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Alex Horvath / The Californian

Columnist Valerie Schultz

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Cherie Diez / Tampa Bay Times

All Valerie Schultz wants from her daughters this year is a nice Mother's Day card.

The perfect Mother's Day may be an illusion, sponsored by Hallmark. Mother's Day can be like the scene of an accident, where speeding expectations have crashed into reality.

My mother wanted eggs Benedict every Mother's Day, and I remember the many failed attempts to make her the perfect hollandaise sauce. When my sisters and I became mothers, our husbands used to get together with my father and make us brunch. They would shop at Costco and buy gallons of orange juice, pounds of bacon, dozens of eggs, and mountains of breakfast pastry for the occasion, as though they were feeding the Green Bay Packers instead of us.

As mothers we treasure the handmade cards, the heartfelt poetry, the traced little hands turned into bouquets of flowers, the lopsided ceramics, the colored macaroni necklaces, the sunflower growing up out of the paper cup of dirt. But might there be more to the perfect Mother's Day? And has any mother ever actually had one?

I asked some friends who are mothers to imagine the perfect Mother's Day. We mothers are, after all, the experts. But it's sometimes difficult for mothers to think about their own desires, because, as one mom said, "I am so used to thinking of the kids first that my wants come last." Maybe the perfect Mother's Day eludes us because we can't decide what it should look like.

Mother's Day, like any holiday, can be a painful reminder. "It's a sad day thinking about my own mother, who left us far too early," said one friend. Added another: "Mother's Day isn't always about your biological mother. I've unfortunately had the door closed on me more times than I can count by my biological mother, but have been loved unconditionally by another mom who taught me the true meaning of mothering."

Mothers of young children imagine the perfect Mother's Day as "a day off from being a mom: sleeping in and then a trip to the spa and a delicious meal and a good movie with some girlfriends," as one mother of two little boys fantasized. But she'd also enjoy "doing something fun and carefree with my wonderful children and their father, who made me a mother in the first place."

Another young mother splits the difference: "I use half the day to myself, maybe a matinee, or tea with a book at a cafe, and later joining my husband and 5-year-old son for dinner. That's a perfect day ... My birthday is the same. Half the day alone, half with my two loves." Recharging the mothering batteries is important, she says, "in order to continue parenting with empathy and patience."

Mother's Day is a different experience, of course, when your children are adults. We mothers never stop being mothers, but our children do stop being children.

"I'd love a family get-together with the day off from cooking and doing dishes," said one mother of grown-ups.

Another mother of adult children would like to see "all of my children showing up (unannounced) to cook me breakfast. Or knowing that all my children and grandchildren are safe and happy (of course they should all call and tell me this)."

"With my son being away in the Peace Corps, all I would like is to just be with him on Mother's Day," said my cousin, who has not seen her son for a full year. "I really could care less what we do."

"Since I can't be with all my children on Mother's Day due to distance, what I'd most like is for them to tell me something they appreciate about me as a mother," said another friend whose children are grown. "I'm sure that, in retrospect, most of us mothers wish we had done some things differently while the children were growing up. It would be nice to know what they think I did right."

I am fond of this idea, because a little appreciation feels good. It's better than eggs Benedict. I must point out that not one mother I know mentioned any gifts as part of a perfect Mother's Day. As I tell my daughters, having such delightful children makes every day Mother's Day, and all I want on this particular Sunday in May is a nice card. "Thank you for everything you do for me, and for being the biggest nerd bomb I know!" one of my daughters wrote in her card last year. These are the sentiments I hold close to my heart. The perfect Mother's Day, then, is a state of mind: the warm comfort of knowing that all of your little ones, however old they are and wherever they may be, are safe and healthy and happy and productive and loving and loved. The rest is a big bowl of gravy.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com.