Three weeks before Mother’s Day, a friend sent me a screenshot of a promotional email from a chili crisp company. The email’s text was yellow, set against a pink square. “We’re big believers in keeping things personal. So, we’d like to empower you to do what’s best for you this season. If you’d like to mute Mother’s Day emails (but still receive recipes, sauce puns, and discounts) click the link below,” it read.
A hard ball travelled from my stomach to my throat.
“This is brilliant,” I texted my friend.
I grew up in Spain. My mother taught me how to see beauty in tiny places: sunlight in a puddle of water, the silver hair on a wild pig. She was a single mother. I was her only child. At night, when I was little and sleepless, I would find her painting or kneading clay in her room. She taught me her techniques. I would get upset when I made a mistake, but she said, “Accidents make art.” We were friends, co-conspirators, and co-commiserators.
The last time I saw my mother was the day after she attempted suicide, five years ago. I was the person who found her. She survived.
After the medics left, I found a letter in my mother’s bedroom, handwritten in green ink. It was a kind of will, and she had left everything to me. Her bedroom had an unmade bed, an obsidian ashtray, and a lamp with a torn shade. In a picture by the lamp, my mother wrapped her long bronze arms around me. Her red curls tumbled into my sun-bleached hair. Her smile was so wide her eyes looked closed. I kept the picture. I burned the letter with a pink lighter. The next day, I flew to the United States to start my junior year of college.
After I graduated, I became a copywriter at a marketing agency. Every year, I created a drop of the Mother’s Day deluge that flooded everyone’s inboxes. The emails communicated a common assumption: that every customer had a happy relationship with their mother.
This year, the chili crisp company’s pink and yellow email lingered in my mind. Their messaging starkly contrasted against the specials in my inbox, where skincare companies offered “gifts for moms.” Food delivery companies offered “time with mom” coupons. The Democratic Office offered merchandise “for new moms, pet moms, and every mom in between.”
I wrote an email to the chili crisp company’s public relations team: “How did you decide to let customers opt out of Mother’s Day content?”
My friends believe in two kinds of families: biological families, and logical families. Logical families are people who see and support you in ways many biological families can’t, or won’t. Logical families usually don’t get dedicated days of celebration.
On Mother’s Day, most of my logical family avoids social media the way people with migraines avoid concerts with strobe lights. In some ways, all Mother’s Day posts are identical: sweet-looking people smile in pretty places. They almost always touch. Some people post collages of multiple images. In the collages, the children become adults. The mothers soar into middle and golden years. The posts showcase continuity.
My mother and I spoke infrequently for two years. “It hurts so much to feel so shut out of your life,” she wrote. I didn’t know how to explain that I wanted to be close to her, but I also wanted to hide, far away. She sent links to books, talks, and articles. I consumed everything she sent. I learned about intergenerational trauma. I began to understand the scope of my mother’s suffering. Eventually, I wrote back.
For five years, one week before Mother’s Day, I bought cards I almost sent.
Someone from the chili crisp company responded the day after I sent my inquiry. “Because people can have complicated and/or painful relationships with mothers/motherhood, we gave the opt-out option so they can engage and interact with the brand in ways that feel good,” they wrote.
I emailed my boss: “I think we should change our Mother’s Day messaging.”
“To what?” he wrote back.
I responded: “If you celebrate Mother’s Day, we celebrate with you. If, for any reason, Mother’s Day makes you sad, we’re with you, too.”
Effective and empathic marketing strategies are rare. Companies often focus on the perception of their brand, instead of its reception. The difference is subtle, but meaningful. The opt-out email from the chili crisp company was brilliant because it acknowledged people on the margins of motherhood. Some children have dead or estranged mothers. Some mothers have dead or estranged children. There are many nuances and forms of relationships living in between the cracks of normalcy.
My mother and I had not seen each other in four years when Covid struck. The world stopped and spun faster. Four years, inadvertently, became five. Travel overseas is still not an option for us.
Across continents, my mother shows me beauty. In some ways, we will always underestimate how much we mean to each other. She sent me a bonsai the same week I read a book about bonsais, even though I didn’t mention the book. She sent me a bracelet made out of green volcanic stones the same week I scribbled a picture of a volcano, even though I didn’t mention volcanos, or the picture.
I thanked the chili company for their kindness, and for their swift response. I clicked over to their website to see if they could ship a jar to Spain. They could. I pressed purchase. I clicked over to another website. I found a pendant of a silver fairy that carries a piece of black tourmaline. Tourmaline is supposed to bring relief and protection to its owners. The jeweler offers a Mother’s Day discount. I send the fairy to my mother, too.
Amanda Lezra is a freelance writer
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