Journalists who write about family issues can count on a seasonal certainty this time of year: a barrage of press releases promoting Mother's Day.
Even before Easter is over, early-bird publicists begin sending e-mails pitching products, services, and books for Mom, hoping they'll merit a mention in print.
Individually, these messages can be just one more item clogging a reporter's e-mail in-box. But collectively, their randomness forms a mosaic portrait of 21st-century American motherhood.
How do we love thee, Mom? Let us count the latest ways to honor you and measure your incalculable worth.
Some gift suggestions remain traditional: a dozen pink roses, a picture frame, a bracelet, or perfume.
Others are more contemporary. How about a CD of "motherhood music?" A certificate for a spa? ("Moms love spas," one press release crows.) A weekend getaway to Miami? A private chef? Doting offspring with $450 to spend can even splurge on a manicure-pedicure party for Mom and three of her friends.
In another new approach, those with an altruistic spirit might consider a charitable donation in Mom's name to Heifer International - a gift that "helps mothers and their families around the world."
In perhaps the ultimate nod to changing roles, a publicist is promoting multi-tools - pliers, screwdrivers, scissors, corkscrews, and knives all in one - as "the perfect gift for your readers to show Mom she is loved and appreciated this Mother's Day."
But wait. Another release warns about similar gifts that mothers don't appreciate: an ironing board, a lawn mower.
Has there ever been a more complex time to be a mother? Choices and decisions multiply when the subject is work and family and caregiving.
This is also the age of perfection, when competitive motherhood starts in the womb with photos of the latest sonogram, and when parents take it as a personal failure if their 2-year-old fails to win a coveted spot in nursery school. And then there's the pressure to have a great body, to be the perfect partner in bed, to be the ideal wife and mother. The list goes on.
No wonder Therese Borchard has written an antidote to this cult of perfection, "The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World."
In an effort to answer the question, "What is a mom worth?" a new study by Salary.com calculates that if stay-at-home mothers were paid on the basis of their multiple responsibilities, they would earn $134,121 annually. Working mothers would earn $86,876 for the "mom job" portion of their work, in addition to their actual "work job" salary. It's a recognition, the website release says, that "both stay-at-home mothers and working mothers carry a heavy load of responsibility and work long hours."
That load may be heaviest of all for the nation's single mothers - a group that numbers more than 10 million, according to a Census release.
Wednesday, May 10, more than a dozen countries - among them Mexico, India, Singapore, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia - are observing Mother's Day. Other nations, including Australia, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Turkey, will join the US in celebrating on Sunday.
Amid all the gifts, wrapped and beribboned, that mothers everywhere receive this week, perhaps the most treasured will be those that are intangible.
"Spend time, not money," urges a press release for Keith Ferrazzi, a relationship expert. "Cards and flowers are nice, but no matter how much they cost, they'll never be as valuable as your most precious resource - time."
On Sunday, as American mothers savor the superlatives in their cards ("To the world's greatest mom") and wear their (tarnished) halos proudly, they can bask in the love and gratitude their families bestow on them. They can also take heart in Ms. Borchard's comforting reminder: "There is no such thing as a perfect mom."
Or a perfect dad. But that's a subject for publicists' next big e-mail blitz to reporters. Father's Day, after all, is just 39 days away.