Why you may be buying flowers and fire insurance this Mothers Day

Mary Katharine Ham

5/13/2007 5:34:38 PM - Mary Katharine Ham

I’m about the blow the top off of a dark family secret, here, so if y’all see my mom, please distract her by telling a quirky anecdote or waving your arms wildly in front of the computer screen. Or, both, if the quirky anecdote happens to be about that time you got beaned in the head with a foul ball because you were watching the overzealous hand signals of your local little-league ump. Sell it. Thank you.

All right, here goes. Every year, for Mothers Day, I buy my mom a bouquet of flowers and have it sent to her job. Pretty standard Mothers Day practice, no?

Now, here’s the secret part. I always put my brothers’ names on the card, despite the fact that they have little to no familiarity with the type of flowers ordered, the occasion for ordering them, nor the particular plastic currency used to purchase them.

Later, my mother calls all three of us to thank us for the flowers, at which point my brothers say, “Ohhhh, the flowers! Sure, no problem, Mom. Glad you liked them.”

This year, I got a little behind, and it occurred to me, that if I didn’t send my mother flowers, no one would. If I fell down on the job, she’d be tulip-less in an office just strewn with fragrant springy arrangements sent thither by more observant offspring than her own. And, we couldn’t have that, could we?

No worries. I got the flowers sent in time, but I began to wonder to myself. “Hey,” I thought, “My little brothers are not so little. They’re bonafide, responsible, capable adults with their own little cards of plastic currency. Why don’t they ever send flowers themselves?”

Why? Because I do it for them.

My attendance to maternal floral offerings ensures that they will never sprout their own initiative. They’re both perfectly capable of ordering flowers, but why do it, when I’m planning and funding the venture? They get the thank-you call without any effort on their part.

I am the nanny-state of siblings.

This happens all the time with our overbearing federal government, and to a lesser extent, state and local ones. When I thought of my complicity in stunting my brothers’ personal responsibility, I was reminded of a recent editorial I read in the Washington Post.

In the early-morning hours of April 30, Eastern Market was ravaged by fire. The 130-year-old building is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike in D.C., housing a bevy of bustling small businesses, some in their third and fourth generations of hawking goods on the Hill.

The fire, sadly, left many vendors without a place to sell. For instance, the Canales family:

"This is home," said Elizabeth Canales, 30, who began working at her father's delicatessen at age 8. Tearfully rubbing her pregnant belly, she sighed, "You know, my husband and I were just joking the other day that when the baby's 6 or 7, we know he'll start stuffing soda cabinets here, as well."


But the Canales family was not unprepared for such a disaster, thankfully:

The Canales family, luckily, has fire insurance; many other vendors don't.


“Luckily?” No, it was not luck that saw the possibility of fire in a 130-year-old building. It was not Lady Luck who made the cost-benefit analysis and decided to fork over some of the family’s hard-earned profit for insurance against such a fire.

It was not luck. It was the Canales family’s smarts and personal responsibility—the same characteristics that have made it possible for them to stay in business for several decades.

Now, what about those to whom “luck”—the Washington Post’s dismissive word for personal responsibility—did not impart fire insurance? I think you know the answer to this one:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council have pledged to support the displaced vendors and their employees and rebuild the Eastern Market building…


The Mayor has been so kind as to pledge $30 million of everyone else’s money to fund this venture

And, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton is making sure she does her part by confiscating the rest of the country’s money. Because, after all, a lot of Congress members visit the market, so all of their constituents should have to pay for its rebuilding.

In then end, there was no reason for the Canales family to do the right thing and purchase fire insurance for lo these many years. When the nanny state stepped in, it made it clear that personal responsibility is the path of the sucker.

I don’t mean to imply that the D.C. government has no responsibility in rebuilding the Market. On the contrary, the government owned the building and, according to investigations, may have let bureaucratic red tape stand in the way of much-needed repairs that would have made the structure safer.

But, in their haste to appear as compassionate as possible, politicians should be mindful about what behavior they’re encouraging and with whose money they encourage it.

If the government ensures that taxpayers shoulder the burden of risks that should be shouldered by individual business owners and homeowners—as with retroactive fire insurance and FEMA’s retroactive flood insurance—it’s bad for responsible business owners,  bad for bloated government budgets, and most of all, bad for regular taxpayers.

As for me, I’ll continue to order my mom flowers and put my brothers’ names on the card. After all, there’s no harm in helping out those we care about as long as we’re not using other people’s money to do it.

A couple of D.C. residents are doing something similar by raising private money via T-shirt sales to rebuild the market they love. I’d urge you to donate, if you’re so inclined, but unfortunately, your overzealous federal government will likely make sure you donate whether you’re inclined or not.

Oh, and one more secret? I’m pretty sure my mom knows all about that flower scam. She’s always been wise to the three of us. Happy Mothers Day!