One minute my cluttered kitchen was a hub of after school chit chat complete with new stacks of artwork slightly wrinkled in the clutches of Reggie and Curly - evidence of the rapidly approaching end of school year. These two attend the building with an earlier dismissal time and arrive home by bus before the junior high kids waltz in from their 3 block trek home. Reggie's voice trailed off. He was aware that sharing his proud accomplishments during field days couldn't compete with Curly's out-of-the-blue tooth loss. Curly had taken one crunchy bite out of the bowl of Oat Squares that she had just poured herself and calmly announced that a tooth was loose. (Times they are a changing: these younger kids are a new breed. Products of their circumstances. They help themselves to their after school snacks after learning from experience that if they wait on my waitressing skills starvation might become their new reality). Her relaxed state ramped up a bit when Reggie pointed out that she had blood dripping down her chin. She hesitated, unsure if she wanted me to pull it. Not much to discuss as it fell into my hand. I tuned back into Reggie's 3rd grade running record at field days as I handed a now excited Curly a wet paper towel. Eddie burst into the kitchen fresh from the 8th grade graduation pool party he attended all day. I quizzed him on what his definition of 'reapply' meant as I pointed out that his bright pink skin had replaced the pale white skin he sported as he left the house that morning. It was clear that he had blatantly ignored the warnings Coach and I had both offered. Pretty sure our 'reapply' message was audible. (It would be hours before I made contact with Laddie. After completing one exam, I discovered that he chose to spend the sunny day at a friend's house in lieu of studying for the rest of his finals.) A minute later Tentonka staggered in- sweaty from the short walk home from school with a mostly empty back pack. Before I asked about his field trip experience, I questioned where Mini was. He mumbled something about her not being able to keep up.
That's when it hit me. No exaggeration. It HIT me. B.O. Not one to point fingers, I checked myself first. I had enjoyed some quiet time soaking up the sun's rays on the deck. Negative. I grabbed Eddie as he was the next closest to me. Negative. Despite being across the room from me, I identified the source as Tetonka. He knew the look but failed to recognize what he was guilty of. His neon yellow, polyester shirt had absorbed the stench from the armpit area and redistributed it to every fiber of the garment. The entire shirt wreaked. It was offensive. Although I already knew the answer, I asked him if he had used deodorant that morning. I believe his response included 'recently'. I'm fuzzy on which day he identified as a deodorant worthy day. Perhaps the fumes interfered with my memory function.
As a substitute teacher in another district across town from my kids' school, I tend to accept the jobs in the junior high building. I prefer to distance myself from the lower grade students and their issues: incessant whining, chilly recess duty, running noses, and widespread tattling. Other circumstances go hand in hand with junior high assignments. Wardrobe malfunctions, attitudes, yoga pants, attitudes, laziness, attitudes, vulgarity, and body odor. I walk the room trying to pinpoint who the B.O. culprit is. A tricky practice because there is often more than one offender. Some assignments are boring, so playing locate the smelly kid can pass the time. First of all, why do they insist on wearing hooded sweatshirts in the sweltering days of May and June? In a school with no air conditioning?! Not much to do once you know which desk to steer clear of except watch the clock and anxiously await the bell to ring.
I explained to Tetonka that I never wanted 'that kid' to be MY kid. He swore no one noticed. No one said anything. Not commenting on your body odor (shocking for a group of preteen 6th graders who specialize in being cruel) and not catching a whiff are two different things. Unless the bus ride to the field trip delivered some kind of exhaust-fume numbing that killed their olfactory abilities for the remainder of the day, people noticed. I itched to draft an email apologizing for my son's hygiene (or lack thereof) to some of his teachers. I settled for correcting the situation and educating my 12 year old on the basics of self-care. Really, it was more of a review, because he owns deodorant, has been instructed on how and when to use it, and has heard gentle reminders. Consider the gentle days a thing of the past.
In his haste to escape the family's nose holding, Tetonka disappeared to change his shirt. He failed to shower first, and he reappeared in the kitchen still smelling. He claimed to have utilized deodorant before he donned the clean shirt. Same smell, different shirt. New problem. Smelly shirt number two would just add to my laundry pile. I pointed out that he needed to wash out his pits before he put on deodorant. He disagreed. This was not counting as a teachable moment. I took the younger three kids to the pool for an hour. I took it as an opportunity for fresh air and a chance to escape his refusal to handle things correctly. When I arrived home, Tetonka promised that he had showered while I was gone. Shirt number three. Then he cut the grass. He stunk to high heaven when he came inside. Apparently he believed that since he had put on several layers of deodorant prior to his shower, he was covered. Coach shook his head. We explained that a swipe of the deodorant doesn't offer a week's worth of protection. A lesson a lobster-like Eddie needed to learn about sunscreen.
That night as he gathered his things to bring to the bathroom for his shower, he shared with me that he was bringing his deodorant with him, and he planned to use it. His voice was muffled. I strained to hear his message as I lay under the laundry pile that had toppled over on me. I noted that there were several ripe shirts that were suffocating me.