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How to Celebrate Mother’s Day From a Distance

Advice from a former prisoner, a former Mars simulation crew commander and a bunch of military men, all of whom are experts in celebrating Mother’s Day from afar

If you live within a reasonable distance of your mom and get along well, at least stopping by on Mother’s Day is a nice, appreciative thing to do — except for on this Mother’s Day, where stopping by could mean bestowing her with the unpleasant present of the deadly coronavirus. Therefore, as a consequence of our ongoing, multinational, cataclysmic situation, most of us are going to be celebrating Mother’s Day from a safe distance this year.

While you might think honoring your mom from afar is destined to be lame and boorish, there are a lot of people out there who, because of their situations, have become experts in faraway festivities. And since all of us could use some advice in that regard, I spoke to a whole bunch of them about how to celebrate Mother’s Day during quarantine. 

So, before you completely freak out about how pissed and disappointed your mom is going to be without you physically being there, come along and keep an open mind.

You Could Start by Calling

Needless to say, calling your mom on Mother’s Day is the absolute least you can do, and just about everyone I spoke with suggests making that call. “Many people use the phones on holidays, especially people who don’t use them on a regular basis,” says Dave (an alias), who spent 15 years — and 15 Mother’s Days — in the American prison system. And considering he says calling from prison can be expensive, with guards listening in and limiting them to only 15 minutes, if you have a cell phone and an unlimited phone plan, you really better make that call.

Andrew, a military man who spent several Mother’s Days on deployment, suggests going one step further, blocking out several hours of your day to ensure that you can chat without any distractions, which may mean telling the boys no Xbox that day or making some other personal sacrifice to ensure that your mom gets the time she deserves. For example, when Andrew was on deployment in Eastern Europe, he called his mom at three in the freaking morning on Mother’s Day to ensure that she had his undivided attention for several hours. Something like that can go a long way nowadays, since we all have a lot less time together.

Upgrade to Zoom or FaceTime

Phone calls are great, but if you have the opportunity, being able to physically see your mom through Zoom or FaceTime is even better. “This might be the year we all video call in for Mother’s Day, rather than having dinner at her house,” says Carmel Johnston, who, as crew commander of the NASA funded HI-SEAS mission, spent a year in isolation — Mother’s Day included — on a Hawaiian volcano to simulate life on Mars. “I’d rather celebrate by video this year, so we can celebrate in person next year.” Martin, a military man who spent several Mother’s Days on deployment in Afghanistan, agrees, saying, “FaceTime calls go a long way in these quarantined times, which aren’t that different to the isolation we experienced while deployed.”

Hell, you could even film a short, celebratory video ahead of time and send it over on Mother’s Day. “It sounds a bit more novel to get a video from simulated Mars than from anywhere else in the world, but I think they’re valuable either way,” Johnston says. “It could be super fun to give a tour of your backyard to your grandma, or you could video yourself on a hike, and send it later to a friend who can’t get outside.” And of course, your mom.

On the subject of being creative with your video chats, Andrew suggests scheduling a Zoom meal time together, where you send your mom a nice bottle of wine — and maybe get one for yourself, too — then sit down for a meal “together,” but apart. It might not be quite the same as being there in person, but hey, it works.

Send a Card, Like Right Now

Cards may feel a bit cheesy, but there are few better ways to show that you had some forethought and were thinking about your mom even before Mother’s Day. As Dave says, “A lot of us in prison would pay someone to make a personalized card for a few stamps or cigs. There’s always someone who does that inside. Keep in mind that, sometimes, a single stamp has the same value as an entire day’s wages in prison, so sending someone a letter or card can be very expensive.” All of which should be motivation to send out any cards you have hidden around your home.

Matt, a military man who was deployed in Africa last Mother’s Day, agrees that sending a card is a good bet, and even argues that you get extra points when sending something from afar, because again, it shows that you were thinking about your mom ahead of time. “You get extra credit,” he says. “It’s a thing.”

So, before you forget, send a card now. Even if it gets there a little early, the thought definitely still counts. “We weren’t able to send anything in the mail, so a lot of us had pre-written cards waiting at home for family,” Johnston says of her experience during the Mars simulation. “I’d written a year’s worth of birthday cards for my family, and I had my mom dole them out when each holiday came along.” 


Schedule a Gift Delivery, Again, Right Now

If you tend to leave gifts to the last minute, you can literally schedule flowers to be delivered on Mother’s Day months and months ahead of time. “My general advice is that you plan ahead,” Martin says. “Set the date to Mother’s Day, and it will be delivered on that day — no hassle, and you’ll, for a short moment, be the favorite son.” Matt agrees: “It only takes 20 minutes to send a letter and five minutes to order flowers online ahead of time.”

Alternatively, Matt says you can always get a gift, then make plans to have a real celebration when this is all over. “I wasn’t able to be home for Mother’s Day last year after coming back from deployment, but I’d bought some things overseas and brought them back,” he explains. “So we celebrated Mother’s Day two weeks late, when I finally got home, but it was still all the more special because I thought about her and brought stuff.”

And Finally, Just Do Your Best

Things are strange right now, and any reasonable mom should understand that. As Johnston says, “Choosing isolation and having isolation forced onto you are very different experiences. My crew and I went into our isolation year (mostly) knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Folks in quarantine or [following] stay-at-home orders didn’t choose to be forced into their houses for an indefinite amount of time.” And we definitely didn’t choose to be forced in our separate houses on Mother’s Day.

Therefore, Johnston says, “My biggest tip is that any attempt to celebrate a person’s birthday or a significant holiday will be meaningful and appreciated. We’re in weird times, and nothing will be normal for a while.”

Sorry, mom.