Mom's the Word

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

I spend a lot of time talking about dads in this column. Because I'm a dad. But May means Mother's Day, and the moms in my life - particularly my mom, my wife and my mother-in-law - deserve more plaudits than I could ever fit here. In fact, they're the main reasons I'm able to type these words.

My mom is an endless source of encouragement for my writing pursuits and always has been, even when I'm reviewing a record by some obscure folk musician or profiling someone only people in Columbus care about. If I wrote it, she cares.

My wife's job allows me to pursue stories I'm genuinely interested in rather than writing marketing materials for some corporate entity's next enhanced, digital, multiplatform, consultant-approved, workplace-efficiency product (not that there's anything wrong with that). And my mother-in-law has whisked away my two munchkins countless times so that I can meet deadlines.

Not to mention they're all just great moms - so great that Mother's Day, a vital cash cow in the greeting-card industry's growing herd, feels cheapened by the excessive commerce (see also: Christmas and every other holiday for which Target is redecorated). It made me wonder how Mother's Day originated.

Ann Jarvis spent much of her life in West Virginia in the 19th century championing women's causes through her Mothers' Day Work Clubs, which helped improve sanitary conditions, and later, after the Civil War, through an annual Mothers' Friendship Day that sought to ease tensions and promote peace among the war-torn republic.

Soon after Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, vowed to create a nationally recognized "Mother's Day." The first observance was held in a church in Grafton, W.Va., in 1908, and by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Jarvis intended the holiday to be a day for you to spend time with your mother and celebrate her service and sacrifice. She wanted it to be personal rather than a general celebration of motherhood, hence "Mother's Day" and not "Mothers' Day." But the holiday quickly became the latter and a boon to the flower, candy and greeting-card industries.

Jarvis didn't accept this. According to Katharine Antolini, who chronicles Jarvis' story in her book Memorializing Motherhood, Jarvis organized boycotts, protested at a confection convention and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a 1925 convention held in Philadelphia by the American War Mothers.

Jarvis never surrendered to the repurposed version of her holiday and never became a mother herself. She died in a Philadelphia sanitarium in 1948 at age 84.

The moral of this story is not to spend the month of May railing against maniacal Hallmark monsters, lest we end up like Jarvis. Flowers are pretty. Chocolate tastes good. Those are not horrible things to give to your mom or the mother of your children.

But there's something to be said for re-personalizing Mother's Day - to spend some time reflecting on the specific sacrifices made by the mothers in our lives, and then find a way to communicate appreciation in a way that may or may not involve a carnation.

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who just put a lot of pressure on himself this Mother's Day.