Friday, May 8, 2015

Witch or Mom? It's Hard to Know the Difference Sometimes

Mother’s Day offers the yearly chance to express in words and actions all the ways we wish we had

shown appreciation daily. If only it were that simple.

But has that May holiday conceived over a hundred years ago to honor the sacrifices of mothers for

their children been a victim of commercialism gone awry?  Hijacked in part by a greeting card industry

which does the talking for us so we don’t have to, Mother’s Day has become big business.

The founder of this holiday came to lament her efforts to recognize it officially. Anna Jarvis resented the

very attachment to this holiday we have come to see as customary pairing with it: The joint venture of

confectioners, florists, gift boutiques all promote ways to honor mom. She envisioned a more personal,

even religious tribute to mothers and resented the transformation of her noble gesture into a churning


Sometimes we still make the simplest expressions more difficult than they need to be.

Was the world so different then?  I checked my history facts with a few clicks and saw in 1907 the news

was peppered with disputes over immigration policies, baseball games in full swing and international

disputes over borders and takeovers. So what’s new?

Yet notable firsts occurred then too, reminding me that the five-year campaign to have a national

holiday honoring a woman was ground-breaking. Radio was in its infancy and seemed magical.

Marconi’s first wireless transmission across the sea would change the world. Music was broadcast for

the first time in America. Now we have it at our fingertips or in our ear buds.

And for women the picture was quite different. In the U.S. and Great Britain women were marching for

the right to vote while Finland was the first European country to grant suffrage to women. In a related

development that ultimately would help get women off the washboard and some into the boardroom,

the first automatic clothes washer and dryer were introduced.

But I digress.

How and why we chose to honor those we love is a personal choice. It’s not just a holiday, but any day

we choose to make expressions of thanks a priority.

We make it more difficult than it needs to be when we delay our expressions of appreciation.


 It’s the thank you note principle at work: The length of the note is in direct proportion to the promptness in writing a thank you note in proximity to the event being referenced. A short, heartfelt timely note need not
be long.

Southern women smile about those women – and we know them – who are famous for prewriting thank

yous and placing them in the mailbox when they leave an event. They know what we know: Timeliness

matters. They just act on it.

For those recovering procrastinators among us who intend to follow through on our expressions of

appreciation, the timeliness principle works against us. If we don’t do it promptly, it may cost us.

Enter Hallmark cards with their prewritten sentiments that purport to tell us better than we can say

ourselves, “Thank you” and “I love you.”

Any way you say it is surely better than delaying. And if you didn’t adequately express your thoughts

when you wished to, say something today. Whether your mom is living or not, just try writing even if for

your eyes only. A tribute offered posthumously or in person need not be flowery. Child-like simplicity

will do it.

Sometimes the words in our hearts just want to be coaxed out. We just need a safe space to do it.

My longtime friend and frequent source of joy and inspiration, Betty Parry, related a story that lingers

with me months after it happened. The honest question of a child gets to the heart of who we are.

A few holidays ago, Betty had dressed up her front porch for trick-or-treaters. She was in her pointed

black hat adjusting the wires of a recalcitrant fog machine for the full effect. Betty doesn’t do anything


An eager little boy about four approached. Seeing Betty in her black regalia, he stopped in his tracks in

the yard and hesitated: “Are you a witch…..or a mom?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference in life. Many things are not as they appear. We learn early to

be discerning.

But he already knew: It’s safe to approach a mom even when surrounded by fog on a dark night. 

Mother’s Day may be over, but the call to live with gratitude for all of those who give of themselves to

us comes to us fresh each day.