In the early years of Mother's Day as we currently know it, its founder, Anna Jarvis, went to a department store, ordered a "Mother's Day salad," threw it on the floor, paid the bill, and stormed out. Jarvis, angered by the commercialism that she saw as overtaking the sentiment of the day, went to her grave trying to abolish the holiday she created. She would likely be appalled that an estimated $2.4 billion will be spent this year on Mother's Day flowers alone, to say nothing of the other considerably higher-end purchases.
I'm not advocating that we all throw our brunches at the floor in solidarity with Jarvis' cause. Nor will you find me upending displays at jewelers, chocolatiers, or florists. I don't share Jarvis' view that the day be one "of sentiment, not profit," because it can certainly be both. But it does appear that Mother's Day spending has become more performance of sentiment than actual sentiment. The message seems to be spend more and you care more. Or worse, if you don't spend, you don't care.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't buy your mom a purse, or that you should skip brunch (though you might want to). But maybe in addition to those very nice things, we should also follow the sound advice mothers everywhere give children about gifts: the best ones are those you make. You could write your mom a letter. Or send her family photos. Or cook a meal together. Or skip the cooking, grab stuff for snackdinner, and use the extra prep time to talk to each other. Or spend the day making something together by mothering the motherless.
Of course, all of these things take a little more time and effort, and time runs short for this year. So maybe just keep things simple and make a phone call. Anna Jarvis should provide a nice opening anecdote.