Every May the children ask me what I want for Mother's Day. I always tell them I'm longing for a handmade pencil holder, a new pair of pantyhose, and a potted begonia (''Great, Mommy, 'cause that's just what we got you!''). But someday, perhaps, I'll go a step further and ask for:
My car. Since the teens earned their driver's licenses, I'm only permitted to use my car between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. - unless, of course, repairs are necessary. In that case, driving the old sedan to Al's Auto Repair (and paying the bill) is strictly my job. I'm also granted road privileges if a Little League team needs chauffeur service, if we're out of milk, or if the dog must be taken for a toenail clipping.
A personal financial adviser. I don't need help with stocks, bonds, or tax shelters, but with how to get from Monday to Friday on the same paycheck. Perhaps my adviser would suggest that I (A.) set up a realistic budget, (B.) avoid installment buying (even when children's underwear is on sale), (C.) conserve energy, or (D.) all of the above.
A self-cleaning house or, barring that, a maid with enough courage to enter the children's bedrooms. She'd empty wastebaskets before they became too heavy to lift, ferret out stale socks, and manage to vacuum around a six-foot-high tower of blocks without disturbing same.
An hour alone in the bathtub with written affidavits from all area preschoolers vowing that they will refrain from knocking on the door or, worse, dashing in ''just to see what you're doing, Mommy.''
Dinner at a restaurant which does not feature: (A.) high chairs, (B.) slurpy ice-cream sodas, (C.) dancing clowns, (D.) menus with animal cutouts on the back , (E.) all of the above. If tablecloths and candles are part of the decor, so much the better.
An organized kitchen. It's probably exciting to discover a plush bunny in the breadbox, apple cores in the oven, bubble bath in the dishwasher. But sometimes I long for the old routine B.C. (Before Children), when I could count on finding silverware in the silverware drawer and food in the refrigerator. Then too, my culinary abilities have diminished through the years and now seem limited to pizza, pureed spinach, and instant pudding. Perhaps what I need most is an audience with Julia Child.
Custody of my clothes. I'm used to my scornful teen-age daughter laughing at the sight of my new blouse (then wearing it at the first opportunity). I'm not surprised when our fourth-grader borrows my sweatshirt for baseball practice and I find it in the garage two years later. But my patience was severely tested the day our toddler dropped my leather pumps into the washing machine.
Finally, on this Mother's Day I would ask for tolerance - for others, of course, but primarily for myself. Perhaps the best present I can give to me is the reassurance that it isn't necessary to be a perfect mother in order to be a good one. For underneath the flowers, candy, pencil holders, and pantyhose I will find, as always, the intangible message: ''We love you, Mommy, just because you're you.''
And despite my limitations, that Mother's Day message makes me (A.) happy, (B.) proud, (C.) fulfilled, (D.) ready for another day, (E.) all of the above.