Unless you live in outer Uzbek, you are probably under a steady assault of Mother’s Day gift advertising. Despite this media onslaught, I’m not getting excited. With few exceptions, you can hardly find anything for moms today that hasn’t been pulled from a Dumpster and recycled, slapped with a “fair trade” label that cannot be removed under penalty of law, or made from “banana byproducts.”
I’ve seen tote bags advertised for Mom that have solar panels attached, as if we don’t have enough to schlep around. You call these gifts? Here’s a tip for those still shopping for that special mom in your life: I would not want to be on the receiving end of a dinner prepared by a woman who had just received a composting starter kit for Mother’s Day. Just sayin’.
Not only am I allergic to gifts with political agendas attached, but honestly, what gift could possibly come close to expressing thanks for the towering contributions of the Jewish mother? Think about it: Can you name any other group of mothers anywhere who are genetically wired to make a soup that doubles as penicillin? And don’t underestimate the soaring market value of a Jewish mother’s homemade chicken soup as co-payments for antibiotics begin to skyrocket. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if a black market emerged for this wondrous invention, with a premium paid for batches that include fluffy matzoh balls. It makes me wonder why Jewish mothers collectively have been denied a Nobel Prize in medicine for our chicken soup alone.
However, you don’t have to be a Jewish mother to realize that raising kids takes so much effort that it keeps us too busy to have time to lobby for prizes on our own behalf, no matter how remarkable a job we have done. That’s okay, darlings, we’ll stay in Chicago or Queens or Phoenix and kvell from a distance when you collect your own Nobel Prizes in Oslo, which, by the way, you would not have won unless we had been on your case to do your homework. To all you Nobel Prize winners, I have this message on behalf of all of your mothers: You’re welcome.
In the last year, various flavor-of-the-month moms have had their days in the sun, each with her own style of parenting, ranging from the almost militaristic “Tiger Moms” to the laissez-faire French moms who reportedly don’t even hand out snacks between meals! (Maybe this is why those kids are rioting in the streets in Paris now.) It’s hard to get the balance right, and the darned thing is, the balance may be different for each kid you have! No wonder this is tough work.
As for me, I’ve never cared as much about my kids’ academic and extracurricular achievements as much as I have cared about raising them to be mensches. This Yiddish word is bandied about frequently but is hard to translate succinctly. A mensch is someone of good and refined character. Someone who is kind and giving. Someone who is honest, and thinks of others before thinking of the self. Wouldn’t we all be better off if our kids saw that we valued menschiness even more than masters’ degrees?
Now, we mothers tend to have remarkable perspicacity. We know all kinds of things that you don’t think we know. Our radar whispers to us when you are dating someone we don’t approve of, frittering away hours on Facebook, and when you are about to step out into the elements without a sweater, even if it’s a nippy 72 degrees. Which is why we know what you are thinking right now: Okay, I got her a Dustbuster last year. How can I top that this year? To this agonizing question, I have a short-listed the best gifts for Mom that will prove you’re a real mensch. And as a bonus, none of these require the use of recycled banana peels.
1. Buy a sweater for yourself and show it to her, promising that you will always wear it if you go out in any inclement weather lower than 72 degrees.
2. If you are single and over 30, marry another mensch. If you do this, you won’t have to worry about gifts for Mom for the next 20 years.
3. Call her and ask her advice, even if you don’t really want it. You will add years to her life. Besides, could it hurt to ask?
4. If you have kids (and if you don’t, why not?) ask her for her recipe for chicken soup. It did wonders for you, didn’t it?
See? You don’t even need to spend a lot of money to please your mother on Mother’s Day. And if you resent the idea that this is a made-up, commercially exploited holiday, just play along. After all, if not for your mom making sure you did your homework, you would have never won 1st prize in that 7th-grade science experiment.
What do you want for Mother’s Day…really?