many years of embarrassing incidents with Clyde between kindergarten and middle school had desensitized me quite a bit when it came to accusations of negligence, indigence, and general sloth, but despite being able to keep my temper this time, the feelings of mortification were still the same. Or, at least they were for me. Clyde reacted the exact same way he had in kindergarten: he was beaming with pride. “I smelled so bad I got sent home!” he said to me proudly, both times. It was like he had won an Oscar in Odor, or maybe a Grammy for Gaminess. Either way, he was as proud as could be—a fact that, this time, at least, I tried to get across to the school nurse, to no avail.
“I tried to tell him as gently as possible,” she said. “I didn’t want to embarrass him.”
“Please,” I replied. “Embarrass him. Humiliate him. Bring back the pillory and make an example out of him. Because getting the day off from school will definitely not get the right message across to him.”
I’m not sure she believed me. Of course, the (insincere) look of repentance on Clyde’s face wasn’t helping things. He was even starting to tear up. Or maybe it was just the smell that, in the small room, was starting to get to us all.
Huh. Maybe a skunk can smell his own scent after all.