For children who leave home and move on, Mother's Day is often marked by the much-anticipated long-distance call home.
For mothers of missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that anticipation lasts months, making the time-honored tradition particularly meaningful.
In addition to sending weekly e-mail notes or handwritten letters, young Mormon missionaries can talk to their families only twice a year. The cherished semiannual ritual falls on Christmas and Mother's Day, holidays when either Jesus Christ or family is the focus. The calls also serve as reassurance and mile markers for mothers who aren't there to witness their children's transition into adulthood.
"My mom is the best mom in the world," said Elder James Hilton, 21, who is nearing the end of a mission in Sapporo, Japan. (A missionary is addressed as elder during an assignment.) "Me and my brothers were everything to her and still are. For her, my getting to go to the place I've always wanted to go was great. But at the same time, it means I'm growing up and leaving her."
While the imposed absence from mom and dad serves to foster a deeper appreciation for parenthood among young missionaries, parents often have the hardest time letting go, making the ring of the telephone on Mother's Day the greatest gift.
"You spend the couple weeks before the phone call mapping out your questions, any concerns you have," said Alysia Hilton, of Glenview, who is eager to make her second Mother's Day call to Japan on Sunday. "I go back and forth between being the first and letting my husband say goodbye, or last. I don't know if I'm going to weep the last 15 minutes and make him upset."
More than 50,000 full-time missionaries - mostly men - ages 19 to 30 serve as missionaries for the Latter-day Saints. Young men can serve 24 months beginning at age 19. Young women can serve 18 months beginning at age 21.
Based on Jesus' instruction in the New Testament to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations," the church's missionaries introduce people to Mormon teachings, including the church's code of health and nutrition, the Book of Mormon and its beliefs about reuniting with family in the afterlife.
Missionaries maintain only weekly written communication with their family in order to focus on their ministry. The semiannual telephone calls are usually limited to 45 minutes or an hour.
"The mindset of a mission is it's not your time, it's God's time," said James Hilton.
But the regimen is often more taxing for the mothers than the missionaries.
"To be physically separated from so far a distance, I didn't know what that ever would feel like," Alysia Hilton said. "I really love my boys. They're my whole life."
While two years may seem like an eternity for moms, the time often flies for missionaries.
For Elder Jonathan Scott, 19, who just began his mission in Fullerton, Calif., two years is just a sliver of time, considering the church teaching that he will be sealed to his family for time and eternity.
But as the days slowly tick down to her son's return in 18 months, Auralee Scott, of Northbrook, wishes she could be her son's sounding board as he faces the rejection Mormon missionaries often encounter. Reading about his struggles in letters only seems to widen the distance.
"I worry about him," she said. "I want him to feel successful. I just have the faith that he's where he should be and God is watching over him. Basically, I believe there must be some kind of lesson he'll learn from this."
Scott has already prepared a care package for her son's 20th birthday this month. It includes a roster of missionaries on both sides of the family, including his father, grandfathers, uncles and cousins. She hopes it will provide some encouragement.
"It's the sort of thing he can take pride in," she said. "He's one of them."
Though Auralee Scott never did a mission - she was engaged at age 21 - her son credits her with instilling a mission mindset. Since age 4, he has collected money for the assignment. She taught him lessons that supported him on the mission field and helped him pack his bags.
"You can see how much we value motherhood as a sacred responsibility," Jonathan Scott said. "My mother is my example to me growing up. Her knowledge and testimony of the gospel, that's partially why I'm here."