Friday, May 27, 2011

Tiger Mom vs. Third-Grader: Part II, Great American SpellCheck

This morning, Nico participated in Roxboro Elementary School's first Great American SpellCheck competition and was eliminated in the second round. (Did I imagine a gasp when it happened? Maybe it came from me.)

It was a somewhat shocking result, as Nico misspelled the word "badly" ("baddly"). This, from a kid who breezes through weekly spelling words like "perspicacious" and "paradigmatic". I was stunned that he was eliminated so quickly and saw that he was too. He walked off the stage dazed. When the students eliminated in his round rejoined their classmates in the audience, Nico sat off to the side, away from all his friends.

I went over to him and suggested we go out to the hallway. He was fighting back tears. "I spelled it wrong on purpose," he said, bitterly. "I didn't want to be there in the first place." Nico had scored 50 out of 50 on the written exam to qualify for the oral spelling competition, but had mixed feelings about the whole thing. "I don't want to be on stage," he had said when he learned he had qualified.

Spelling bees are a source of pride in this family. Both Vic and I were grade school spelling champs and to this day, I silently judge people who can't spell well (and don't get me started on people who can't use apostrophes properly). Still, I didn't want to put too much pressure on Nico for his first spelling bee. I debated even going to the competition today, but am glad I did. I sat with some friends and we cheered for all of the spellers.

There is so much drama at these things! For first-, second- and third-graders, these competitions must be incredibly nerve-wracking. As I spoke to other parents, we all admitted that we were nervous ourselves as we watched our children take their turns at the mic. The rhythm of a spelling bee is mesmerizing - we hold our breath as the students recite the letters, we listen for the bell, we sigh with relief (or gasp in sympathy), we clap, repeat. It was heartbreaking to watch the young spellers as they were eliminated, one by one. Some of them stumbled, crestfallen, into their parents' open arms; some only needed a quick hug and then raced back to sit with their friends, others needed to be embraced for the rest of the competition.

Nico displayed a disturbing, but familiar mix of emotions after he was ousted from the contest. Like me, he's emotional and excitable, but he is embarrassed to show it. Like Vic, he is brooding and intensely competitive. When we finally reentered the auditorium after a few minutes hugging in the hallway, I heard Nico whisper, "Yes!" when his friends were also eliminated. "Don't you want to root for your friends?" I asked him. "No. I don't want anyone to win," he replied.

Admittedly, I was annoyed that Nico was booted out of the competition so early. I tried not to show it, although, for a microsecond, I related to my own mother's feelings of disappointment in me. I remembered the piano recital where I flubbed a note and heard her in the audience clucking her tongue. That memory has stayed with me and I don't want Nico to know that feeling. I hugged and kissed him for a long time. "I'm a horrible speller," he said. "No, you're not," I told him. "You have weekly spelling words much harder than the one you missed today. You're a fantastic speller all day every day, just not for a few seconds today. It's OK." I hugged him again.

I wasn't at all a Tiger Mom today and it was fine. F.I.N.E.


Michele S. said...

Thirst quenched. After such a dry spell, I pop onto your blog and read two entries on the same day! Your writing is so soulful and real.

Karna said...

Nice. I love your honesty and how to tie a personal experience into a still-controversial subject.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the comments, Michele and Karna. I haven't read the Amy Chua's book yet, but probably should. Have either of you read it?