Having children is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, they can provide a significant amount of reward in the way they grow, progress and develop into their own little people. As long as you have the strength and foresight to ensure that they don’t grow up to be little thugs or criminals, you get to pat yourself on the back on a job well-done and move on with life (and potentially enjoy some grandchildren).
On the other hand, kids can be little assholes. And while some are probably reading this and thinking how shocked they are that I would refer to children this way, they also know I’m right. And this is a story of why… First of all, let’s be clear on a universally-known but not always acknowledged fact: kids smell bad. This isn’t a judgement, it’s simply a reality. You see, kids go through a curve where at birth, they smell amazing. You ever smell a baby’s head? If you could find a way to bottle that scent, you’d give Giorgio Armani a run for his money.
Now, that “new baby smell” is a leftover biological defence mechanism that humans evolved to ensure bonding with their mothers. This was important during the existence of our prehistoric ancestors because, since babies are normally crying, shitting and eating everything in sight, our less-civilized ancestors may have said “Not today, Satan!” before leaving their little bundle to die in the wilderness. But this isn’t important to the story, so I should get back on track…
As kids get a bit older, they spend a few years where they care a bit less about hygiene. They need to be prompted to wash their hands, forced to bathe or shower, and don’t even get me started on the eternal battle for brushing one’s teeth! Once children get past the “kid” stage and slip into the adolescent and teenage years, they start to discover that staying clean and smelling nice are not only important aspects of health, they’re pretty important aspects of societal acceptance as well.
Anyone who’s a parent will recognize this phenomenon, simply from walking into their child’s room, trying to keep the family vehicle clean or even hugging their kid after a day of playing outside. But none of it was made any truer than after an incident that started almost two weeks ago with my 5-year old son, Nathan…
For the most part, Nathan is a catch-22 in the behavioural department. On certain days he’s like an angel of mercy, following every demand and instruction with total obedience and making for an almost peaceful day. On other days, he’s a walking nightmare who requires constant prodding or blackmailing in order to accomplish the simplest of tasks around the household.
We had recently started cleaning and using our universal air conditioner, and at one point I walked into my son’s room and commented on the fact that it smelled rather funky in there. I chalked it up to the possibility that his bedding needed to be changed (kids sometimes won’t QUITE make it to the washroom in the middle of the night) and made a mental note to change it up. We opened windows and aired out the house as we cleaned, especially since our home is up for sale.
Several days later, I remarked that the room still smelled a bit odd, almost like stale urine. Nathan was known for occasionally wetting himself and hiding the wet things behind his bed so he wouldn’t get in trouble, so I made a point of searching his room. Nothing. I stripped his bed (with his help), washed and disinfected all of his bedding with the hopes that this would eliminate whatever the mystery source of this odour may have been.
Flash forward to over an hour later, I felt the house starting to get a bit stuffy from the heat and asked my wife to turn on the air conditioning. Once Nathan’s bedding was dry, I walked upstairs with my arms full of blankets, sheets and a pillow cover, intent of remaking his bed in anticipation of bedtime in a few hours. When I walked into the room, the smell hit me! It was clear, pungent, and almost reminded me of some rather less-than-pleasant environments I had attended in the course of my job.
I gagged and retreated out of the room and told my wife there was a problem and she needed to come to Nathan’s room. Now, my wife has allergies and usually can’t smell things worth a damn, but even she was able to detect the strong odour of urine that permeated our every sense. Her next comment fed the suspicion that I was trying not to admit:
“Oh boy, what did he pour down the air vent…”
I kneeled down next to the A/C vent and inhaled. Sure enough, the source of the smell was coming from Nathan’s A/C vent. The I looked closely enough, I could see the telltale swirls of dried urine on the top surface of the vent cover. He was outside playing at that moment (which was probably better for his sake), so I investigated the only way I could think of. I removed the vent cover, carefully lowered my phone into the air duct and video recorded what was going on in there… (head’s up, the photo below IS disgusting!)
I apologize for how disgusting the above photo may appear, but it was even less pleasant to deal with, trust me! What you’re looking at is a screenshot of the video I took right at the elbow of his air vent. You can see various bits of Cheerios, wax crayons and what I can only assume are pieces of chocolate (I hope, although why would one waste chocolate???) sitting in a brackish quarter-inch of stagnant Nathan-pee!
Lucky for me, the vents are actually really level so the urine was sitting still within the first four feet of air duct and wasn’t crawling it’s way back to the furnace or beyond the immediate stretch that you can see in the photo. I was pissed (pun fully intended). My wife and I discussed whether we would need to have someone professional come in to clean out the air ducts when my precious first-born chose that moment to put his life in jeopardy and come in from outside.
I sat him down, controlled my breathing and showed him the video. I started by asking him why he would pee down his air vent and received the same answer every parent receives from a child trying to prevent further punishment: I don’t know. I moved on from the why long enough to explain to him that under no circumstances was there EVER a good reason to use one’s air vent as a toilet, and that all his needs MUST be done in the washroom, without exception.
I left him sitting on the landing with a pouting lip and set about the task of trying to clean the mess up myself. I removed the fifty-year old masking tape that the previous owner had used to seal with vents. I then loosened the four-foot stretch of air duct AFTER the pee-filled area and removed it. This ensured that there wouldn’t continue to be a rush of cold, urine-scented air filling the upstairs area.
Unfortunately, when I removed the second stretch of duct, the piece still connected to Nathan’s room dipped down and released its golden bounty… all over the laundry room floor and my legs. Lovely. I pulled the affected air duct free and brought it outside where I laboured using a pressure washer to scrub out the inside and get it clean. I also took advantage to clean out the excess crayons and food bits that were sitting at the base of the vent.
All in all, the whole thing took almost two hours by the time I removed everything, cleaned it all then put it all back in place and used actual duct tape. Yes, duct tape is ACTUALLY meant to seal joints in your air ducts. Take that, Red Green! (I’ll just let you newer generation Google who “Red Green” is…) While I was outside pressure washing, my wife managed to get some rudimentary explanation out of Nathan involving his laziness and not wanting to walk to the washroom in the middle of the night. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best evening.
The following morning, Nathan sought me out once he was out of bed and immediately asked me if I was still mad at him, complete with a hug and kiss. He can be such a good kid in some respects while being the reason we can’t nice things in others respects. And that’s the thing about kids: they may drive you crazy with some of their antics, but it usually only takes a show of affection to remind us how important they can be. ☯