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Marz Jr.
Marz Jr.

10 Badass Moms Who Deserve Their Own Holidays

Marz Jr.
Marz Jr.

By Judy Dutton

Most moms should get a medal. These women deserve more.

1. Minna Wilson: The Mom In Your Corner

On September 21, 1989, boxer Tony Wilson was defending his British light-heavyweight championship against Steve McCarthy, and it wasn’t going well. Unable to watch, Wilson’s mother, Minna, jumped into the ring and bashed McCarthy with her high-heel shoe. The resulting head wound was so bad that McCarthy quit the fight. When a rematch was scheduled, Minna promised not to attend. “I will never go back to one of [Tony’s] fights,” she said. There was no need; she’d already put the fear of Mom into McCarthy. On the day of the rematch he withdrew, citing the flu.

2. Olympias of Macedon: The Mom Behind the Throne

Alexander III of Macedon would never have become “Alexander the Great” without his mom, Olympias. The fourth wife of Philip II—and a member of the snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus—Olympias was not pleased when wife No. 5 arrived in 337 BCE. Historians believe she hired hit men to assassinate her hubby, burn his newest wife, and poison two of her husband’s offspring. The carnage cleared Alexander’s path to the throne, although scheduling the assassinations during her own daughter’s wedding probably put a damper on future family get-togethers.

3. Angela Cavallo: Supermom!

On April 9, 1982, Georgia teen Tony Cavallo was working on his Chevy Impala in his driveway when the jack collapsed, pinning him under the car. That’s when Tony’s mom, Angela, did the superhuman: The 50-something woman lifted the 3,500-pound vehicle four inches and held it for about five minutes as two neighbors dragged her son to safety. Scientists have a hard time re-creating such adrenaline-fueled feats in the lab, but Angela’s “hysterical strength” does seem to prove that a mother’s love knows no (weight) limits.

4. Mary Thomas: The Den Mother

In 1966, Mary Thomas—a single mother of nine living in Chicago’s West Side—found 25 street toughs on her stoop. The men, members of the notorious Vice Lords gang, had come to recruit her seven sons. Thomas quietly excused herself, then reappeared with a shotgun and a message: “There[’s] only one gang around here, and that’s the Thomas gang.” Thomas made sure that each of her kids graduated from high school, and you probably know her youngest: basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

5. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Mom In America

Mary Harris Jones was one of the liveliest, sassiest, and most effective union organizers in history. She peppered speeches with curses and used stunts to make points. When a group of miners’ wives were jailed, Jones advised them to sleep all day and sing all night—which irritated neighbors so much that they were released five days later. In 1912, she protested lax child labor laws by marching hundreds of kids with signs that read, “We want to go to school and not to the mines!” to the president’s house. By her 60s, she’d been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America.” But to the workers she protected, she was simply “Mother Jones.”

6. Lucinda Shaw: Most Patient Mom Ever

Few tested the bounds of parental patience quite like writer George Bernard Shaw, who moved in with his mom after college. Lucinda’s free rent kept Shaw afloat through a series of failed novels, while her love helped her tolerate her son’s prickly personality, overblown ego, and vegetarian dietary demands.
It wasn’t until Shaw turned 39 that he started earning enough to support himself as a theater critic. Thirty years later, Lucinda’s unwavering belief in her freeloading son’s abilities finally paid off when he won the Nobel Prize.

7. Brenda Barnes: The Mom Who Came Back

Former Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was one of Forbes’s World’s Most Powerful Women. But her bigger accomplishment may be the huge strides she’s made for stay-at-home moms returning to the workforce. In a hotly debated move, Barnes left her position as president of PepsiCo North America to spend more time with her family. Six years later, she joined Sara Lee, where she started a corporate “returnship” program for other mothers like her. The program was so successful that the company now emphasizes equal consideration of returning professionals for all open positions—a big step forward for both career–life balance and corporate America!

8. Lydia AngyIou: The Real Mama Bear

In 2006, Lydia Angyiou was outside with her two sons in northern Quebec when she saw a polar bear poised to attack her 7-year-old. Lydia struck first, kicking and punching the 700-pound beast before it could get near her son. A strange wrestling match ensued until a neighbor finally shot the bear. Lydia was rushed to the hospital, but miraculously survived with just a few scratches and a black eye. Locals were stunned; nobody tackles a bear and lives to tell the tale. Just ask Goldilocks.

9. Sai Mai: The Original Tiger Mom

Normally, pigs make tasty hors d’oeuvres for tigers. But Sai Mai, a Bengal tigress at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri, Thailand, was raised to be more open-minded. As a cub, Sai Mai was suckled by a sow until she was 4 months old. Two years later, she returned the favor by suckling six piglets. Zookeepers, sensing a great PR opportunity, put Sai Mai and her brood on display, dressing the piglets in tiny tiger outfits. For years, the tigress cared for “cubs” of many species, ignoring her predatory impulses in favor of her motherly ones.

10. Ann Jarvis: The Mom Who Inspired Mother’s Day

During the Civil War, Ann Jarvis cared for the wounded on both sides of the fight. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother’s Friendship Day. All that compassion inspired her daughter, Anna, to campaign for a national Mother’s Day. It took Anna years, but in 1914, Woodrow Wilson made it a national observance. By the 1920s, though, Anna regretted how the holiday was observed. She especially despised greeting cards, griping: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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