It was Miss Manners' own dear mother who first made to her the case against Mother's Day. It had to do with the foolishness of conceding that there might be 364 days of the year in which Mother need not be fussed over, and also, possibly, with the fact that the lady could never abide breakfast in bed.
Nevertheless, here Mother's Day is, with its built-in expectation that children make it a special occasion to demonstrate their devotion. In that, it is rather like the school-day events in which mothers were expected to be on call to participate, with the clear implication to children whose mothers couldn't -- for example, those who were out self-indulgently earning a living -- that they must not really care.
So, begging the pardon of her own mother by violating her tradition and recognizing the occasion, Miss Manners will suggest some methods of celebrating, for those mothers who also don't like breadcrumbs in the sheets.
One way to honor Mother is not to go around tattling on her. The 4-year-old who is on the spot for something to contribute to Show and Tell, the teen-ager interested in exchanging information about the adult world, and the grown-up child who is after a laugh are all exposed to the temptation to report what is going on behind the scenes.
However, much information about Mother to which the child is privy by virtue of his membership in the family, or the opportunities of observation around the house, should be considered sacred. This includes:
* Statistics that Mother does not routinely give out herself, such as her age, her income, how many times she has been married, what organs she has had removed, and how much of a discount she got on the dress she is wearing.
* What Mother does to make herself look good, including how she looks in a mudpack facial mask, whether she dyes her hair, how much makeup she uses and what she looks like without it, and how funny it is to see her struggle into her girdle.
* Mother's little failings, such as what she says or does when she loses her temper, what tricks she uses for cheating on her diet, funny examples of how her memory, sight and hearing seem to be going, and what her attempts to help with the homework demonstrate about her own education.
Another way of honoring Mother is for her children to pretend that her competence as a human being equals their own. It takes some doing even for a small child to act as if he presumes that Mother could manage her life reasonably without his critical advice, much of it retroactive, but the effort is a polite show of respect.
This means that the child does not explain to Mother that her appearance, conversation, values, opinions, politics and choice of associates are sources of embarrassment, and must be renovated to meet the child's tastes. It means trusting her to make her own judgments in these matters, even if they differ from the child's, and acting as if one is nevertheless proud of what Mother makes of herself.
It means not informing her that she is always being measured against Everybody Else's Mother, as in "Everybody else's mother lets them stay up as long as they want," "Everybody else's mother gives them $20 a week spending money," "Everybody else's mother lets them have their noses pierced." Even if Everybody Else's Mother could be proven to exist, one honors one's own mother by pretending respect for her right to dissent.
The retroactive part means that the child must assume that Mother has always done the best she could, under whatever circumstances existed, and neither blame her for what the child considers failings in child rearing, nor point out how much better he plans to be at the same tasks.
Finally, Mother can be honored by being treated as if she has a legitimate interest in the lives of her children. This does not preclude keeping secrets from Mother, especially those that would only cause her pain, such as one's rebellious thoughts or the gender of one's roommate. But it does mean refraining from groaning when she shows concern and informing her about the major events in one's life before she finds out from the neighbors or the newspapers.
Q.Several years ago, my stepdaughter and her boyfriend (whom she met in college, where they were dorm-mates) began to share an apartment. Although her roommate's parents live in the distant suburbs of this same city, we made no effort to meet them, not wanting to encourage or in any way put our stamp of approval on this relationship.
Although we had nothing against this particular young man, who is nice enough, we felt that they had little in common and in time would drift apart.
The young couple have now moved to another, distant city, married, and had a baby. We have yet to meet his parents, and feel we are being rude. Whose responsibility is it to establish a relationship between his parents and us, or is it too late?
A.It must have occurred to you, as it has to Miss Manners, that your lack of encouragement does not seem to have had any effect on this relationship, and that your choice now is to put that stamp of approval on the relationship or miss out on the opportunity to enjoy your stepdaughter's family life.
It's not exactly too late, but it is high time. You were not obligated to have social ties with the parents of a mere boyfriend, but you are with a son-in-law's.
Technically, it is up to the young man's parents to call on the young lady's first. They may not have known this, but let us take advantage of it anyway.
Write them a charming note, saying that your meeting is long overdue, and proposing a visit. And then write an equally charming one to your stepdaughter, announcing this and saying that you have previously hesitated because you couldn't tell, from the other parents' silence, whether this would be welcome.
We will not go so far as to blame them for not having called, but just far enough to erase the idea that your omission was due to any such nonsense as the hope that such a lovely young couple would drift apart. In the interests of family harmony, Miss Manners is willing to have etiquette itself take the blame.
Q.If a man is divorced and remarried, and has not made his wishes known, should he be buried on the same cemetery lot as his former wife if his children desire this?
A.Miss Manners cannot help but think it a dirty trick to force a man who has taken some trouble to avoid spending his life with someone to rest next to her for eternity. He may not have stated his preferences in terms of burial, but he certainly did make a preference clear.