What moms really want

The best Mother's Day gifts are the ones that can't be marketed


Published May 11, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

In the news business, every season, holiday and major event brings with it a flood of press releases from well-meaning companies trying to link their product/service/idea to current events.

For example, hurricane season on the East Coast cannot pass without my email inbox bulging with press releases about home emergency kits, window-protecting devices to communication tools (this despite the fact that we're about as likely to experience a hurricane in Central Oregon as a tsunami). Likewise, as summer approaches, I receive dozens of press inquiries wondering if we will write about some new diet pill that promises to make you beach-ready, or special money-protecting handbags for travelers, or kitschy wine glasses for outdoor entertaining — you get the idea.

Mother's Day is no different in the land of PR. As it approaches, dozens of companies try to tie their products to the holiday, sometimes in touching and meaningful ways (say, a memoir from a woman whose mother struggled with mental illness), and sometimes less successfully (Mother's Day gift guides including protein bars and weight loss shakes? Really?).

One particularly terrible example this year promoted a pill that promised to return color to Mom's gray hair. “After all the years of being blamed for Mom's gray hair, this Mother's Day give Mom the best gift possible, the gift of youth by bringing back her natural hair color!” said the press release.

The best Mother's Day gift possible? I beg to differ. While my own hair creeps more toward gray every year (I prefer to call it sparkle), the last thing I want from my children is a message that says “Mom, you look old — fix it.”

The same goes for the Mother's Day promotion that urged gift givers to partake in a sale of fitness equipment. The message here? “Mom, you're fat — here's a treadmill.”

Not that questionable gifts are limited to the realm of marketing. I've heard plenty of stories through the years of gifts gone awry. Kitchen appliances and clothes irons don't seem to be popular presents for Mother's Day, for example, at least not among the moms I know.

And despite the spate of sappy commercials on TV advertising cheesy jewelry and bad poetry from Hallmark, I contend that what most moms really want for Mother's Day is a break from the expectations of being a mom. No homework-wrangling or chore-nagging, no figuring out how to make a dinner from the hodgepodge of random veggies in the fridge, no playing peacemaker between siblings at war, no cleaning cat puke off the carpet.

Most moms I know want the same thing for Mother's Day — a bottle of wine and a day off.

That's my only-half-joking response to my husband's question of what I want for Mother's Day. And I do daydream sometimes of a respite from motherhood. A few blessed hours to myself. The knowledge that for a little while, I won't have to worry about the Stewie Griffin-esque call of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom ...”

But then I see the coffee cup on my desk. A cheap plastic cup, stained on the inside and not particularly efficient at keeping coffee hot. It has a paper liner inside its clear plastic shell. “I love you Mommy,” it says. It has pictures of butterflies and some plastic jewels glued on. My son made it for Mother's Day when he was 4.

I guess I don't want a day off after all. I want “I love you Mommy” written on a cheap plastic mug that I will keep on my desk even when it is old and smudged. I want a handwritten card with misspelled words and stick figures drawn in crayon. I want to see my kids' sweet smiles.

Unfortunately for the PR companies, you just can't market that.

— Julie Johnson is the features editor at The Bulletin. 541-383-0308, jjohnson@bendbulletin.com