The other day Elliot surprised me with a hug while I was sorting laundry. He closed his eyes, gave me a tight squeeze and said lovingly, “Mommy, you smell like Cranky hal-mon-ee (grandma in Korean). A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law surprised them with a crane named Cranky for Christmas from Thomas the train collection. Ever since then, that nickname has stayed although it has no ties to her being a cranky person.
They love her, so I took it as a compliment.
How could he have known that his comment would baffle me? I’m pretty sure most people don’t like to be told they smell like an old person. If my mother-in-law were not a tidy person I would have questioned my hygiene habits. However, she is an obsessive cleaner who sanitizes door knobs and toilet flush handles after visitors leave along with other cleaning quirks.
That comment brought memories of my mom’s sweet odor when she cuddled me when I was younger; she smelled warm, sweet, and play dough-y. I thought it was the lotion she used, but years later she smelled the same. Then, there was the odor of my eccentric grandmother who smelled like soy milk, too much powder on her face (it had to be 2 shades lighter than her skin tone), and dried fish (cooking with anchovies and not fond of brushing teeth). It was a funky combination of odors, but I loved its familiarity.
These days I love the smell of my kids when we cuddle or when we’re hanging out on the couch together. I can’t articulate what it actually smells like, but I’ll borrow Elliot’s words to describe it: “makes hearts come out of my eyes.”
An article about the science of smell states that a biological explanation exists as to how a sense of smell allows mothers to recognize their own child’s pheromones from someone else’s. This article explains that babies are familiar with their mother’s pheromones soon after birth; they learned the smell while growing in the womb. Also, when a newborn baby learns to breastfeed, they can find mom’s breast by smelling her pheromones. It’s a natural way of bonding between mother and child.
It’s no wonder that mothers love babies’ smell! I assumed the intoxicating smell was from the trace of formula, baby’s soft breath, or scent of shampoo; turns out to be an amazing phenomenon and an unmistakable bond between mother and child.