Think outside the brunch for Mother’s Day

By Holly Burns, The New York Times

When Evie Ebert had her first child five years ago, she started noticing something interesting. Every Mother’s Day, her social media feeds would be full of perfectly styled picnics and cooing captions like, “Felt so celebrated today!” But later, when she logged on to the private mom groups she was part of, the same women were telling a different story.

“It would be like, ‘Ugh, he wanted to make brunch, but it meant he was in the kitchen for three hours, using every pan, while I had to watch the kids,’” said Ms. Ebert, a writer who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Every year since, she’s posted a tongue-in-cheek Twitter tutorial on how to take Mother’s Day out of cliché central and turn it into something the mothers in your life — the actual mothers in your life, not some two-dimensional idea of a mom — might enjoy.

“I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money,” she said. “But I do think you need to have a little forethought.”

Here are some ideas for getting a bigger bang from the bucks you spend this Mother’s Day.

Do some detective work.

The most successful presents, said Elisabeth Jones-Hennessy, the founder of gift-giving platform GiftMeChic, “aren’t about the object, they’re about the research and thought that went into choosing them.”

Instead of “just getting something to get something,” said Ms. Jones-Hennessy, really picture the person you’re buying for, then ask yourself what would make their life easier or further an interest they already have.

If that’s another fig-scented candle, then sure, buy another fig-scented candle. But if you’re struggling to think of something original, a little reconnaissance can help.

“Pay attention to her favorite shops and restaurants,” said Ms. Ebert. “If she has a public Pinterest account, look at what she’s been saving.”

Does her ideal day involve being surrounded by her kids or escaping them? If you don’t know, Ms. Ebert suggests this radical method: Ask her. But don’t just say, hey, what do you want to do for Mother’s Day? “An open-ended question puts the pressure on her to figure it out,” said Ms. Ebert.

Instead, give her options. “You could ask, ‘Would you prefer to have the house to yourself or go out? If you’d rather go out, do you want to go as a family or with your friends?” she said. “Get some information without making her feel like she has to direct the whole day.”

Get creative about getting creative.

There isn’t a mom around who wouldn’t proudly display a handmade card, but you can go one better by helping your kids write her a song.

“First, think of the core message you want to get across, maybe emphasizing one of her character traits,” said Grant Shellen, bass player in the surf rock band, Aloha Screwdriver. “Then try to paint a picture of a few moments in time,” like playing at the park or making soup for a sick kid.

When it comes to song structure, three verses alternating with a repeated chorus works well, said Mr. Shellen. “The chorus should have the lines you want to be the most memorable or representative of what the song is about.”

If you’re more Spielberg than Springsteen, mobile apps like Splice and InShot make it easy to stitch photos and videos into a short movie. Avoid special effects or transitions, which can cheapen the effect, said Dan Denegre, owner and filmmaker at Space Race Studio, which creates ads and documentaries for clients like Ubisoft and the British Broadcasting Corporation. And don’t be afraid to trim video clips down “to the specific moment that makes you feel something,” he said. “It’s easier for a video to make an impact if it affects you right away.”

Think about how the recipient might watch the video, said Mr. Denegre. “If she’s likely to want to project it up on the television, landscape is probably best. If you think she’ll share it on her Instagram story, portrait might be better.”

Involving others can add a layer of meaning to a gift. “When we gave my son a record player, we asked his older cousins to choose an album and write a note about why they love it,” said Jordan Ferney, founder of Oh Happy Day, a website about celebrating. If you have siblings, “collaborate on a handwritten list of things you love about your mom,” said John Ruhlin, founder of Giftology Group, a corporate gifting consultancy.

Spruce up her surroundings.

“Look around your space and think about what will make her feel cared for,” said Marianne Canada, lifestyle expert for and host of the HGTV podcast “Obsessed.” If she wants to spend the day luxuriating in an empty house, “Start with a clean slate and tidy up,” said Ms. Canada. “Make the bed with crisp, clean sheets. The kids can help.” With a week to go, you’ve still got time to print and frame a special photo. “How many of us have a hard drive of photos they’d love to print?” she said.

If she has a green thumb, a potted citrus tree will outlast a floral arrangement. Ms. Canada recommends a dwarf Meyer lemon or a Calamondin orange tree. “You can plant them outdoors if you’re in the right zone, but if you aren’t, good drainage, citrus potting mix and a sunny window is all you need,” she said. “Add a wheeled plant tray, so she can move them around throughout the year. Nothing makes you feel fancier than thinking ‘it’s a lovely sunny day, I should wheel the orange tree outside.’”

Take note: A vacuum cleaner is never a hit (“an appliance is a gift for the whole household, not for one person,” said Ms. Canada). However, a session with a professional organizer can be a helpful way to bring calm.

Make it nice.

If you have a printer, you’re halfway toward presentation perfection. Skip the cheesy Hallmark sentiments and download stylish wrapping paper, gift tags, or cards from the design website Almost Makes Perfect.

“I’m a big believer in Mother’s Day being about all types of moms,” said Molly Madfis, a designer whose work includes printed materials for step-moms and mothers-in-law too. Use regular printing paper for the gift wrap, said Ms. Madfis, and card stock for the rest.

Ms. Ferney raises her gifting game by using regular household supplies for wrapping. “Neon pink string from the hardware store makes everything feel bright,” she said. She also has her kids paint paper grocery bags, then match a ribbon in the same color scheme.

Upgrade your usual offerings.

While you won’t exactly be breaking new ground with a bouquet of flowers, you get extra points for effort if you make it yourself. Call a local flower shop to see if they offer classes, said Amber Flack, designer at Little Acre Flowers in Washington, D.C., or take an online lesson with florists like Lavenders or Siren Floral. Use local blooms where possible, said Ms. Flack, and limit the variety.

“Start with a base of any greenery, add in one or two filler flowers, then add your showstopper flowers last,” she said. “Cut stems at an angle with sharp scissors and change your water out every day.” Take the vase to a local engraving store, said Mr. Ruhlin, to add a meaningful quote. “Every time she uses it, she’ll think of you again,” he said, “It’s a subtle way to give someone an object with lasting power.”

For maximum impact, Ms. Ferney recommends choosing one thing and going over the top. For her beer-loving partner, she made a customized beer sampler from a dozen different types of beer. “You can do that with anything,” she said. “Just pick their favorite candy, food or snack.”

And if you really want your gift to stand out, send it a few days early. “You remember the people who show up first, last or biggest,” said Mr. Ruhlin. To avoid looking like you mixed the date up, he said, include a handwritten note. “Say something like, ‘You’re so special to me, I just couldn’t wait. I wanted to be the first to wish you a happy Mother’s Day.’”

c.2021 The New York Times Company