Mother’s Day – no expensive presents required

Well, Sunday is national “Extortion by Guilt” Day.

Before the e-mails start pouring in, let me ask you a question: Since when do we let Hallmark, See’s, and DeBeers tell us when and how to love our mothers?

My cynicism may be showing, but I’m not alone.

The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia by Anna Reese Jarvis in 1910, in remembrance of her mother. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday of May Mother’s Day.

It is rumored that Jarvis, just before she died, said she was sorry she started the whole mess. Jarvis decried the commercialization of the holiday she meant as “sentimental.”

By now, commercialization has become a science. My guess is Jarvis spins in her grave every time a commercial for some product is played. “Buy your mother’s love” seems to be the message here.

Since when did love mean having to buy expensive presents?

Several years ago, there was an exchange among the DJs on the station I listen to. One mentioned he was giving his mother socks from her favorite sports team for Mother’s Day because she was such a fan. She called him up, and on air, there was this dialogue about how inappropriate that gift was. Of course, she never came out and said, “I don’t want that for Mother’s Day.” She tried to “guilt” him into something different.

And it was made to seem a pair of socks was a meaningless and cheap present.

Wait a minute, here. I was under the impression it was the thought behind the gift that counted, not the price of the gift itself.

Whether you have a good relationship with your mater or not, do you really need a special day designated each year to tell her you appreciate, if nothing else, the hours of labor she went through to bring you into the world?

And, if you are only communicating this appreciation and love once a year, there’s far more wrong with your relationship than you want to admit.

As to the guilt thing, let’s be honest. Reality television and blogging aside, is anyone willing to admit they don’t like their mother on Mother’s Day? Is anyone going to not call her or take her to lunch, knowing the entire world is watching? I don’t think so. Of course, these days, there seems to be no concept of public humiliation, so I could be way off base here.

So how much is this sentiment worth, if it’s been forced upon us by advertisers?

I tried to tell my family one year fancy presents only meant one more thing to dust. Candy is not something these cottage cheese thighs need, and I didn’t really have time for all the books I have now, let alone adding more to my collection. They didn’t listen. And I got yet more books to add to the growing pile and a plant that lived about 3.7 seconds in my care.

So, if I don’t want candy or flowers or new clothes, what is it I want on Mother’s Day?

Nothing more than the other 364 days a year. I want my kids to respect each other and their parents, simply because we are family, and so deserve at least as much consideration as friends and colleagues, if not more.

My fond memories of being a mom do not come from slick Hallmark cards or expensive gewgaws. Even their school projects, made under the supervision and insistence of a teacher, don’t mean as much to me as some of the other, what might seem trivial, cards and notes I’ve received on “normal” days.

When my youngest went to camp for the first time, she was 5 years old. She sent me one postcard, containing nine words:


When my middle girl was diagnosed as clinically depressed at age 11, I was overwhelmed. Not having any experience in dealing with this type of thing, I was sure I was really screwing it up. And one day, I found a poster taped to my door.

“This certificate is presented to Libbie Martin-Burk, for being the best mom in the world.”

These pieces of paper are worth far more to me than a store-bought card ever could, and will be around in my memory box long after the store-bought cards have become fuel for the fire.

A few years ago, this same daughter, 14, and I spent a day together, just wandering back roads and exploring California’s gold country. We ended up off-roading in mud puddles, and laughed so hard we had stomachaches. When we got home, she said it was the best day she’d ever had.

Not long after that, my oldest (then 16), with whom I have clashed constantly since she was 4, spent the entire day with me, and we didn’t argue once. We talked like friends talk, and she was honest with me about a number of matters most teenagers don’t want to share with their mothers for fear of punitive reactions.

These are the moments mothers cherish and hope for. They are unpredictable and fleeting. Sometimes, they’re long gone before we even know they existed. Too soon those little girls became teenagers and now are adults. The days of sticky handprints on my clothes and hand-made cards are gone – it’s amazing how young we fall into that “money must buy love” trap.

I get my “Mother’s Day” presents throughout the year, when my kids show signs I’ve raised bright, talented, skilled, and caring human beings. When they show compassion to others, or act without prodding to do the right thing, then I know I’ve done my job. And that’s all the Mother’s Day I need.


Addendum: Now that my girls are moms in their own right, I get my Mom’s day joys in watching them raise wonderful kids, and acknowledging that motherhood is hard work. And I love watching them grow as moms and women.