The one thing my children know is not to buy me perfume for Mother’s Day on Sunday. And even though the perfume makers purport to use all types of natural ingredients, such as sandalwood, rose, patchouli, white lilies, and ambergris, they also use chemicals that are not listed on the label that include benzoin resin, deer musk, acetoin, bisabolol, and perillaldehyde, whatever that is. No wonder I’m allergic to it.
Like smoking, the scent of a perfume can have second-hand repercussions, like asthma (have it), itching (have it), and rash (have had it). Maybe it’s the scent of deer musk in the one scent I do wear that’s making me forage through my own garden lately and wince at bright lights.
Last week a little boy sat behind me at a school program. Cute as a button, I thought, until I got a whiff of him and thought I would have to flee the auditorium. There was no one in the seat next to me, so he flung his upper body over it and was basically in my face. I smiled at him, complimented his singing ability as he sang along with the students on stage in my right ear, but started getting annoyed when, instead of applauding, he kicked his feet against the back of my chair. But even that was less annoying than his aroma. I do believe he’d doused himself in his father’s cologne, using the whole bottle. First my nose started twitching and then I started itching all over. The itch was unbearable, but I resisted leaving because I didn’t want to miss seeing my sister’s child receive an award. As the students on stage sang their hearts out, I was discreetly trying to scratch the itch on my back, thighs, and near my ears.
When I had to reach under my sweater to scratch under my bra strap I worried that someone would think I was flashing them, so I maneuvered my arm so as to get at it. Anyone watching me move my arm back and forth against my right side would have thought I had a tic.
After the ceremony we celebrated by going to dinner in Montauk. My hair smelled so bad from that little boy and my face was so red from my reaction that I felt I had to explain to anyone greeting me that I was wearing some strange kid’s cologne.
It reminded me and my sister of a time when we were in elementary school and my mother used a new detergent on both of us and our two brothers. By midmorning, Mom was called to the nurse’s office to collect the four of us. We were itching and scratching so bad the nurse was afraid that whatever we had could be contagious. Scabies is not something to be shared. But it wasn’t contagious, it was an allergic reaction to the detergent.
To say Mom was embarrassed would be an understatement. At home, we all quickly showered and put on clothes that hadn’t been washed with the itchy stuff. And, being the wise children that we were, we managed to allow her guilt to fester and cajoled her into feeding us treats for a week to compensate for the embarrassment we told her we’d been put through at school. (Actually, nobody cared. The other students considered us lucky to get out of school early.)
A mother’s guilt is something that is very much alive and active. Most of us mothers have had it at one time or another. We deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day. We also deserve a really good gift. Take my advice, bring plenty of cash when shopping for her. And if you see any of my three children around Montauk tell them they should read this column.
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star and its Montauk correspondent.