My kids’ elementary school held its annual Spelling Bee this week for the 4th and 5th graders. Each teacher had a contest and the top two spellers from each class got to compete in the school-wide competition. Brayden, sadly, was not in the top two of her class. I would go so far as to guess she might have finished last, or near last, considering she can’t spell her way out of a B-A-G. She’s bright, but she’s not a natural-born speller.
So, because the competition was held on a Tuesday, and that’s the day I volunteer in the school each week, I decided to attend (pretty much, just to be nosy). And I have to tell you, I. Totally. Flashed. Back.
You might (or might not) know, but I am a complete, 100 percent, absolute and total spelling, punctuation, and grammar snob. That’s not to say I’m perfect, and Lord only knows you guys have all witnessed my use and abuse of both the exclamation point and the trailing period. But thanks to the modern-day genius of built-in spell check and my own anal tendencies, I get pretty annoyed when a spelling mistake slips past me and makes it into one of these journal entries.
I was like that at age 10, already. A pretty good speller. In fact, if I could toot my own horn (toot-toot!) a DAMN good speller. So when I got ready to attend my first-ever spelling bee in the 5th grade, it was with the utter and complete confidence that I would be the winner. Really, there wasn’t even a question. I would conquer. That’s C-O-N-Q-U-E-R. The title **would** be mine.
Here is the 10-yr old face of assurance, poise, and self-confidence:
Sadly, it’s a face framed by teeth into which I hadn’t quite grown, feathered hair that required half a can of Aqua-Net each morning, and the ugliest one-piece polyester dress ever known to mankind. If ever there was a need for The Swan, Jr. Version, you're looking at it.
But by golly, I could spell.
I don’t remember if we drew numbers, or how they determined our order. Somehow, I was number two. I went to a very small school, and the total number of fifth and sixth grade students (back when sixth grade was still elementary school) was probably less than a hundred kids. I don’t even remember how many competed, but I remember I was number two.
They called the first kid up to the microphone, and gave him his word: Lace.
And he spelled it: L-A-S-E.
And I remember sort of snorting under my breath at his moron-ness, thinking, in my totally compassionate and kind-hearted manner, “What a schmuck. Who can’t spell lace?”
As that poor, defeated student trod off the stage, I swaggered up to the microphone, brimming with confidence. Now, we obviously didn’t follow Scripps National Spelling Bee Rules and Regulations, because although this wasn’t the final round (not yet, but I’d be there soon enough!) as the next competitor, I was given the same word to spell: Lace.
And I sort of chuckled, as if to give the impression the judges were wasting my massive amount of brain energy and sheer spelling genius with such a lame word ….
And I leaned forward into the microphone, champion that I was, speaking loudly and clearly, and spelled the word: L-A-S-E.
Holy crap, did I just …. What????
I can’t believe I just did that!
Wait, stop, DO-OVER!!!!!!
But that was it. It was over. I was out, in the very first round. And as I took the Walk of Shame to the back table where the kids who had been eliminated were to sit, I was seething inside.
How could I have done something so monumentally stupid???? It was a trick, I tell you, a low down dirty rotten stinking trick! I was robbed!!!!
And as I sat there through the rest of the competition, I brooded on what an idiot I was, and how I had made such a colossal blunder. And continued to seethe. As the competition went on, other kids joined me at the table. A few even whispered and bragged about mis-spelling words on purpose to get out of the competition. Those little shits threw the bee intentionally, and I would have given anything for another chance.
I knew them all!!!!!
I couldn’t even say I was wrongfully stripped of my title, since I never got the title in the first place. But in my heart, I knew. K-N-E-W that I was the winner.
It’s been thirty years, and I still seethe.
I will always seethe.
Just like I was always remember how to spell lace.
Just like that little girl at my daughter’s school, the first child eliminated from the competition last week, will always remember how to spell “pilot”.
Not P-I-L-E-T, but P-I-L-O-T.
(And in the meantime, lace. Still seething.)