The Curious Case of the Disappearing Magnets

Agnes Groonwald
6 min readAug 1, 2022


Sometimes mothers are just straight shenanigans. This was one of those times.

Photo by marugod83 on Canva.

I travel a lot, and travel light. I try not to take along more than a carry-on when getting on a flight. That leaves little room for trinkets to bring back as souvenirs when I’m on a trip.

As she’d typically do the same on the rare occasion she’d go somewhere, bringing me back a shawl or a swimsuit coverup from her Mexican love vacations, I’d always leave a little room in my bag for something for my mom.

A scarf from a Chinese market, perhaps.

Or chocolates from a Scandinavian chocolate-maker.

One thing that always made the list was a magnet from whatever destination I was returning from. Upon arrival, she’d thank me and place said magnet on her fridge with all the others. My favorite was a handcrafted one from Poland, her homeland, that included a tiny kitchen scene carved out of a walnut. It was beautiful.

Fast forward to a visit to her home that I’ll never forget.

She’s giving me the usual grief about a gray hair here and there and how I should really take care of that, or asking me if I want to take home a tunic she bought at T.J. Maxx that was too big on her.

I’m feeling parched so I head over to the fridge to grab some water or one of the various vegetable juices she picked up at the Polish market and notice what’s missing from the outside.

All of the magnets were gone.

I had started traveling abroad in high school, so the first one I brought home was from those formative years in my life. It was an Eiffel Tower magnet or something cliché from a whirlwind tour of Italy and France.

I’d given her years of these things, all of a sudden missing.

“Hey, where’d you put all the magnets?” I asked her.

“They’re gone,” she said.

“Gone where?” I asked.

“I had to get rid of them,” she replied.

“I don’t know what that means. Why would you need to get rid of them?” I said.

“I was cleaning the fridge and they all flew off. They were broken. I threw them out,” she said.

Obviously, that wasn’t true. I told her as much, and she changed the subject as she often does when she doesn’t want to be confronted with something. I pushed a little more and she told me she didn’t want to talk about it further.

They flew off, they broke, and were sent to the dustbin.

It wasn’t so much the missing magnets that bugged me as what they represented. Wherever I went, I was thinking of her, and bringing back a part of my travels to share with her. My husband would help me choose the magnet of honor when we’d be at various tchotchke shops, something I’m sure he didn’t love.

However small the token was, it was something. And now they were all in the trash.

I asked her if she thought about giving them to me instead of tossing them in the trash, trying to catch her in a response that proved they didn’t all somehow fly off the fridge and break simultaneously.

“No,” she said, and scurried away to dust something that didn’t need dusting at that moment.

My mom is the opposite of a hoarder. She tosses things without thinking about whether they may have any significance to someone else, and often that someone else is unfortunately me. The cash I could have collected on eBay from all those Beanie Babies and old Disney VHS tapes she chucked without asking haunts me to this day. Gobbles the Turkey is apparently worth more some coin in some circles.

Thanks, Barb.

More aggressively, she got rid of all of my dad’s things after he passed away, never thinking that maybe I could go through all of that with her, keeping some mementos with me to remember him by. I’m sure they all went to the trash, too, rather than a Goodwill, as that’s what she typically did with unwanted things.

She saved one sweater and a watch for my cousin, and a watch to give to my future husband. There was nothing left behind for me. She thought she was doing me a favor, I’m sure…getting rid of any evidence of his passing before I was able to get there. She had a strange way of wanting me to move forward as quickly as possible while personally refusing to move on from tragedies, no matter how much time had passed. It was as if she forgot he was my dad.

Even more recently, she was going to sell my childhood piano as she prepared to move into a new place.

This was truly the last thing I had from my dad, who got it for me when I was told that playing an instrument would keep me out of trouble. (It kept me from watching The Simpsons, I’ll tell you that. My piano lessons were always timed just so.)

When I asked her why she wouldn’t ask me if I wanted it before she sold/gave it away, she told me that if I had wanted it, I would have claimed it when I moved across the country, from Chicago to California. I was abroad, in an airport food court with my husband while I was having this conversation with her, blinking back tears in frustration and the sinking feeling that she had already sold it and was telling me now as a courtesy.

A few days later, back stateside, I called her again, inquiring about logistics around getting it shipped to us in California. I begged her not to get rid of it while we researched options on getting it to us. She changed the subject, which to me confirmed that it was already gone.

I had my husband text her about the importance of the piano, asking her whether he could help her arrange the transport as a surprise for me. Her response was priceless.

“Anything for you, Brian!” she responded, sent with a fireworks effect. “I will pay for it!”

She had been messing with me.

There were no buyers for the piano. She just didn’t want to indulge the fact that I may want it, and probably didn’t like me asking why she didn’t think of me before looking for someone to sell it to. I had to go behind her back and set up the pickup and delivery with her thinking that my husband was doing it, just so that it could get done.

When the piano was safely on a truck headed for California, I let her know that it was me that had planned everything from the start.

“But Brian said it was a surprise,” she said.

“Nope. I told him to text you because you wouldn’t talk to me about it,” I told her.

And just like that, she changed the subject to an upcoming appliance sale she got wind of from an old co-worker. She was going to need at least a new fridge and washer/dryer at her new place, so she was happy for the hook-up.

Fast forward a few weeks, I’m at her new place, helping her set up various apps on her new phone because she never remembers any passwords.

“I cannot believe Brian lied to me!” she says, all faux outrage.

“We had to do that because you refused to talk to me about the piano,” I told her.

“You never said you wanted the piano,” she said.

There was obviously no reasoning with this woman.

Days later, Brian arrived to join me to assist in some of the financial matters behind her home sale.

“Brian! I can’t believe you lied to me!” she said.

Brian chuckles. I had enough.

“You know why he did that? Because when I talk to you about something important to me, you either disregard me completely or play games. When Brian tells you the same thing, all of a sudden you’re listening. You have no respect for me,” I said.

The table was hushed. She started yawning aggressively, a favorite pastime of hers alongside complaining about her persistent lack of sleep.

“Are you chilly, love? Maybe I should shut the window,” she said.

“No, I’m fine,” I said. And that was that.



Agnes Groonwald

travel/humor blogger | content creator | survivor of Polish upbringing | teller of tales |