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To Mother With Love


In my bedroom sits my fourth-great grandfather’s sea chest. He was a “coaster,” a seaman who sailed the Eastern Seaboard from his home in Maine as far south as the West Indies, trading northern lumber for goods not readily available in Maine. On the end of the chest his daughters scratched their names and that of their mother, Nancy.

Clearly, family bonds were close despite the distances that so often separated them. They sent a message with their father to pull his mind homeward whenever he opened his chest.

Inside the chest today, I keep many photo albums that trace my family’s experiences as well as a few precious mementoes. Not the least of these is a folded piece of school paper with a colorful rainbow emblazoned across it, arching over a lop-sided heart. Inside are the words, “I love you Mom,” equally lopsided and uneven but more treasured than any commercial card could ever be.

Next week, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Mothers have been honored since the days of the Greeks and Romans but it was not until 1908 that the American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis. It became an official U.S. holiday in 1914 but, ironically, Jarvis would later presage today’s critics who proclaim it as just another commercial opportunity and she spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar.

But it does not have to be thus. My son will, undoubtedly, mark the day in some way Sunday but he will never be able to surpass his simple, heartfelt gift of love created when he was 7. So, this week we will explore some simple, inexpensive ways families can say “thank you” to moms everywhere.

Because the day is all about family, family-oriented activities can give it special meaning. The simplest gift to give—okay, maybe not so simple in our tightly scheduled society—is time. Giving mom something that requires you to stop in your own relentless timetable to focus on her needs is priceless. Because women, even the nearly 60 percent who work outside the household, spend on average four more hours per day in unpaid home labor, the least expensive, but most valuable gift might be a break from the grind.

Dad and the kids might choose to do the chores that day letting mom put her feet up, literally or figuratively. How about the family convening in the kitchen to prepare a meal just for her (and doing the dishes after the fact!). Maybe there is a project she has wanted to get done and there has just never been time. It would be a perfect day to tackle it.

If the family car has begun to look a little like a rolling kitty litter box, it would be a thrill to have it cleaned out, vacuumed and washed—tedious tasks she would surely love not to have to do. Life is always more refreshing in a clean car.

Or maybe the household, the yard and the car are already in perfect order—the family time can be enjoyed in another way. How about a relaxing walk in a beautiful setting, a long bike ride capped off by ice cream for the entire family? Or, because it is a generational holiday, how about bringing all the family together for a picnic or communal dinner. Time together can provide the most precious of all gifts—golden memories. Throw in a few pictures to perpetuate the memory and it will far outlast flowers that wither and fade.

Remember the rainbow card slowing becoming sepia-toned in my sea chest? Sit children down to create their own for their moms. My own son’s Father’s Day (dads count too!) was given a joyous start once when his little fellow presented him a card with the words, ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ written down its front and a stick drawing of them together on their bicycles. The value of such things cannot be measured.

But back to mom. If the children are old enough, put pens in their hands and ask them to write a few words of appreciation. Truly thinking about another person is the essence of most of our giving holidays and nothing requires more thought than organizing ideas on paper to express your special bond. It doesn’t have to be eloquent - ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ can say it all.

Today’s amazing technology and a little bit of your time (well, probably more than a little) can provide a unique gift. Many of us have drawers jumbled full of old photos. Older pictures may have faded or become damaged. Scanning and restoring these irreplaceable images and organizing them so they can be easily enjoyed (either in photo albums or digitally) can bring real joy. If you have a little more time and talent, have old home movies digitized and turn them into a video story of your family.

Little things can mean a lot. While she is luxuriating with her feet up (if she can restrain herself from joining the action), pamper her with something she really enjoys. If she has a penchant for cheese, pick up a little sampling of choice cheeses, some party crackers and maybe a bottle of wine. If she doesn’t imbibe, think about what she does like—specialty tea or coffee, anyone? Does she have a sweet tooth—this would be a perfect day to set weight control aside and enjoy a treat.

Or improvise a spa day with a basket full of the essential ingredients. Show her you pay attention to who she really is by filling it with her favorite scents and products. And then give her the time to use it undisturbed. Sometimes the gift of solitude, of time to think long thoughts, can be the greatest gift of all.

Flowers are a perennial Mother’s Day favorite. May is little early for wildflowers but some gay early spring flowers are dotting the landscape. Search hard enough and you may be able to pick a colorful bouquet to brighten her day at little or no expense.

If there is not a flower to be had without invading the neighbor’s garden (not advised), get thee to the supermarket and let the kids choose a pretty mixture of flowers for Mother’s Day. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to look pretty.

If your mom is distant and you cannot do any of these things for her in person, don’t forget that wonderful invention, the telephone. Take time to call and spend some time with the conversation.

You’ll notice that all these ideas require one thing—personal engagement. None are very expensive, but all require you to think about mothers as real people with real needs, real emotions, real desires. It is, as the cliché insists, all about the thought you put into it.