Sometimes Bad Smells Happen to Good People

It was just … persistent, you know? Pervasive but subtle. Like a ghost intent on the haunting. A fleeting whiff here. A vanishing fragrance there. But still inescapably everywhere, tapping me on the shoulder and then giggling at me when I spun around to find nothing.

Oh, yes. I think you know. If you’ve ever had a cat box or an angry dog or a diaper pail or a toddler with his own hose, you know that musty, used pee smell. You know.

It came to my house again the other night because it likes to mock me.

It’s not hard to guess the culprit these days. The dog was acting out his abandonment issues again. He just hates to be left alone, and, well, at our house he so rarely is alone, what with all the chaos and clamor and clutter and kids. It’s bewildering, I’m sure, to trade it all for sudden silence. And so he pees. Not every time we leave, you understand. Just rarely enough that we forget to shut our bedroom door and on occasion come home to a water feature in the middle of our bed. It’s delightful.

So I knew right away when I smelled it at bedtime exactly what it was, and, after my dramatic sigh of frustration, I started sniffing.

I smelled our sheets like a bloodhound in a grid pattern. And then I repeated the procedure with our comforter and our floor. I spent so much time with my nose to the ground that my knees were red when I was done. I smelled it; I just couldn’t locate it.

So I smelled every child because they’re not always that discriminating about clean versus dirty piles of clothes. I gathered handfuls of towels and mountains of stuffed animals. I even worked my way through the dirty clothes piles, and my nose did not thank me for my diligence.

No luck, though. None. I could not find the source no matter what I did.

Until my sweet six-year-old, Cael, hugged me with his nose buried in my belly, looked up at me with wise, gentle eyes, and whispered, “Mama? I think it’s you.”

Now, I knew it wasn’t me, friends. First, I’d just showered. Second, I was wearing a nightgown I pulled from the clean laundry. And third, there was no way I’d walk around wearing dog pee without knowing it. No way. My life is crazy busy, but not that crazy busy. It’s OK that Cael said it, though. It was a good teachable moment to discuss standards of cleanliness with my son. To talk about why clean clothes are important from both a hygiene and social perspective.

I sank down to the ground and gathered my nightgown to our noses — Cael’s and mine — so we could smell the fabric together and begin our cleanliness lessons.

Which is when I caught the strongest whiff yet and realized it was me. It was meHe was right, and the smell was coming from me. 

I don’t know what happened, folks. I just can’t fully accept any of the possible scenarios, because either I put a nightgown laced with dog urine over my head and didn’t notice… or the dog stealth-peed on me when I wasn’t looking. Either way, I now have to come to terms with the fact that I am the woman who can’t tell that the urine smell is coming from herself. 

In conclusion, if you need to uninvite me to your holiday party, I understand.


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. I hate that I can totally relate to this! Thanks for the laugh!

  2. HAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!! Four kids must be a lot of kids too. Here’s my FB status from 2 days ago:

    I was in my bedroom and kept smelling poop. Having a naked, toilet training toddler in the house, I was very suspicious. And fearful of WHERE. I searched my bed. The closet. The floor. Nowhere. The smell was also in the bathroom! I searched every potty. Behind the door. In the tub. Nowhere. The smell was also in the kid’s bedroom! WTF? It was on my pants. How did I get dressed and not notice there was shit ON MY PANTS?????????????

  3. Have you been doing your kegels? Probably TMI but maybe you just sneezed and leaked a little 🙂

  4. Ahh, great idea! Except I’m sure I’d find remnants of old potty training pee that I hadn’t been able to smell and was able to feel good not knowing about, haha.

  5. You need to invest in a blacklight. It’s much faster than the sniff method and works of cat, dog and human pee. Well worth the investment.

  6. OMG, I am cracking up! I had this happen to me before, dog peed on the clean laundry and I didn’t realize it until I was halfway to my dads house with 3 kids, so I stopped at Target down the street from him and bought a new shirt 🙂

  7. Sure it was the dog…I have delivered 7 kids, and sure enough, every time I sneeze…. from now on I will know “it was the dog”……

  8. oh man, i recently was sitting on the couch, making the stink face, then persistently sniffing everything in the room, to no avail. i could NOT find it anywhere. i even blamed my daughter and sent her to take a shower, but the smell was still lingering. then i realized it was a pair of jammie pants i bought at goodwill and forgot to wash before wearing. GROSS! made me want to sanitize my legs.

  9. Reminds me of one of our favorite “Greg quotes” from age 2 or 3: “What’s that funny smell I hear?”

  10. OMG! This is SO my life! (but kids are grown and I now have THREE dogs and TWO cats thanks to said grown children). I’ve heard those mini black lights can find the hidden urine but I haven’t tried it yet. How do I ask the hubby for a pee light for Christmas???? But seriously, I just can’t spend one more minute with my nose to the carpet like a bloodhound (or in this case PEEhound!)

    1. Don’t do it. Don’t get a black light. I am serious. No good can come from it. Trust me on this. You don’t really want to know.

  11. “… or the dog stealth-peed on me when I wasn’t looking.” I laughed out loud. What an accurate, hilarious portrayal of life w/ many children and pets. I’ve followed my nose around the house on my hands and knees many times; I’m so glad I’m not the only one!

  12. The thing I can never figure out is why my husband never smells what I can smell. I spend a lot of time walking around saying “what’s that smell” sniffing trying to find the source and he almost never notices.

    1. I’ve heard it implied that testosterone dulls the sense of hearing, making it highly selective. Are you suggesting it also dulls the sense of smell? I have to admit my wife’s nose is far more sensitive than mine, so maybe it does.

      1. Oh, I am pretty sure that testosterone dulls all the senses. My husband will eat pretty much anything and all mixed up together and he doesn’t seem to be very tactile either.TThe man is highly intellegent however he doesn’t seem to do very well on the touchy, feely, smelly stuff.

  13. Hahaha oh dear rather unfortunate!

  14. Thank you Beth! I needed a good laugh. 🙂

  15. Have I told you how much I love you lately? I feel I have found my people here! I have done the pee sniffing belly bed dance more times than I can count! We have a cat. An 18 year old senile cat with anger and bladder issues. Tonight we came home from my daughter’s band concert and all five of us spent a good half hour searching for the source of an elusive floating poop smell near the couch. Never did find it…

  16. This story made my day! Today was a terrible day at work and I SO needed this laugh!!

  17. I live this story so much. Been exactly there.

  18. OMG I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!! My family acts like I’m crazy when I follow my sniffing nose to find the source of scents. (It has required a lot of restraint to keep my mouth shut when the source is my husband.)

    My condolences on the nightgown!!! At LEAST the smell wasn’t emanating from your actual body. hahahah

  19. You would never be uninvited – see, none of us would even know the difference! We have the cutest Guinea Pig in the world, but he is also the smelliest. As much as I love him I find myself counting his life expectancy – expectently! Please don’t tell my family!

  20. I had a cat once that enjoyed peeing in laundry baskets of clean clothes — never dirty ones — and more than once either put on a garment only to find the pee LATER or at least stuck my hand in cat pee. I feel this pain so very much. Now we have a dog who cannot be trusted in the house if it’s raining outside. He will tour the yard as briefly as he feels will fool us, enter the house through the fully functioning dog door with which he is intimately acquainted (don’t ask) and then sneak down the hall and whiz on the rug right in front of the bathroom. Much as I dislike crating, it’s either that or get rid of the dog.

    You’d still be invited to our holiday party, if we were having one and/or knew you personally, because then we’d have someone to blame the mystery smells on.

  21. OMG I so understand this. I was at a family get together with the in laws recently and kept smelling something sort of gross and thinking it was my husband’s aunt and then when I got home, I still smelled it and realized… you guessed it. Yeah. I understand.

  22. My main floor powder room smelled of pee for weeks – even when the diaper pail was empty, washed and the bathroom just cleaned by me. I finally went to get my 11 month old out of the space between the toilet and wall and discovered the wall was discolored. Further investigation revealed the corner behind the toilet was coated in a layer of dried urine. I threatened murder and mayhem and making the boys redrywall if it ever happened again. Despite wiping the baseboards and moping, I had missed this for WEEKS!

    The dog could have peed on the clean laundry long enough ago for it to dry and in a small enough area not to be noticed going over your head.

  23. Hey … at least it wasn’t cat pee! That stuff stays with you FOREVER!

  24. Going from an 11 and 8 year old to adding a 2 year old and 4 year old…. I’m fairly certain it’s going to take another 6 years to get the smell of baby wipes and dirty diapers out of my nose…. I could very easily make the same mistake!! 😉

  25. almost this same thing happened to me – turns out that I dragged my pj bottoms in cat pee at the base of the toilet in the early morning and didn’t notice for a couple of hours while I tried to find the source of the smell. I found the cat pee in the bathroom and cleaned it up – and then went crazy because I could still smell it.

    I guess that the slippers I had on were just high enough to keep me from feeling that my pjs got wet.

    I was happy once I took a bath and did the laundry

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