By Francie Arenson
This Mother’s Day marks the 35th anniversary of the biggest feud in my family’s history. The Microwave Fight broke out, as I’m sure our neighbors could tell you, on a Sunday morning in 1981, the morning of Mother’s Day and my mother’s 40th birthday, when my father, brother and I bestowed upon her a microwave.
The most upsetting part of the fight—aside from the realization that the highly anticipated contraption would apparently be going back to the store—was that we’d thought the gift was a sure thing. For months, my mother had been talking about how we needed one of these machines that cooked food instantaneously. Yes, she’d haggled over the safety aspect. There was concern about cancer. But in the end, she, like any right-minded mother, decided to err on the side of making dinner preparation easier.
The three of us took her decision and ran straight to the appliance store, and on Mother’s day, we smugly unloaded our perfect gift from the back of the wagon and hefted it towards the door to the house where the woman of the hour stood waiting. We didn’t even bother to wrap the cardboard box, that’s how good we thought it was. So we were blindsided when my mother’s face fell upon reading the word OVEN on the side of the box. From there, chaos ensued.
“But we thought you wanted a microwave,” my father said as the three of us marched the box and our dumbfounded selves back into the wagon.
I remember racing out of the driveway with my mother still in it, hollering, “No woman wants a appliance for Mother’s Day!”
Words I’ve chosen to live by. In fact, because technology may fall under the appliance umbrella, she will not be getting an iPad for this year’s joint 75th birthday and Mother’s day gift. Nonetheless, these words didn’t shed any light on what my mother wanted. Only now, thirty years and a husband, two kids and a dog later, I think I have some idea. My guess is that she, like many mothers, mothers who devote their unpaid days to putting others’ needs before them, want their people to think about them in the way they think about their people. Which, clearly, we did not. Or else we might have realized that a gift for the kitchen is not the best idea for a woman who is looking for ways to get out of there faster. And no one, regardless of their line of work wants a gift that screams, “Enjoy today, but tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone.”
For this, I would like to take the opportunity to formally apologize. Not only do I see you, Mom, but I give you credit for handling the situation as well as you did. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have stuck around. We recently fixed up our house and I refused to spend the money specifically allocated to a new microwave on a new microwave. I, instead, bought throw pillows and a glass knot at West Elm. With the change I got a facial.
My guess is that miscalculations of microwave magnitude don’t happen as often today because of the “tools” in place (marketing campaigns) to guide husbands and children towards the perfect gift. And by perfect, I mean satisfactory. One to which a mother can say, “Although I’d rather have a necklace, you all and your gift will do.” Because really, how can any single object, or day for that matter, give justice to all that we mothers are and do?
It cannot, the concept is inane, as are the countless websites, articles and emails dedicated to helping us do just that. This year, for example, Esquire Magazine lists the top 30 Mother’s Day Gifts of 2016. It suggests flannel pajama bottoms for The Mother Who Needs a Nap. To which I ask, whose mom doesn’t? It suggests a top for The Mother Who Always Dresses her Best. To that, I ask, whose mom does? Even the financial publication The Street offers a list of sure-fire Mother’s Day gifts. Though you won’t catch me putting my money on items 2 and 5, the Robotic Vacuum Cleaner or the Multi-Cooker Crock Pot.
Many stores around the country now help eliminate the guesswork altogether by offering wish lists. Yes indeed, mothers can now register for Mother’s Day. We can come in, shop around and set aside items we want, which the husband or children can acquire ten seconds before presentation with the simple offering of a wallet. On its face, this concept seems at odds with the point of Mother’s Day, which as we just established, is to put thought into your mother.
On the other hand—as my family learned the hard way—the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So perhaps the online marketing and the in-store wishlists, while seeming to commercialize and superficialize Mother’s Day, are actually heading off a storm. They are keeping the peace, which is, when all is said and done, what mothers want above all else anyways, and which, ironically, is what Mother’s Day was intended to be about.
The origins of Mother’s Day date back to 1870 and to Julia Ward Howe, the abolitionist and poet, who, after witnessing the devastating loss of sons and husbands due to the Civil War, fought to establish a Mother’s Day of Peace. A day when woman around the nation could come together and figure out how to prevent war.
“Arise then…women of this day!” she wrote.
“Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: ‘We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
Nothing like a proclamation to put things in perspective. It turns out that Mother’s Day—what do you know—wasn’t even intended to celebrate mothers, and it certainly wasn’t intended to be about gifts. Julia Ward Howe called for nothing to be bestowed upon us, other than the presence of our children. So, technically, it seems anyone who asked for a day alone at the spa is doing it wrong. As is anyone who turned in a wishlist. Although to the extent that the wishlists help to keep the peace, perhaps Julia would have been in favor. Although I have a hunch her list would have never included a microwave.
Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have appeared in publications including, The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and has just completed her first novel. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook and read more of her work at: Read more of her work at franciearensondickman.com.