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Sun, Jan 17, 2010
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Smells like kid spirit
by Clara Chow

IN THE last, tottering days of 2009, I went on a smelly expedition with my family.

The Singapore Art Museum was exhibiting an unusual piece of art – Filipino artist Christina Goldie Poblador’s The Scent Of Ma-i, made up of 30 different perfumes evoking an aspect of the Philippines – and I wanted to get a whiff of it.

As the Supportive Spouse and our two sons loitered around me, I sniffed my way through the installation, which was set up like a perfume shop, with the scents encased in handmade glass bottles of fantastical and grotesque shapes.

Not one to turn my nose up at the more unpleasant smells, I diligently inhaled chemical compositions with names like Squalor and Opulence.

Meanwhile, my 31/2-year-old son, Julian, yet to be potty-trained, had made a mess in his diapers, and the pong of his poo assailed my delicate nostrils, so recently opened and receptive to new adventures.

Since that museum visit, I’ve been thinking of the smells – both pungent and fragrant – that have punctuated my life.

What if I could bottle them?

There’s the scent of my children’s heads, which I think I’d call Utter Contentment.

It’s milk and kisses, with a hint of Johnson’s Baby Bath, distilled from two-month-old Lucien, mixed with Julian’s playful, sweaty odour.

Pregnancy, if manifested as golden liquid in a swollen crystal vial on my dressing table, would smell of garlic, mothballs and whisky (things that made me nauseous when I was expecting Lucien), with a bubbly top note of saccharin-sweet Coke (my craving).

Awesome Fun is the greasy tang of Julian’s face-painting kit, as he brushes cat’s whiskers on my cheeks like a make-up artist.

The funk of a bad egg can be stoppered up and marketed as Proud Daffy Mummy if I owned a perfume bar.

After Julian and his Dad did an art-and-craft project, turning a hard-boiled egg with markers and coloured paper into a fat man, I happily displayed the fruits of their labour in our antique cabinet, and promptly forgot about it.

That is, until the horrible smell from the rotten egg seeped out from under the glass cabinet doors, and lingered in our home for days.

I’m still not quite sure exactly how Fury or Regret should smell.

But I'm betting that it’d be a little like the near-odourless flavour of the breast milk I once spent an hour expressing for my baby’s next meal – and then spilt clumsily all over my kitchen counter.

How about Holiday?

It’d smell like a potpourri of the salty brace of ocean spray, the metallic whiff of zinc oxide in sunblock lotions, pool chlorine, club sandwiches and the lemony-ylang-ylang-lavender complimentary bath gels that we pour into hotel-room tubs as Julian and his Papa soak in hot water.

It’s a complex perfume that reacts with your skin to morph into the delicious aroma of ramen in Tokyo, Peking duck in a Bejing hutong, and the crispness in the air on a spring-picnic day in Manhattan’s Central Park.

Then, there’s Love.

Ah, elusive, heady, multi-million-dollar Love. Romance is a bouquet of hospital delivery suite – the blue of disinfectant, the yellow of anaesthesia, the green of nerves – molten chocolate at stolen lunches away from the kids, the charged ions of TV and DVDs during Mad Men and Gossip Girl marathons, spectacular farts that balloon and suck up all the air in a room, and the damp smell of wet towels and steamy showers that accompany us in our day-to-day living.

Unconditional Love, however, is the smell of alcohol on the Supportive Spouse’s breath, the trace of jojoba oil on baby wipes, and the emanation from our new-ish sofa, as he does the late night feeds, cradling Lucien in his arms in the living room, after a long day at work that segued into a business event at night.

It is the smell of cheese and omelettes as Father and First-born Son invent recipes together on Sunday afternoons.

And the odd, unmistakeable olfactory tickle of drool on pillow, as our family snores together in the same bed, night after night.

So, as we begin another adventure into the year 2010, there’s no nose-ing what the next 365 days will bring.

But I resolve that, be they good or bad, nice or yucky, I’ll be embracing these odoriferous experiences and turning them into priceless memories.

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