My husband and I picked up some Mother's Day cards to send to our moms this weekend. (If I ever had a coat of arms, the motto would be "Better Late than Never" over a recumbent sloth.)
I like to send Mass cards for Mother's Day, but I this year I didn't get my act together in time to send the donation off. So while we were running errands this weekend, my DH and I stopped in front of a pastel display of Mother's Day greeting cards in a local department store.
Now, I'll admit that I have things very easy when it comes to sending cards to my mom. She's never really liked what she calls "sappy" cards, the ones with lovely sentiments often expressed in rhyming verse. Funny cards are more her thing (and mine, truth be told).
But my mother-in-law has always been more fond of the "lovely sentiment" cards. To her, a good card is one that makes you cry. Since I come from a family where a hug is really only acceptable if you're actively performing the Heimlich maneuver, this open display of emotion took a bit of getting used to; but I realize that it's very much a part of my mother-in-law's personality.
Usually, my husband is able to find a thoughtful card that expresses filial appreciation within a relatively short time period; but this weekend he frowned as he rejected card after card. I had read some of them myself, and had found them to be oddly "over the top" when it came to expressing sentiment, but as I mentioned above I'm not really a good judge; so I was surprised to find out that my husband agreed with me.
The cards designed for men to send their mothers said things like, "Mom, You're my Best Friend," "Mom, You're the Only One in the World who Really Understands/Supports/Encourages Me," "Mom, I Never Appreciated You Until Now," and so on. The underlying message of all these cards, of course, is "Mom, You Were Right; I Should Never Have Married Whatshername; We'd Be so Happy If She Were Out of the Picture and the Grandkids and I Could Move In With You." Now, granted, an awful lot of moms out there would secretly love to hear this, but does the greeting card industry have to pander so blatantly to such an unworthy sentiment?
The cards designed for women to send to their mothers weren't any better. The underlying message of all of those cards was "Mom, Even When You Were Really Busy Running the Mayo Clinic or Arguing Cases Before the Supreme Court, You Always Knew When I Needed a Hug and a Plate of Cookies, and Even Now that You're Leading Rescue Missions in the Himalayas, I Know that When the Stress of Running My Fortune 500 Company Gets to Me, You and those Cookies (So Glad Martha Gave You the Recipe when You Were Both Jailed for Securities Fraud!) are Only a Phone Call and an Intercontinental Plane Trip Away!"
All of which goes to show one thing. The greeting card companies think we're all a bunch of liars.
They think we'll gladly lie to make our moms happy. They think we'll cheerfully lie to make them think we're the good kids they always wanted. They think we'll happily lie to tell them that things are exactly the same as they were when we were five years old and couldn't function without them.
Now, in a way, greeting cards have always sugar coated things. I mean, no one's going to send the card that says, "Mom, You and my Therapist have Made Me What I Am Today," right?
But the depth of cynicism required to manufacture the kind of outrageous mendacity found in today's Mother's Day cards could only be the result of a culture that is based more on advertising than on reality. We are surrounded by examples of the most egregious falsehood, all designed to sell something, from cars to cosmetics to condos by the sea. Even when we pride ourselves on being savvy consumers who don't fall for advertising, some marketing study out there somewhere is designing the perfect ad to appeal to our sense of superiority.
And on Mother's Day, we end up sending cards that say more about us than they do about our moms. They say how far we're willing to go to tell our moms whatever we think they want to hear, no matter how far removed from the truth this may be.