Gifts that have made Mother’s Day memorable

Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine and her stepdaughter Camille, husband Val, and two kids Noah and Gabriel pose for a family photo outside of their house in Marietta, Georgia, on April 30, 2021. Camille, Anna, (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine and her stepdaughter Camille, husband Val, and two kids Noah and Gabriel pose for a family photo outside of their house in Marietta, Georgia, on April 30, 2021. Camille, Anna, (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Metro Atlanta women talk about what touched their hearts, eased their stress

Every year around this time, mothers and mother figures around the country lovingly clear space on their counters for a colorful haul: bouquets, perfume and those ceramic handprint doorstop paperweight thingees kids make in art class.

But after living through our first coronavirus Mother’s Day, where the simple act of hugging could be dangerous and the traditional brunch had to be done via Zoom, those seemingly ordinary gifts are all the more important. We could all use a little ordinary right now.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked several area residents to tell us about the best Mother’s Day present they’ve ever received, running the gifting gamut from crafts to music to just some coveted alone time.

A love of kids’ DIY gifts

On the Marietta family’s Instagram page, The Traveling 5, Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine, husband Valentin and their three kids chronicle their discovery of the world, including an ambitious but rewarding 2018-19 trek around Europe and the United States. Exploring Old World museums or experiencing coastal Maine up close from the window of their camper, they developed a necessary appreciation for simplicity, she says.

“When we were on the road, obviously, what we had was what we had. We were on a tight budget,” says Hoppmann-Lemoine, 40, who is the operations manager for her husband’s company, Real Estate Made Easy. “So there were a lot more projects, a lot more DIY, using your imagination more.”

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Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine (end from right) learned to appreciate simple Mother's Day gifts while traveling across Europe and the United States. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine (end from right) learned to appreciate simple Mother's Day gifts while traveling across Europe and the United States. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

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Anna Hoppmann-Lemoine (end from right) learned to appreciate simple Mother's Day gifts while traveling across Europe and the United States. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Which is why, she said, her favorite gifts, “hands-down, are anything made by my kids,” Noah, 7, Gabriel, 9, and Camille, 17. “You can buy something that you think someone is gonna like, but when someone makes something because they love you, it’s on a whole other level.

“One of my favorite things was a plain white piece of paper that said ‘Happy Birthday, Mommy, you’re 40 now,’ but it was all spelled wrong. They were so excited about it.”

Last year’s gift from Noah, a bright drawing of flowers, fit the bill, Hoppmann-Lemoine says, because it was about him knowing her so well. “I’m definitely into flowers. My whole deck is decked out in flowers. What he was saying was ‘This is you and what you like to do.’”

In contrast, Hoppmann-Lemoine says that the worst Mother’s Day gift she ever got “was one I asked for myself. When the boys were (small) I wanted to sleep, so (I) asked for a night at a hotel.” She ended up in a room next to loud people and missed the kids.

Taking that international trip in such close quarters not only cemented how much she enjoys being with her family, lost sleep notwithstanding, but, she thinks, helped them through the “isolation” of coronavirus “because we’ve already done that.”

A song, a frog and a special moment

In the first lonely months of the pandemic, Maria Suszynski Miller, 48, found the lyrics of “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie” running through her head. Just like Kermit the Frog plaintively strumming a banjo and imagining connection and meaning beyond his swamp, the professional fundraiser “was longing for human connection,” she recalls, and missing daughter Kaila, now 22, who lives in Detroit.

So she posted her thoughts on her Facebook page, tagging Kaila to ask if she might learn that song on the ukulele that Suszynski Miller and her husband, John, had brought back for her on a trip to Hawaii. Three weeks later, around Mother’s Day, there was something special in her inbox.

“(Kaila) sent me a digital e-card with a video attached of her playing ‘The Rainbow Connection’ on that ukulele in front of a background of a swamp, like Kermit the Frog,” she says. “We weren’t able to see anyone (in person) for the longest time. It meant a lot for her to use the technology that everyone was using to connect to each other, to create this for me.”

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Kaila Starks learned to play “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie” on a ukulele for her mother Maria Suszynski Miller. CONTRIBUTED/SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTO

Credit: Contributed/social media photo

Kaila Starks learned to play “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie” on a ukulele for her mother Maria Suszynski Miller. CONTRIBUTED/SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTO

Credit: Contributed/social media photo

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Kaila Starks learned to play “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie” on a ukulele for her mother Maria Suszynski Miller. CONTRIBUTED/SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTO

Credit: Contributed/social media photo

Credit: Contributed/social media photo

Suszynski Miller, who lives in Midtown, was a single mother as Kaila was growing up, and received a lot of homemade gifts because there wasn’t a partner to supervise or subsidize the process. “It was the things you make in school and bring home, something made in the art room. My sister would send me flowers to make sure I got something (else),” she says, laughing.

The specialness of those gifts has been amplified in COVID times, where connection is at such a premium and many are going back to the basics to reach out. “People are sending cards and writing letters again,” she says, “going out of their way to do what they can.”

That’s why Suszynski Miller was so struck by Kaila using her imagination to create such a personal gift, combining a familiar song, a cherished instrument, new technology and old-fashioned sentiment to connect.

“This was an appreciation for me as a parent,” she says. “That gift was my ultimate favorite.”

Beautiful blooms

When Lorene Metz sold the New Rochelle, New York, home where she raised her family, she chose to move to Decatur with her son rather than to Plantation, Florida, with her daughter, Barbara Saunders.

“She said Florida was too hot, and she didn’t want to move there,” Saunders remembers. “She didn’t really want to move to Georgia. But she was in a big house by herself, and it got to the point where she couldn’t stay there.”

While Saunders didn’t have her mom with her in South Florida, she did have a remembrance of her blooming right outside her window - amaryllis flowers, grown from bulbs imported from Belgium and given to her, by Metz, as a Mother’s Day gift. And when Saunders finally moved to the Stockbridge area six years ago, two years after her mother’s death, those important flowers came along.

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Barbara Saunders' amaryllis flowers, grown from bulbs imported from Belgium and given to her by her mother as a Mother’s Day gift. (Courtesy of Barbara Saunders)

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/BARBARA SAUNDERS

Barbara Saunders' amaryllis flowers, grown from bulbs imported from Belgium and given to her by her mother as a Mother’s Day gift. (Courtesy of Barbara Saunders)

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/BARBARA SAUNDERS

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Barbara Saunders' amaryllis flowers, grown from bulbs imported from Belgium and given to her by her mother as a Mother’s Day gift. (Courtesy of Barbara Saunders)

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/BARBARA SAUNDERS

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/BARBARA SAUNDERS

“I knew I was going to always have them. (My mother) loved flowers, and she thought, ‘Since I’m not down there in Florida with you, you have the flowers,’” says Saunders, a retired administrative assistant for a radiology practice and a former merchandising assistant for J.C. Penney. “When she passed away, we still had these amaryllis. They signify her. Now they’re blooming, in time for Mother’s Day.”

Saunders, herself the mother of sons Mike, who lives in the Boston area, and Glenn, who died while piloting his small plane in Canada in 2005, says that the two dozen bulbs that her mother gave her are special because they remind her of her love of travel. In 2007, she got to go to Belgium, where those precious bulbs originated.

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Lorraine Metz gifted her daughter Barbara Saunders bulbs from Belgium that have grown into flowers that Saunders grows in her yard. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Lorraine Metz gifted her daughter Barbara Saunders bulbs from Belgium that have grown into flowers that Saunders grows in her yard. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

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Lorraine Metz gifted her daughter Barbara Saunders bulbs from Belgium that have grown into flowers that Saunders grows in her yard. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

After the flowers came from Europe to Florida, and now to Georgia, Saunders hopes they might make one more trip up north to Boston one day.

“I have to tell Michael, ‘When I go, make sure you take them with you,’” she says. “That, and the washer and dryer.”

A day off from decisions

To Teaniese Davis, a very busy wife, mother of two, public health researcher for Kaiser Permanente and an adjunct professor for Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, the best gifts “are all about time and experience.” And the best Mother’s Day gift she ever got was the experience of spending her time doing whatever she wanted, which turned out to be not much at all.

And it was glorious.

“My gift was not being in charge of anything all day, because all of my other Mother’s Days had not gone that way,” says Davis, 42, who lives with husband Michael and kids Estelle, 7, and Elijah, 5, in Kirkwood. “I woke up and they got (me) breakfast. I got to take a walk by myself. I napped. I woke up. They took me to dinner. It was a beautiful day.”

Davis’ glee at pretty much being left alone makes sense to any parent who has what she calls “decision fatigue” from having to be in charge of a lot of the choices that keep your family running. She remembers, for instance, having helped spearhead Mother’s Day brunch as part of a multigenerational meal with her mother-in-law and others.

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Teaniese Davis, 42, lives with husband Michael and kids Estelle, 7, and Elijah, 5, in Kirkwood. Her most memorable Mother's Day was a day off. (CHELSEA HOBSON/Poppy La’Rue Photography)

Credit: Chelsea Hobson/Poppy La’Rue Photography

Teaniese Davis, 42, lives with husband Michael and kids Estelle, 7, and Elijah, 5, in Kirkwood. Her most memorable Mother's Day was a day off. (CHELSEA HOBSON/Poppy La’Rue Photography)

Credit: Chelsea Hobson/Poppy La’Rue Photography

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Teaniese Davis, 42, lives with husband Michael and kids Estelle, 7, and Elijah, 5, in Kirkwood. Her most memorable Mother's Day was a day off. (CHELSEA HOBSON/Poppy La’Rue Photography)

Credit: Chelsea Hobson/Poppy La’Rue Photography

Credit: Chelsea Hobson/Poppy La’Rue Photography

“It was very sweet, but also exhausting. I found myself organizing breakfast, as the least senior mom,” she says. So in 2019, when May rolled around, “I told Michael, I’m not actually hanging out with you at all on Mother’s Day. He said, ‘I don’t understand. (The kids) made you a mother.’ And I said, ‘Correct. And I would like a break.’”

And a break she did receive, on a blissfully unplanned day on which she “watched my phone and hid out in my room. I did come out and show my face for a bit, but then I was like ‘Let’s go eat,’” Davis says. “I said, ‘You decide exactly what will happen.’ I didn’t even care if the restaurant was my favorite. I just didn’t want to have to make the decision and do the thing. And I wasn’t in charge of bedtime.”

Davis says that her family has already given her “very sweet gifts, because my husband is a good listener.” Her solo Mother’s Day was particularly wonderful because he was listening to what she needed. “Sometimes you don’t even remember individual gifts, but you remember the experience of the thing,” she says. “And I did not do a thing.”

Time with daughters tops the list

Jessica Stellato, membership director for Alpharetta-based business coaching company Powerful Professionals, can list fondly the presents she’s received from daughters Giuliana, 12, and Gianna, 17 - a hand-painted tray, a fancy box of crab legs, or “a coupon book with a coupon that said something like ‘I’ll agree with you all day long.’”

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Jessica Stellato (center), with daughters Giuliana (left) and Gianna (right). "My very best gifts are my children," says Stellato. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Jessica Stellato (center), with daughters Giuliana (left) and Gianna (right). "My very best gifts are my children," says Stellato. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

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Jessica Stellato (center), with daughters Giuliana (left) and Gianna (right). "My very best gifts are my children," says Stellato. FAMILY PHOTO

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Still, “my very best gifts are my children,” says Stellato, 45, who lives in Sugar Hill. “My biggest joy in my life is literally spending time with them. I wouldn’t be able to celebrate Mother’s Day without them. I tell them that nothing I will ever receive in life will top that.”

Her best Mother’s Days, she says, involve hanging out with her daughters. “They always bring me a cup of coffee in bed, and I love starting the day relaxing like that, but I want to make it an experience,” says Stellato, who is planning a spa day with her girls this year.

“My first purpose is to be an amazing mom. If I will be remembered in any way after I pass on, I want it to be that ‘She was an amazing mother,’” she says. “That’s the best gift. But if I had to pick something tangible, the spa days and the box of crab legs didn’t hurt.”