You need to find mom a Mother's Day gift. The perfect one would be nice, but every year this eludes you.

I mean, what do you give this woman who bore you in the midst of great pain - whether in a delivery room with too many people milling about or by the phone, waiting for a voice on the other end to say, "We have a baby for you," or whatever her own unique experience of anticipating, longing for, and finally bringing you into her heart was.

And once you were there, you carved a great big space, but that was easy, because her heart was soft and malleable where you were concerned, even though she could be most unreasonable about your coming in two minutes after midnight (Why was she always up? And how is it that the rest of the household could fall asleep?)

You know, she never has forgiven that child, so many years ago, who didn't invite you to the class birthday party. I think she talks with the child's mother, but only politely, when they run into one another at the grocery store.

More than once, mom embarrassed you dreadfully during the regional swim meet, when you could hear her yell over the crowd's roar, every time your head came up for air. You came in seventh.

"You're always a winner in my book," she said.

So what do you get this woman, who loves you just because you are who you are, who isn't afraid to tell you that you behaved rudely back there, but in the next breath gives you that look that makes you feel safe and panicky at the same time?

A cruise? Mom more than anyone knows that you're not made of money. If you seem in danger of forgetting, she reminds you.

A card? Is that too cheap? She always taught you to be generous and to invest your life in people, not things.

Flowers? Dinner out? A phone call? Socks? Books? A gift certificate?

Yes, that last one's good. But a gift certificate to where?

Maybe I can make this easier for you. If you want to know what to give mom, start by realizing - fully and completely - what she has given you.

And what she has given you is your freedom to fly, little fledgling, even though what she wants more than anything is to be with you, be near you, be a part of your life forever and ever. That little girl and little boy - newborn, 6 years old, pre-teen, 15 (do you have any idea how difficult you were at 15?), the young adult off to college or a new apartment or a job - but away - for the first time, all of those children still reside in her heart, and there is room, so much room, for the rest of you.

But she lets you go, because there are two things she wants for you more than anything:

She wants you to be happy

That's why those 11 p.m. phone calls, the ones after the big breakup or the job loss or just because you're agonizingly lonely -are so hard on her. Don't get me wrong - she wants you to call, but it would be nice if, a week later when things are back to normal, you let her know.

And she wants you to be good

That's what she raised you to be, you know: a caring, thoughtful person who speaks gently to animals and squats down to listen to children at their eye level. Although she pushed you, all those years, to keep your grades up, it really doesn't matter to her if you're a doctor or a writer or a grocery store clerk or a lawyer (an honest one, mind you!) or a nuclear physicist or an artist. Do you make the world a better place because you're in it?

She does, you know, or at least, your world.

Tell her you love her. Call her, if you live far away. Write her a note, if you write better than you speak. Get together for dinner, if you're close. And stay close, in your hearts, however you can, as much as you can. That's what she wants more than anything in the world.

Mom, I love you. You let me go, but held me tight.

Progeny of mine - I love you.

Deeply. Unreservedly. Unabashedly. Joyfully. Eternally. You are my ultimate Mother's Day gift.

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