THIS is a story of princesses and paupers. It is a tale of two faces of motherhood, told in a season when media images of mothers alternate between glitzy fantasy and harsh reality. The princesses - the fantasy mothers - smile dreamily out of retailers' newspaper ads for Mother's Day. Long and lean, young and beautiful, they are models promoting everything from negligees to jewelry to perfume. Never mind that these Mother's Day princesses bear little resemblance to the everyday mothers who dash through supermarkets with shopping carts full of food and small children, or who are locked in traffic jams at rush hour. It is enough that these fantasy mothers annually capture the imagina tion of consumers.
Then there are the paupers - the very real peasant mothers whose terror-stricken faces stare out of newspaper photos of Kurdish refugees. As they cradle starving babies and weep over dying children, these mothers have touched hearts around the world. They have become a moving reminder of kingdoms far from princesses and barren of fantasies.
Some of these kingdoms of the dispossessed are much closer to home than the peasant mothers on the TV screen from the Iraqi border or more recently Bangladesh.
As Mother's Day shoppers scurry about this week, buying gifts and an estimated 150 million greeting cards, two charitable groups are taking a less commercial approach to the holiday. By staging Mother's Day campaigns to raise money for needy women, they hope to bridge the gap between princesses and paupers in America.
"This Mother's Day, thank your mom by helping someone else's," reads an ad for a New York-based organization, Women In Need. A photo shows a haggard mother and her crying child, wrapped in a blanket and sitting on rubble-strewn ground. Although the woman bears a striking resemblance to the Kurdish mothers huddled on a mountain, she lives in New York, on a street.
The group suggests that "instead of giving your mom chocolates or flowers, make a donation in her name 201&gt; We'll send her a Mother's Day card for you, explaining that your gift to her is the gift of hope for a homeless mother."
In Boston, a similar appeal is under way at the Women's Lunch Place. On Mother's Day, the shelter will hold a banquet for 150 homeless and low-income women. Guests will be pampered with flowered tablecloths and fresh flowers, corsages and candy, live music and attentive service.
Located in the basement of a church on Boston's upscale Newbury Street, the center bears witness to princess-and-pauper contrasts. As Kathy Burton, a staff member, explains, "I see many people with their proud clothes and their heads held high, and they walk past the women and don't even see them. But you'd be surprised at the backgrounds of some of our women. Some of them had husbands and children, and then something got lost along the way."
The camera's eye focuses on the princesses in all their perfection and on the paupers in their squalor. It is the viewer who looks with pleasure on the fantasy and averts the eye from history. Mother's Day is a good time to stop such blinking and honor all mothers, perhaps especially those for whom "something got lost along the way."