It makes sense that the nose knows

Other parents brag about their kids who are doctors and lawyers. We brag about our kid who can tell what you had for breakfast.

Little did we know when we welcomed a baby girl into this world years ago that she would grow up to have a fantastic sense of smell.

She often fine-tunes this ability on her sister. She slowly approaches, circles once, sniffs twice and says, “You had bacon for breakfast, didn’t you?”

Told she is wrong, she leans in close then says, “Sausage!”

She’s good. Very good. It’s entertaining. Until it becomes scary.

It’s one thing when she can pinpoint a natural gas leak by the curb, but quite another when she asks when you changed your shampoo and conditioner. Not “if,” but “when.”

The last time we bought donuts she announced that whoever made them was a smoker. She insisted she could smell cigarette smoke mingling with the glaze. She was still sniffing while the rest of us were eating.

We all have our talents and quirks. Sometimes it is a fine line between the two.

She can smell horses after someone has been horseback riding, can walk in a house, deduce that the house was recently cleaned and guess what products were used with 90 percent accuracy.

Recently, she walked into our house and asked if I’d made bruschetta because she smelled basil.

If only there were a smell category on Jeopardy. “I’ll take herbs and kitchen smells for 1,000 please.”

As parents, we may have missed the boat. We could have guided her onto a career track for a perfumer or sommelier.

Her girls try to emulate her olfactory abilities. The other day one of them announced she smelled Spanish rice on me.

I said I was offended.

She said, “Don’t be offended, Grandma. Spanish rice is a very popular dish.”

It’s always reassuring to know I’m keeping up with the trends.

Her mother walked over and said it was not Spanish rice, it was garlic.

Bingo. I was wearing an apron I last wore making a stir fry.

Her girls may indeed have inherited her sense of taste and smell. From the time they were little, I would often set one of them on the counter to be a taste tester when making guacamole.

“More lemon juice? More cilantro?”

It was like having personal sous chefs—short sous chefs that were not allowed to use the stove or sharp knives, but still.

The other day our daughter with the nose that knows walked in and told her dad she could smell that he had been rummaging through old photo albums and books.

He had.

And she wonders why we sometimes keep our distance.

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Now entering the “no fly” zone

The official start to summer is still weeks away but the insects have already declared, “Game on!”

The husband was cutting the grass, felt something stinging his neck, smacked the back of his neck with his hand and discovered fire ants.

They were flat and one-dimensional, but you could still tell they were fire ants.

We have an entire plastic tub full of assorted insect repellents, citronella candles and battery-powered cannisters that emit some kind of waves that apparently play obnoxious music and send insects into your neighbors’ yards.

None of it works.

I’ve even tried powers of persuasion with the insects, posting little signs in the grass and shrubs that say, “Red Meat is Bad for You” and “Go Vegan!”

The response has been, well, crickets.

I can’t stand them either.

The signs weren’t great, but I made them up on the fly. Like they care. Or the mosquitoes or the gnats, or any of them.

So it is that I have once again reverted to my old standby, “Get them before they get you.”

It is a philosophy I came by some years ago after considerable itching, scratching, prescription ointments and a spider bite that festered and sporadically erupted in the crook of my arm for five long months.

Because I am aggressive with insects, I am the one the grandkids come to for expertise. They make for a good cheering section, but few of them are willing to embrace my methods.

“If it is tiny, you just make a fist and smack it,” I explain.

This is met with screaming, whimpering and gagging.

“If it is in the house, up high and out of reach, you get the vacuum and use the hose extension. It works 99.9 percent of the time, and the insect simply believes it has entered a wind tunnel ride at a theme park.”

So I open up the Sunday paper and not only is there an entire section on “beasts that feast,” but there is an actual bug on the page! If I wasn’t paranoid already . . .

We always have a few centipedes that make their way into the house after a wet spring, shooting out of a dark corner at night or early in the morning. You do not squash a centipede with a balled fist. You stomp it with your shoe and then you hop to the kitchen on one foot for six paper towels. One paper towel is to clean the remains of the centipede on the hardwood, the other five are for cleaning the bottom of your shoe.

The most dreaded insect is the nymph tick, a tiny tick the size of a poppyseed. Everyone in the family knows to check for them after being in the woods. It is a special challenge to check for tiny ticks on aging skin with all kinds of tiny freckles, moles and age spots. Even with a magnifying glass. Even for a dermatologist.

We have been to funerals where grandchildren have shared lovely memories of things their grandpa or grandma taught them – how to invest in the stock market, identify morel mushrooms, shoot baskets and drive a combine. I will be the grandma who taught kids how to kill bugs.

I’m just glad I’m still useful.

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Screens fly searching for boundaries and good mental health

Every day my inbox fills with emails from public relations firms, angling for a plug for an author’s book or a new study on children. I delete most of them as quickly as they appear, but I nearly always read the ones on youth and mental health.

Suffice it to say the findings are not good. I often ponder over them, as we have a whole string of grandchildren (none of whom yet have a cell phone) poised to enter the teen years.

There is a corollary between the rise in popularity of screens among teens and feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression and the unspeakable.

The Digital Age has been a phenomenal asset to business and industry. It has put libraries and the world at our fingertips. But we will always be humans who were made for other humans – from the first breath of life.

In mere days following birth, the pupils of newborns’ eyes often enlarge when they connect with a mother’s face. Pupil enlargement is a physiological response to happiness and pleasure. In the case of a newborn, that pleasure is recognizing a familiar face and sensing a feeding may soon follow. A baby can sense the goodness of human presence, touch and care. We all can.

The opposite of that human connection would be feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

If the teen charged with perpetrating horror and evil in Buffalo, New York, is like others who have committed similar atrocities, they will likely find he is a loner who spent excessive amounts of time online and on the fringe.

Only a minuscule fraction of those who spend excessive time online become unhinged, yet the digital revolution has had an impact on all of us, our families and our relationships. Phones and screens can connect us in marvelous ways and shorten the miles between us, but they also separate us and partition us. We can now be in the same room with one another but worlds apart. Sometimes literally.

Greater measures of privacy, and even dark vaults of secrecy, are available at younger ages, Phones have transitioned from accessories to central command centers. Our response time to every ding, chime and vibration makes Pavlov’s dogs look like slackers.

In doing research for his wonderful book, “The Tech-Wise Family,” author Andy Crouch asked teens what the one thing was that they would like to change about their relationship with their parents if they could.

The number one answer was that they wished their parents would spend less time on their phones and more time talking with them.

Young people aren’t the only ones grappling with boundaries on screen time.

A mother of three adolescent girls and I were talking about phones, screens and the dark side of social media. She wondered if some of the devastating effects have become obvious enough that the next generation will be more cautious, more discerning, a bit more judicious.

They could. But parents will have to lead the way.

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Caution, Grandpa on wheels

It’s not every day a kid walks into the kitchen and says, “Did you know Grandpa is outside rollerblading?”

I did not know he was outside rollerblading. I did not know he knew how to rollerblade.

To understand why a man three score and ten, a man who has never been on rollerblades in his life was outside rollerblading, you have to understand how he thinks.

He thinks thoroughly and explains thoroughly. And if he thinks you haven’t grasped his thorough explanations, he will draw a chart or a diagram, or give a demonstration. His modus operandi has always been “teach, tell, show.” It’s a good system.

Some of the grands discovered their mother’s old rollerblades, brought them over, found a pair in our garage as well, and were trying to rollerblade.

“How is he doing?” I asked the one who had come inside to file a report.

“Not very well. I think you should come outside and see for yourself. He’s very wobbly, so we’re trying to hold him up to keep him from falling.”

Her eyes grow big and she says, “And, Grandma, cars are slowing down and drivers are staring.”

I follow her outside and see she has described the situation accurately. Traffic hasn’t backed up all the way to the corner, but it is definitely slowing and drivers are gawking.

“I didn’t know you knew how to rollerblade,” I say to the man with his feet jammed into rollerblades too small, the man with a child on either side of him, each gripping an arm, holding him steady.

“I ice skated,” he says.

“I remember that now. College, right? You broke your ankle?”

Suddenly, he can no longer hear me.

“I played softball in high school gym class,” I say, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try out for the major leagues. Why are you doing this?”

“To show them how.”

Of course—teach, tell, show.

“I’m sorry, but they are helping hold you up. How is this instructive?”

“I know some basics and they’re not propelling themselves forward correctly. I tried to explain it and they didn’t get it, so now I am showing them. They need to push off with their back leg at an angle.”

He then pushes off with his right leg, throwing it out at an angle behind him, then abruptly careens left—

“The grass, the grass!” I yell. “Fall on the grass, not the concrete!”

He makes a last-second save and regains his balance.

After few more demos of questionable value, the girls put the rollerblades back on and are gliding with a near grace.

Their instructor proudly wears a look that says, “Mission Accomplished,” and will no doubt be looking for new challenges.

If you see a retired guy with salt and pepper hair who looks out of place at a skate park, I don’t even want to know.

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The best and hardest job you may ever have

It was C day in kindergarten recently. C being for career, kids came dressed as the career they wanted to have when they grew up.

A 6-year-old granddaughter who sports a mop of curly auburn hair, eats like food is a full-body contact sport, yet is built like a string bean, went wearing jeans, a long sleeve shirt, her hair pulled back with a pink polka dot headband, a green apron, a yellow baby carrier strapped to her chest on top of the apron, a Madeline doll tucked inside the baby carrier and a toy cell phone protruding from a back pocket.

Mom. That’s what she wants to be when she grows up. A mother. Just like her mother.

Did I mention that the kid is sweet, funny, playful—and can shoot a look that can melt steel?

The school never called, so I guess nobody challenged her on wanting to be a mom. Nobody told her to aim higher or to think outside the box.

The kid is already in training. The family has an aquarium full of fish. She keeps a close eye on them—monitoring them, watching them, naming them, predicting which ones will have the next babies and telling her dad when some of the fish are bullies and nibble on another fish’s fins.

Fish today, infants tomorrow. Everybody starts somewhere, right?

What does it take to be a mom? You know, besides cute headbands and a cell phone in your rear pocket?

It takes everything—everything you’re willing to give, everything you’re not willing to give, and then some. If you’ve ever seen one of those old iron rug beaters women used a century ago to beat carpets with, that’s what being a mom feels like somedays. There are days when motherhood simply beats everything you’ve got right out of you.

Of course, there are also wonderful, memorable, frozen-in-time days, receiving sweet hand-written notes and drawings of yourself where you look like an alien. Days when someone picked the towels off the bathroom floor without being told. An adolescent opens up without the slightest coercion. Someone says thank you. A grown child phones just to check in and say hello.

Like all of life, motherhood is a mix. At times, being a mom may be the hardest job you’ll ever have, the greatest heartache you may ever know and the deepest well of joy and satisfaction you could ever imagine.

There are days motherhood fills your heart with such love and wonder that you think you might just explode. But you don’t. Because after you exploded, you’d be the one cleaning it up.

One of the greatest things any mother can teach a child is how to keep  going through every sort of day, rain or shine.

Happy Mother’s Day, moms. Keep going.


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