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7 ways to celebrate Mother’s Day when you need to keep your distance

You can still get close on Mother’s Day.
You can still get close on Mother’s Day.
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

As most astute children know, moms tend to be suckers for anything their kids give them. But upon adulthood, unless you can stick a grandchild in her hands, finding the right gift for The Woman Who Gave Me Life can feel a bit daunting.

It’s easier when you’re little. That’s when Mother’s Day is all about The Gift, something handmade and adorable, accompanied by a heartfelt if incomprehensible card, usually orchestrated by a teacher or dad.

I come from a long line of stubborn, learn-the-hard-way women who never fit in, so maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of Mother’s Day.

But as children ripen they begin to worry their handmade gifts aren’t good enough. The gifting is half apologetic, half hopeful, and as we mature that apprehension evolves to a sense of obligation, until it becomes a kind of annual ticket to redemption for all the missed phone calls and visits adults get too busy to make.

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People, take it from me, a mom: It doesn’t have to be so hard. If you really want to give Mom something meaningful, give her your time.

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It’s the perfect gift during these coronavirus social distancing times, since you can do it in person (if possible), via computer or over the phone. The trick is to find a way to spend time that is safe, and hopefully, argument free. Here are some tips to make it happen:

Pro Tip 1: If you live nearby but can’t go inside, organize a family parade outside your mom’s house. Go over early and stealthily decorate outside with chalk drawings on the driveway, a special plant or some other gift and then, at the prearranged hour, call Mom to the window or outside to watch your drive-by parade. If you have friends, promise to join their Mother’s Day parade if they’ll pad out yours.

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Pro Tip 2: Organize a virtual party with Mom using Zoom or some other app all family members can share. (Note that if you’re using the free version of Zoom, the sessions last only 40 minutes.) Don’t just make this an awkward family phone call; ask everyone to share something they appreciate about Mom — a special story or photograph, a favorite recipe or even a heartfelt poem (no eye rolling, please). Also, if this is your first family Zoom, do a dry run Saturday to make sure everyone — including Mom — can get online and participate. Nothing ruins the moment like technical difficulties. (Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is an investor in Zoom.)

Besides death and misery, the pandemic has brought new habits and unexpected changes. Some are keepers.

Pro Tip 3: Even if Mom is a technology pro, she might appreciate suggestions for digital subscriptions or apps, especially (gasp!) if they relate to topics that interest her. Get her a digital subscription to a newspaper or magazine. If she’s a walker and wonders about the birds on her trail, be a hero and send her the link to the free Audubon Bird Guide or the Cornell Lab’s Merlin bird identification apps, which she can download on her phone or tablet. Or maybe she would appreciate an Audible subscription ($15 a month) or an introduction to the free Libby app, which lets you download free e-books and audiobooks from your public library (with a library card).

Pro Tip 4: Send Mom the links to your favorite podcasts, which she may or may not enjoy but will at least give her some insights into where your head is these days. Those are the kinds of insights mothers of adult children crave, especially these days when we’re separated.

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Pro Tip 5: If you can safely share a meal, stick around for a few hours or spend the the night. Without that constant, got-to-be-somewhere-else pressure, you both can relax a little, play a game and have a real conversation. (Bonus points if you help with the dishes!) If you can’t safely get everyone in the same room, maybe you can all order the same food for pickup or delivery and eat it at the appointed time.

Pro Tip 6: If all you can do is talk via computer or phone, have everybody pour a glass of wine or make some tea and then settle in to tell some stories about her childhood and yours. Some moms fret about their child-rearing mistakes, so share a memory about something she did right (i.e. something that didn’t leave you too scarred). Then ask her to share some memories of her childhood and mom. These may not all be happy memories, but maybe you’ll get some insights into Mom you never had before.

In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, I just wanted a simple mask for running essential errands, like a trip to the pharmacy. I made a no-sew mask out of a sock. It won’t win any fashion awards, but it will help keep my 76-year-old mother (and my husband and me) safe.
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Pro Tip 7 (and maybe the hardest): When you talk to Mom, tell her something about your life today, how you’re coping, who your friends are or what you hope for in the future. It’s a grave mistake to believe your son at 30 is the same as he was at 3, but the reality is children grow and change much faster than their parents can process, and as we become adults, those connections further blur and fade. It’s probably a good bet your mom would love to know more about the person you’ve become.

Bottom line: Just talk to your mom as long as you can about something real. Gifts are great, but with everything so uncertain these days, a chunk of your time is the best and most comforting gift of all.


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