Mothers Day has utterly confounded me as far back as I can remember. During my childhood years, spent unhappily suffocating in lily-white, middle-class, conservative suburbia, I was continually struck by the jarring disparities between mothers I met in public, at school, at friends’ homes and, especially, those that dominated TV screens and supermarket magazines in the 1970s and ’80s, and the woman I knew as “Mom.” For better and for worse, Mom shared next to nothing with mothers. The contrast was so striking in fact, it occurred to me on more than one occasion that I might be born from another species altogether.
Mothers loved jewelry. Mom, on the other hand, rarely wore anything other than her gold wedding band. I have no recollection of ever seeing her wear earrings, at least not until she took up competitive ballroom dancing much later in life. (And holy hell, did she ever complain about those heavy rhinestoned clip-ons.)
As you may have also discerned from the Zales ad, mothers also loved wearing pink dresses, frankly pink anything, far more than any other color. (Yellow finished a close second).
Mothers and daughters in matching dresses was also A Thing in the 70s. The overall effect was the infantilizing of the mothers rather than overly-maturing the daughters, though it’s hard to say which would be worse.
Either way, it’s fucking creepy.
Unlike the mothers of the nation, Mom’s wardrobe contained nothing pink whatsoever, and very few dresses or skirts at all, of any color. Unless she was going to church or to A Thing, Mom habitually dressed in polyester “slacks.”
Mom also insisted on dressing her eldest daughter in (non-pink) polyester slacks too, while said daughter’s public school peers wore dresses, skirts, khakis and jeans (these were coveted most of all).
The non-pink polyester slack rule did not apply to my sister, however, for reasons I have never understood. Sis was swathed in pinks (and yellows), embellished with bows, ruffles, satin florettes and lace. Mom was seemingly allergic to all of those accoutrements, as none could be found in her closet. This strange allergy apparently affected her if I were to wear them, too.
Even the walls of sis’s room were painted and wallpapered in the brightest of pinks, with matching curtains, sheets and rugs.
As a cis-femme kid, I wanted aaaaall the pinks, dammit, maybe a few ruffled shirts to wear with jeans, and dresses and skirts, too, like most of the girls in my classes wore (and probably couldn’t escape wearing even if they wanted to – a different though related issue that no one seemed to consider, much less speak of).
Alas, this was not to be. There was no fighting Mom: she was (and still is) the win-at-all-costs type. Knowing this about her, I’m guessing she considered the cultural messaging (PINK!) in ads like these a challenge to be fought – and won.
As depicted in the the “Wifesaver” ad above, wives and mothers swanning around kitchen appliances in gowns and dresses, whether pink or yellow, was apparently a common activity. To the best of my knowledge, Mom never exhibited such behavior. How could she? She didn’t have the wardrobe.
What was clearly apparent was that mothers spent an inordinate amount of time at home in their kitchens. All dressed up.
1970s West Bend Brand Appliances Ad.
Small kitchen appliances are presented as “Uncommom Gifts” to a smiling white woman in the midst of opening gift boxes filed with them. Note her white, lacy, ruffled blouse, accented with a cameo brooch.
By contrast, Mom seemed to spend as little time in the kitchen as was humanly possible without starving her kids. Except for the rare Bundt Cake from a box, she almost never baked, and in fact she almost never cooked, at least not as that word is commonly understood in the English language. This was perfectly fine with my sister and me because, unbeknownst to Mom, she was (and still is) a terrible cook. Sis and I were thrilled with Swanson’s TV dinners, frozen pizzas and individually wrapped portions of processed snack foods. We guzzled by the gallon drinks like Hi-C and Hawaiian Punch, which, in addition to dyes in colors not typically found in nature, consisted of about as much dissolved sugar as the liquid could contain.
Naturally, this became our “normal.” Even though it was obviously very different from what we would be served for dinner at the homes of friends and family – to say nothing of the meals that mothers on TV shows and commercials prepared – we were content. As long as Mom didn’t “cook.”
Mothers also adored flowers, both the real thing and facsimiles thereof, printed all over their clothing, on both table and bedroom linens, and sometimes even the walls.
Not Mom tho! By this point you will not be surprised to learn that her wardrobe was virtually flower-free, as were all of the vases in our home. In her later years she would come around to embracing flowers a little bit. Sort of. See, Mom has come to incorporate in her home decor flowers, greenery and even fruit, all of it made of plastic. Which I… I… I’m sorry, but I really try to avoid encouraging or participating in petroleum-based atrocities.Now let me be clear: I find no fault whatsoever with my Mom eschewing superficial, oppressive gender norms or the stereotypes of “mother” that dominated TV screens and supermarket magazines in the 1970s – if indeed she was even aware that was what she was doing. (I have my doubts.) What I am saying is that at the time, the near-total divergence between Mom and “mothers” was quite confusing to me, a cis-femme kid. My confusion reached its peak every year when Mothers Day rolled around and I was faced with the seemingly impossible conundrum of how to celebrate Mom.
Thankfully, that was all decades ago, right? Mom may not have changed much at all, but the world surely has! As I face the yearly Mothers Day problem once again, l shall simply consult some of the helpful retailers in my email inbox. If their subject lines promising to deliver “perfect Mothers Day gifts” are any indication, this won’t take very long.
Let’s see what Macy’s has for Mom! The World’s Largest Department Store has been emailing me all week!
A few years ago on Mothers Day, I had prepared a lavish brunch for Mom, my sister and her children (my two nieces). I also gave both Mom and sis a small, token gift of a simple Swarovski crystal pendant.
My sister opened hers first; the crystal caught the light and reflected back at us with such intense fiery radiance, even my teen nieces were temporarily roused from their phones. Sis loved it, and put it on immediately.
Then Mom opened hers, and said through a forced smile with gritted teeth, “Oh. It’s the same.” Some time later she announced to all of us, “You know, it would be fine by me if I never received another piece of jewelry in my life.” So, you know, that’s out.
Oooooh! Just look at all that shiiiiiiny cookware and all those gleaming little kitchen appliances! Obviously, this will never do.
Several years ago for Mothers Day, I had prepared a lavish brunch for Mom, sis and nieces. (Deja vu?) For quite some time I had been listening to vague and repetitive complaints from Mom about her old stand mixer. (Lard only knows what she had been using it for. Do they still make boxed Bundt cake mix?) But I had found a Mothers Day deal on Breville stand mixers; I owned one myself and loved it. I figured my sister – who is an excellent cook – could probably use a nice new one too, so I bought one for each of them. Probably from Macy’s.
After coffee and dessert the time came to open gifts. My sister was so happy! I had chosen the sleek black finish model for her, to coordinate with her kitchen. For Mom, I picked the same stainless steel model that I had, and very similar to the old one that was spawning Mom’s ceaseless complaining.
The wrapping paper was halfway torn from the box when she stopped, and said, “I already have a mixer.”
“You keep saying it doesn’t work well any more. So I got you one like mine – I really love it.”
“Mine usually works. It works okay…and when it doesn’t I can just use my hand-held electric one—”
“Are you saying you don’t want this one? ‘Cuz I can take it back, and you can pick out something different you can use…?”
Mom sighed. “No, I’ll try it,” she said tentatively, then finished unwrapping it and put it aside on the floor. I never heard another word about it.
One day, I was sitting in her kitchen as she was looking for something in her cabinets. I caught a glimpse of a stainless steel stand mixer, and was about to ask her how she liked it, when I realized it was her old one. No sign of the Breville.
I’m sure I could totally rock this white and pink flower-print dress. I’d lose the yellow handbag of course, pull on my combat boots and hit a boozy brunch with my friends. Mom though? Not so much. Bad enough that it’s a dress. But really, it’s the pink floral print that utterly dooms it. And I’ll spare you the many similar stories I could tell you about gifting Mom with clothing items. (They’re a lot like the standing mixer story, but with more complaints, even long afterward.)
So much for Macy’s.
Of course there was 1-800-FLOWERS. This ad appeared in an email from AAA. AAA! You know, the people who tow your car?
The last time I sent Mom a bouquet of fresh flowers in a vase for Mothers Day, she bluntly informed me it was a shame that soon they would die. I had, as usual, disappointed her. (If she was hinting at plastic versions, she is SOL.)
How about Amazon? Those fuckers had been hitting me up all week with emails too.
Seems I could safely skip the top row of pink icons, and much of the bottom row too. I clicked on “Tech.” Mom is not tech-savvy, but I had hope that I could find some simple gizmo or gadget that makes life easier when you push a button. The pink header banner was overwhelmingly…well, pink. I scrolled through a few screens, but there was nothing on offer that Mom would ever need or want.
I clicked around some more and ended up on a pinkified page headed “Books Mom Will Love.” Mom’s not a big reader, and the few titles I scanned would be of less-than-zero interest to her. Cookbooks? Please.
Who else is all up in here?
Nordstrom, offering more unsuitable and/or pink items:
Meanwhile Nordstrom Rack, their discount line, went all in on pink floral prints, on dresses and handbags.
Pottery Barn, which doesn’t sell jewelry, is selling pink customizable jewelry boxes.
Harry and David was shilling bon-bons for Mom, presented with flowers and pink ribbons of course.
There was only one last hope remaining in my inbox: Cheryl’s Cookies. I mean, who the fuck doesn’t like cookies? Even if they’re pink and/or flower-shaped, cookies are fucking delicious.
Mom’s pink flower cookies were delivered to her door yesterday. So far, I haven’t heard a word. Something tells me I will.
Happy Mothers Day to all the incredible mothers I know and love, including comrades on this very site.
This post, which is more personal than my usual writing, was created especially for FtB’s Mothers Day Fundraiser event, for which I also contributed the graphic art.
That’s right, I took one of Da Vinci’s Madonna and Child paintings, nixed the kid, and stuck a giant swaddled spider in her arms. FOR YOU.
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