Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mother's Day: A History

Ah, it’s almost Mother’s Day…supposedly it’s my holiday, my day to be celebrated for all the awesomeness I bring to our family which, for the other 364 days, is completely and totally overlooked. Yay me!!! For a whopping one whole day,  I get to be celebrated. Statistically, one day out of 365 is an incredibly sad percentage…0.3 percent of the time, I am cherished and valued. Yup, sounds about right. 
I’m a little hostile about Mother’s Day (and Christmas, for that matter) because I feel the spirit of the holiday has been lost in our commercialism and self-interest. But then I decided I was full of it, since I don’t even know anything about the history of Mother’s Day and am frequently prone to have cynical feelings about things that are widely considered as good. So I tasked my trusty assistant, Mr. Wiki, to research the origins of the holiday. 
Enter Ann Jarvis. In 1858, this progressive woman founded the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five towns in Virginia to help the community, from raising money for medicine for families with an ill mother or children to inspecting milk. After the Civil War broke out, the MDWC declared neutrality and provided nurses – trained by Ann’s doctor brother – for both Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war ended, Ann organized a “Mothers Friendship Day” for both Union and Confederate soldiers and their families, to try to ease postwar strife. She did just that, in 1868, and the band played both Dixie and The Star Spangled Banner at the event, which ended with attendees in tears, singing together to Auld Lang Syne. 
Ann Jarvis died on May 8, 1905, after a lifetime of selfless service to her own family (four surviving children of an estimated dozen or so births) and to families in her community. Her daughter, Anna, organized a memorial on May 10, 1908, to honor her mother, and all mothers, in Grafton, WV, and then proceeded for the next several years to promote recognition of a national holiday to honor the daily services and sacrifices of mothers within the home. She succeeded in 1914, when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday of each May. The holiday eventually spread throughout the world. 
But Anna Jarvis quickly got perturbed by the commercialization of Mother’s Day (I knew I was on to something!). She had designated the white carnation as the symbol of the holiday, appreciating how the carnation closes in on its petals as it dies, likening it to a mother’s hug always keeping the love of her children close to her heart. Yet when the greeting card, floral and chocolate industries realized the potential profitability of the holiday, Anna Jarvis spent her remaining years and inheritance trying to preserve the sentimental intention of the day and was even arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace during a protest against the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day spending this year is expected to be around $21 billion. It’s the third biggest retail holiday and the most popular day of the year to eat at a restaurant. Jewelers take in a good share of their annual revenue from Mother’s Day, and the floral industry ($2.6 billion), greeting card industry ($68 million) and “pampering” gifts (i.e. spa treatments - $1.5 billion) all share in the profit. The sassy blogs have been circulating. Mothers are lamenting prior year Mother’s Day escapades and making their wishes known in advance - whether it’s for something big or small or expensive or blingy - so as to not have a repeat of the year they got a live frog in a box, or some reptilian equivalent from little Johnny. It's not entirely about the swag, but a lot of it is about the swag.
Interestingly, Anna Jarvis never married or had children of her own. And, obviously, the early 20th century was surely a far cry different from the early 21st century, so I don’t want to be harsh on Ann. She wanted a day to idolize mothers but, as a mother (and specifically as a mother to several small children), I can only speak on my own behalf, but I would love to be completely forgotten for an entire day. Please, kids, forget me!!! Just for a day, forget that I live here! Forget that I usually know where everything is!!! Forget that I know how to replace a toilet paper roll!! Forget that I am in the shower, or using the toilet, or on the phone!! Ignore me, please!! Pretend I am wearing an invisibility cloak! When you have a knot in your shoelaces, find a fork! When you need to use the bathroom, don’t come find me, just get there on your own!!! When you need to know which shoe goes on which foot, just match the shape of your shoe to the shape of your foot! When someone is miffed at someone else, solve it with words or fists, but figure it out on your own!! Honestly, I’m not that smart…I just Google tons of stuff and watch lots of YouTube how-to videos!! Truly, you don’t need me for everything!!!! Just for one day, for the Love. Of. Pete…
Sigh…I think I sound curmudgeonly. I’m with Anna, in that I am anti-commercialization but, at this stage in my mothering career, I also totally don’t need any extra attention. When your greatest dream is of using the toilet without an audience…truly, sometimes less is more.