Juggling Fire

S-O-M-E-body is Sad Today

I just returned from the girls’ first competitive spelling bee. It was gut-wrenching.

Our poor little Justine, who has been reading and spelling on two levels higher than her age since she was born (ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but she is a smart little cookie), was the first to get the dreaded bell ding. And when I say she was the first to go, I don’t mean of my girls, I mean of the whole lot of 40 spellers.

My poor baby stood up confidently to that microphone, after hearing four other competitors spell words like “away” and “paper,” to hear the homonym “some” said over the loud speaker.

I could see her brain twirling: “Is it ‘sum’ or ‘some?’”

As the announcer read the definition, which I’m pretty sure came straight from the pages of the Oxford Second-Level Scholars edition (or something equivalent and real that I didn’t just make up), I was wondering the same thing: “Is it ‘sum’ or ‘some’”? I, the writer and English minor, was as befuddled as my little fourth-grader.

I urged her through my mental telepathy, “Ask the announcer to use it in a sentence! Ask for a sentence!”

But my brave soldier of words forgot she could do that. Plus, I think she was thinking the same thing I was, “Surely to Pete the first word I have to spell is not as simple as ‘some.’”

So she spelled S-U-M, and the bell dinged. And she walked off the stage and sat down, alone, on the front row of that great big auditorium.

I waited a minute. I wanted to meet her on the first step of the stage, take her in my arms, and whisk her away to the drug store for an ice cream cone. Instead, I let her sit down, gave her a few seconds to catch her breath, and walked to the front row of the auditorium and sat down beside her.

She laid her sweet and salty little blonde head on my shoulder and let out the sobs she desperately was trying to hold in. My eyes welled up, too.

Jaynee got out the next round, after successfully spelling the word “jar” in the first round. She mucked up the word “totally” in round two, shrugged her shoulders, and found her place amongst the growing rows miss-spellers. She never counted on winning. She likes numbers not words. But Justine, she had envisioned walking out of the National Spelling Bee a grand champion ever since she brought that spelling bee contest note home in early December.

I had those same dreams of grandeur when I was her age. My friend Misti and I would study for weeks before the annual bee.

In fifth grade, the word “ravenous” took me out. In sixth grade, “coax” became my nemesis.

I was lucky enough to rarely ever see those words in print. I’m sure for Justine, however, the word “some” will never look like an innocent adjective again.


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