Love is a mini beer stein with toothpicks

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a delicate question about her mother, and wasn’t sure what to do. She decided to call a radio therapist for advice. Her mother, it seemed, needed to pay a little more attention to her. . .moustache. Now, we’re not talking walrus or handlebar. We’re not talking Borat or Yosemite Sam. But according to my friend, there was definitely a little blond scruff on her mother’s upper lip, and someone needed to tell the woman. My friend, however, was unsure how to broach the subject with her mom.

The radio therapist’s solution? Give her mother a gift certificate she could use for any treatment she’d like at a beauty spa, and tell the folks at the spa that they should recommend – with subtle grace and suitable charm – that her mother have a little work done on her upper lip.

My friend thought this was brilliant. Was all in. She gave her mother the gift on Mother’s Day, and her mom loved it. A few weeks later, her mother went to the spa and got a. . .massage. And as for her upper lip? No waxing. No Bleaching. No electrolysis. When her mom returned from the spa, she was still sporting a Tom Selleck. But, wow, did she love that Mother’s Day Present. She had never gotten a massage at a spa before.

I share this story because today is Mother’s Day, that day each year when we celebrate our mothers. According to Anna Jarvis, the woman who usually receives credit for launching the holiday back in the early years of the twentieth century, the apostrophe should follow the “r” in mother: Jarvis wanted each family to honor its own mother, not make a big deal about “motherhood” conceptually.

photoAnd, indeed, in my experience the best Mother’s Day presents or cards have been idiosyncratic and thoughtful. Personal. Of course, when I was a boy – and especially when I was a self-absorbed teenager – the presents I gave my mother were anything but thoughtful. I recall shopping for her at the 7-Eleven store a few blocks from our home in Miami, Florida when I was in eighth grade. I don’t remember what I got her, but I have a terrible feeling it was a Slurpee cup. Another year I used some of the money I made washing cars and bought my mother a miniature beer stein designed to hold toothpicks. It had a tiny woman in a dirndl dress on one side. My mother didn’t drink beer, didn’t use toothpicks, and never in her life expressed any desire – at least as far as I know – to pretend she was Brigitta in “The Sound of Music.”

Fortunately, my wife’s and my daughter didn’t inherit my selfish gene. We’re both avid readers, so one year she gave us bookmarks on Mother’s and Father’s Day. They’re sixteen or seventeen years old now, but we both still use them. She made them by rolling paint-covered marbles atop strips of cardboard in a brownie pan.

To quote Jack Donaghy – the fictional head of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming on “30 Rock” – “Gift giving is the purest expression of friendship. I’m going to think about what I know and like about you, and that will lead me to the perfect gift.” Anna Jarvis would certainly have agreed when it came to Mother’s Day. They both would have approved of those bookmarks – and of my friend trying to help her mother tackle that little caterpillar on her mother’s upper lip.

So, while today is Mother’s Day, I am going to take a page from my friend’s playbook. I’m going to make a suggestion of a gift that someday my daughter is welcome to give to me for Father’s Day. Hair plugs. Otherwise, I fear, soon I will be resorting to the Official Christian Bale “American Hustle” Combover.

In the meantime, may the mothers I know all get the perfect gift today. May none of you get a miniature beer stein filled with toothpicks.

Happy Mother’s Day.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on May 11, 2014. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8. You can learn more about it right here.) 9780385539333_p0_v3_s600

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.