ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

MOTHER’S DAY OUT OF CONTROL

West Virginian Anna Jarvis is universally credited with coming up with the idea for an American Mother’s Day in 1908.  What isn’t as widely remembered is that nine years after the first official Mother’s Day in this country, Anna Jarvis became the nation’s most publicly outspoken opponent of – what else? – Mother’s Day.

This is roughly akin to Santa dissing Christmas, or Punxsutawney Phil being a conscientious objector to Groundhog Day.  This is Henry Ford urging the automobubbling public to park their Model T’s, or Wilbur and Orville Wright coming back from Kitty Hawk and saying, “Never mind.  They’ll just start charging people extra to check their luggage.”

By all accounts (i.e., Wikipedia), Jarvis led a six-year campaign that eventually led to President Woodrow Wilson making Mother’s Day an official national holiday in 1914.  Her concept was a day to honor mothers in general – and her own mother in particular – in quiet, intimate and deeply personal ways.

Within a few years, however, the commercialization of Mother’s Day soured Jarvis on the whole idea.  She hated Mother’s Day greeting cards, which she felt were the lazy person’s way out of writing a personal, heart-felt letter.  She protested – literally – the growing influence of florists and jewelers on the holiday.  In 1948, the same year that she died, records show that she was actually arrested while protesting against Mother’s Day commercialization.

It was as if the Easter Bunny had been jailed for protesting the coloring of Easter eggs.

Jarvis’ fight against Mother’s Day lasted four times longer than her fight to make it a national holiday, and consumed whatever fortune she had accumulated in life.  To her dying day she is reported to have said that she regretted the creation of Mother’s Day because “it became so out of control.”

I know.  In an era that features “Bad Girls Club,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Girls Gone Wild,” it is difficult to put the words “Mother’s Day celebration” and “out of control” in the same sentence.  But let’s just assume for a second that Jarvis was on to something.  Let’s assume that the estimated $2.6 billion Americans will spend this year on Mother’s Day flowers and the $1.53 billion they will spend on other miscellaneous Mother’s Day gifts and the $68 million they will spend on greeting cards is . . . well . . . you know . . . out of control.

Is there a better, more under control way to honor mothers on Mother’s Day?

A few months after my mother died, I spent a few evenings with my father sorting through some of Mom’s things.  It had taken him that long to reach the point where he felt he was ready to face the feelings and emotions that surely would come.  We smiled a lot and we both shed a few tears as we made our way through a box of precious things that Mom, for one reason or another, had decided to hang on to.

Among the keepsakes and souvenirs within that box were a dozen or so Mother’s Day cards from her children and grandchildren.  Keep in mind that Mom had eight children and 54 grandchildren – she had received hundreds of Mother’s Day cards through the years.  But for some reason, she chose to save these particular cards.  After examining them, it became clear why they were treasured.  It had nothing to do with the design or intrinsic value of the card itself.  In every case there was a hand-written message – sometimes in childish scrawl, sometimes in careful adult script – that expressed profound feelings.  There were no cards that just said, “Love, Kathy” or “Love ya, Mom!” or even “Happy Mother’s Day!”  The cards she cherished were cards that explained, in the giver’s own hand and words, why SHE was cherished.

So, OK – I’m not fully on board with Anna Jarvis.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy the Mother’s Day flowers and gifts.  Heaven knows, the economy needs that multi-billion dollar jolt right about now.  But don’t let your money do your talking for you.  Don’t assume the mother you honor will know how you feel by the simple fact of your gift.  Tell her, in your own words, why you love her.  Your message doesn’t have to be long and flowery – it just has to come from your heart.  Write it.  Speak it.  Text it.  Pray it.  But for heaven’s sake, share it.  Those words, expressing those tender emotions, are what makes Mother’s Day so sweet.

And not quite so out of control.

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— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World."

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