(First appeared in the Orlando Sentinel May 13, 2007)
In the 27 years that I've been a mother, I've enjoyed some memorable Mother's Day gifts.
When my kids were young, I wanted nothing more than time to sleep. Ah, sleep, that most precious gift.
"Take the children out for four hours," I remember asking my husband. "I don't care where you take them or what you do, just leave me alone at the house for at least four hours. That's all I want."
And it helped.
With babies, I found that four hours was the perfect "recharge" time, just long enough to settle in and absorb the silence before missing the little rascals. As much as I love my children -- and I have four of the best kids anyone could want -- for the sake of my sanity, I needed the periodic break.
As time went by and the kids grew bigger, so did the messes that a family of six creates. One year for Mother's Day, I practically begged Ralph to clean out the garage.
"Take the trash to the dump," I pleaded. "All of it. Do that for me, and it will be the perfect gift."
Another year, I asked to have the windows cleaned. I could only tolerate smudged glass marked with handprints, cobwebs and assorted debris for so long. The sparkling panes lasted for months, filling me with pleasure each time I gazed through them.
Of course, not all of my Mother's Day gifts have been quite as utilitarian and self-orchestrated. I've been the appreciative recipient of many fine meals out with the family, handmade cards from the children, bouquets of flowers and the occasional wrapped present. But the most memorable gifts are the ones that truly filled a need, caught me off guard or touched me with their heartfelt message.
"I love you, Mama," began a note my daughter Jenny wrote me one year.
More than a decade later, her words still resonate. Taped to the wall above my computer, I see them every time I sit down to write. Simple words on a single sheet of plain white paper decorated with hearts, stars and black-ink designs. Jenny's gift -- and, through the years, each of my children has given me similar written expressions of love -- is a visual reminder of what Mother's Day is really about.
It's all about love -- about giving love away and watching it come back home to roost.
This year for Mother's Day I plan to take a walk, go for a row on the lake, feed the birds, read a book and enjoy a home-cooked meal with as many members of my family as are able to join me.
I'm no longer sleep-deprived, and there are no big chores begging to be done. Time alone in the house is still something I treasure, but I don't long for it as I did when the kids were little.
These days, the best gift I could ask for is to have a problem-free day during which I don't have to multitask or put out any fires. To that end, maybe I'll turn off the cell phone today, shut down the computer, open the window and hope for a breeze.
I can breathe in a bit of flower-scented air mingled with wonderful memories that 27 years of parenting have provided. Inhaling deeply, what could be sweeter?