Mother’s Day gift ideas for literature’s best and worst moms

orchids

This would have been a good thought. Maybe they’re still open! (M. A. Pushpa Kumara – Piegon Orchids)

Mother’s Day is upon us again. What do you give the woman who brought you into this world?

If you are anything like me, you forget the day entirely and belatedly e-mail her a Groupon for threading services she does not want. Sometimes, if I remember, I call her and suggest she take me out to lunch. Other years, I creep into the house, hoping to surprise her with a thoughtful breakfast tray, only to discover that she is out of town for the weekend and I have permanently traumatized the dog, sending him into years of costly therapy.

I could send my mother a handwritten note complaining that Really All Of This Hullaballoo Is A Construct Created By Greeting Card Companies, but I do that every year. The trouble with Mother’s Day is the sliding scale of what is considered appropriate.

Age: 0 to 5

Handmade construction-paper card.

Age 5 to 10

Handmade card with heart-felt, crayoned message.

Age 10 to 12

Breakfast in bed.

Age 12 to 17

Aggressive indifference.

Age 17 onward

Indifference, interrupted by pleas for money.

Perhaps the question is not what you do give the woman who brought you into this world but what you should give her.

There, I am less equipped to advise you.

There is plenty of precedent, of course.

There have been mothers for at least as long as the species has been kicking around the planet. Our troglodyte forebears had mothers, who sat in the caves making certain they did not crayon over the mammoth paintings or make loud noises in the middle of the night to interrupt the slumber of the recently domesticated wolf, who was still a little unclear on the concept. When our forebears tripped and skinned their knees in the course of the hunt, or the other young gatherers excluded them from their birthday parties, moms were there to offer encouragement and the prehistoric equivalent of Neosporin.

And there are mothers not just in prehistory but in history and literature and pop culture as well. There are those ladies who turn up in all the detergent commercials. Difficult as my mother is to shop for, I am glad I do not have to shop for them. They are capable of freezing time to make certain that their offspring do not leave the house with tomato sauce on their sensible Old Navy shirts. They know instinctively how many sheets of quilted double-ply paper toweling are required to deal with that spill. They bring Sunny Delight and Incrustables to soccer practice and laugh broad laughs with their impeccable white teeth. I have no idea what they want for Mother’s Day, other than possibly a better work-life balance or copies of “The Feminine Mystique.”

Perhaps literature offers better guidance. It is liberally strewn with mothers, from the sea nymph Thetis in the Iliad, who likes to follow her son Achilles to work and suggest better approaches (“Stop trying to give me new armor, Mom! This armor is FINE! Okay?”) and Odysseus’s old mother Anticlea, whom he runs into the instant he arrives at the Underworld. (Q: How did Odysseus know he was in Hell? A: He saw his mother.) There’s Grendel’s mother in “Beowulf,” who goes charging out of the swamp to set straight the people who have been mean to her son after he charged into their mead hall wanting to play. Moving forward in literature, there are plenty of mothers in Shakespeare. The closer to the present you get, the easier they become to shop for.

For “Pride and Prejudice’s” Mrs. Bennet, just bring home an eligible man in possession of a good fortune who is in want of a wife!

Get Mrs. Grendel a prosthetic swamp-monster arm.

Sophie Zawistowski: Well, never mind.

:Hamlet’s” Gertrude: Take clingy son out of the house.

Mrs. Bates: See previous answer.

“Gypsy’s” Mama Rose: The Spotlight.

“Les Miserables’ ” Fantine: Teeth, or Groupon for a nice haircut.

“The Sound of Music’s” Maria von Trapp: Obnoxious puppet show involving goats.

“The Scarlet Letter’s” Hester Prynne: New outfit. Nice BEST M_TERNAL FIGURE shirt with a hole for the A?

“Oedipus Rex’s” Jocasta: Expose clingy son on mountainside as a baby and make sure the shepherd doesn’t wimp out on it.

“All women become their mothers,” Oscar Wilde said. “That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” Well, except for Norman Bates, I guess.

But none of this gets me any closer to solving the puzzle of what to do for Mother’s Day. The Hallmark cards seem a little inadequate to the task, since they’re contractually obligated to be vague enough that strangers in Cleveland can use them. I began thumbing listlessly through my inbox full of Groupons when I noticed the note.

“Mothers in literature – good topic for Mother’s Day,” my mother had written.

Sounds like a plan, Mom. Also, let me know where to send this coupon for 12 Oil Changes for the price of 6.

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