James Griffin

James Griffin writes The Final Word column in canvas magazine

Final word: The day when Mum's the word

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Canvas columnist, James Griffin. Photo / Dean Purcell
Canvas columnist, James Griffin. Photo / Dean Purcell

Who knew there was so much to know about Mother's Day? Until now, I was under the impression all I ever needed to know about it was it should more aptly be named Mother's Day Off, as generally what mothers want on Mother's Day is to not do any actual mothering for a day - plus presents, of course.

But then, in my childlike way, I wondered "where does Mother's Day come from?" and before I knew it, literally minutes of research on the internet had opened up to me a whole world of motherly information. Of course, being internet-based research, most of it is, at best, unreliable and very likely completely bogus. But that is not important because it was a fun way to pass the time.

Of course there were, and in some quarters probably still are, a whole bunch of Greek and Roman festivals celebrating maternal goddesses like Cybele and Rhea and Mater Idaea. But I was more interested in the Mother's Day of here and now, in this earthly realm, where it is more about a cup of tea in bed than making sacrifices and praying the womenfolk will be fertile.

Fast-forward a few thousand years and something approaching the information I was seeking appears in the form of Anna Jarvis, an American woman who never married and who never had children but clearly loved her own mother a lot. For yonks she campaigned and lobbied the (male) politicians for a national day to celebrate mothers everywhere. And as any man worth his salt knows, when a woman campaigns for something it is pretty much a done deal. Thus, once Anna set her mind to it, it was only a matter of time before, on May 8 1914, US President Woodrow Wilson caved in and declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day, thus leaving the men-folk alone to do more manly things, like World War I.

In the US, Mother's Day is a national holiday. In Mexico it is an unofficial holiday - though how this differs from most any day in Mexico is unclear. In Bulgaria it is celebrated on March 8, as part of International Women's Day, which on one hand seems quite an efficient way of celebrating all things feminine, but rather lumps mothers in with the rest of the non-breeding crowd, which kind of takes away some of the special magic of Mother's Day.

If you're a mother who simply can't get enough of Mother's Day, then May is definitely the month in which to do a little global travelling. With some judicious planning, a jet and an unlimited budget, it would be possible to have seven Mother's Days: the first Sunday of May in Lithuania; the second Sunday in Tanzania (or any of the other 79 countries who observe Mother's Day this Sunday); May 10 in Guatemala; May 15 in Paraguay; May 26 in Poland; May 27 in Bolivia; and the last Sunday of May in Sweden.

What still remains unclear to me is precisely when Mother's Day got hijacked by the marketing departments of the many and varied corporate entities looking to squeeze more and more dollars from our pockets. Imagine how much simpler it would be for us menfolk, struggling to come up with heartfelt, thoughtful and romantic gifts, if Mother's Day was actually called You Kids Can Take Her Breakfast in Bed, Then We Have to Bugger Off to the Park or Something and Leave Her Alone Day.

And one thing I truly don't understand about the corporatised behemoth that is Mother's Day, is why advertisers and, by association, advertising agencies think that when you become a mother all semblance of musical taste somehow leaves your body - presumably along with the placenta.

If I'm to believe the adverts, apparently what mothers want for Mother's Day are CDs by Elizabeth Marvelly and someone I've never heard of called Janice Bateman (I'm presuming that with a name like "Janice Bateman" we're not talking heavy metal here). Is my wife some kind of medical freak for preferring the vocal stylings of Chrissie Hynde, Kirsty MacColl and Lily Allen to Yulia and Hayley Westenra?

Of course, none of this tireless research solves the eternal Mother's Day conundrum of what the hell the kids and I are going to get the primary female caregiver of our lives. The cup of tea and the breakfast are givens, but the peace and quiet a good mother deserves probably won't eventuate, to be totally honest. We'll give it a shot for at least as long as it takes to drink the cup of tea. After that, it's all up in the air, so I guess we'll improvise from there on.

As long as it's done with love, right? That's what actually matters on Mother's Day, isn't it?

- NZ Herald

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