Spelling Bee

Tween participated in the school-wide spelling bee. Placing in the top two in his classroom bee, he joined seventeen other 3rd through 5th graders. All winners before they hit the stage, Tween made it to 4th place.

Miraculous, as years ago experts predicted that given his particular set of learning (dis)abilities, his spelling level wouldn’t exceed third grade.

Watch this kid surpass his doctors’ expectations – woo hoo!

Similar to the well-known stages of grief, Tween passed through several Stages of Anticipation:

At first, he was over-the-moon excited. Giddy, jumping around, couldn’t stop talking.

Next came anxiety with a dash of denial. Let’s not talk about it unless we’re so anxious we have to talk about it.

Then, annoyance: “Mom, I Do Not want to practice spelling!”

Followed by acceptance, “Mom, can we practice spelling?” (Snuggles).

I came up with an unorthodox strategy: I checked out a DVD of Akeelah and the Bee from our fantastic local library. We watched it over two nights after homework and dinner, me pausing the show periodically to quiz Tween on a word (Guy declared it the worst movie-watching experience ever; I argued that we were studying!).

We talked about anxiety and desire, gumption, determination, and overcoming expectations. Tween’s parents watched the power of storytelling wash over him as he joined Akeelah on her journey from inner-city closeted smart kid to National Spelling Bee champion.

From no-dream to pipe-dream to day-dream to reality, Tween caught the spirit.

Finally motivated, he let me quiz him as I inwardly marveled at his ability to spell words I couldn’t imagine he’d seen before and outwardly praised him like crazy for his hard work.

The night before the bee he crawled into bed and buried himself in covers. Overwhelmed, he began to criticize everything about himself – body and brain. You know those moments, when nerves take over and you just can’t see how anything you are or do could possibly be good enough?

I made him look me in the eyes. Firmly, I said, “You do your best and let God do the rest” (thanks, Mom, for that little pearl of wisdom!). “And I will be proud of you No Matter What.”

Morning of, he turned ornery when I suggested he Dress for Success: “Did you read that in one of your magazines?” (Ugh, Adolescent Sassy-Butt, I only requested that he put on a polo-style shirt with his jeans. “But Mom, NO ONE else will wear anything special, you just watch.” Bummer, he was mostly right). After he left for school, I insisted that Guy and I also Dress for Success to honor his efforts.

As Guy and I entered the auditorium to join other parents seated on benches lining the back wall, the school principal called us over. “I have to ask,” he began, “but do you live in a zoo?”

The bee participants had filled out questionnaires about themselves and one of the questions asked about family pets. “I was just wondering how many of these animals Tween listed might actually still be living with you?”

We glanced over his shoulder at Tween’s paper and laughed. He had listed all of our 3 cats, 3 leopard geckos, 2 dogs, 2 snakes, 1 tortoise, and 1 betta fish by name and species. All except for the newest snake which he listed as “ball python (I forgot its name).”

Um, yes, we live in a zoo of sorts. We’re a little nuts.

National Spelling Bee rules at play, kids could only ask two questions about their word. They could ask for a definition, to hear it repeated or in a sentence, word origin (nobody asks that at this level), but only two questions.

I held my breath each time Tween stood up. He spelled words we had studied and words we hadn’t studied. He spoke straight into the microphone, loud and clear, no mumbling. An astonished parent turned to us: “He’s so confident!”

He made it through six rounds. Down to four spellers, Tween’s word elicited hushed gasps from nearby parents:

“Please spell jocularity.”

Parents whispered, “What did he say? What does that mean?”

According to Merriam-Webster: “Given to jesting, jolly.” Actually a pretty good descriptor for Tween.

It hadn’t been on the provided spelling lists. I looked it up in the children’s dictionary he and every other 2nd grader in town received from the local Kiwanis club and, guess what? It’s not in there.

This is not a kid-friendly spelling word, folks.

He hadn’t asked a single question so far, but this time he asked for a definition and a sentence, and then he asked to hear it repeated; he asked three questions, so the principal would not repeat the word.

“Jocularity. Hmm, J-O-C-um…hmm…K…?-U-L-A-R-I-T-Y. Jocularity.”

“Thank you for participating.” Applause.

He walked across the gym and took a seat on the floor with his classmates, high-fiving along the way. He smiled. Clearly disappointed, he put up a good face.

Of course he added a K. Wouldn’t you? Or maybe you wouldn’t, but you might have in 5th grade. Jocularity sounds an awful lot like jock.

The next word: havoc
And: thyme
And I no longer remember the winning word, but it wasn’t nearly so hard as jocularity.

When a winner had been declared, parents stuck around for hugs and pictures and congratulations. The principal personally congratulated Tween, commending him for doing so well and encouraging him that a “ck” made perfect sense, even if it was incorrect.

Bee participants

Bee participants

Rightfully proud of himself – the kid mouthed the correct spelling to every single word in the bee from his place in the back row – and kicking himself at the same time, Tween glowed. But when we picked him up after school three hours later, he glowered. The luck of the draw had not been on his side, and he was angry at Misfortune.

So we made a big deal to celebrate the miracle: we gave him the choice between Slurpees or ice cream (Slurpees won). We spelled jocularity back and forth to one another for the rest of the day; no one in this household will ever stumble over an added K again. We met friends at the park and they expressed admiration for his serious spelling skills. We thanked God for the gift of a spelling adventure. For fun in the process. For a new appreciation of the power of studying well. And for the experience as a whole.

You might even say we acted a wee bit jocular in our miraculous spelling celebration!

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