Mothers in History: The Museum Exhibit

Here, in honor of Mother’s Day this year, is a piece I wrote that appeared in Newsday in 2007:

This weekend our museum unveils “Milestones in Motherhood,” the first exhibit tracing the evolution of mothers through the millennia. Our highly interactive, multimedia presentation brings you the latest insights into the most controversial family member since the creation of the uncle.

For starters, we see Mother Nature in a diorama, fists on hips, looking ticked off about being fooled. Future generations, when similarly deceived, would come to copy the hurt look on her face. Centuries later, we view Mother Teresa feeding the lepers of Calcutta, raising the bar on maternal compassion forever beyond the reach of mortal mothers everywhere.

In between, we pick up some little-known facts about moms. We hear, for example, of the activist mother who lobbied to outlaw the long-standing domestic practice, never really proven practical, of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We also learn how the Virgin Mary, a product of immaculate conception, set unrealistic expectations about the ease of pregnancy and childbirth for generations. Every two hours, we offer a live stage show featuring the devil, who explains why his upbringing forced him to coin the phrase “mother from hell.”

If this ambitious retrospective teaches us any single lesson, it’s that matriarchy is clearly a world order stronger than any known government. Also represented in our hallowed hallways are:

Prehistoric Mom. A reconstructed skeleton of this early hominid reveals a spine with an uncanny degree of flexibility, enabling her literally to bend over backward, the better to accommodate her children and husband. Forensic analysis reveals a tongue prehensile and poisonous, handy for striking dead on the spot anyone who dared to cross her.

Pyramid Mom. Female pharaohs inaugurate the ritual, since adopted in several industrialized nations, of mothers being worshipped by all who behold her. Soon all homes in ancient Egypt would come equipped with obligatory altar and pedestal.

Immigrant Mom. Credited as the inventor of guilt (though the patent is still pending), she specialized in the second-guessing of her children, often first-generation Americans. In a favorite household practice, she repeatedly asked all her children, including adolescents, when they planned to get married, to whom and exactly why.

Eisenhower Mom. Presented in her natural habitat, the kitchen, she cleaned to the point of surgical sterility, all while wearing full makeup and high heels. A voice-over recounts how she eventually stormed segregated lunch counters nationwide demanding the legal right to cook with her hair uncoiffed.

Executive Mom. Here, to do right by job and child, she multitasks her brains out, often even while multitasking. In one tableau, she pecks e-mails on her BlackBerry and conducts an hour-long overseas conference call with a deeply disenchanted top client as she breast-feeds her infant triplets.

Visitors to the IMAX theater can view a computerized rendering of the typical mother’s hypothalamus as it produces the very chemical empowering her to read her children’s minds. We also go inside a working laboratory where researchers are striving to isolate the so-called Mommy Gene, long suspected of being responsible for all that is good and true in the world.

As you probably can guess, no single trip to this fascinating retrospective will be enough to take it all in. Make sure you go back a second time to catch the must-see enlarged slides of the original one-celled mother and the papyrus document containing the first known mother-in-law joke.

Of course, no exhibit of such unprecedented scope comes off without intense debate over its contents. The United Kingdom, miffed over the lack of reference to the queen mother, has filed suit. Planning similar litigation are estates representing Mother Goose, Ma Barker, Moms Mabley, Mama Cass, the first Soccer Mom and the Mothers of Invention.

As you exit, if only to avoid being subpoenaed for these suits, we invite you to browse in our gift shop for an hour or three. Still in stock is everything from mother-of-pearl pendants to a “Whistler’s Mother” lunchbox to a CD-ROM re-creating the mother of all battles.

Our collection’s signature artifact is here, too – a reproduction of the Leave No Mom Unappreciated Act, still stuck in committee on Capitol Hill since the dawn of the republic.

Posted in Bob

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