“I smell something.”

That was our son, about a half hour ago, as we entered our neighbor’s home to check on her pet bunny while she and her family are away.

I smelled the lingering aroma of scented candles. My neighbor’s house always smells sweet.

But it simply smelled different to our son. We left our neighbor’s house, locked it up tight, and crossed our street, hunching our shoulders in the cold air. We walked into our house, and I smelled something, too. We had just had chana masala, some garlic naan, and some samosas I still had in the freezer (made by my mother and me back in July).

It smelled like home. Our home.

When I was in middle and high school, I would get so irritated when my mom made Indian food. Our house smelled different than all my friends’ houses. I wanted our house to smell like… smell like what? I don’t really know, now that I think about it. I just didn’t want our house to smell different. Because I was a teenager. I’d leave to go to a basketball game and my clothes would smell like all the garlic, onions, ginger, spices… all the hot oil frying poori or pakora… (I’d feel embarrassed. I wanted to smell fresh and clean and cute. Like Love’s Baby Soft, or later, Liz Claiborne. Because that’s not embarrassing.) This is probably why I still, to this day, have an unhealthy attachment to the smell of clean laundry. April Fresh. Mmmmm.

Flash forward 25 or 30  years: I cook Indian food far less often than my mother, but when I do, I’m so happy… I feel like I’m succeeding. I can actually make our kitchen smell like my mother’s kitchen–she is a phenomenal cook. And when I make Hello Dollies, or chocolate chip pan cookies, or quesadillas, or french fries… I’m succeeding again, making the treats for us as my mom made for us, all sweet and starchy and buttery, making our home smell like… comfort.

Which means our home smells like the home I grew up in: warm and clean and inviting. It smells like it has a kitchen that is used multiple times daily, with a sink that never hosts dirty dishes for more than 30 minutes. It smells like clean clothes, clean towels and sheets, dusted and polished furniture, bleached bathrooms, fresh scented body wash, fruit scented shampoo (for the kids). And when our windows are open and my husband mows the lawn? It’s just so perfect.

And our son, noticing a different smell in a different home… He knows what his home smells like. And from what I could gather, he prefers it to others. It makes me so happy. Of course, he’s five. In 10 years, who knows.

But for now, I am succeeding.

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