May 21, 2007 12:00 PM


She’s always had to be the bad guy for me,” Hayden Panettiere says of her mom, Lesley, who has helped shepherd her daughter’s career since Hayden made her TV series debut on One Life to Live at age 4. “I give her [props] for it. Being a mother and in this industry is probably one of the hardest jobs.” Growing up in Nyack, N.Y., Panettiere, 17, who plays indestructible cheerleader Claire Bennet, “was like a bouncing ball,” says Lesley, 51. “I used to tell her, ‘Honey, it’s okay to be a yellow Labrador, but not everybody likes dogs!'” These days she’s not quite as frenetic—”Teenagers sleep a little more,” says Lesley—but her mom continues to cheer her on at everything from her recent high school graduation to the release of her debut album this fall. (Dad Skip, 47, and actor brother Jansen, 12, round out the cheering squad.) Mom’s effort isn’t lost on Panettiere. Says the actress: “I wouldn’t be here without her.”


A passionate skier and sometime skydiver, Adrian Pasdar, 42, plans to give his mom, Rosemarie, some peace of mind this Mother’s Day. “My gift to her,” he says, “is to promise to stop jumping out of airplanes!” Of course, he’ll still take to the skies on Heroes playing flying politician Nathan Petrelli—a gig that Mom saw coming. “Once, when he was about 4, he stood on the steps with his red umbrella, ready to jump,” says Rosemarie, 68, who is divorced from Pasdar’s father, surgeon Homayoon Pasdar. “I asked what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m going to fly like Mary Poppins!'” These days, both do their share of flying (she lives in Philadelphia; he’s based in L.A. with his wife, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, and their two kids). When Mom visits, “we go sailing,” says Rosemarie, also mom to Anamarie, 33. “He’s a wonderful man. I am amazed that he’s my son.”


The trouble with raising a child prodigy? As a parent, you’re always just one step ahead—if that. “We go to Chuck E. Cheese and we love skee ball,” Whitney Gray says of her son Noah Gray-Cabey, 11, who plays technology-hacking Micah Sanders and in real life is an accomplished pianist who played the Sydney Opera House when he was 5. “I thought I was really good, but Noah’s like this little virus who watches me, gets all my tricks and then gets even better!” Yet Noah “is an old soul—he doesn’t let it get to his head,” says Mom. The youngest of four siblings—mom Whitney, 42, and dad Shawn Cabey, 40, taught him to play piano—the Newry, Maine-bred Noah says he plans to surprise his mom with a dirt bike for Mother’s Day: “We have go-karts, but she likes dirt bikes better, so I really want to get her one.”


His mom Sandy’s reaction to her first-ever photo shoot? “She said, ‘I hope they’re airbrushing!'” recalls Greg Grunberg, 40, who plays telepathic cop Matt Parkman. “It was the first time I ever saw that vain side of my mom,” says Grunberg, who was raised in L.A., the middle child of three kids of Sandy, 66, a homemaker, and Gerry, 74, a clothing manufacturer turned car shipper. “I’m like, ‘Airbrushing? You kidding me? Go back and make more matzo balls!'” Mom makes a killer beef brisket too—but it’s her support over the years that her son most values. “She always taught me that if you want something, stand in line and keep waiting because you’re going to get your shot—that’s what’s carried me through 10 years of acting,” says Grunberg, a father of three sons ages 3 to 11 with wife Elizabeth, 40. “My mom was never like, ‘I want you to be a doctor or lawyer,’ because now she’s like, ‘You read minds!'”


Masi Oka’s first memory of L.A., where he moved from Japan at age 6 with single mom Setsuko, is of a trip to a pizzeria. “I had never had pizza, and I was like, ‘I’m in America, must get pizza,'” says Oka, Heroes‘ time-bending, sword-wielding Hiro Nakamura. Oka’s mom took him to Perry’s Pizza at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. “I was so excited: ‘Mom, I’ll take a slice of pepperoni and a slice of cheese and I’m going to get us a table!'” recalls the single actor, 32. “I ran toward a sharp corner, and I’m down for the count and blood is gushing. So my mom drives me to the hospital, and I had my first stitches. She kept the pizza, and as soon as I came out of the anesthesia she heated it up for me.” He still feels grateful—not just for the pizza, but for his mom’s life-changing, cross-continent journey. (Oka says his dad has been out of the picture since he was about a year old.) “Coming to America alone to raise a kid—she gave up everything for me. I owe her a lot.”

See photos of celeb moms and take our special Mother’s Day quiz at PEOPLE.COM/MOTHERSDAY

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