Mother's Day is now mired down in multi-culturism. How shall we speak of the neurosis? Gay pride women say it's irrelevant. Single militants say it's unfair. Children whose mothers abused them say it's immoral. Marketplace female CEOs say it damages their executive clout. And many ERA women say it's a saccharine ploy that keeps women enslaved to men who buy them off with a rose from a vendor in the median and a Big Mac combo every first Sunday in May.
Still there are many mothers who take pride in their motherhood and seem to appreciate their annual celebration. A Hallmark card seems a modest payment for those new mothers who are even now in the thrall of breast feeding or the middle-aged moms who are trying to survive teenagers who drive.
Frankly, I like mothers and I think the culture ought to tell them that at least once a year. So I'd like to stick my neck out and bless all the good women who make life possible.
The issue of recognizing motherhood probably is rooted in the veneration of women as it was once done by their appreciative offspring, but that was before women took to venerating themselves. None of us much mind their self-veneration, but it does make it hard to know if the traditional way is still okay.
I'm a pterodactyl male who has always taken pride in chivalry. I enjoy opening doors for all women and especially mothers. I relish giving up my seat for them on trains. But like Mother's Day itself — chivalry can be hazardous work. Many women say "Thank you" and many women say "Buzz-off!" I hate to risk my life by these random acts of kindness and yet I am reluctant to stop them! So I keep on doing it.
The work is uneasy. Every time I feel an attack of chivalry coming on, I am forced to evaluate the woman to whom I wish to be courteous. I find those most likely to accept my courtesy will:
• Be more likely to be wearing a print dress and "lite jewelry." (Those with strollers and kids in shorts and baseball caps are especially nice.)
• Women with large, fat purses, I've found to be kind as well. (Conversely women in tweed suits with briefcases can by risky.)
• Grandmotherly types in Cuban heels are much more safe to help at doorways than women in satin windbreaker outfits. (Occasionally grandmothers will wear Adidas but primarily because of bunions, and bunionish women are inevitably kind: There is nothing like a little foot pain to soften your worldview.)
• At the supermarket, I offer to let women go ahead of me in line only if their shopping cart is full of Spaghettios and Captain Crunch. (Show no such deference to women who are buying Danon Yogurt and alfalfa sprouts.)
Another key to chivalry are the stores where you shop:
• Never open a door for a woman who is going into Dillard's or Macy's.
• At Sam's, on the other hand, you can always invite women to go first in the free Lasagna sample line.
• So far every woman I've met buying tires at Firestone smiles and thanks me. (Actually, I've found that 100% of women who can spell Heavy Duty Shock Absorber are kind.)
I must sympathize with all women, even those who rebuke men of chivalry. After all, I have been at a score of Mother's Day services where the preacher says: "Now it's time to recognize the oldest mother ... and the youngest mother ... and the mother with the fewest children in the Federal Penitentiary."
Those who own up to these specific categories win Vandad orchids and "Footprint" bookmarkers for their admission. But I cannot help wondering if that kind of abuse hasn't enraged many women against the little acts of kindness men show them on buses and escalators.
In the meantime, nonetheless, chivalry is risky around Mother's Day. If you want to help a woman feel like a woman, but you're in doubt about whether she will "bless you" or "bless you out," it's usually best to do nothing unless, of course, you first ask, "Excuse me, Mum, but noticing your beautiful children, would it be okay if I wish you a Happy Mother's Day?"
Calvin Miller is a professor at Southwestern Seminary.