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WHAT MONEY CAN’T BUY
This column ran in the Houston Chronicle several years ago, and although it may be too late for this year, you might think about it for future Mother’s Days or for other consumer-focused days that merchants have foisted upon us. “The annual inquisition begins weeks before the Big Day. “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” The question floats over the telephone wire, through e-mail and across the dinner table. Regardless of its medium, the underlying message is always the same: Please, please, mom, make it a gift we can “buy”.

I’m not sure when Mother’s Day turned into a commercial bonanza for store owners, restaurants and greeting-card publishers. Probably, I suspect, around the time Christmas became the prime holiday to genuflect before the altar of consumption. But it doesn’t really matter how others celebrate, because the longer I mother, the less I covet. I don’t want one more blouse in my closet, one more perfume on my dresser or one more piece of jewelry to display. Truth: I own all the possessions I desire, an enviable position that has little to do with affluence and plenty with maturity and acceptance. What I want – oh, what I want! – is rarely something you can buy. In this age of conspicuous consumerism, that may be difficult to imagine.

For the past few years, I’ve asked my children – and, by default, my late sister’s children – for the pleasure of their time and collective muscle. Two Mother’s Days ago, they planted a row of hibiscus along the east side of my back fence. They chose the bushes at a nursery, dug the holes and nestled the red and yellow blooms into the dirt. That day smelled like spring and soil and sweat, the kind of messy family time not even Kodak can capture. Sure, there were fights and accusa-tions. Some worked harder than others. One claimed an injury and appointed herself water carrier. But in the end the job was done, and now from my kitchen window I can relive those hours, squabbles and all.

Last year I rounded up the troops again and had them work the front yard, shovel and spade in hand. They gave dozens of Jacob’s coat shrubs a new home next to the birds of paradise. Few things give me more pleasure these days than to spot the fiery crimson of those leaves when I putt-putt into my driveway after a hard day’s work. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.

This month the kids, some grown and others still under my roof, fear a repetition of the past. As one of my sons pleaded, “Try to think of something that doesn’t involve hard labor, something we can get in a store with a credit card.” In other words, something simple, something easy. I’ve tried, but I’ve drawn a blank. Instead, I’ve come up with wishes that hold their value beyond Sunday brunch. . . . Most of all, I’d like to see my children settled in, honoring what I taught them with good jobs and happy families. I want to see the payoff for the sacrifice. Because in the end, long after the greeting cards have been read and wrapping paper thrown away, what they do with what I’ve taught them will prove to be the priceless gift only they can give me.”

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