Mine didn’t have dinner on the table every night, but she tried to. She worked sixty-plus hours a week, most of it standing up, staring into chest cavities, performing intricate procedures that required acuity and precision. She came home to three kids – the intellectual smart-ass who most resembled her and challenged her at every turn, the sweet yet temperamental daughter with perfect symptoms of the middle child syndrome, and the mischievious bright-eyed brat who got into everything and got away with most of it. She helped save lives all day long, a drastically more essential role in society, and then came home to the entirely marginal problems of children living in an upper-middle class family. My father would try to help, but he was the Judge Dredd of our little world, and his solutions tended to veer towards draconian.

Mine was the one who tried to be neutral and understanding, even when she just wanted to relax with a cigarette and a beer. She was the manipulative one, too – saying yes to the softballs but sending us to the enforcer for any favors she knew shouldn’t be allowed. I can’t blame her for that, though; it made the most sense given our family dynamic and as long as we always thought of her as the reasonable one, we gave her a break, which she has always deserved. Her snapping point was a distant point on the horizon and the only time she ever reached it was with all three of us, behind her, pushing her as hard as we could across that infinite space until it exploded in a flash of light and heat. The fact that all three of us survived to adulthood is a testament to her grace and serenity.

Mine was the smartest person I knew, with every adult in her circle treating her with respect and deference. She was the encyclopedia and the one who always knew how to figure out any answer. She was the lightning wit and biting sarcasm followed by the forgivable chuckle. Outsmarting her – outwitting her – outdoing her in any endeavor – those were my goals as a child, because that truly would be like stealing fire from the gods.

Mine is retired now, and enjoying the fruits of all of those years of her labor with my father, many miles away from the three of us – the genius narcissist who throws away his education, the sweet and fair-minded teacher who just wants all of us to always get along and love each other, and the salesman who will do whatever it takes and say whatever he needs to so he can close his next deal. Now when any of us, all adults in our own right, get to be too much, she can hang up the phone and relax and know that we’ll figure it out. We’ll do it because that’s how she and my father raised us.

Happy Mother’s Day to mine. You can’t have her.

Adam Avitable and his mother

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