Mother's Day is 100 years old Sunday. Anna Jarvis, the woman credited for its establishment, would be horrified.
Jarvis' idea had plenty of historical precedent. The honoring of mothers in some form or another can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and to the Christian festival "Mothering Sunday."
In the United States, various precursors to Mother's Day existed in a more limited fashion throughout the 19th century. Among their proponents were Julia Ward Howe, composer of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and activist Ann Reeves Jarvis, who organized women to become more political and to champion causes, such as lowering infant mortality rates.
Following the elder Jarvis' death in 1905, her daughter Anna envisioned a national day of recognition of the sacrifices mothers make. Prompted by her lobbying efforts, President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 officially proclaimed the second Sunday in May Mother's Day.
But Anna Jarvis quickly reversed herself and began working to have it stricken from the national calendar. She was disgusted by the blatant commercialization of the holiday and spent the rest of her life denouncing merchants who capitalized on the celebration.
Today, at the century mark, Mother's Day is a retailing behemoth surpassed only by Christmas and Valentine's Day in economic clout.
Americans are expected to spend nearly $20 billion this Mother's Day, or an average of $162.94 per mom, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey.
"As one of the most universally celebrated holidays, retailers will take this opportunity to attract Mother's Day shoppers with promotions on ladies' apparel items, health and beauty products, jewelry and even restaurant options," NRF President and Chief Executive Matthew Shay said. "Now fully into spring, retailers are hoping consumer sentiment and spending intentions continue to grow as we round out one of the busiest retail seasons of the year and prepare for summer."
According to the NRF, those "spending intentions" will result in moms being showered with the usual assortment of cards, flowers, sweaters, baubles, books, housewares, gardening tools, spa visits and brunches. And in keeping with the times, electronic gifts are now one of the favored means to show the old gal that she's special, to the tune of $1.7 billion in expected sales for the day.
A few other data points are worth keeping in mind this Mother's Day, for they create a mixed picture of how American moms are faring. In the United States, mothers have been increasingly skewing older and better educated than in past generations. They have fewer kids on average and enjoy longer life expectancies. A larger proportion are unmarried. And in a reversal of a long-term trend, the share of mothers who don't work outside the home has been on the rise recently, a turnabout attributed to economic, demographic and societal factors.
Also noteworthy is a report by the Save the Children organization that ranks the United States 31 out of 178 countries in the well being of mothers and children. (Finland's first, Somalia last.) The Mothers' Index, which is based on such factors as health, nutrition, education and economic and political status, highlighted a troubling increase in maternal deaths in the U.S.
Let me throw one more piece of Mother's Day information at you. After completing a rough survey of virtually every media outlet I could find reporting on some aspect of Mother's Day, the overwhelming consensus on "What Mom Really Wants" is this: She wants time.
This notion is expressed in many ways. Most often it's referred to as "quality time," as in fun family outings and activities — pretty much anything that's heavy on the togetherness factor. There are also many references to relaxation time and — my personal favorite — time to sleep. Overall, the implication is that the precious hours we moms get to indulge in the simple pleasures of home and family is what we crave most.
I can certainly relate to that, for this Mother's Day timing appears to be working against me. My younger son, who attends college out of state, is busy studying for his final exams this week, while my older son has been overwhelmed with work and other commitments of late.
I'm not complaining. As excuses go, these are excellent reasons for not having much time to spend with me. But that doesn't stop me from wistfully wishing I could somehow have my Mother's Day cake and eat it too.
And while I'm wishing, I'd like to roll back the clock and let my mom know how great she really was. I often think about the last conversation we had long ago, when Mom and I sat and drank coffee while she mused about the status of each of her children's lives — the way mothers everywhere always do.
Days later, she was gone. What I would have given for just a little more time.
I imagine that's a bit how Anna Jarvis must have felt about her mother. Despite her unhappiness that her labor of love turned into a giant marketing ploy, perhaps she might recognize that even amid today's crass commercialism a faint heartbeat of her original sentiment lives on. Overpriced omelets and expensive scented candles aside, that's not such a bad legacy.
PATRICE APODACA is a former Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She lives in Newport Beach.