Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Nauseous Skeleton Brings Humility

He had high hopes, our Mathboy, as we headed off the Knights of Columbus for the spelling bee. He spent several days reading through the Scripps book of spelling words and was about as ready as he could be, considering that he also has mid-term exams this week at school and he has been pretty good about studying for those. I was throwing extra words at him in the car, once we got tired of the words in the booklet. Truth to tell, there were several words in the booklet that we never got around to quizzing him on because none of us could even pronounce them, let alone give him a definition. So in the car I just came up with words that I thought were tricky: crustacean, coagulate, sesquicentennial, expeditious.

When we got to the council’s headquarters, it was not quite as elaborate as we expected. They had fifty or so chairs set up for the audience, only about 12 of which were filled. There were 12 chairs for the competitors, but only 8 came. A few kids were there without anyone there to watch them. We had made Mathboy wear khakis, but most of the kids were in jeans.

Because there were only 8 kids, each round only took about a minute. One kid was out in the 2nd round, another in the 3rd, another in the 4th. In the fifth round, Mathboy was asked to spell “nauseous,” and that is where his night ended. He knows very well how to spell it, but he had a brain freeze. As he explained it to us later, he heard “nauseous,” but his brain started thinking “noxious,” so he started “N, O….” And then he stopped, because he knew he had screwed up. He told the judges that he knew he was wrong and that he saw no reason to continue. So that was that.

To his credit, Mathboy took defeat very well and with grace. We were very proud of him, because we knew he wanted it bad. His friend from school went on to win the whole shebang in a couple more rounds, with “smorgasbord.” His friend actually looked as if he were a little embarrassed that he won—it was almost as if he couldn’t help but win. I am pretty sure he didn’t try that hard; he just knows how to spell and how to handle himself under pressure. It was kind of funny, actually. We ended up giving him and his trophy a ride home—his parents hadn’t stayed to watch.

It was one of those situations where nothing really goes the way you expect. I thought the spelling bee was a big deal, but most of the kids certainly didn’t act as if it was and it was the same with the parents. I was surprised at how quickly it was over. All told, the actual spelling bee took less time than all the other stuff took--the explanation of the rules, the opening welcoming speech from the KoC grandmaster and his closing remarks combined took much longer. It was over so quick I even forgot to take a picture.

The actual spelling bee only had 8 rounds, I think, which goes pretty darn quickly with less than 10 kids. I was amazed at how quickly these kids went down—the first kid was out with “subsidy,” for which he needed a definition. The second kid was out with “follicle.” These kids were supposed to be the best spellers from their schools. It was very weird.

The title of this post comes from the two words that my kids will never misspell again. "Nauseous" was Mathboy's downfall last night, but "skeleton" was the one that did Catgirl in during her class spelling bee last week. She knows that word, she just mixed up her letters when she was spelling it out loud. Both kids are so supremely confident of their spelling abaility; it is interesting that they were both tripped up by words they knew how to how to spell. I am proud of them both. They did not do as well as they expected of themselves, but they have handled their disappointments well. I am grateful for the lessons they learned from this. Sometimes you really can learn more from failure than from success.

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