Today, you will probably call or be called. You might give or get a burnt-toast breakfast in bed, a blouse in the wrong size, a rapidly browning orchid to wear to church or yet another "i lovE mOMMy" masterpiece to add to the refrigerator gallery.
It has always been thus. How, after all, do you take the most complicated, the most enduring, the most potentially loving or traumatic of all human relationships and somehow wrap it up in a tidy present, hopefully for under $29.99?
The answer is you don't, you can't, you never will. And yet you keep trying.
It's no wonder then, that this year's Mother's Day arrives with not one but two books that similarly seek to illuminate the maternal relationship in warm black-and-white photographs and intimate essays. One is called "Mothers & Daughters" and the other "Daughters & Mothers." Both claim ties to the best seller "Sisters." Both share identically slim, 128-page, 9 1/2 -by-11 1/4 -inch dimensions.
One book bills itself as "by the authors of the bestselling Sisters," and the other "from the publishers of the bestseller Sisters."
Both are accurate statements, and therein lies the kind of story that you won't find in any of these three books: a family fight.
Befitting the interwoven relationships that the books portray, there is a multiplicity of layers in the story of how the books themselves came to be.
It begins as a story of a simple yet perfect idea that was turned into a sweet surprise of a book, the original "Sisters." Coming from largely unknown authors and an independent publisher, the book rose like cream above the crowded marketplace to touch an untapped nerve among women.
And then it is the story of what happened next: How the success of one unique book somehow begat two seemingly interchangeable ones. How each side battled for the franchise that it believes it created, only to see it split in two.
But in the end, it is a story about why books of this now familiar formula so deeply resonate among women, to the point that millions have been sold and their authors can attract crowds and letters as openly and tearily confessional as an Oprah audience.
The books, it seems, have become both mirror and prism: for women struggling to understand their relationships, for those seeking to bridge a gulf to the women they should be closest to but aren't, and even for the women who wrote and photographed the books.
"I'm an observer. I am looking through the lens," says Sharon J. Wohlmuth, a sister, a daughter and the photographer of "Sisters" and "Mothers & Daughters." "That's what daughters do, they view their mothers through lenses. And it's difficult to change lenses."
This would normally be business as usual in the competitive world of publishing -- where every success spawns imitators and every idea is subject to theft. Instead, it is something more because of a string of family and friendship that weaves through both new books.
As Wohlmuth and Carol Saline's new book quotes a subject as saying, "Who else can hurt you as much as someone who you care about so deeply?"
Wohlmuth, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Saline, a senior editor and writer at Philadelphia magazine, find themselves pitted against their former publisher, Stuart "Buz" Teacher. Teacher heads Running Press, an independent publisher that has resisted takeovers from larger companies to remain in a historic rowhouse in Philadelphia's Center City.
Until recently, they were all on the same side, linked not just by profession but by family and friendship. Wohlmuth is married to Larry Teacher, Buz's brother and the since-retired co-founder of Running Press. Buz is married to Janet Bukovinsky Teacher, until recently the food writer at Philadelphia magazine, whom he met on a blind date arranged by Saline. Completing the circle, Wohlmuth's stepdaughter (Larry's daughter from a previous marriage) is married to Saline's son.
It was out of this family that "Sisters" was born.
Wohlmuth and Saline had been toying with an idea to examine the sister relationship in photography and words. They had approached the big New York-based publishers to no avail when Buz Teacher learned of their idea and immediately started negotiating for it. "Sisters" came out in the fall of 1994.
The book, with its pictures and stories of women both famous and not, rocketed to success. Word of mouth led to Oprah, which led to more than 1 million copies sold and 63 weeks on the best-seller list. It was a particularly sweet triumph because it was shared, as Wohlmuth wrote in the acknowledgment, by "the wonderful circle of family and friends whose spirit and support navigated the making of this book."
The success of "Sisters" turned Saline and Wohlmuth into hot commodities, and their next effort was eagerly anticipated. In one of the few things everyone agrees on at this point, all parties imagined the same trio -- Saline, Wohlmuth and Running Press -- would do a follow-up book together.