Donna Tavano: The Real Superheroes

Which holiday generates 11 percent more telephone traffic, is responsible for one quarter of all plant and flower sales and results in the sale of 152 million card sales? Hint: It’s right around the corner. The second Sunday in May is always Mother’s Day, so decreed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Variations of holidays celebrating moms have been going on for, well, forever. Early Egypt feted the goddess Isis. In ancient Rome, the Hilari festival honored Cybele, and the old Greeks considered Rhea, Mother of the Gods, the cat’s meow. Mother’s Day occurs on different dates all over the world, but its official recognition, and present calendar date in the U.S., took a decade or two from first proposal, with many contesting who its champion promoter really was. Most attribute the holiday to Anna Reeves Jarvis, who, oddly, never married or had children, honoring, instead, her own mother, Mrs. Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis, mother of 13, only four surviving to adulthood. Mrs. Jarvis, a social worker, formed mother’s clubs to teach child care and hygiene to mothers in hopes of reducing the high infant mortality rate due to disease. When she died in 1905, Anna sent 500 white carnations, her mom’s favorite to her church. Carnations became the most popular gift flower, red for living mothers, and white for those who had passed.

Another contender is Julia Ward Howe, who in 1872 wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She championed Mothers for Peace, an anti-war group established because so many mothers had lost sons in the Civil and Franco-Prussian Wars. Then we have Henderson, Ky., which puts forward its own contestant, Mary Towels Sasseen, a 24-year-old school principal who wrote a book of songs and poems to assist schools in promoting tributes to mothers. And, from the gridiron crowd, even men get into the act. The Fraternal Order of Eagles suggests that it is a football coach and faculty member at Notre Dame who should take the cake. Frank Hering made his students write a note to their mothers once a month. Any chance he was just angling for tasty thank you goodies sent to him by grateful moms?

Back to Anna, who didn’t fare so well. She was enraged that her idea, suggesting we pen personal and intimate hand written cards and letters of thanks to mom, was hijacked by Hallmark and candy companies, “schemers and profiteers” out to make a buck. She then, for years, boycotted Mother’s Day and threatened to sue the businesses. Arrested for public disturbance, she spent her inheritance on the ill fated effort to fight big business, and eventually died at 84 in a sanitarium, blind and batty. Politics also played its part in the Mother’s Day drama, as some socialists felt the day was created merely to set back the progress women had made entering the workplace, the conservative crowd just wanting to keep ’em barefoot and pregnant.

Not everyone has kids; 47 percent of U.S. women over 22 don’t, but we all have mothers. There are some bad apples, some absent, but most moms are pretty self-sacrificing and dependable. They birth us, nurse us and hopefully, nurture us. Today’s mom often does this while working outside the home, sometimes without a partner to share the burden. And let’s not forget those who may not be mothers but end up mothering others. All of these are the true superheroes.

To honor your mom, or who you consider your mom this May 12, take a minute and channel Anna Jarvis and hand-craft a card or gift. Give mom a Peace Lily or succulents in a cute planter, both easy care. If you give an outside flower or tree, plant it for her. Go New Age and make a trendy smudge stick, a bouquet of white sage, lavender, rose and yarrow. Its smoke is said to cleanse the energy of a space. Consider assembling a heart-shaped collage of family pix and frame it. Take profile photos of the kids or grandkids and cut out silhouettes for framing. Or, you can really “hammer” it home. Get a plain canvas tote, then literally pound flower blossoms into the fabric. Dads will get rid of their frustrations for coming up empty by not making reservations early enough at her favorite restaurant. It doesn’t really matter what you give her as long as it reflects your love and appreciation for what she means to you. And Dad, if you “nail” this, remember that Father’s Day is just around the corner—who knows, you could raise the bar…just sayin'.