My teenager is trying to kill me. Really.
It’s a slow, torturous murder that he’s attempting instead of the quick but unsuccessful ways he’s tried in the past (childbirth, sharing assorted childhood illnesses, learning to drive, dating awful girls, and that certain stroke-worthy report card in 11th grade).
This time, his weapon of choice is an object of olfactory oblivion which is no doubt banned in 17 countries: against all that’s decent, he’s begun wearing Axe body spray.
The makers of Axe are accomplices in this evil deed, choosing attractive young girls to push samples of their product on unsuspecting guys at the mall. Notice that they don’t send the ugly girls for this job. Oh no. If complete and total obliteration of parents is the goal, you’re going to need the pretty girls for that. That’s how my son became hooked.
I knew I was in trouble when he came home from the mall one evening wearing a strange scent that smelled like a combination of too-much pepper and fermented cat urine. The smell entered the room way before he did and didn’t leave until long after he’d departed. It was beyond nasty; the kind of aggressive fragrance that gets into your throat and won’t leave, mercilessly irritating you until escaping for fresh air becomes your most important goal.
“Good Lord, Ryan, what on earth is that godawful smell?”
“It’s Axe body spray. They were giving out free samples at the mall. This girl ran up to Adam and me and sprayed it all over us.” He took a whiff of his shirt. “Do you like it?”
“Ugh! No! It’s way too strong. It smells like you peppered a cat and left it out in the sun too long.” I waved my hand in front of my face, trying desperately to fan some fresh air into my overwhelmed nose.
“I think it’s OK. It smells better than the other ones they have.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. This one smells better? What do they put in the other ones, liver and goat pee?”
“I don’t know. The other ones are pretty bad. This one is supposed to smell like leather and pepper. I kind of like it.”
“Leather and pepper? You want to smell like you’re cooking your couch?”
Ryan shot me a look that said he’d had enough of my insults and went upstairs to his room. I spent the rest of the evening wishing he’d taken his Sautéed Sofa smell with him instead of leaving it behind to keep me company.
Ryan began wearing the Axe every day. He’d spray it on as soon as he dried off from his shower. He’d re-spray it if he was going out with friends. He’d apply it before seeing his girlfriend. In every instance, he’d go out, leaving the rest of us inside the house to suffer.
My middle-son, Matt, began wearing his t-shirt over his nose to block out the Axe smell. Evan, my youngest, took every opportunity to protest his brother’s Axe usage by falling on the floor, dramatically covering his nose, and groaning as soon as the odor reached him.
This morning, I woke up to a sensation of being choked, as if someone had sprayed a noxious hazmat chemical in my bedroom. When I opened my door, the now familiar leather-and-pepper Axe smell assaulted my nose, but this time in a much higher concentration. Descending the stairs, it became clear that Ryan had sprayed himself with it once again after his shower and now the odor was throughout the entire house.
I’m sensitive to certain fragrance ingredients and Axe evidently contains one of the fragrances that bothers me. This whole ordeal reminds me of a previous family vacation when we took my mother along with us. She apparently decided that spraying herself with a fresh coat of perfume each day was preferable to taking a shower. As the days progressed, the scent of her dreadful perfume grew stronger and more intolerable. By the end of the week, she had on so many coats of perfume that getting within twenty feet of her was enough to make you gag. In fact, she smelled so bad that we had to drive nine hours home from the Outer Banks with the windows open in the car even though it was 40 degrees outside at the end of November. Our throats were sore and we suffered from heightened scent sensitivity for two weeks afterward. Certainly Ryan would remember how miserable the ride home with his grandmother was.
“Taking after your grandmother and using Axe instead of a shower today, Ryan?” my husband asked pointedly.
“I am NOT like Grandma!” Ryan responded indignantly as if he’d been waiting for someone to compare him to his grandmother.
“Well, you have to admit that it’s pretty strong stuff. This morning I think it crawled under my bedroom door and attacked me. The smell actually woke me up,” I added, making yet another attempt at showing Ryan how much it bothered me.
“It comes under my door and into my room, too,” Matt added. He knew we had to present a united front if we had any hopes of convincing Ryan to abandon the Axe.
“Yeah, mine too,” Evan chimed in. “My whole room stinks now.”
Ryan was still in denial about the lingering effects of his beloved Axe spray. “You guys are overreacting. I don’t use that much of it, and I only spray it in my room. No way is it getting into your rooms. I just don’t see how it’s as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
“It is that bad, Ryan. Yesterday I coughed for three hours after you left for school.” I know; I played the Motherly Guilt card, but I had no choice. I had to do it. Surely he wouldn’t want his own mother to cough for three hours, right?
“Well, if it’s so bad, why haven’t any of my friends complained about it? Everyone I know wears it and no one ever complains about the smell.”
“That’s because the pepper and cat pee has burned out their olfactory receptors.”
After Ryan had finished glaring at me and left for school, his Axe smell once again stayed behind. I became even more determined to get rid of the body spray for good. I work from home and there’s no way that I was willing to put up with smelling that nastiness for even one more day.
Since I wasn’t aware of any twelve-step programs for body spray addiction, getting my kid off the Axe was going to be up to me. In desperation, I went up to Ryan’s room, took both cans of Axe from his dresser and hid them in a cabinet in the hall where they could no longer harm anyone. I then went back to work, confident that our days of being terrorized by a can of body spray were over.
Ryan returned home later to shower before going out with some friends. I was in my office working when I heard him come down the stairs.
He peeked around the corner to where I was working on the computer. “Was it really that bad, Mom?” he asked in his best wounded-sounding voice.
It took me a minute before realizing that he was referring to the missing cans of Axe. I rolled my chair away from the computer so I could face him directly.
“Yes, Ryan. It really was that bad.”
“I don’t understand why it’s bothering you so much. I hardly use any. It’s just a quick little spray like this.” He demonstrated how he’d spray just a small amount of Axe on himself. This was more serious than I thought. Denial of this degree was going to require more than my usual motherly tact.
“I think I’m allergic to it,” I blurted out. “When you use it, my throat closes up and I have trouble breathing.” It was almost the truth; I do have a hard time breathing air that smells like pepper and cat urine. “You might not be using very much of it, but any amount would bother me. That’s why I think it’s any allergy. It’s also bothering me more each day that you wear it, as if its effects are cumulative. I’m sorry, but you just can’t continue to use it in the house.”
Ryan considered what I’d said for a moment before responding. “If it bothers you that much, I won’t wear it.”
Wait...what? Really? I won this? I could picture a giant scoreboard with “Mom – 1; Nasty-smelling body spray – 0” on it.
His sudden compassion for my predicament made me soften my zero-tolerance position a bit.
“Look, I didn’t throw the cans away. If you want, you can keep them in your car and spray yourself out there.”
“No. People will be complaining that my car smells bad when they get in it.”
I wanted to ask him why it was OK if the house smelled bad but resisted the temptation. I didn’t want to risk my hard-earned victory.
I retrieved the cans from their hiding place and gave them to him. “Are you sure you don’t want to just put these in your car, or spray it outside?”
“Nah, it’s OK. I’ll just throw them away. I don’t need to wear it.” His hands lingered on the cans for a moment before tossing them into the kitchen waste basket. I gave him a hug, because even though he’s taller than me and maddeningly stubborn, he’s still my kid; a kid who showed me that he knew it was important that I win this one. He left to go out with his friends, smelling better than he had in days.
Matt and Evan came downstairs, having heard the entire conversation.
“Did you really get Ryan to stop wearing Axe, Mom?” Matt asked tentatively, afraid to get his hopes up.
“Yes I did. Ryan threw his cans of Axe away and said he wouldn’t wear it any more.”
“Sweet!” shouted Evan as he jumped up to give me a high-five.
That’s right, kids. Today is the day that your mom single-handedly evicted the horrible, no good, very stinky Axe from our home. Who knows where this could lead? I promise to use my Mom Powers for good and not evil (unless it’s against messy rooms and dirty laundry that doesn’t quite make it into the laundry hamper.)