Mama’s home cooking

 

marley's mom's food

Mmm. Italian food!

In GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, there is no happier time than dinner at the DeFelice family home. Mom is a great cook and delights in making everyone’s favorite dish until the table practically sags under all the food. They feast every week: Marley, her sister, her brother, her brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, sometimes her best friend, Georgia. Mom makes penne alla vodka, eggplant parmesan, meatballs, chicken oregano, broccoli rabe and sausage, garlic bread…Writing those meals really made me wish I’d grown up Italian.

In my family, Gram was the best cook of all. Nothing that woman made was anything short of the best. Galuszka, whose deliciousness can be summed up with the words “at least one stick of butter.” Chicken paprikas, so tender! Mashed potatoes and meatloaf. Pot roast with that envelope of onion soup sprinkled in to make sure we all had enough preservatives. I’m not complaining! Plus, Gram could bake brilliantly, and bake she did. Taught me everything I know about dessert!

But as a kid, my sainted mother was not the chef she eventually became when her little birds flew the nest. I think she hated cooking day-to-day, because most evenings, she’d glance at the clock and say, “Shit! Carol, I have to make dinner,” hang up the phone, then bolt to the freezer to see what could be thawed in time. Mind you, when my parents entertained, she cooked like an angel… not that we three Higlets got to eat it. We had fish sticks and tater tots instead, then were shooed away to mournfully spy on rack of lamb or crown roast.

Please! Not the beef stew!

Please! Not the beef stew!

Some of her hall of shame meals…Beef stew. God, we hated beef stew. Was it the fatty beef my grandfather (a grocery store owner) had offloaded to my mom at a 90% discount? Was it the half can of Budweiser Mom would pour in it, the other half for her? The overcooked carrots and undercooked potatoes? Whatever it was, I would chew…and chew…and chew, my poor little molars failing to break down the gristle.

Did someone say beef stew?

Did someone say beef stew?

Thankfully, we had three Irish setters lurking under the table, and slipping them a chunk of meat became an art form. Once, I whispered to my sister my strategy. For reasons still unknown to me, she said loudly, “No, Kristan, I will NOT pretend to swallow, then put my meat in the napkin and give it to the dogs.” Traitor.

 

chicken

Hauntingly familiar

Broiled chicken. This was one of those “Damn it, I have nothing for dinner” dinners. Mom would jack up the oven to 450 or so, stick some frozen chicken breasts in a pan and open a box of whipped potatoes. Maybe a can of beets, which, oddly, I loved well before loving beets was a thing. Sometimes the cranberry sauce that made the most satisfying schlupas it slid from the can. A box of Birdseye corn, because we didn’t know corn was a starch, not really a vegetable, or worse, frozen green beans, which I still can’t bring myself to eat no matter how fresh they are. Emotional scars, yo.

Mom was a fan of spice in a jar. I was in college before I saw a garlic clove, but garlic powder? I’m a big fan. Mom still has many of the powders and spices from my youth, and when I suggest that perhaps it’s time for a purge, she gives me a look and tells me expiration dates are for the weak. She is such a bad-ass.

Hooray!

Hooray!

So that my mom won’t come over and beat me, I have to give her a shout-out for some of her best dishes. Her lasagna rocked. Swedish meatballs. Pancakes for supper if Dad was on the road. And if we were really good, chicken paprikas and galuszka, just like Gram used to make.

 

Love you, Mom! Thanks for being such a great sport! Come over for dinner sometime!

 

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Thank you! (and some book recommendations!)

SCIt’s been a busy week, hopping and bopping around the country on book tour! It’s so much fun—I love seeing you guys, and it’s such an honor and sometimes I get choked up to know that you gave me your time and attention. Thank you! And hope to see you as the tour continues. All my appearances are here.

The notes and reviews I’m getting about GOOD LUCK WITH THAT are so beautiful and humbling and…well, I don’t have the words to tell you how much it means to me. If you want to read more about my influences and journey in writing the book, Amazon featured an article here. I hope you’ll read it.

But enough about me! Here are a few author recommendations for when you’re finished with GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.

Intercepted_2Intercepted by Alexa Martin. Guys…rom-com at its finest. Smart, sassy, hilarious, a hero to melt your unmentionables. Loved it from line one onward. Also…football! But not so much football that if you don’t like football you won’t be inundated with football, if you know what I’m saying. It comes out in September, but you can preorder it now.

 

36679612The Advertisements for Love series by Vanessa Riley. I’m a sucker for arranged marriage tropes, marriage of convenience, etc., and I adored books one (she owns a flower farm!) and two (heiress meets actor). If you’re a lover of Regency romance, boom. I got you right here.

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean. She’s one of the best historical romance writers around, ever. And this is about a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and a woman with a tarnished reputation and an unusual skill set…you’ll love it.

 

A1jFG2Rf+4LThe Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas. Sherry is brilliant. This series is amazing. You think you loved Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock? (I know, I did, too). But wait till you meet Charlotte.

Happy reading! Hope to see you soon! And to those of you who’ve posted reviews on GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, a special thanks!

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Good Luck with That

small FINAL COVERSo…it’s here! My new book is out, not without some controversy.

I wrote GOOD LUCK WITH THAT for a number of reasons…to explore how interlocked body image and self-esteem are for most women. To write a book about the struggle for self-acceptance. To explore the life of a person struggling with addiction…in this case, food. And to write a book for myself—the little girl who was booted from a beauty pageant at the age of four because she was chubby. The teenager who always felt wrong in her own skin. The girl who was mocked by family members and schoolmates who felt I was too fat. The woman who always looked down the road and said, “I need to lose weight before that happens.”

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is a story of three women who battle self-esteem issues related to their size and looks. Two of them win that battle; one does not. Early in the book, Emerson dies at the age of 35 from complications related to what is medically (and heartlessly) called super-morbid obesity. She leaves her friends the list the made in weight baf4137a7bf598b48375fb0e428c83dcloss camp 17 years ago…all the things they’d do when they finally achieved that perfect physical idea. Because they promised they would, and in because they’re still stuck on some issues, Marley and Georgia decide to take on the list, which is filled with adolescent longing of what they feel is thin privilege. The book is not about losing weight; in fact, it’s about the opposite. It’s about not waiting to achieve an unrealistic ideal before going after the things they want, and dealing with some unexamined issues from their pasts.

It’s hard to write about this stuff. It’s hard to talk about. Every person should love and value herself exactly how she is. But a lot of us do struggle. Not everyone grows and changes for the better. Not everyone wins the battle for self-love and kindness.

difficult storiesLife is filled with difficult moments and sorrows. But if we turn away from those experiences, we invalidate the people who live them. Just because someone’s story is hard or sad doesn’t mean it should be silenced.

Emerson, Marley and Georgia have so much going for them, and their friendship is the light that leads them. They see the best in each other, and they come through when others fail them.

One of the things that’s always defined my books is what one reviewer called emotional honesty. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is the most honest book I’ve written so far. For a long time, I struggled with liking my physical self. A really long time…until finally, I decided to stop being so hard on myself. My heart is smeared on every page of this book. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is a love letter to my younger self, and, hopefully, a light on the path for those who are on the journey to loving themselves.

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT addresses how hard it is to be a woman in a society obsessed with looks and beauty and food. How it feels to be judged because of size. How ashamed we can feel when we give into cravings. How hard it is to feel confident when you feel physically wrong. It’s a story about families and friendships and how they shape how we view ourselves. And of course, it’s a story about finding that person who sees and loves you for all the reasons that matter.

not there yetheartI hope GOOD LUCK WITH THAT breaks your heart and puts it back together, stronger than ever, full of resolve to take care of yourself in every way that counts. I hope you love this book, ugly-face cry while reading it, laugh out loud while reading it and close it at the end with a glow in your soul because you felt it all the way down to your bone marrow. I hope that with all my heart.

With love,

Kristan

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Bonding with (and to) the Princess

My heart leaped this morning when the Princess said, “Mommy, will you help me with something very fun and important?”

“Of course!” I answered.

“Will you wax my armpits?”

beforeOh, readers! Such joy followed those words! She had been growing out her armpit hair for 10 days for just this occasion. Of COURSE I would wax her armpits! Isn’t that what mothers are for?

Since I’m a Sephora whore (Sephora whore-ah?), I own a home waxing kit. Well, not a kit, really…I own wax. And ever since the Princess was a wee little sprite, she’s loved wax, dipping her fingertips into soft candles as a tot, later doing the hand-dip on Mother-Princess nights, and the best part…peeling it off.

And so it began. She found the aged jar of hardened wax and attempted to unscrew it, eventually handing it over to her brawny mother, who used her superior strength to wrestle it open.

“Lie down on my bed!” I commanded, and the poor innocent lamb obeyed. I looked at her beautiful green eyes, so trusting. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes! I asked you,” she replied. “Will you blog about this?”

“Of course not!” said I.

“You can.”

“Hooray!”

And so I smeared the honey-colored wax on my precious girl. “Ow,” she said as the wax pulled at the hair.

“Just wait.”

She did. And then, when the wax was cool, I peeled it back a bit.

“Rip it off!” she whimpered. “Like a band-aid!”

duringI did. She screamed, always one to become furious in the face of pain.

“Wait till you give birth,” I murmured. I showed her the wax glob I had torn from her perfect skin, and she laughed till tears ran down her face. Several hairs had come out. Ninety-five percent had not. A few follicles were bleeding.

“Let me blot the blood,” I said.

“No! The tissue will get stuck.” We snorted some more at the vision of her armpit dotted with shards of Kleenex.

“I think we’re done,” the Princess said. I soothingly dabbed her underarm with olive oil, since we didn’t have baby oil. Then, to show my solidarity, I smeared some wax on my arm and pulled it off (remember, my own mother dubbed me her “little gorilla baby,” as I was a hirsute infant). “Didn’t work for me, either,” I said.

afterThe Princess hobbled up to her bathroom, returning (eventually) with clean-shaven underarms.

“That was fun,” I said, and she agreed, and we threw away the wax together, until the next time I’m tempted by the idea of doing I have no business attempting in the first place.

(photos taken and approved by the Princess)

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The thief of joy

rockiesI’m off to the national conference of Romance Writers of America this week, gang! I’ve never been to Colorado, and I’m wicked excited to see it. McIrish is coming to the conference this year, because he loves the Rocky Mountains, and we’re staying a few extra days to see some elk, hopefully. Maybe a grizzly bear, too. I’ve already planned how to save McIrish, so don’t worry about us. : )

teddyI’ve been thinking a lot about the writing community, and mostly how wonderful it is and how I can’t wait to see so many of my friends. But it’s also a time when comparison kicks in. There are some of the bestselling authors in the world there, and some who’ve been working away for decades without ever breaking out. There are household names, and there are folks who won’t ever finish a manuscript, and there’s everyone in between. Comparison, as Teddy Roosevelt said, is the thief of joy, and it can be hard not to feel down about the writing game—or life—from time to time.

Recently, one of my wise friends gave us some great advice on one of our girls nights. Instead of saying, “My career isn’t nearly as good as hers,” add on a little word. Yet.  Or right now. It puts things in a better perspective, doesn’t it? And it’s not just for career stuff…it could be anything. I am in a horrible depression…right now.Right now says it’s temporary. That it’s not a life sentence. I’ve never found the one sounds so final. Change that to I haven’t found the one yet, and it feels like much more of a real possibility, doesn’t it? Attitude, as I tell my kids, opens a lot of doors.

A few years ago, an author friend of mine was so frustrated. She’d written a really gorgeous book, and it just wasn’t selling, and she didn’t know why. It had everything going for it a book should…except sales. She told me she felt like she was shouting into the wind, and all she wanted was for people to read the book and let it touch their hearts. I commiserated; been there, done that. Some things are out of our control, I told her. Try to let it go.

TheTemporaryWifeWhat I should’ve said was, “The book’s not a bestseller yet, Jeannie.” Because lo and behold, a few years later, the book, which had been out for years now, suddenly hit a nerve, and landed on the USA TODAY bestseller list. Jeannie had kept at it. She’d kept writing. She hadn’t given up. For the rest of her life, she’ll have that title, and that’s a pretty great title to have: USA TODAY bestselling author.

Try not to compare yourself to other people and let yourself to feel small. There’s always a path to finding your way. You can do it. I know you can.

(To order Jeannie’s book, which is absolutely fantastic, visit www.jeanniemoon.com.)

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Mean girls

 

The other day, I was at a block party, talking to a person I only see once a year or so. She’s very pleasant, and we were just chatting when her daughters came up and demanded the car keys, which she didn’t have.

angry-1296476_640Without going into details, suffice it to say that the resulting exchange demonstrated these girls, both older than sixteen, to be the rudest, nastiest girls I’ve ever encountered. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. I felt so bad for their mother for A) having to live with them; B) being humiliated in public by them; and C) having raised them in such a way that they felt this was okay. Their disgust for her, their lack of respect, and what even seemed like hatred was just horrible to witness. These girls were not sullen or hormonal or sassy—they were cruel. Nasty, careless and snotty. In my experience, their parents are not any of those things. They’ve always seemed quite nice, but the girls have long had a reputation as being utterly horrible.

Had they been my children, I would’ve taken their phones, tossed them in the pond, told them they could walk home, kicked them out of my house and stopped paying college tuition. I recognize that the girls talked that way because they knew they could get away with it, which is sad and distressing. What kind of people will they be in society when they treat their own mother that way? Crappy people, that’s what.

Mostly, I felt like hugging the mom. “I’m sorry your daughters are so hateful and horrible,” I wanted to say. “I’m sure you did your best. This must hurt so much.”

IMG_6755McIrish and I have been blessed with our kids. We know that. They have an innate goodness, and we poured our hearts into raising them to be decent, kind people. However it happened, luck or hard work or both, it worked. They are good people, working to make the world better.

But I know more than one parent who has to deal with a wretched child, who is confounded by what to do now, who apologizes for their kids, who feels helpless and humiliated and ashamed. A parent who did their best, who maybe didn’t have the tools or knowledge to rein that kid in when it would’ve done some good.

baby-17327_640It’s so sad. When you give birth or adopt your baby, when you cuddle them close and read them books, you never imagine the day that they’d break your heart without so much as a second glance.

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Can’t beat the heat

porch of porchesThe heat makes me grouchy. Don’t get me wrong; I love summer, sitting on the porch morning and night. Where I live, it rarely goes above 90, and almost never above 95. We have what I call “Yankee air conditioning,” which means we have window fans. In the mornings, when the night air has been blowing into our house for hours, I close all the windows if the forecast is for temps over 85, then draw the curtains and pull the shades. I love my dim, cool house in the summer. Most days, this is sufficient, and around 6:30 or so, we open the windows. We live in the woods, and there’s almost always a breeze.

My parents didn’t believe in air conditioning when I was a kid. Nor window fans. We just suffered. I’d go into the cellar and read, emerging hours later, smelling slightly of mold, the only kid who got whiter in the summer. The library didn’t have AC either, nor our schools. When it was hot, a teacher might tell us to put our heads down on our desks. She’d turn out the lights and we’d just sit there, dozing. I loved that.

barn kittyMy Pop-Pop told me to run my wrists under cold water when I was hot. That way, he said, my blood would cool off. It probably didn’t, but it felt good. My sister and I would dampen paper towels and put them in the freezer, then lie strewn on couches with the stiff, thin cloths on our foreheads, like wealthy Victorian women suffering heat stroke. We’d go into the woods and sit under trees, or sometimes climb them so we could be closer to the breeze. Later, when we got a pop-up camper, we’d sit there, though it was hotter, and play cards with our friend, Beth, three tweens sweating and dealing like old pros. “One-eyed jacks are wild. How many to you, Hilly?”

The barn always felt cool. My sister and I would sit on the edge of the feed barrel and push our feet into the cracked corn, which felt good. The horse would stroll around and sigh, flicking flies with her tail, and the goat would nuzzle my sister. Our barn kitty would appear from somewhere unexpected, yawning from a nap.

When it was unbearably hot in our adolescent minds, we’d call our friend, Mr. Curtis, and ask if we could come for a swim. He had a beautiful pool, and he always said yes, and it was bliss.

When I was 17, my dad “surprised” my mom by putting in a swimming pool while she was away. She was not happy to see a back hoe digging up her yard, but what was done was done. Mom didn’t swim in that pool for years out of protest, but we kids had no such qualms. Unfortunately, we were kind of old by then. Or so it felt. I tended to stick to being a cellar-dweller with a dish of ice cream and a book.

leavesSummers are hotter these days. When McIrish and I built out little house in the woods, we didn’t see the need for central air conditioning. But you know how it is; we can stand the heat, but the damp sheets and furniture are yucky. Now, when a heat wave starts its inexorable plod from Chicago, we sigh and go to the basement and haul up a window unit and count the days till a few good thunderstorms will clear us out and bring back the lovely, clean air of a New England summer.

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Father’s Day, a fireman and a cat

Our dark lord and master

Our dark lord and master

Sometimes, our cat, who had been a semi-feral stray before we adopted him, likes to sleep in the barn, rather than come in at night. He’s mostly an indoor cat, but because of his origins, he was wretched at being kept in a hundred percent of the time. So we let him out, and he follows McIrish in the garden, or sleeps on the porch, flicking his tail, watching the hummingbirds with one eye. The barn is full of strange napping places (and mice), and he loves it in there as well. We often find him sleeping in the middle of a patch of flowers, crushing them, the only creature McIrish tolerates messing with his garden.

Deciding what we watch and when…

Deciding what we watch and when…

Last night, McIrish checked to see if Huck was on the porch, gave him a call and thought he was spending the night in the barn. (I was unaware of this…I always get him in, no matter how long it takes).

Around 3:00 a.m., McIrish bolted out of bed saying, “Huck! Huck!” and dashed outside in his boxers. I caught the end sounds of a cat in distress.“No!” I wailed and followed, taking the time to put on my boots and a jacket. McIrish was already in the valley with a flashlight, calling our cat’s name. Our woods are thick and go on forever, and my heart was already sinking.

Who's your daddy?

Who’s your daddy?

We have coyotes in our woods, and fisher cats, and owls. In fact, an owl was hooting, and I thought maybe the owl had tried to swoop up Huck, then dropped him somewhere, so I was heading toward the sound, hoping to find my kitty. Hoping my flashlight would catch the patch of Huck’s white fur in the darkness, or the gleam of his eyes. I was already picturing his injuries, and imagining how long it would take us to get to the 24-hour vet in the next town…or if it would be too late.

After ten or fifteen minutes of tromping around, I decided to change directions.

“He’s gone, honey,” McIrish called from another part of the valley.

“Was it a coyote?” I asked.

“I think so.”

Here's a good place to nap...

Here’s a good place to nap…

I could hear the sadness in my husband’s voice. Huck likes him best, and not one evening passes without the cat sitting on his lap, purring. Only when McIrish isn’t home are the kids and I graced with Huck’s presence. If it was a coyote, Huck was dead already.

The kids would be so sad. We would all be so sad. I started to cry.

And then… “Huck!” McIrish called. “He’s here! I got him!”

By the time I had thrashed my way back to our yard, McIrish and Huck were inside. Our kitty wasn’t hurt at all. Apparently, he’d been sleeping on the porch, right outside our bedroom window, and a coyote ambled past. Huck had growled, then yowled, and when McIrish dashed out, the coyote ran one way, and Huck ran another. His fur was still all puffed up, and he tried to wriggle away as I checked him for injuries.

“No more sleeping outside!” I said to both husband and cat.

“No,” McIrish agreed sheepishly. “I did tryto get him in.”

Terribly spoiled.

Terribly spoiled.

Huck jumped up on his lap and started to purr. “He’s thanking his hero,” I said, watching the pair, feeling slightly snubbed. “There’s no A for effort where Huck is concerned.” But McIrish had been the one to hear our kitty, had been the first one out, scaring off the coyote, had been the one to find Huck crouched in the underbrush.

“You were great,” McIrish said generously, petting his little buddy. Outside, the birds started to sing. We put Huck in the cellar on his kitty bed and went back to sleep (eventually).

firefighter daddy

Firefighter Daddy

I’m so glad on this Father’s Day we didn’t have to deal with the loss of our friend. I’m glad we didn’t have to tell the kids our cat was gone. I’m glad to have the type of husband who will charge out into the dark woods in boxer shorts to save the cat. Imagine what he’d do to protect our kids.

Way back when, on our first date, I asked McIrish if he had any pets. He did, he said—a kitten named Joe, who had approached him in the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn during a thunderstorm, tiny and soaking wet, mewing. “If you come inside,” McIrish had told him, “you can be my cat.” Joe agreed.

I think that was when I knew we’d get married.

 

Happy Father’s Day, honey—from me, the kids, the dogs, and Huck especially this year.

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You’ve got a friend

 

 

I think a lot of us, especially us women, know how to be a great friend to each other. It’s something we pride ourselves on, and a subject Joss Dey and I discuss at length in our podcast, Crappy Friends(currently on hiatus, but tune in and listen to our first season!).

But being good to ourselves is harder. I recently wrote an essay about how easy it is to find fault with our physical selves, but it’s not limited to that, is it? I should’ve been smarter. Worked harder. Done more. It can be rare that we sit back and say, “Nice work, you!”

So I’ve been thinking about ways to be better to ourselves, to turn away from the negative voices in our heads and sometimes, in society, and really take good care of us. Here are a few things I’ve found that work for me. I hope they work for you, too, and that you have a whole bunch of ways to make yourselves feel good and healthy and at peace.

bikeRide a bike. I’m of the meandering through the streets kind mindset when it comes to bike riding, rather than the Tour de France wannabes. I never regret riding a bike. There’s something special about being faster than a walk, slower than a car. You see things you might miss, and the ease of pedaling is peaceful. I love a bike trail. I often ride my bike while wearing a dress, since I love summer dresses. It’s very breezy and pleasant.

cat's eyeMake yourself over. Late at night, when McIrish is at work, I like to watch YouTube videos and try new stuff. Do I look silly in a cat’s eye? Sure do! But it’s fun just the same, and maybe I learn a new trick or two. If nothing else, I’m doing it just for me, just for fun.

Plan a night of sheer laziness. PJs on at 6:00, dinner of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese and an oaky Chardonnay, Netflix or a movie or whatever. But plan that night. Don’t revert to it because you have nothing else to do. Say to yourself, “Tonight is mine.” It feels different.

Get off social media. Listen. I love social media. I’m glad you’re on social media, too! But when Twitter becomes an echo chamber of anger and despair, or you’re unfriending people on Facebook because of their politics, or you’re crying because their lives look so awesome…it’s time to read a book.

flowersBuy or pick yourself some flowers, just because they’re pretty. When you see them, so cheerful and bright, their only job to make you happy…that’s nice, isn’t it? Do that more.

Visit your elders or volunteer with the elderly. They’re usually so happy to see you, aren’t they? You’ve made their day. The Princess worked at a nursing home last summer, and she was told she had the prettiest teeth. Patients would pat her cheek, marveling at her firm skin. My skin isn’t so firm, but no one seems to mind. Dearest Son would wear a tie when he volunteered during a memoir-writing project, and boy, did that go over well. He always felt kind of heroic in those sessions.

Look in the mirror and say something nice to yourself. Consider those words. Don’t find reasons to deflect them. Own it. You have many wonderful qualities. It’s good to remind yourself of that.

It’s a tough world out there, folks. Take care of yourself, and take care of others. We all have the power of kindness. Sometimes, we have to use that on ourselves.

I’ll be off for two weeks while I’m on vacation with my family, gang. See you soon!

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Mama Bear

Not Kristan

Not Kristan

When 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, me with my thick glasses and bad hair, awkward at best. Nevertheless, we were besties.

Gymnastics were very in at that time, and with Amy, who could do back flips and full splits, I found myself doing cartwheels on the front lawn. I never mastered a back walkover, but with Amy’s help, I improved a little bit.

Our gym teacher came up with the idea of having a gymnastics demonstration for the entire school. You’d have to audition to be in the demonstration; Mrs. Goldfarb didn’t want an afternoon of somersaults and ineptitude.

A word about Mrs. Goldfarb.

You may have noticed a few gym teachers in my books, and how they don’t like children. Mrs. Goldfarb, I’m looking at you.

Nope.

Nope.

She wore her whistle like a weapon. She was rail-thin and intolerant of awkward, overweight, 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. She had no patience for the kids who weren’t athletically inclined, and indeed, often made fun of us.

In sixth grade, I was already five-foot-seven and wore a C cup bra. I towered over Mrs. Goldfarb, outweighed her, and already I knew that I would never be lean and athletic and coordinated. I felt incredibly wrong around her, with her cool stare and impatient voice. Auditioning to perform in front of the entire middle school? In a leotard? I’m getting hives just typing this.

Still nope.

Still nope.

But Amy was my friend, and very optimistic and upbeat about me participating (love you, Amy!). She helped me design a gymastics routine, and we practiced and practiced in my front yard after school for weeks. In the end, I still couldn’t do a back walkover, but I could do a diving somersault, and I thought that was pretty good.

The day of the auditions came. Amy was a shoe-in, obviously. Same with my friend Laurie, who could do a back and front walk-over. Mrs. Goldfarb called us girls to try out, watching with her shark-like eyes, and made notes on her clipboard. I waited and waited for my turn to audition. 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.

In a rare show of spine, I left Mrs. Goldfarb 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. “Too bad,” she said. With that, she left.

Never.

Never.

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

My mom was then and is still a pretty mellow person. Her advice to her 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, inflicted physical harm upon 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 shehad 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 those 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. Goldfarb 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?

The next day, Mrs. Goldfarb 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.

That's more like it.

That’s more like it.

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 (why had I wanted to do this? why?). When my turn came, I was pretty bad. Amy was magnificent.

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

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for lying, but even more, thanks for sticking up for me.

 

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