Mother's Day BluesMother’s Day is an ambiguous holiday. Does Mother’s Day include mothers-in-law? Godmothers? Grandmothers? Mother Theresa?
Besides his or her own mother, a married person often has to maintain a good—make that civil—relationship with the mother-in-law. Perhaps we should have a separate Mother-in-Law Day; well, maybe half a day. This would not be an occasion solely dedicated to gift-giving. It would be a time to buy a dedicated telephone line for mom-in-law’s criticism, to enroll her in a course entitled, “How to Communicate With Relatives Without Sobbing and Pointing a Gnarled Forefinger,” and to get her to move to Newfoundland.
Mothers-in-law can’t help it. Their offspring has been hijacked by a stranger and mom is not content to go gentle into that good night. She will fight against her loss. She feels it is her right—indeed, duty—to help the youngsters run their household, raise their kids, plan menus and participate in all decisions. Her advice need not be solicited, but it will come anyway.
Regard Rodney, a slightly rotund, slightly balding actuary for an insurance company who married Nancy, a woman who appreciated Rodney’s solid, stable, less-than-scintillating personality. (It has been said that an actuary is like an accountant but without the personality.)
Nancy is quiet. She was forced to be quiet by her mother. Her mother drove her nuts when she was a kid and is still doing so. Nancy’s mom calls several times a week to find out why Nancy isn’t pregnant yet. If Rodney answers the phone, she advises him to take Viagra a few times a day. She asks why he has turned down her dinner invitation the last 30 times. She asks if she can join him and Nancy on their next cruise. No, she says, she has never heard of Newfoundland.
So the question is, what does Rodney do for his mother-in-law on Mother’s Day? Ruefully, he admits that a mortar round is out of the question. Maybe he could convey a message by giving her a small reptile. Nah, she’d probably cook it. He has to give her something or he will hear about it for decades. A muzzle? Nah, she could wear it and still be able to snarl. Rodney decides to give her an orchid—a plastic one. He’ll save about thirty bucks.
Rodney also has to deal with his grandmother. She came over from Poland and speaks English as if she arrived yesterday. In the old country she attended the equivalent of high school where she took classes in guilt. Over the last few years she has perfected the world-weary sigh and the dismissive gesture indicating that she needs no help, that she’d rather suffer than impose. For Mother’s Day, Rodney gets his grandmother video reruns of “I Love Lucy,” which was the last program she admitted enjoying.
The real challenge for Rodney is his own mother. She graduated from Columbia, has an MBA from Wharton, and is a consultant for several pharmaceutical companies. She is hip, tech-savvy, go-go, fashionable, articulate, and makes many dollars. She and Rodney’s dad, a lawyer, take exotic trips involving kayaking, trekking and viewing animals that haven’t been catalogued yet. She goes nowhere without her laptop and P.A. (with Bluetooth, of course). Rodney has to scramble to keep up with his mom. She is always sending him text messages and IM-ing him when he is online. She urges him to get a video phone, but he’d rather not broadcast his bald spot. When all is said and done, Rodney is intimidated by his mother.
So what does he do for her on Mother’s Day? This is not easy. Imagination is not Rodney’s strong suit. Flowers are boring. Candlesticks are not much better. And she has every gadget known to man … uh, known to woman. Finally, he hits on it: he finds a photo of himself and his sister, taken when the two of them were in elementary school. He goes to a lab, has it blown up, transferred to a quilt, and shipped off to his mom.
Despite her professional involvement and hectic pace, his mom is sensitive and occasionally emotional. She is touched by Rodney’s thoughtfulness and calls him to express her delight. Now all he has to worry about is next year.
But we must also consider Mother’s Day from the perspective of the mother. Not every child turns out the way mothers want them to. Not every child showers often, wears Dockers and aspires to attend graduate school. Go to a movie and you will stand in line with youngsters who exhibit tattoos, pierced tongues and noses, and hair streaked purple and orange. They are wearing black leather and black boots and have lots of metal. They jangle when they walk.
All these counterculture kids have mothers. Typically, mom will call her precious-but-wayward son and tentatively ask how he’s doing. If he’s in a good mood he will say something like, “Everything’s cool. I’m out of rehab.” Hey, under the circumstances, what better news can a mother get?
Well, maybe the kid will straighten out. Maybe next year on Mother’s Day he will call mom and inform her he’s been accepted as a trainee at a bank or he has a job as a parking valet or he’s making $15 an hour repairing bikes. So long as his hair is one color, mom will be happy. •

Asher Rubin’s wife is the mother of their two kids. If Asher declines to give her a gift on Mother’s Day on the ground she is not his mother, she asks him to sleep in the next town.