May 8 is lurking just around the corner, and you know what that means (or, OK, you might have to check, but if you’re one of those people, you’re going to be glad I reminded you): it’s Mother’s Day. An all-day celebration that’s all about mom — and not the mom who calls at 7 am on a Sunday to talk about the weather, but the best version of her, the one you’ve cherished since childhood.


In a sense, what we’re celebrating when we celebrate Mother’s Day is memories. The way she comforted you, or made you laugh, even the way she smelled. Especially the way she smelled. Because whether it’s the scent of dish soap, rose water or Chanel No 5, a mother’s fragrance is intricately bound with our memories of her — and in turn, our own preferences in scent. Love your mom? You may have grown up loving the smell of Avon Skin So Soft and had no earthly clue why. (If you grew up in a particularly mosquito-y area, I have a theory, but that’s a tangent for another day.)


There’s science behind the idea, of course: a 2021 research article linked the exposure to smells in infancy to adult preferences, in the same way that imprinting works in nature. (That’s when a duck thinks you’re its mother, because it saw you first.) Of course, the results involve a lot of scientific jargon, not to mention mice, so maybe not the best topic to raise on mom’s special day; it’s just to say that those fond memories may be the basis for what you’re fond of now.


Which is also to say: enough about her, let’s talk about you. (But don’t tell her I said that.) Sure, there’s not likely to be a direct link between those nostalgic smells and your own choice of scent — although cosmetic industry scientists are looking into it — but in a way, it has been passed down to you. Through nurture (not nature), you’ve inherited certain tastes. There’s no such thing as a genetic predisposition to wear Shalimar, but you might be drawn to amber-forward fragrance. You may not remember your days in diapers, but powdery scents might make you feel happily fresh. And vanilla scents? Forget about it: between her baking and her perfume, you never stood a chance.


So consider this: when your partner says “you’re just like your mother,” it’s not necessarily a bad thing. They might just mean you smell amazing. Which is why, on May 6 or 7 when you’re remembering all the things your mother has given you, don’t forget to include your sense of scents. (It will come in handy with that last-minute gift.)



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