This Is for My Mom

Mother’s Day was a couple of days ago. For the first time in eight years, I was in the same state as my mom for the big day. We spoke on the phone. I didn’t see her. Or send her flowers. I am the worst.

Rationalization: I was traveling back to New York for most of Sunday. And soon we are going to have lots and lots of quality time on a week-long cruise to Alaska. I justified it to myself by saying that our trip was so brief than any time I would have spent with my family would have been so hurried that it would have been more depressing than not seeing them at all.

Still, I should have remembered to send flowers to her and to my grandmother. I suck.

My mom and I don’t have a ton in common. For one thing, our decorating styles are violently different. (Yikes!) Our tastes in most things vary quite a bit. She likes romantic comedies; I like movies that aren’t romantic comedies. I read the parts of the newspaper about science, world events, books and movies; she reads about marriages, car accidents and hometown heroes. I don’t want to wrong anyone, but I suspect that in her youth she preferred The Monkees over The Beatles. I was never able to turn her on to Radiohead or Bjork or Beck. Once, in high school, I was horrified to learn that she had never heard of Bob Marley.

With the exception of The Monkees, all of these things are value neutral. They reflect individual taste and preference, not anything of real substance.

Do you want to know the best thing she ever did for me? I will tell you. She read to me every single day. For years. And years. I think she started reading to me in the hospital and unless I was sleeping over at grandma’s, I’m pretty sure she didn’t miss a day until… high school? We weren’t quite as codependent as these people, but I will say that I probably related to that story more than is entirely healthy.

In kindergarten or elementary school, I started picking the books. Do you know? I’ve never read anything by Mark Twain? Not a damn thing. But I did force my mom to read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and tons of his short stories. And here’s the kicker — I made her read them more than once. I don’t know if she still knows those books by heart, but I sure do. There were lots of other children’s classics and plenty of things that weren’t so classic. But regardless of the reading material, she would come in every night, sit on the edge of my bed and read a chapter. Most of the time, she was probably too tired to even notice what words were coming out of her mouth. What a champ. Seriously, who does that? My mom, that’s who.

When I was growing up, there were no skiing lessons, summer camps, fancy vacations or theme parks. But every night there were stories and every summer revolved around the Deschutes County Library in downtown Bend, Oregon. It was the best. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that this made me who I am today.

My mom has taught me a few important facts that I have always carried with me:

1. Babies come from sex and it’s dumb to lie about this even to very small children.
2. Some people are gay; that’s fine.
3. It’s important to be kind to people, even (especially) when they are clingy and annoying.
4. Breastfeeding in public is normal.
5. People will judge your writing.

About this last one: My mom can’t tell a gerund from a preposition, but she rarely makes mistakes in her writing. If you can’t do long division to save your life, you can trick a lot of people. Calculators are everywhere. But if you can’t form a sentence, there’s no hiding it. My mom doesn’t use social networking sites, but if she did, it would just make her more adamant about this.

Mother’s Day provides many opportunities to consider one of my mom’s biggest pet peeves: The Misuse of Apostrophes.

Mother’s Day itself is kind of a surprising construction when you think about it. A day dedicated to one mother? Why not Mothers’ Day — a day that belongs to multiple mothers? Or Mothers Day — a day for all mothers?

According to Wikipedia, Anna Jarvis, the lady who founded the holiday 99 years ago, dictated the peculiar placement for this reason: “it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”

So when it’s Mother’s Day, the mother in question is your actual mom, not all moms or some ideal of a mom. That level of personalization is kind of lovely, I think, and I respect Jarvis’s consideration for the nuances of the apostrophe. Still, she could have made equally strong cases for Mothers’ and Mothers. The same usage applies to Father’s Day (but not to farmers markets or teachers colleges — because in those cases, farmers and teachers serve as adjectives to describe different types of markets and colleges.)

These apostrophe questions aren’t necessarily intuitive, but I discovered that most people on the Internet got it right — “Happy Mother’s Day” was all over the place. But then, oh dear, things got sticky.

  • “Happy Mother’s Day to all the great mom’s out there.”
  • “To all you mama’s, enjoy your day!”
  • “I have 3 mom’s and I love them all.”

This is what people were saying on the Internet.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Apostrophes are almost never used to make things plural. The lone exception is when you’re talking about more than one single letter or digit: “She got straight C’s on her report card”; “My routing number is four 5′s followed by six 8′s.” Some outre organizations insist on using an apostrophe when referring to decades, but that’s just silly. It’s the 1970s, not the 1970′s (which makes it seem like you are talking about something that belonged to the year 1970). There is rampant apostrophe abuse in this world and my mom and I aren’t the only ones whose skin crawls because of it.

And of course, all of those moms, mothers, mamas, nannas, grannies and grandmas don’t need apostrophes either. And come next month, the same will apply to the dads, daddies, papas, grandpas and granddads.

My mom will thank you.

Happy belated Mother’s Day, Pam Wilson.

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4 Responses to This Is for My Mom

  1. Jenny says:

    Lovely. You are an excellent specimen of humanity, Ms. Wilson, and it was thorougly enjoyable to learn more about the woman who helped make you that way.

  2. Evgenia Fkiaras says:

    I wish your blogs had a “like” option. A la Facebook. I “like” this.

  3. Pingback: Punctuation May Not Save Your Soul, but It’s Still Your Friend | Saucy Salad

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