Care and Feeding

When Will Everything Stop Smelling Like Poop?

I am gonna lose it.

Mother changing diaper smelling poop.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

When does the phantom poop smell end? Both of my kids (3 years and 18 months) are not yet potty trained. And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, we have a 4-month-old puppy also going to the bathroom literally everywhere. At work, commuting in the car, after kiddos are asleep … I smell poop. I understand that smell is the sense most tied to memory, so I know why I’m smelling poop that isn’t there, but when does it end? I’m hoping they can both be potty trained in about a year, so how long after that do I get the smell of poop (and puke!) out of my nose and hippocampus?

—When Will I Smell the Roses Again?

Dear WWIStRA,

Oh, you poor thing, you are right in the belly of the beast! Smells, as many of us learned to our absolute horror, are from tiny molecules that enter our noses from whatever the thing you’re smelling is, so it’s likely that what you’re smelling is more real than not. Your life is poop, and let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much poop to spoil a party. It’s in your head, sure, but isn’t everything, as Fiona Apple once told us?

Look, we don’t need to delve into the science of smell (I mean, also watch the famous Burnt Toast! Canadian Heritage Minute) to come up with a solution here. This time will pass, but why not nudge it along a bit? People who work in really smelly jobs (forensic science! clearing fatbergs from the sewers of Paris!) have sworn by a li’l dab of Vicks VapoRub under their nostrils for longer than you’ve been alive, and it really does do the trick. If you find VapoRub too irritating or intense, there are a variety of pleasant oils that should work. Use gingerly; you don’t want to start giving everyone at work an asthma attack from Way Too Much Lavender.

Something else worth a shot in your home is Ozium, which is what we all would like Febreze to be. If it’s good enough for weed grow-ops, it’s good enough for you. I hope things smell much fresher to you, and soon.

Dear Care and Feeding,

It’s a little early, but my son’s first birthday and Christmas are only a few weeks apart. Any advice on how to manage this? We don’t want him to be inundated with gifts for the whole month of December, but we also don’t want him to feel like no one cares it’s his birthday.

—Happy Medium

Dear HM,

For starters, immediately stop worrying about this until he’s 3, because he doesn’t yet know or care, and also a gap of “a few weeks” is a billion years to a baby.

It’s still a decent amount of time to an older kid! The people who really wind up boned are those whose birthday is the week of Christmas. My Uncle Wayne is one of these, and to this day if someone says, “This can be your birthday present too!” he gets a flashback to being a dejected young lad always getting the short end of the gift stick.

Your son only has one birthday. It could be in June, but instead it’s in December. Give the young lad whatever you want to give him for each birthday and each Christmas, and try to stop even thinking about “too many December presents.”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My day care provider just called me in hysterics because, during a walk with the kids, my son just ran away from her and across a busy road. Thankfully nothing happened, but when she got him back, she firmly told him how he can’t do that and told him they had to walk together. Well, he did it again to her. He refused to listen.

He does this with my husband too and has done it to me once. I don’t think those times ever involved running across a road. How can I possibly explain to him how serious this is? We live on a corner of a fairly busy street, and this new problem is seriously freaking me out. He often does it when we aren’t in a position to run after him, like if I’m holding his baby sister, or in the day care lady’s case, when she’s pulling a wagon with a couple of 2-year-olds.

—STOP

Dear STOP,

Like any parent, my heart stopped when I pictured your little son running merrily into traffic. You are very correct that this is extremely serious and needs to be handled … yesterday.

This is what the backpack leashes are for. This exact thing. He will be annoyed! He will say he’s not a baby! Tough tit, kid. Prepare to reap what you have sowed.

“My child isn’t a dog!” a lady will sniff at you. Well, bully for her. Your child isn’t running into traffic, so we’re both happy.

This will not take that long, I can assure you. Your son doesn’t want to be wearing the backpack leash. “I don’t want you to wear it either, my dear boy! If only we could trust you.”

You’ll have a more attentive child in no time.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old son is an active, loud, happy boy who has major struggles with impulse control when he’s angry, which has led to some issues at school with hitting and yelling at his peers. It’s something we’ve been working on with the school and with his teachers. Today, my son told me, “When I’m mean to my friends, that means I’m a bully. Mommy, I’m a bully.” When I asked him who told him that, he told me which teacher it was.

My first reaction was incredible anger—the words we use matter and how we talk to our kids about their behavior (as opposed to their person) is important. I’m furious that anyone would call a 3-year-old a bully, even if the child is engaging in bullying behavior. I’m inclined to write to the director and discuss my disappointment and how I expect staff to talk about bad behavior moving forward.

Or is this an emotional overreaction? I’m also very cognizant of how sensitive I am about his behavior, for all sorts of complicated reasons. So maybe this isn’t as bad as it seems?

—Not the Mother of a Bully

Dear NtMoaB,

Let’s turn the heat way, way down on your emotional stove. You honestly have no idea what this teacher said to your child. He’s 3. Kids that age deliver nuggets of utterly fictional wisdom every day. If you don’t believe me, wait until your son tells his preschool teacher that you like to drink in the bathtub every night and you steal cars.

What we know is a problem is the little guy’s conduct at school, which is unacceptable and needs to be taken very seriously, regardless of your sensitivity. You need to schedule (another) meeting with his teachers to make sure you’re on the same page. I think it’s entirely likely the teacher in question said that being mean to his friends was bullying, not that he was a bully. Regardless, it will be very easy in a meeting that isn’t immediately antagonistic and defensive for you to say, “We’re really trying to focus on talking to Billy about how it’s his actions and not him as a person that we’re unhappy with.” Definitely do not go in guns blazing. I promise you’ll have a much better outcome, and you can save your mama-bear energy for a real fight.

—Nicole