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My Mom, the Mercenary

When I was but a bright-eyed babe of this world, my mother was a prodigious collector of refrigerator magnets. Most of these magnets were of the bible verse or Precious Moments variety, with a lone exception: a porcelain floral scene that read, “Success is the best revenge.”

This magnet was memorable for two obvious reasons. First, my parents weren’t “successful” by any tangible definition. My father is a pastor, my mother a music teacher, and I have countless mental images of them fretting over energy and water bills that most households wouldn’t even notice on their bank balance. Factor in four ravenous boys who wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but Jordans and Girbauds, and Mom and Dad’s piddling paychecks evaporated right quick.

But what really raised eyebrows about this magnet is the fact that my dear mother is comically ill-equipped at seeking vengeance. This is a woman who once replied, “I prefer forgiveness,” when I told her how much I love revenge movies. While she’s certainly no shrinking violet, Mom is almost absurdly kind, to the point that when she drives by car accidents, she immediately starts praying for the safety of those involved. (For as cheesy as I thought it was as a child, even today I’m grateful that people like that exist whenever I happen upon a wreck of any kind.) In short, if you provided me with evidence of my mother’s side gig as an assassin, you’d also have to provide me with a fresh pair of Girbauds.

I mentioned this magnet to my mom a few years ago, and she seemed bewildered that it had ever found its way onto her fridge. “That must have been a gift,” she guessed. “Probably from someone who didn’t know us very well.” She may well have been correct.

Her dismissal of the magnet’s significance allowed me to set it aside in my mind as well. In the ensuing years, my brothers and I grew up and moved away, and my parents gradually began the slow transition out of the daily grind that caused so many headaches during my youth. They eventually paid off their mortgage, got better control over their physical health, and seemingly were always calling me from some far-off place that they’d previously only seen on calendars.

And finally, a year-and-a-half ago, they married off their last bachelor son, yours truly. Late in the evening, during our dance together to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” Mom asked if I remembered the magnet.

“Of course I do, Mom.”

She then set about explaining what the magnet meant in context. “I have four boys who are all married to wonderful women. You all call us on Sundays, and none of you feels like you can’t be honest with us. You all grew up to be good people, and we never worry about you anymore. In that regard, your dad and I are more successful than we ever thought we’d be.”

Now that Mom had me box-stepping in a pool of my own tears and mascara, I asked the logical follow-up: what about the “revenge” part?

“Oh, my child” -- I love it when she calls me that -- “the ‘revenge’ is for the people who thought you guys wouldn’t amount to much.” Then she laughed and wiped her eyes. “And there were too many of them to count.”

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the various moms out there whose personal definition of success never had the first thing to do with themselves. And to my own Mom: check the mail, but don’t shake the package. There’s a familiar magnet in there, it’s porcelain, and it would be a real shame if it had to be replaced again.

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