Freaky Mother’s Day Card

Making my mother happy isn’t that hard to do. I’m going to amend that. Making my mother happy on Mother’s Day isn’t hard to do. We’re not a greeting card kind of family. In fact, when I was a kid, both my parents declared Mother’s and Father’s Day were invented by Hallmark, so we shouldn’t cave to corporate tyranny and celebrate. Looking back, this probably was a budget motivated decision. Now that I’m out of the house, I’ve taken a bold, pro-greeting card stance, sending them cards for all the major card-giving holidays. Unfortunately, I mistakenly assumed this would not sway them, and they would continue to be apathetic about Mother’s Day.

This year I departed from my vintage, cutesy, hand-made $7 letterpress cards and sent my mom a postcard. If I’m being honest this was probably because I couldn’t get to the store, and so I scrounged around in my desk, finding a postcard of a Degas painting I saw at the Getty. I’d bought it because this particular Degas painting is so odd and disturbing that it’s ridiculous. There you are in the impressionist wing, surrounded by soft, floral paintings, and there’s this picture of a woman awkwardly falling from a bathtub. No one has ever gotten out of a bath that way. If they have, it’s because something’s deeply wrong, physically and emotionally. Her butt is in the air and her leg is up like a dog peeing. Then eerily, a partially unseen woman dries her hair. It’s only explainable as a scene from a mental asylum. So, naturally I thought it would make the perfect Mother’s Day card. I thought it was hilarious, and I was certain my mother would too. After all, she’s the woman who bought me a cross-stitch of the World Trade Center. It was made before 9/11 and is probably the world’s only ominous cross-stitch.

My Mother on Mother's Day as Photographed by My Father

My Mother on Mother’s Day as Photographed by My Father

I sent the card two days in advance, which I foolishly thought was plenty of time for my card to travel the length of California. The day of, I got a text from my dad reminding me it was Mother’s Day, which was very upsetting coming from such a non-believer. I called to talk to my mom and apologize for the late card and discovered she had a terrible cold. Light was also hurting her eyes, so she was wearing sunglasses inside. We chatted, and I was positive that once she received my card, things would really turn around for her.

I got an email the next day. She had received my card, and said she enjoyed “seeing my handwriting.” You know you’ve really messed up when the only thing someone likes about your card is that they can verify you wrote it. Needless to say, she had some issues with my card:

“Looks like the mommy figure is involved in some sort of sadistic manipulation of the red head nude. Im your mom right, so I can tell you that this is too freaky for a mother’s day card. The possible narratives are unpleasant to ponder. I want a different one next year.”

I had never thought of the picture as a mother and daughter. But since the nude figure has red hair, she naturally thought of me. Also, I was using it as a Mother’s Day card. I called to talk to her that night. She told me that on top of it all, she hates Degas. He was an anti-semite and sexist. I should have known she would feel this way. She’s a painter for heavens sake! She’s not going to look at it and go for the joke, and even though I wasn’t raised in a card accepting home, I know that a Mother’s Day card should not disturb your mother.

I had missed the spirit of Mother’s Day entirely and sent what amused me, not her. In hindsight, however, I wonder if perhaps my mom didn’t overreact just a bit. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, shouldn’t she have been a mother and loved my shitty card regardless? Isn’t that what motherhood is, loving selflessly in the face of your spawn’s many failings? Or maybe Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day of liberation, the one day where it’s our turn to worship them while they whine about “possible narratives.”

In her email, my mom seems to see the whole incident as a teaching moment. According to her, it is because she’s my mother that she’s allowed to tell me the brutal truth and insist that I do better. And on Mother’s Day of all days, this responsibility weighs heavily on her. Or maybe she was just sick, and her family was taking pictures of her agony and sending her unsettling postcards and now writing about it on the internet.

In the end, we did have a laugh about it all – just not the one I’d planned. Then again if she had just laughed at the card, we would have been friends and not mother and daughter. In a way, an awkward way, the card really made us perform our different roles, and it was a lot more thought provoking than your average drugstore card. Plus, I bought it at the Getty, which I’m certain pleases my mother.

After the Bath


  1. Brett S says:

    Our Mothers would get along, I think.

  2. Mary says:

    Mosaic tiling workshop idea is so-o-o-o not your mother. Not even for a lame joke. And most likely, not even for a funny joke. And when a painting of a red headed mistress ( as in “mistress of the house”) and her maid assisting said mistress with her bath, gets confused as a mother/daughter pose by a mother with a very red headed daughter, I suggest that you don’t get confused by the red hair, nor, by your mother’s profession as an artist. And don’t apologize for your taste or humor. Neither of them were poor in judgment. Mother’s Day is a mix of sweet and bitter because every mother has/had a mother and there’s the rub! Your mother was spending Mother’s Day flat on her back, feeling like shit, wearing sunglasses in bed most likely because your dad was slowly torturing her with the flash of his camera, while the weight of the cat was putting her feet to sleep, and worst of all, her one and only baby was hundreds of miles away, not to be seen on this day of all days. So, she got a cranky and expressed some little dissatisfaction about the mysogynistic (sp?) sadistic precursor of Vichy- soises France via Monsieur Degas!! Under the circumstances, what mother wouldn’t do the same? Mother. Mother. Mother. Non- traditional, non-commercial, non card-accepting, mother. Those terms don’t make any difference because once a mother, it makes no difference how many other holidays and celebrations you may have designated as commercial exercises in consumerism, that sacred ground of motherhood must be supported by offspring with a display of pure affection, either by a card or a meal, by which they demonstrate their eternal love and affection for……

    I have to stop here. It would be unfair to put words in your mouth. We do that for the boys in the family. The girls, well, the girls can figure it out on their own. If you still need help for next year, forget the Getty. Seek enlightenment at Hallmark.

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