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Showing love with gifts

MY 16-YEAR-OLD son was following me around a store recently, trying to pry out of me what I wanted for Mother's Day.

"Your love is all I need," I said. "That and promising to take care of me in my old age."

He wasn't amused.

He pressed on. He asked about board games I liked as a child. He asked if I wanted another Scrabble game set. I didn't. Frustrated, I said he could just pick out a nice Mother's Day card and save his money. He looked hurt and walked toward the card section with his head down, looking more 6 than 16.

Of my three children, my son is the most persistent about purchasing something on Mother's Day. It's not that my daughters don't want to get me presents. They just don't hound me. But this isn't another one of my columns about how store-bought gifts don't matter. I'm not going to tell you it's the thought that counts or that you shouldn't spend a lot for Mother's Day.

The expression I saw on my son's face that day in the store has changed my perspective.

Sometimes a thought isn't good enough for people whose love language is the giving of gifts.

"Mothers remember the days their children bring a flower from the yard as a gift," writes Gary Chapman in his book, The 5 Love Languages. "They feel loved, even if it was a flower they didn't want picked. From early years, children are inclined to give gifts to their parents, which may be another indication that gift giving is fundamental to love. Gifts are visual symbols of love."

So I'm addressing those of you, like me, who normally brush off people who earnestly ask what you want for your special day. Let's make it easier for folks who want to buy us something.

In early April, the National Retail Federation polled 6,535 consumers to find out their purchasing plans for Mother's Day. On average, survey participants plan to spend $162.94 on their moms this year. The most popular gift is flowers. My grandmother loved to get flowers on Mother's Day. Big Mama would quip: "I want my flowers while I'm alive when I can smell them."

In a Mother's Day survey last year by the online daily-deal site Groupon, nearly half of respondents said they were concerned about finding the right gift more than staying within their budget or finding something reasonably priced. Thirty-seven percent said they wanted to find a gift that showed they cared.

Getting a thoughtless gift is actually worse than getting no gift at all, according to the mothers who participated in the poll. Personally, I think that's the wrong attitude. Any gift - bad or good - should be received with appreciation and without any indication that you are displeased.

Although I loathe that the many ways we celebrate special events come with feeling pressure to give something with a price tag, I understand that the expression of love is often symbolized by gifts. So, mothers, here's what you should do if you typically say you don't want or need anything:

* Prepare to provide an idea. For givers who need a clue or ask outright what you want, think of a few things you would like even if you don't need them. I told my 13-year-old daughter to tell her brother to get me earrings. I'm always losing my earrings or ending up with just one of a set.

* Put off buying things you need so that they can become gift items. What are some things on your list to buy for yourself? I needed a hands-free Bluetooth headset because I lost mine. Instead of buying it myself, I could have told my son to get me one. At $30, it was in his budget.

* Embrace the concept that it's better to give than to receive. Don't deprive your children of their desire to honor you with a gift. They want a tangible way to express love. Don't dismiss their efforts.