It's time mothers let their families know what they really want for Mother's Day. Breakfast in bed at an uncivilized hour may seem like a good idea at the time, but if it follows the usual clanking of dishes made by family members unfamiliar with the kitchen, the toast crumbs on the sheets aren't worth it.

Lunch out with the children is another good-intentioned idea that may be fine for those with older children, but for those of us blessed with little ones, a meal at a table with people who still prefer to eat with their hands is not what one would call a mellow experience.

Corsages and bouquets have been a staple of Mother's Day for years. Telephone companies always do well: Something like 2 million people will touch someone close to them with a phone call on Sunday.

It's not that such gifts aren't appreciated, but how about putting a little more imagination into it?

Gifts for the "empty nester" or grandmother are dramatically different from those for the mother enmeshed in school auctions and carpools. Not all gifts involve great outlays of money; some of the most appreciated simply recognize needs.

As one working mother says, "The best gift you can give a working mother is the gift of time--time for herself."

An older mother also wants the gift of time, but a very different kind: time with her children alone, without their spouses.

"I don't know, perhaps it's more true of mothers of boys," she says. "So often when families get together, the women are expected to sit and chat and there's very little time for a mother to spend with her son alone, without the distraction of the rest of his family. I'm really not that interested in my sons' wives. I'd much rather spend time with my sons."

Mothers at the other end of the life cycle might want a little less time with their sons--and daughters. Instead of breakfast in bed, for example, a good, long snooze, with the family tiptoeing out the door for breakfast elsewhere.

One thoughtful husband gave his wife an IOU for three hours of unanticipated babysitting--whenever she wanted it most.

But perhaps the mom in your life would prefer a gift that does not address her role, but nourishes her psyche.

One mother recalls with a smile the best gift she ever received: a singularly unattractive coffee mug. "It's so ugly, but I cherish it because it was selected by my children and their father with such care and love."

I remember making a plaster-cast squirrel pin that was met with such delight that I was certain I was destined to be another Cartier or perhaps Michelangelo. My mother wore it dutifully every time she and my father went out; I can only guess that as soon as the car turned the corner it was removed gently from the lapel and stored carefully in her purse until time to come home.

A good friend, not satisfied with such crudely fashioned hand-hewn gifts, was known on more than one occasion to nip a pin from the back of his mother's jewelry case, wrap it and present it to her as if she wouldn't remember having seen it someplace else.

But here are some other ideas purely for the fancy--or the fun--of it:

* Miracle Morning at Elizabeth Arden--Make-up, rub down and pampering for $90; massage, $30.

* A silver Mercedes Benz 300SD for a day--$125 (for the first 50 miles), from the American Service Center.

* Tape deck--Depending on size of glove compartment, $40-$70.

* Piano Lessons--$10 to $12 for one-half hour.

* Canary--about $70. (Remember, only the male sings.)

* Glider ride--18-30 minutes (depending on the wind), $35, Warrenton (Va.) Soaring Center.

* Her favorite whatever--Macadamia nuts, Cracker Jacks, maraschino cherries. Important thing here is that container is small enough to be secreted.

* Trip away from home, but not really--A night on the town plus an overnight stay and brunch the next day at a local hotel. Depending on where you eat and where you stay, the "trip" could cost $80 at the Ramada Renaissance or $200 at the Four Seasons Hotel.

* Tattoo turnabout--Not "Mother" on a muscle, but a daisy ($20) or a rose ($40) on her thigh? Dragon Moon Tattoo Studios, College Park, Md., husband and wife team. They'll even do a forget-me-not, if you bring in a picture.