No one says it's easy being a mom. Especially in this country.
In a 2012 world ranking of the best place to be a mom, the United States doesn't merit a gold medal, a silver or even a bronze. We limp home just behind Belarus in 25th place, probably with a medal made by overworked moms and their kids in a factory in Niger, where moms rank a bottom-of-the-barrel 165th.
The annual Mother's Day "State of the World's Mothers" report released this week by the Save the Children charity looks at factors such as health and nutrition for moms and kids, education and economic factors. In a ranking that resembles a Winter Olympics medal stand, Save the Children lists Norway first, followed by Iceland and Sweden. While we in the U.S. still have the highest maternal death rate of any industrialized nation (and are the only one not to guarantee working mothers a paid leave from their jobs), I suppose we should be happy that the United States jumped up six places from last year's 31st ranking and is now only six spots behind Canada.
But we have to be first when it comes to celebrating moms. Americans will spend $18.6 billion on Mother's Day gifts this Sunday, according to a study commissioned by the National Retail Federation. Consumers are expected to spend an average of $152.52 on Mother's Day gifts. (This is one of those times when I wish my mom in rural Indiana didn't have the computer skills to read my column online, as I am going to fall short of the average American son.)
One day of yummy brunches, pretty flowers and crudely constructed homemade art projects (you've been warned, Mom) does not make up for the other 364 days of the year. Most moms deserve better.
But even bad moms get the love. As a young adult, I befriended a boy who used to get into fights at school if anybody said a bad word about his dead mother. I would point out that the best way to honor his mother's memory certainly wasn't to get expelled for fighting. He would argue with me, insisting that he simply had to throw a punch into a boy's nose on the playground because of what the kid said about his mom. When he detailed the conversation, the libel-conscious reporter in me wanted to note that the boy making the nasty comments did have truth as his defense.
The boy's mom -- a very troubled soul dealing with drug addictions, a terminal illness and other demons -- once hid in her bedroom and sent her 7-year-old son to the apartment door to deal with an angry drug dealer screaming and pounding to get in. The drug dealer's shotgun blast put a hole in the door and narrowly missed putting a hole in my young friend.
On the day after Christmas that year, the boy talked about all the great gifts a charity persuaded Santa to deliver to him. When I asked to see them, he had me drive by the pawnshop window where they were on display after his mom cashed them in for money she spent on her desires. That mom would drag her young son to parties where the boy would sleep the night away in his clothes on a sticky linoleum kitchen floor while revelers partied around him. She once left him for days with a Class X felon out on bail who used a knife to cut through the boy's seat belt and then drove around stopping quickly in a misguided insurance fraud scheme to win a cash settlement.
Were I to point out these flaws in his mother, the boy (now a man and a much better father than the one he never knew) still might punch me in the nose. He has a loving tribute to his mom tattooed on his forearm.
"She's my mother," he told me one day when he was a teenager and we were talking about his mother's death. "She loved me and I love her."
That's a sentiment we all can understand, regardless of any Mother's Day rankings.