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Mediocre Mom Manual: My Panty Sniffing Shame!


I’m fortunate to live on a street where I have many close friends. We barbeque, share recipes, go walking on early weekend mornings, and have play dates. I like to think of living on this street as my own version of Wisteria Lane without the dysfunction, destruction and death!

The flocks of children frequently flit back and forth from house to house, become engrossed in an activity, lose interest, and change activities again, sometimes forgetting to use the bathroom. Or they find themselves wrapped head-to-toe in roller skates, padded gear, and helmets and it simply takes too much time to remove said items before the inevitable potty accident happens. No big deal.

A few weeks ago, I went to my neighbor’s house to gather my daughter who was over for a play date. As per our usual routine, I stepped inside and chatted with my friends (I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. Dee) before heading out with my daughter, when Mrs. Dee returned some clothes her daughter had worn home after a recent accident at our house, which included a pair of white panties.

So I’m in the middle of talking to the three of them, when I absent mindedly took the panties, turned the crotch inside out, and sniffed them.

Yes. In front of my friends and practically in mid-sentence.

In the five seconds of stunned silence that followed, I was acutely aware of two things: that I had just smelled the crotch of my daughter’s panties in public, and my friends were staring at me with a mix of horrific wonder.

Now I’m not usually one to be at a loss for words—in fact, I can usually make a joke out of just about anything, but this was humiliation on an entirely different level. I had performed a secret mom move in front of others; had broached the invisible line of good etiquette. There are rituals we perform all the time in private—passing gas, picking our nose, or digging for the wedgie buried between our butt cheeks, but good decorum and a healthy sense of place keeps us from acting on these functions in mixed company. What freaked me out most wasn’t that I had smelled the panty crotch, but that I didn’t realize I was doing it until it was over. Where the hell did my social filter go? Was this a sign of a busy week, too much stress, or are my crackers starting to crumble? And what would I do next? Scratch my crotch, use their bathroom with the door open, or search for black heads on my way past their entryway mirror?

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” I sheepishly joked. After that, I was speechless.
“Are you worried they aren’t clean?” Mrs. Dee laughed.

And then there’s that. Sniffing the panty crotch implied I was concerned she was returning dirty underwear. Did I assume she didn’t wash them? What kind of friend did I think she was?

kids panties

Now before you start thinking I’m some pervert who likes the smell of panties, let me explain that I do not get any type of perverse pleasure out of this; that it is, in fact, rather gross; and I am not an equal opportunity panty sniffer. I do not sniff my husband’s boxer briefs or my momderwear, because there are visual signs delineating clean or dirty. I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t smell my son’s underwear either because he’s pretty good at keeping the laundry separated from the clean pile.

No, I perform this (not so secret anymore) act on the tiny girl panties because there aren’t visual signs of dirtiness, and more importantly, I hate doing laundry and I hate washing clean clothes even more.

My two girls share a room. When my four-year-old gets dressed for bed each evening, she throws clean panties from her drawer like confetti over her shoulder, searching for the pajamas she’ll wear to bed. She also strips down each evening before her bath leaving not-so-clean panties on the floor as well. Try as I might, I have not figured out a way to curb this behavior, and since I want her to be independent and dress herself, I live with the ensuing mess.

Ten-year-old daughter enters the picture, and like most ten year olds, leaves a trail of clothes, dirty and clean, behind her and on the floor and hanging out of the laundry hamper, and on most days there are in fact, more clothes on the floor than in her closet.

At which point I get angry and tell her to clean her room. Which she does. Her preferred method of cleaning is to scoop all her clothes from the floor and jam them into the laundry hamper, and then scoop all her sister’s clothes up from the floor and jam them back into her pajama drawer, which leaves me with drawers and hampers filled with both dirty and clean clothes. Just last night I removed TWO pairs of dirty underwear from her CLEAN clothes drawer.

Please, someone tell me I’m not alone in this.

So, what’s mediocre mom to do when it’s time to wash laundry? Or when the kids complain they are out of panties, but you know they can’t be out of panties because three days ago you washed two loads of panties and where the hell are they?

And that’s when you start sniffing panty crotches. So you aren’t washing clean underwear in the hamper or putting dirty underwear on them from the drawers. I admit, it’s a step I’d rather not have to perform, but it’s now a subconscious action. Have I mentioned before how much I hate washing clothes that aren’t dirty?

In fact, I’m betting some of you are panty sniffers and don’t even realize it; it’s one of those ingrained mother habits like cleaning your child’s face with your spit, or using your shirt to wipe a boogery nose. And while smelling underwear is a good way to determine cleanliness, I wouldn’t recommend doing it at a dinner party or in mixed company if the host should happen to return a pair of underwear to you. Assume the underwear is clean and do the sniffing at home.

The jury is still out on whether or not my friends think I’ve lost it. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to think we live on Wisteria Lane, but my dysfunction has been “outed.” I’m definitely a Desperate Housewife now – and my ‘dirty’ laundry has been aired for all to see!

But what about all of you out there! How many of you have the courage to confess your membership in this club? What other embarrassing things have you done in front of family and friends that left you horrified? Come on – out with it!

Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.





  1. Briana

    June 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve totally done that before…for the same reasons you state. I get sick of washing clean clothes!!!

  2. america

    June 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm


  3. Rachel

    June 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Briana, I’m sending you a virtual high five, for admitting to being a member of the club! No one talks about these things, but this is a classic, primal, mom-move! Keep sniffing!

  4. Cody Williams

    June 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Okay, she’s a freak. LOL.

    However, I have to admit I hate that whole comingling of clean and dirty close that kids do. Just yesterday I watch my 11-year-old take off a pair of dirty underwear and fling them across the room with his foot. When I told him the clean Sponge-Bob draws he was about to put on were too frayed he flung those with his foot in the exact same direction. Often their bedrooms are like minefields mixed with dirty and clean clothes strewn about.

    But, I ain’t sniffing nobody’s draws to see if they are clean but my own. (I travel often and dirty and clean clothes get toss in my luggage together when I’m anxious to get home) But, I digress. One simple test is all I need to determine if my kids clothes need relegating to the dirty laundry pile. Are they stiff or supple. Clean clothes tend to be crisp, stiff with little to no creases. Dirty draws with no tale-tale stains are more relaxed, less firm having been up against a warm body for some time.

    Absent those tell-tale signs I err on the side of caution. When in doubt, just wash them suckers over.

    It’s offensive to my senses to smell my own draws. No way do I want to smell someone else’s. Not even my little people.

    Yet, I do have to admit, now being a parent doing my kids laundry I often wonder how much information my mom gathered about me from doing mine all those years, long ago, well into adulthood. It was a joy of hers for me to bring a couple of loads full from college and drop them off for her to clean. She loved it.

    Moms are funny like that, I guess.

  5. Rachel

    June 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    “One simple test is all I need to determine if my kids clothes need relegating to the dirty laundry pile. Are they stiff or supple. Clean clothes tend to be crisp, stiff with little to no creases. Dirty draws with no tale-tale stains are more relaxed, less firm having been up against a warm body for some time.”

    Cody, I love you! It’s never occured to me to test the suppleness of the cloth, but it’s an approach worth trying! I’m at least glad you can relate to the bedroom-clothing disaster. 🙂

  6. Eileen

    June 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I’m sitting in car dealership while I’m reading this, and lauding out loud, tears running down my face. Thank you!

  7. Cody Williams

    June 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    @Rachel, please, I related to the entire piece. And being a single dad I was just relieved to read that other people had the same experiences I go through on a weekly basis.

    Thank you.

  8. Cody Williams

    June 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Oh, and Rachel, this piece of yours reminds me of a passage in one of my favorite books, ‘Love In The Time of Cholera.’ by Gabrial Garcia-Marquez.

    The doctor’s wife discovered he was having an affair by sniffing his dirty laundry. She was not snooping, it was just a part of her routine. She was able to pick up the smell of the other woman because the two of them were soooo different. She finds out why. The other woman was black.

    Thanks for the nice writing.

  9. Jacki Marie

    June 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I know I’ve done this, but hopefully not in front of my neighbors… I still couldn’t seem to stop myself from checking to see if my pubescent son’s t-shirts belong in the clean or dirty camp by sniffing because sometimes, he didn’t wear it long enough for it to appear dirty, but it smells dirty. kwim? I always regret it. I may have finally learned a new behavior. Lately, I either make him sniff them or I just wash it. As much as I hate washing dirty clothes… it’s really easier.

  10. MBR33

    June 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Rachel you are not alone in this- I do this ALL THE TIME and I mainly with my girls undies for the exact same reason. My 2 year old is just like your four year old- I have never seen so many clothes fly out of the drawer when she is searching for something and my 8 year old does the same thing. Although I do try to only smell the side of the panties- if the Tide smell doesn’t overwhelm me from afar then in the wash they go!

  11. Mrs. Dee

    June 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    I so enjoyed your “display”. I am always happy to see moms like myself in their imperfect moments. It helps me justify mine! The fact that you didn’t even realize you did it made it that much more enjoyable. Don’t think for a minute that our Wisteria Lane is any less dysfunctional! It’s what makes it great!

  12. Dawn Brady

    June 17, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Sadly, I can relate to the entire post. My 5 year old chucks her clothes all over. My 13 year old cleans her room by stuffing all the clothes on her floor in the hamper. They are STILL FOLDED from being washed and dried the day before!!! I cannot STAND washing clean clothes either!!! Like we don’t have enough to do.

  13. Another mother

    June 17, 2011 at 9:43 am

    First, get over the washing clean clothes thing. Chances are they’ve touched something that’s dirty so they’ve been contaminated anyway. Clothes are like new cars: once you take them out, they’ve depreciated on the clean scale. Second, neighbor girl was probably wondering if you’ve seen her doing that too and was acknowledging your shared secret. Third, I hope you suppress that instinct when you go to the 5 for $25 panty sale at Vicky’s. You never know where they’ve been either…..LOL

  14. Margit

    June 17, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I totally relate to this…except the whole in front of your neighbors part. I felt like I was in that moment with you, and suddenly felt the shame. Like you, I don’t just go around smelling all the underwear in the house, but it’s like our daughters are kindred spirits. The other part of your story I related to is girls sharing a bedroom with the big age difference. You gotta do what you gotta do…in private.

  15. Ella Rucker

    January 29, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I admit nothing, but I will tell you my rule is “if you have to smell it twice…wash it!”

    Great piece! You really put it all out there. Brava!

  16. Ella Rucker

    January 29, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I admit nothing, but I will tell you this: My rule is “if you have to smell it twice, wash it!”

    Love how you put yourself out there! Brava!

  17. Jeff Heineken

    March 23, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Get her underwear that say Sunday through Saturday all cartoonish like on them.. She’ll like the idea if you do. Then make sure she’s not wearing Monday’s underwear on Friday. I had the same problem with my 7 year old. I’d recommend it for any single parent/w/kids under 12 or so.

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