When we first learned about the spelling bee, I was excited. Teddy is a great speller, and my parents were going to be in town, so they could come with Lydia and me to cheer him on. Teddy was decidedly less enthused. My mini me was wary of standing on stage and speaking into a microphone. I get it. In fact, in the face of just such a scenario when I was in sixth grade, I preferred to intentionally misspell a word (village — I dropped an ‘l’) during the class spelling bee to avoid the school wide affair, a story I actually shared with Teddy much to my husband’s chagrin. I wanted my kid to compete, but I totally understood if he wanted to opt out.
A list of 60 words came home, and we immediately ran through them. He spelled 57 of them correctly the first time. I put the words away, planning to quiz him periodically during the next couple weeks. Then, the day before the spelling bee, snow was forecast…and school was cancelled in advance. The bee was rescheduled for the following week. Another list of words came home (the same? not sure, actually; I didn’t compare them) and again we went through a few, although we didn’t get through all of them this time; Teddy got restless–and possibly bored. But…it turned out that the week of the rescheduled bee was also the week of testing for the upper grades, and those teachers resented giving up precious prep time to the bee. So the bee was rescheduled…indefinitely.
We forgot about it. I figured it wasn’t going to happen, and I didn’t think Teddy would mind.
Then, the second week of May, I got a text from Teddy’s teacher saying the bee was back on — that Friday. The afternoon of the spelling contest, Lydia and I and a handful of other parental cheerleaders sat in the cafeteria and watched each class’s star spellers file onto the stage. Teddy looked…enthusiastic? I was shocked. He sat quietly onstage with a dozen other kindergarten, first and second graders while the pronouncers settled in with their lists and microphones. He was speller number four in the first round. And his first word was “ship”. I smiled to myself, knowing he could spell that one in his sleep.
He strode to the microphone with a smile. (My kid? Comfortable on stage?) “Ship,” he said clearly in a strong voice: “S-h-i-p, ship”. Then he returned to his seat, his face neary split with his grin. I was baffled. Who was this kid who just stood onstage and spoke with such confidence to an audience? The same kid whose kindergarten teacher intentionally moved him to the back of the class to force him to speak up — to no avail? How could I replicate this at home?
The first round continued, eliminating a few kindergarten spellers. Round two brought “parents” — another easy word for my confident?? kid. Round three: “Awake.” No hesitation. Round four: “vacation.” Just before Teddy, another kindergartner had spelled “lotion” l-o-s-h-i-n, but my word nerd got the “tion” just fine.
It was about round five, when the first second grader misspelled a word, that it occurred to me that Teddy could actually win this thing. He hadn’t seemed baffled about any of his words, yet. And then in round 7, he got “bakery”. “b-a-k” he spelled, and then paused. And I held my breath. “e” he continued, and stopped again. I couldn’t decide whether it was better to stare at him for support or look away. But I couldn’t look away anyway. I was so tense! “r”. I was sending positive spelling vibes as hard as I knew how and doing my best to keep Lydia quiet, who, a half hour into the spelling, was hitting her wall. Finally, he finished the word: “y”, and I could let out my breath in a whoosh. And relax. And focus more on setting Lydia up with something entertaining.
And then the round was finished, and Teddy was one of two spellers (both boys) left on stage. And I just stared at him, thinking how proud I was that he got this far.
Teddy’s kindergarten teacher, who was MC’ing the whole thing, took a moment to explain the final round: if the first speller missed his word, the second speller would have a chance to correctly spell that same word. If he also missed it, both would remain in the competition and the first speller would get another word. Teddy was speller number two. The other contestant walked to the microphone. His word was “dishes.” He said, “d-i-s-h-s.” And my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t help it. Teddy was going to win. I knew he could spell dishes. And by the smile on his face, I could tell he knew it, too. Indeed, he practically skipped to the microphone. “Dishes. d-i-s-h-e-s. dishes.”
And that was it. He won the spelling bee for the lower grades. My child who loves language as much as I do, whose idea of fun is making up words that rhyme, who’s been asking me to read him road signs from the time he could talk, won his first spelling competition. I could not stop smiling. And neither could he. And his trophy. Oh my word, the thing was huge! He thought that was awesome. (He took great delight in attempting to hide it behind his back when Mike came home that evening.) And as if that wasn’t enough: the prize for first place? Nats tickets. Because obviously. How fitting is that. The only real question that remains: who gets to go with him? 😉