The first time I had to leave my daughter overnight, I gave her my blue nightshirt. It was the oversized shirt I wore throughout my pregnancy, and it was the shirt I continued to wear (almost exclusively) after she was born, shuffling around dreamily in that new mother haze. In those days, the shirt held all the raw smells of milk and sleep and skin.
She took the shirt, and I never got it back. She named it “Boo-Boosh,” which she pronounced (inexplicably) like a Russian word, with hard Bs and a drawn out shhh at the end. To this day, no one else can quite pronounce “Boo-Boosh” the way it emerged decisively from her two-year-old lips.
I was rarely apart from my daughter when she was a toddler, but Boo-Boosh became a sacred bridge between us when we had to separate. This shirt was not a thing she carelessly dragged around like some ordinary security blanket. Boo-Boosh stayed tucked under her pillow to preserve its holy smells. When I lay down with her at night, my daughter would smell my chest, smell Boo-Boosh, making sure nothing had changed from either source. Sometimes she needed me to recharge Boo-Boosh by stuffing it under my shirt for a while, smearing it all over my body.
Over time, Boo-Boosh went from being an “it” to being a “her.” Before bed, my daughter would ask, “where is she?” and we would have to find her, balled up in the tangle of blankets from the night before.
As my daughter got older, she would hide Boo-Boosh in the closet when friends came over. I thought she was embarrassed to still be harboring the remnants of her babyhood, but it was that she didn’t want anyone else touching it, tarnishing the smell.
I’m not permitted to wash Boo-Boosh, and when I sniff her now, all I smell is a dirty shirt and my nine-year-old daughter’s bed. The smell is more her than me, but I’m not even sure where the separation occurs.
Sometimes when I am exercising at the gym, I get a strong whiff of the way my babies smelled in those early, romantic days when we lived together in the crumbled sheets of my bed, and then I realize that it’s coming from my own sweat, my own body.
Boo-Boosh is a tattered, blue nightshirt. She is me, her, our indistinguishable animal cells.