Mother’s Day gifts: Why don’t we actually ask our mums what they really want?

In our society, modern mothers occupy an awkward dual role


What does Mum like? Flowers, obviously. Also choccies, pampering and anything pink. Music-wise, women with functional uteruses are known to enjoy Westlife, Barry Manilow, and Sam Bailey off  X Factor. That’s what makes Mothering Sunday the easiest occasion on the calendar; we all know exactly what mum likes.

Odd, isn’t it, that even as organisations like Let Toys Be Toys have begun to rescue children from the constraints of gendered toys, this same courtesy is not extended to their mothers. Mother’s Day is in dire need of rebranding, but for retailers, it’s a more cost-effective payday if they can bulk-buy gifts and pretend all mums are the same.

But the retailers aren’t entirely to blame. If we really wanted to, we could always get Mum socks and cigars and save the mani-pedi for Father’s Day. We don’t, because the mumsification of motherhood isn’t a once-a-year thing. In our society, modern mothers occupy an awkward dual role.

On the one hand, motherhood is utterly ordinary. In the age of reliable contraception, raising the children you chose to have is a life achievement no more miraculous than driving the car you bought or turning up every day at the job you applied for. Well done, lady, you’ve lived up to basic social expectations, here’s a voucher for 30 per cent off a spa mini-break.

On the other hand, motherhood is heroic. Nothing less than the continuance of the entire human race rests on a woman’s decision to have babies. Which explains the ongoing efforts of governments to wrest control of women’s reproductive organs and also cringy commercial stunts such as “Do it for Denmark”. If you haven’t heard, “Do it for Denmark” is a new travel-agency-funded competition aimed at tackling the country’s falling birthrate. Any mother who can prove she conceived her child while on holiday will be rewarded with a extra-special, luxury prize – three years worth of free nappies.

Mum wouldn’t mind all this gender-marketed nonsense so much – she’s selfless like that – if only it was having the desired effect. Unfortunately, it isn’t. In affluent western countries such as Denmark and the UK, the spectre of generic mumsiness is actively putting women off having children. Childless-by-choice women don’t fear running out of nappies before three years is up. Their fear is that at the exact point of conception, a sentient individual with thoughts and opinions ceases to be, and in her place is “Mum”. And yet ... and yet ... every minute of every day a woman braves the obliteration of self and saves the world again, by choosing to procreate.

That’s why the mother-child relationship is special. Not only because it’s not transactional, but because it’s not even reciprocal. In other words, it’s not just that you can’t repay a mother’s self-sacrifice with a box of Thorntons chocolates – all the chocolate, in all the Thorntons, in all the world, won’t do it. Maternal love doesn’t work like that. It’s not supposed to be paid back, it’s supposed to be paid forwards; from the child to their own eventual children, and outwards, to the world at large.

So, this Mother’s Day, ask a woman with children to tell you why she took a punt on this most rewarding/unrewarding of experiences. She may say she wanted to know what unconditional love felt like, or that it was just what everyone else was doing at the time. She may say there was two-for-one on shots at the bar and the rest is history. Here’s one thing I guarantee she won’t say: “To tell you the truth, I’m mostly in it for the Sam Bailey CDs”.

Racism whiteout

You may not have heard of Nick Cannon, aka Mr Mariah Carey, but last week the comedian, rapper and America’s Got Talent host did something guaranteed to grab attention. To promote his new album, White People Party Music, the brown-skinned Cannon, donned “whiteface”  make-up, a light brown wig and lumberjack shirt and introduced Twitter to his new comedy character, a white man called “Connor Smallnut”.

Much like the Wayans’ brothers 2004 film White Chicks, Cannon’s Connor Smallnut routine isn’t my idea of LOLworthy, but while his “whiteface” act may be naff and provocative – racist it isn’t. This is an important distinction which, in their outrage, many commentators have overlooked.

Whiteface minstrelsy is not equivalent to blackface minstrelsy because there is no legacy of the systematic, centuries-long oppression of white people, which “whiteface” was used to justify. The legacy of “blackface” on the other hand, is still apparent today, especially in the US entertainment industry, of which Cannon is a part. Here, the history of white performers appropriating black culture for profit, at the expense of sidelined black artists stretches from Al Jolson’s “Mammy” right up to MTV’s Miley.

It’s always heartening to be reminded that we live in a world where the evils of racism are so widely acknowledged. But it’s depressing that so many people seem simultaneously confused by what racism actually is.

Rough injustice

This Mother’s Day spare a thought for the children of Cherry Groce, who are still seeking justice nearly 30 years after officers from the Metropolitan Police shot their unarmed mother, paralysing her from the waist down.

The Met says it has already apologised privately for the matter, which sparked the Brixton riots of 1985, but MP Chuka Umunna is demanding another apology that’s “full, public and meaningful”.

Meanwhile, this quibbling threatens to obscure a more pressing campaign. The Groce family are asking the Lord Chancellor to reconsider their application for legal aid, since, without it, they’ll be unable to represent themselves in the forthcoming inquiry into Mrs Groce’s death. What value is a “sorry”, public or private, when basic access to justice is denied?

Go Milhouse!

By the time the nation’s pet owners were reading about TB-carrying cats in their morning papers, Milhouse was already in the wind. The first recorded cases of cat-human infection caused panic in the Home Counties and six infected cats have already been put down. Only one – the 18-month-old tabby Milhouse – escaped. If they catch him, he’s done for, so it’s the life of the outlaw for Milhouse, always looking over his shoulder, never staying in one place long enough to make friends. Godspeed, Milhouse, wherever you are.

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