What Mothers Want

Hint: It’s green, one-size-fits-all, and doesn’t cost a penny.

Even though I’ve been a mother for five years, I still find it a pleasant surprise to be on the receiving end of a Mother’s Day gift. My daughter is the one who reminds me that Mother’s Day is coming, and that she has made a special secret gift for me in her day care. This is the first year she’s managed to not tell me what the secret gift is – they usually involve pictures of herself and incorporate her “artwork” on some sort of decorative object – a flowerpot, a picture frame, a photo album.

These things are darling, and they do make me feel appreciated, but I must admit they are gathering dust in some corner of my house, because what I really need is the time to plant a flower in the flower pot (and water it), select artwork to put in the picture frame and photos in the album and find a place to display them in my cramped apartment.

I really don’t need more stuff for Mother’s Day—especially stuff that reminds me I’m a mother. I have ample reminders of that, thank you very much, in the form of strawberry yogurt smears on my pant leg, a closet full of clothes that don’t fit and tiny, greasy fingerprints on my glasses. What a mother of young children really needs—other than a personal assistant—is time.

So every Mother’s Day morning, I turn to my husband and very politely tell him, “I’m outta here. Watch the kids.” And I walk out the door with my book and gym shoes and don’t come back for hours.

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My husband, one of those curmudgeons who thinks Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are creations of the greeting card industry, is more than happy to give me this gift. It doesn’t cost anything, it won’t take up room in the house, and he doesn’t have to worry about whether it will fit. It also happens to be a perfectly green gift—no shipping, no packaging, no toxic materials or carbon emissions!

Babysitting is just one stuff-free way to show a mom that you care. Some mothers do like to spend time with their families on Mother’s Day, especially if their children are grown and gone. If I lived closer to my own mother, I’d take her out to the kind of movie she never gets to see with my dad—a foreign film, or at least something with costumes and accents. I would cook her dinner with seasonal, local ingredients from the farmer’s market—maybe pick up some organically grown flowers there, too. And of course, I would clean up afterwards. I tend to give stuff-free gifts for all occasions, and they go over pretty well here in New York City, where people have plenty of stuff and are perpetually short on space.

Other options can include signing up your mother for her utility's wind power or green energy program—and paying the new energy bill for the month or the year. You might also help save a rainforest in Costa Rica in her name by pledging money to NRDC's Revive a Rainforest program. Or, if your mother has a green thumb, help her get started on a pollinator's garden to add the hum of bees and the flash of native birds to her yard.

Sometimes, though, stuff can feel good to give, and it can be good for the planet, too. I recently learned the term “push present,” which refers to the gift—typically jewelry—that a man is supposed to give the mother of a new baby for her efforts. I’m not sure that it’s necessary—after all, we’ve earned the lifelong right to end any argument with, “I gave birth to your children!”

But apparently some people have come to expect this, so it’s good to know that you can find eco-friendly jewelry these days. Vintage pieces are the greenest jewelry around, since they don’t require harmful mining. You can also find pieces made from recycled materials. These colorful beaded bracelets, for example, are made under fair trade conditions from recycled paper by women in Cambodia to help pay for the education of their children. It’s the ultimate push present—a gift that honors Mom and other mothers, too, including Mother Earth.

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