SENIOR POWER: Three cents for Mom Day

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday May 02, 2013 - 08:32:00 PM

May is designated Older Americans Month in the United States. The 2013 theme is Unleash the Power of Age. Unleash me by emailing suggestions to me, , for a title for this column that’s better than Senor Power!

Annually since 1963, Older Americans Month has, says the Administration on Aging, been a time “to appreciate and celebrate the vitality and aspirations of older adults and their contributions to our communities… Older Americans are productive, active, and influential members of society, sharing essential talents, wisdom, and life experience with their families, friends, and neighbors.” Sounds like a one-way street with a difficult corner-crossing. And there’s that incessant assumption that senior citizens have families, whereas many are orphaned by age. 

Congress passed the Older Americans Act in response to concern by policymakers about a lack of community social services for older persons. The law established the Administration on Aging to administer the newly created grant programs and to serve as the Federal focal point on matters concerning older persons. Don’t hold your breath while waiting for reauthorizations of the OAA. Some Senators support a significant funding increase for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs. More than two dozen Senators, including California’s Barbara Boxer, responded and signed on to an April 26, 2013 letter by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to Senate appropriators calling for a 12% increase.  

Due to lack of authorization or appropriations, White House Conferences on Aging have not always been convened within the historical ten-year timeframe. That’s guvspeak for they were held in 1961, 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Contact your Congressional Representative and Senators regarding authorizations and appropriations necessary for a 2015 White House Conference on Aging. 

In 1934, the U.S. issued Whistler’s Mother postage “in memory and in honor of the mothers of America. Three cents.” In the United States and Canada, we celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May. This year M Day is May 12.  

The mother of six, a classically-trained pianist who performed for the troops in Vietnam, Phyllis Diller was ninety-five years old when she died last year. Her advice was “always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home. We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up. Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?” In 2005 Thorndike published an illustrated, large-print edition of Diller’s A Lampshade in a Whorehouse; My Life in Comedy. 

Mother’s (Mothers’ if you prefer) Day is big business. The Internet is full of insights into such things as what makes a good mother, twenty qualities of a good mom, and how to be a good mom. Suggested (advertised) gifts include flowers, jewelry, cards, crafts, and printable coupons. Fun & Stylish Eco-Friendly Shopping Bags for mom are being pushed. “Forget the paper vs. plastic debate! These stylish, super lightweight bags can tuck into a purse or glove compartment, and hold as much as two plastic grocery bags.”  

Father's Day, on Sunday, June 16, complements M Day. It’s described as honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. Many countries observe it on the third Sunday of June, but it is also widely celebrated on other days. 

Working mother, lesbian mother, mother superior, foster mother, adoptive mother… grandparents, foster parents, and numerous other designations are without their own days. 


When Elena premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, it was acclaimed “original and different,” and director Andrey Zvyagintsev received international recognition. The DVD is in Russian with ample English subtitles.  

Elena is a mother and a grandmother. Vladimir is a father. She has an adult son. He has an adult daughter. Elena and Vladimir have no children.  

They are a sixty-going-on-seventy couple, married for the last two of their ten years together. They share his upscale Moscow apartment. I see her as essentially a housekeeper with a credit card and accessibility. She makes and serves breakfast, after which he grabs her by the wrist for sex in his bedroom before driving to the gym, where he has a heart attack.  

Meanwhile, she takes public transport to pick up her pension. Thence to the other side of town to a crowded, block apartment adjacent to power plants. On the way, she stops at a grocery store to pick up plastic bags of edibles for her unemployed son’s family. Useless grandson is about to be conscripted unless they (she) can pay to get him into a university. Everyone, including Elena herself, expects her to come through with the required cash layout. Everyone except Vladimir, who is actually sympathetic but wary of further “loans.”  

When Vladimir is hospitalized, he instructs her to contact his wayward daughter, and they are reunited. Elena visits a church and prays to the icons. So far, she has come across as a dutiful spouse, parent, and grandparent. But the plot thickens. In fact, it has been described as gripping, a modern twist on the classic noir thriller. 

The Elena DVD is interesting from other perspectives as well. There’s that Moscow apartment—balcony, basement garage, groceries delivered, park-like grounds, doorman, wall-safe to which she has access, etc.— who knew! In a 30-minute interview, the forty-seven year old director points out the still-prevalent Russian sexism, which is, incidentally not the film’s main message.