When Your Mom Is “Famous”


My first memory of Mom as a working mother is from second grade. One of the kids in my class was sort of famous because his mom taught third grade in our school. The only kid who seemed more exotic than him was our own teacher’s kid. We knew what his mom was like at school. Here was a kid who knew what she was like in real life!

With my younger brother starting kindergarten, my mother began substitute teaching that year, and this put me on a third tier of teachers’ kids. No one had her full-time, but most kids had her at some point. That made her like a supporting actress, which made me almost cool.

The next year, Mom was a full-time teacher with her own class. She taught sixth grade, so while my friends were all too young to be her students, she was definitely a lady people knew. We could not go to the grocery store, ball park, or Mt. Juliet’s one (at the time) fast food restaurant without someone stopping to chat with Mrs. Stivender.

Despite our occasional complaints that she worked too late to make anything other than stir fry or kielbasa heated in the toaster oven, my brother and I thought this was awesome.

In addition to everyone knowing Mom, her job allowed us to know everything about our school. Along with the other teachers’ kids, my brother and I formed an after school club called the Pies Club (named for the leftover desserts we pilfered from faculty and union meetings). We ran around all over that building while our moms graded papers and wrote lesson plans.

The Pies Club members performed on the stage in the auditorium when no one was watching. We shot baskets in the gym. We buried dead bugs on the playground, asking the kid whose other parent was a preacher to give the eulogies.

When the county built a new school the year I was in fifth grade, Mom and several of her friends were among the teachers to open it. Dad would come on weekends and do things like paint her room and move furniture. The teachers kids took over an empty classroom and filled it with awesome things like beanbag chairs and an old black and white TV. That was a sort of gilded age in our tenure as the Pies Club.

When I was finally in the same grade my mother taught, my teacher was one of Mom’s best friends. There is nothing more fabulous for a nerdy, goody two-shoes kid than to know where your teacher lives, to have been in her home, and to have been at the kids table beside hers countless times at the neighborhood sit-down restaurant when the teacher moms were too tired even to toast kielbasa. (Who remembers the Hermitage Cooker?)

While I had my favorites among Mom’s teacher friends, I know she had hers, too, among the kids in the school. Mom gravitated toward what I thought of at the time as the “bad kids”, but realize now were good, but troubled. She watched after kids whose parents forgot to pick them up, whose parents were going through divorces, who were experiencing illness in their families, or had been exposed to alcohol or drug abuse. I never felt anything other than proud that she was there for those kids, and fortunate she was mine.

Mom is retiring at the end of this school year, after a 30-year career that ultimately led to her becoming principal of the school we attended. She is more or less the last of her close friends to retire, which makes this milestone feel even more like the end of an era.

I don’t know that we are close yet to a day when working moms will stop wringing their hands about whether their career pursuits are damaging or inspiring to their children. But I can say that, for me, it was a wonderful experience to grow up with a mom claimed by so many others.

She may often have been pressed for time, but never for love. I know I’m not alone in my sentiments.


21 thoughts on “When Your Mom Is “Famous”

  1. Knight, and Kathy, I hope you know you and family are one of the very best memories of my time in Mt. Juliet.

  2. What a great honor for your mom to have a daughter think of her with such high praise and admiration. Well said

  3. I did make it through the first sentence without crying but not to the last. Kathy has been a wonderful blessing to our family, from hiring my husband, to asking if she needed to run to McDonalds to get food for our children…the ones WE were supposed to pack lunches for, but in our rush to teach and care for others’ children, we had managed to leave lunch at home-again.
    On the days I think I am a horrible mother–mainly due to the time constraints of teaching–there always seems to be a bit of inspiration from someone encouraging me that it’s worth it. Thank you for being my “someone” today, Knight and Kathy. I’ll carry this story with me as Joel and I raise our children and hope they forgive us for all the peanut butter crackers and frozen pizza!
    Congratulations, Kathy!

  4. Knight, I managed to get through yesterday’s tea without really crying, but I can’t say that I managed getting through even the first sentence of this. The people and events you write about in this post are so special to so many people and I am blessed to count hem among my friends. I am especially thrilled to be the fortunate mother to you and Andy, grandmother to Lily, and to have been a teacher to thousands of wonderful children.

  5. As an original “Pies Club” teacher mom, thanks Knight for your memories of one of the happiest times in my teaching career. Kathy, I know you are reading these. While the kids had their memories, we did, too…i.e., our “formal” dinner at Bernadette’s, Trudy’s podium, our gym rooms, etc., etc. Congratulations on your retirement–now for a second career–How about law school?

    • Ginger, don’t forget the “whistles / pen tops” that we wore around our necks all day, and listening to Rick play Springsteen at top volume all afternoon, our girls getting in trouble in Linda’s cafeteria, my son winning a spitting competition in your gym…..
      And one lawyer in the family is probably enough.

  6. Your mom had my foster son at Stoner Creek, I think the year was 1989? She was a calming, sweet, teacher. I also was blessed to work at Stoner Creek years later and I count her a friend and a wonderful example of a leader. Jo Chrisman

  7. One never knows what connections will occur in life. It’s a little scary that I recognize so many “unnamed” parts of your story. Your family is special to us and we wish your mom the very best even if she is an Auburn fan.

  8. Your mom was (and is) such a blessing to the parents and students at Stoner Creek. She always has a smile and hug ready for all and I am so glad to name her among my friends.

  9. Wow. Congratulations to you mom. I’ve been talking with my mom about this topic exactly with some decisions/planning that needs to be made and this hit the spot. It was lovely Knight. Thank you! And the Pies Club, that is awesome.

  10. Knight, thank you for sharing what being a teacher’s kid meant to you and what it means now that you see your mom’s career choice as an adult. Your mom has meant so much to me in my educational career and even more as my friend. So glad you and your family shared her with us.

  11. Very well put Knight. This really hit home as my mom and both of my wife’s parents were teachers and loved by more than just their own children because they had a fresh batch of lives to mold each Fall. They are indeed “Famous” to both the kids and community they served. Even retired we still can’t go anywhere in the small towns we’re from (Muskegon, MI and Norwalk, OH) without a former student or parent stopping them to talk about something they remember from their class, or how their lives have turned out since. Education is one of the most important and honorable professions and great teachers deserve all the fame that comes their way.

  12. Your Mom was a positive influence in so many lives, she deserves many happy years of retirement. Congratulations, Mrs. Stivender!

  13. OK…I’m one of those people who cry easily, but hearing your mom say over and over today, “I’m not going to cry…I’m not going to cry…” I decided I wouldn’t either, even when I saw tears in her eyes. Now, YOU!! You made me cry! What a lovely tribute.

  14. Oh Knight, I cried all the way through this. Your sweet mother was so special to my family during our time at Stoner Creek, and is still such a dear friend to me. There’s just no one else like her.

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