Kristan Higgins
Kristan Higgins


Jaunty Post

Mary Lou RettonWhen I was in sixth grade, my best friend was this wonderful girl named Amy. She was everything I wasn’t: adorable, petite, a snappy dresser and a gifted gymnast. We were definitely the odd couple, you know? She was my first best friend, and I adored her.

Gymnastics were the in thing for girls to do, and with Amy as my friend, I found myself doing cartwheels on the front lawn and watching Amy with wonder and admiration as she flipped through the air. I improved a little bit, but I never could master things like backbends or walk-overs.

Because gymnastics were all the rage, the gym teacher came up with the idea of having a gymnastics demonstration. You’d have to audition to be in the demonstration; Mrs. G. didn’t want an afternoon of somersaults and ineptitude.

A word about Mrs. G.

You may have noticed a few comments in my books about gym teachers not liking children. Mrs. G., I’m looking at you.

dodgeballShe wore her whistle like a weapon. She was rail-thin and intolerant of awkward, bookish children (me, for example). We played dodgeball far too often, and we geeks often left gym class with red marks from balls whipped at our exposed legs and arms. If you got hurt in class, she’d look at you with disgust, then sigh and send you to the nurse…or just tell you to toughen up.

In sixth grade, I was already five-foot-seven and wore a C cup bra. I towered over Mrs. G., outweighed her, and already I knew that I would never be lean and athletic and coordinated. I felt like a giant marshmallow of a person around her, with her cool stare and impatient voice, her bountiful praise for the athletic kids and distaste for the rest of us. Auditioning to perform in front of the entire middle school? So not my thing.

But Amy was my friend, and very optimistic and upbeat about getting her best buddy into the demonstration. She helped me design a gymnastics routine, and we practiced and practiced in my front yard after school for weeks. When Amy was done with me, I was maybe a C+, just slightly better than average.

The day of the auditions came. Amy was a shoe-in; she could do an aerial and back flips and all sorts of cool things. Same with my friend Laurie, who could do a back and front walk-over. Mrs. G. called names, watched girls with her dead-eyed stare and made notes on her clipboard. I waited and waited for my name to be called. But the hour grew late, and finally, she blew her whistle and said, “That’s it. We’re out of time. We have too many people as it is.” Ten or twelve of us hadn’t auditioned yet.

gymjaneIn a rare show of spine, I left Mrs. G. a note, which I remember almost word-for-word still. “I practiced for weeks and you didn’t even give me a chance. THANKS A LOT!!! Kristan Higgins.” She came into the locker room while I was still there, read the note and looked at me. “That’s too bad,” she said. “We ran out of time.” With that, she left.

When I got home, my mom asked how things went. “I didn’t get to try out,” I said, and yes, I was crying. “There were too many girls.”

My mom was then and is still a pretty mellow person. As a mother, her advice to us kids was generally, “Work it out.” She was as opposite a helicopter parent as could be. If she couldn’t see or hear us and we weren’t lying in a puddle of arterial blood, she’d assume we were fine. We played in the woods, talked to strangers, beat up on each other and rode bikes and horses without helmets. Mom didn’t care if we had a mean teacher, because our mean teachers weren’t as mean as the mean nuns she had as a kid. If there was a bully on the school bus, we were told to avoid him. Fail a test? Study harder next time. I didn’t expect a lot of sympathy about the gymnastics things.

If I hadn’t made the cut, I think Mom would’ve patted my hand and told me “Good try.” But she’d seen me out there with my much more talented friend, working on my cartwheels and pikes. She knew exactly how untalented I was.

Without another word, Mom picked up the phone, called the school and proceeded to tear Mrs. G. another orifice. How dare she deprive a dozen girls the chance even to try? How was that fair? Her poor time management skills were her own problem. What kind of a message was she sending?

gabbyThe next day, a very chastened Mrs. G. did something completely unexpected. She apologized. Of course, every girl would get a chance to audition for the demonstration. There would be another afternoon of try-outs. It was her own mistake; she had underestimated the amount of interest, and she was very sorry if anyone felt bad. She met my eyes, and I knew: my gentle, funny, hippie-style mother had kicked some serious ass.

The rest of us got to audition. I made the cut. The day of the demonstration, my mom came to school and watched from the back. I was terrified, shaking and not very good. Amy was magnificent.

“I thought you were the best one there,” my mom lied as she drove me home.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for making sure I got my chance.

23 thoughts on “Ode to My Mother

  1. Kathleen OD says:

    Moms will take on the world for their children, well some moms would. I admire you for standing up for your chance and for Mom standing up for all of those girls who just wanted a chance..
    My mom was there for everything I did and I am so lucky. Both my parents were.. We have to cherish those times.

  2. What a great story, Kristan. You are blessed to have your mom. My mom was very hands on and a great supporter of whatever I wanted to do as well. She was the “good cop” parent and my dad was the “bad cop” parent so they had always had my back no matter what the situation was.

  3. Lisa Olech says:

    What a great mom! And what a great story. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Liz Flaherty says:

    What a great story. Good for your mom–and you.

  5. Bobbi D. says:

    Well now we know where at least some of your awesomeness comes from. Good stock! xoxo

  6. Shana Shana says:

    As a former teacher and a mom, I generally believe parents should let kids try to work stuff out on their own, but sometimes a mom really does need to step in. You tried to stand up for yourself, and that teacher just ignored you. Good for your mom!

  7. Lorelei says:

    Gosh, Monday morning tears… the good kind. Your mom is the best, I’m sure you learned a lot from her. It’s true kids should learn to work things out on their own, but in this case your mom did the right thing. Good job, Mrs. Mama Higgins!

  8. Rochelle says:

    What a sweetheart of a mom and such a wonderful story! Brought tears to my eyes.

  9. Sharlene Wegner says:

    I have tears in my eyes from that one. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Denise says:

    You are lucky to have a supportive mom. There’s no way my mom would have taken on mean Mrs. Thompson, my gym teacher.

  11. Brooke Moss says:

    My mother was a soft spoken hippie as well, didn’t like confrontation, didn’t make a fuss when my brothers and I were unhappy. Until I didn’t make the cheer leading squad my sophmore yr (for obvious reasons: clumsiness, awkwardness, permanent status with the geeks) and just as I was about to go out in front of the whole school to perform my tryout routine, the coach announced that I wouldn’t be making the team, I just wasn’t good enough. She didn’t announce it to everyone. Just me. I was humiliated, and went out to fail miserably, and even TRIP in front of the student body. I went home in tears, and my mom proceeded to call the coach at home that night to tear her a new one. It was the most gratifying moment of my 15 years, and I loved her for doing that. 🙂

  12. Bridget C says:

    Great job, Kristan. I thought I would “just” read your article at the end of work, before going home, and now I have to get out of the building without anyone noticing the tears in my eyes! Your mother was right to speak up for you on this occasion.

    I also had a really horrendous PE teacher like this in Middle School. I actually think she should not have been let near impressionable young girls, she was that mean 😕

  13. Sue Peace says:

    Mum’s are the best!!!

  14. thea says:

    That’s such a good tribute to your mom. My kids would always complain that I ‘always believe the teachers instead of your own suffering child!’ But once I got a note from a teacher that basically said ‘your child will fail fail fail and nothing could be done to fix it (an Edgar Allan Poe story was the basis for this) and I said that was ridiculous and wrote back a scathing reply. The principal said, upon intervention, that since Mrs. T NEVER complains about teachers, she needed to investigate and I prevailed. And of course my kid THEN complained because he STILL had to finish the darn book (The Fall of the House of Usher – which I might add is a wierd wierd tale to make a 6th grader read) and write the paper. Sorry, kid.

  15. Deanna says:

    Now THAT is a mom. I love the fact that she wasn’t a helicopter parent (something I struggle with, as I have a first grader who doesn’t always play well with others, and I want him to grow up to be a good person), but when it counted, she pulled it out and gave it to Mrs. G. Bravo, Mrs. Kristan’s Mom!!

  16. RobynDeHart RobynDeHart says:

    Woo-hoo for your mom, Kristan and what a great story! I fear as a mom I’m more helicopter than I should be, but I hope I can really stand up for my kids when it’s important like that.

  17. Michelle R. says:

    What a great mom you have!!! That would explain all the awesome mom’s in your books as well as the stories about your kids having an awesome mom. You learned from a great lady it seems. I too had a horrible PE teacher in middle school. The teacher would pick on us clumsy/awkward kids and always wore a tennis outfit with the little skirt. Perfection in all things athletic were praised, the rest ignored. Maybe that’s why I didn’t push my kids to do sports they didn’t like. Thanks for always having some relatable story to tell!!!

  18. Go, Mama H! What a fabulous tribute to your mother, Kristan. I had tears in my eyes as I read it.

  19. catslady says:

    There is nothing worse than a teacher being a bully!! I was pretty much like your mom and never said much but twice I did. I hate things that are unfair. One was a music teacher that gave my one daughter a lower grade because she missed one band practice (in 3 yrs.) because her uncle got her tickets to a show (Stomp) about music. Where if kids just said they were sick and didn’t show (her best friend did this more than once)they were not penalized. So basically he was teaching them to lie!!! Nothing came of it because he was the darling of the school but at least I spoke up. The second time was for my other daughter who had this horrible, burnt out algebra teacher. It’s a long story but basically she called my daughter a liar (my daughter worked part time and couldn’t take an after class test on the day the teacher wanted. This same teacher didn’t let her kids take a math field trip!). My daughters aren’t perfect but they weren’t liars. I talked with the teacher but she wouldn’t budge so I went over her head. They knew all about this teacher. In this case she did back down and was nice to my daughter after that. Sorry for the rant lol.

  20. Ella Quinn says:

    That was a wonderful story. You’re very lucky to have such a great mom! Tweeted.

  21. I’m VERY lucky to have my mom. Thanks, guys! I really liked hearing your stories, too.

  22. flchen1 says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Kristan–LOVED reading about your mom, because I do think that she really embodied what is so amazing about great moms 🙂 She fought fiercely for you, for what was right and best for you. What a wonderful thing for us to know that we have such love on our side!

  23. Karen M says:

    Such a great story, (as always), Kristan! I got a lump in my throat. It reminded me of a time when I was about 11 or 12 and my Mom kicked some serious ass for me! The villain of my story was an old, witchy store owner who ripped me off of approx. a quarter after I purchased some penny candy.(Yep, I’m old!)She borrowed my friend’s bike, threatened the owner with the police & got my change back! All 25 cents! I was so proud! Still am.

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