Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
Mother's Day cards
And why I struggle with them
Let me tell you a story about picking a Mother's Day card for my mom. I had planned to try a video story, taking you with me into my local Walgreen's to pick out this year's Mother's Day card, but I was too conspicuous and made the clerks nervous. I get it. For all they knew I was stealing Hallmark card ideas to make my own knock-offs.
Not a problem. My problem instead is trying to fit my unconventional mother--Mom--into the usual Mother's Day card genre. If you have a few minutes, click below to hear my unscripted tale of (much exaggerated) woe. (click here for a transcript of the audio)
A few years ago, I got curious about the proportion of cards with different views of motherhood, so I tracked and counted the Mother's Day cards on Hallmark's website, both paper and online (hey, I said I was curious, and I apparently had more time then than now).
Apparently, we are very serious about our mothers. About four-fifths of the Hallmark Mother's Day cards in 2014 were in the "loving" category, in contrast to "humorous," and showed lots of flowers. Mother's Day cards are, literally, flowery. You could order any one of 63 cards that were "Heartfelt" or "Sweet," but if you wanted "Funny" only 9 or "Lighthearted" only 11 to choose from. The online cards were a bit more casual and funny. Of the 32 e-cards Hallmark had on their site in 2014, I'd say 16 were heartfelt (usually with flowers), 13 humorous (often with cartoon characters) and 3 were pretty middling, like "have a relaxing day."
Although I didn't do a count of all the words in the cards (I didn't have THAT much time), I noted how commonly mothers were thanked for their caring, trust, patience, kindness, and, of course, love. Mom works hard in Mother's Day cards, cooking, cleaning, and even "wiping," as one card put it. Being a mother is a thankless job, the cards say repeatedly. But mothers even make the world better by rekindling joy, hope, and dreams.
No wonder I have a hard time finding a card for my mom (as told in my the audio recording above).
This year, I actually had better luck than usual. Most of the cards were to Mom. Someone looking for a card for "Mother" might actually have a harder time now. But even better there were cards that thanked Mom for being a role model (yes, those words!). One card's entire message, after "Happy Mother's Day" was "Celebrating a woman of strength and beauty. Celebrating you." Wow. That's different.
One beautiful card with laser-cut butterflies (fitting into the category heartfelt traditional almost flowery) had the message, "Happy Mother's Day to the woman who's taught me so much by her beautiful example. Happy Mother's Day, Mom." Of course, she could be an example of how to win beauty pageants or truss a chicken, but the card lets mom be a teacher and an example, rather than a selfless caregiver or housekeeper. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except for those of us whose mothers don't fit that motherhood model.
Oh, other cards still were the usual. Only 19 of the 242 paper cards available in store (according to Hallmark's website) were humorous, but 177 were considered "casual" and 63 "traditional." so things might be loosening up a little bit. Even the casual ones usually still have conventional content. One covered the front with wonderful words to describe mom--loving, supportive, wonderful, wise, patient, nurturing, amazing, generous, friend--and inside "Thanks for being you." Lots of them thanked mom for being a wonderful friend. Others thanked mom for the "countless things you do" for us. And mom still showed up as someone who "made the world a better place." Moms are pretty special creatures.
At least, moms are pretty special creatures in the eyes of Mother's Day cards. That special creature must be the image of mothers that we want to buy--literally. What makes them special might be changing, if my anecdotal history with Mother's Day cards holds up.
What doesn't seem to be changing is our dependence on Mother's Day cards to express our sentiments to mom on Mother's Day--a fact that really riled the woman who took credit for pushing Mother's Day as a holiday, Anna Jarvis. She objected mightily to Mother’s Day cards, reportedly complaining that, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
So if you're having trouble finding the right card, may I suggest you make your own? or shift genres and write a letter instead? or draw a picture, like you may have done when you were five! And be sure to include a flower in your drawing.
And if you're having trouble acknowledging the day at all--maybe because you didn't have the greatest mother, or maybe because your mother is gone, or maybe because your own desire to be a mother has gone unfulfilled--Mother's Day cards aren't going to do much for you. I found a card to a friend recognizing that she would be missing her mother today, and I found one to someone who had filled the gap that a mother would have filled and others to women who have been like a mother to them, without the biological origin.
But Mother's Day cards, like Mother's Day, show us what we think mothers should be, maybe what we wish mothers would be. Real people are always going to be more complicated than our wishes and dreams. That goes for mothers--and moms--too.