NEW YORK — What were they thinking? Through plastic smiles or gritted teeth, moms have to suck it up sometimes when Mother's Day means a gifted toilet, unsolicited wash tub or anti-aging cream.
It wouldn't be Mother's Day if some mom somewhere wasn't disappointed or downright piqued at gift time. Many aren't looking to break the bank, though the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend $19 billion on the holiday this year. But a chainsaw?
Glenna Tooman's uh-oh moment was when her now-grown son, Bill, was 10 or 11. He disappeared on his bike in Boise, Idaho, only to return with a Mother's Day gift that kept on giving, a tiny bunny.
"I was very surprised. It's the last thing you'd expect for Mother's Day," she said. "He spent his allowance money on it. We named him Garfunkel. We had him for years."
A rabbit might be better than what a good chunk of moms surveyed in March by the website Cafemom received last year — absolutely nothing. And, while vacuums have come a long way in design and efficiency, they still ranked among the worst Mother's Day gifts ever received.
In San Francisco, Heddi Cundle joked that her mother back home in England hasn't quite forgiven her for a particular Mother's Day gift: A plastic wash tub with dish gloves and a scrub brush, all from the dollar store.
Said her mom, Bev Cundle, in Leeds: "What can I say? How does a mother smile through gritted teeth. A washing bowl in blue, not my favorite color, a square shape to fit in a round sink! And a brush to clean out mugs. How do you make it disappear?"
Other, er, unusual items to make the worst-gift list at Cafemom: a Cuban cigar and stale candy left over from Easter. One mom, RoseMarie Luevano in San Antonio, Texas, received a chainsaw two years ago.
"My husband had been wanting it so he kept telling his family about it, but they thought it was me (who wanted it) and Mother's Day was just around the corner," she said. "I really wanted a certificate for a spa."
Becky Jackson has no use for fussy spas, flowers or jewelry. She lives on a ranch in Lewistown, Mont., and her jaw dropped a few years ago when her husband presented her with a long, nicely wrapped cardboard box that screamed long-stem roses.
"I tried to hide my disappointment as I slowly undid the ribbon and wrapping paper, trying to figure out how, after almost 20 years of marriage to my rancher husband, he still didn't know I wasn't big on flowers," Jackson said.
Inside was a new .22-caliber rifle, "perfect for packing around on my four-wheeler to help rid our ranch of pesky critters," she said.
Big boxes aside, moms surveyed by the site PlumDistrict said they'd choose handmade gifts over store-bought ones. And while breakfast in bed is a sweet gesture, they'd choose another one: sleeping in.
In potentially difficult news for any eager gift-giver now scratching the chainsaw off his list, the surveyed moms also agreed they'd rather not have to be in on buying their own Mother's Day gift.
Judith Schmelzinger in Hamburg, N.Y., might be the exception to that rule. She accepted a toilet in 2010, when there was no money for romantic extras for her first Mother's Day.
"That's what we needed at the time," she said grimly.
Nancy Nolan recalls a useless but memorable gift 40 years ago, when her husband took their then 6-year-old son shopping for a Mother's Day gift and returned with a jar of cream to fade age spots.
She was only 28.
"I just hugged him and thanked him for the wonderful gift," she said, "and he just beamed. He was so proud."