Man Smell

Kim Tracy Prince essays

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My 7-year-old son Kyle has body odor.

He is really 7 and a half, but everyone knows that half year is very important to a kid. He’s been emanating the eye-watering stench of Man Who Does Not Wear Deodorant from time to time for about a year, and I wasn’t ready for it.

It happens about once a week, Kyle’s body odor emanation. We still only bathe him and his 5-(and a half) year-old brother every other night. Kyle’s physical exertion level is only high on certain days:  karate, football, and PE. Those are the days we have to make sure he takes a shower, and that shower must be supervised by an adult for so many reasons, not the least of which is that he refuses to learn the proper ratio of hot and cold water and how to manipulate the shower taps to achieve that ratio.  He insists on showers over baths. 

And we are lazy. There are certain aspects of parenting to which we will never apply a shortcut, but bedtime is not one of them. By then we are usually ready for bed ourselves, and our resistance is weak.

Otherwise, we monitor Kyle’s personal hygiene as required by the code of parenthood. He brushes his teeth twice a day, he washes his face, and when either child comes in the door after school the first thing he must do is wash his hands. In general, he smells just fine. 

Every now and then, though, it sneaks up on us, this foul stink. It sneaks up on Kyle because he cannot smell himself. It sneaks up on me because I don’t often bury my nose in his armpits.  It sneaks up on my husband Stewart because, well, everything that doesn’t involve math sneaks up on him.

And so it was one day last week when Kyle emerged from his classroom after school, visibly upset about an incident involving a calculator (which is a completely different story), walking next to his teacher.  She explained why he was upset, and as she talked a cloud of body odor wafted over my face. My eyes watered and with growing horror all I could think was ohmygodhetotallystinks. My kid was the smelly kid. Nobody with a nose could miss that smell. What must the teacher think? Did the kids in his class tease him or talk about him behind his back?

When we got home I made Kyle march up to the bathroom to wash his armpits and change his shirt, not caring that he had a little girl over for a playdate and she could hear everything I said. Shyness be damned. These kids need to learn about personal care! Luckily, neither of them thought it was weird or funny, and he came downstairs a few minutes later smelling fine. 

The next morning I asked Stewart to put deodorant, or “man smell,” as he refers to it, under Kyle’s arms as he dressed while I put the boys’ things in the car. It was a rare rainy day in Southern California, and I drove them to school instead of walking our usual 1-mile halting stroll during which they complain the entire way, wailing “WHY CAN’T WE DRIVE LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE?!” as I ignore their pitiful cries and trudge up and down the hills, past all the suckers in their cars lined up for the drop-off circle, cutting it dangerously close to when the bell rings. 

No, on this day the rain was cause for celebration. “We’re driving!  We’re driving!” they exclaimed.  As I backed out of the driveway my nose detected “An unforgettable groove pulsed with pepper bourbon, hypnotic black dahlia, soulful woods and masculine musk.”

“Kyle?” I asked to the backseat. “Did Daddy put Man Smell on you this morning?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “But he put Man Spray on me, too!”

It was all I could do not to pull over and put my head in my hands. 

My mother had left a bottle of Unplugged, Jon Bon Jovi’s new fragrance for Avon, next to Stewart’s mouthwash, in a gesture of My husband won’t wear this but maybe yours will before she left town after a 10-day visit. The cologne had come as a set, along with the eau de parfum of the same name for women, which is “A lyrical ballad resonating with bright citrus notes, sensual plum, voluptuous black dahlia and wisps of captivating woods.” I had ordered it for her, knowing that she loves Avon’s fragrances. I hadn’t realized it would include a man version.

My 7-year-old was heading off to second grade wearing cologne. It was not an unpleasant fragrance, but given the strong odor he had been sporting the day before, I imagined his teacher would take note of the new day’s bouquet coming off this little boy.

I am saving my explanation of Man Spray until he’s at least 8 years old. And I’m hiding the bottle. My husband won’t wear it either.


About the Author

Kim Tracy Prince

Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and a goldfish. Well, it’s their goldfish. Her work appears at Notre Dame Magazine, Girl Body Pride, CBS Los Angeles, MomsLA, and on her blog, .

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