Monday, June 2, 2014

Spelling Bee Stings

This must be spelling bee season, because I've seen several reports lately of competitions. I found an article indicating that two co-champions had been declared in the national competition, after they exhausted the word list and both spelled "feuilleton" correctly.

When these news reports come on TV, I usually lunge for the remote to turn it off as I would an annoying commercial. My single experience of spelling bees wasn't very happy, though it was nearly fifty years ago and I seldom remember it until reminded.

My mom invested a lot of her emotional well-being in me and my accomplishments, and sometimes she got it into her head that I should do more, ostensibly to make her more proud. Up till the last year of her life, she lamented aloud that she wish I could've taken art lessons, because I was such a good drawer. I didn't want to take art lessons, but that was never the point; I should've wanted to because she wanted it.

Anyway, when I was in fifth grade, she got me into a regional spelling bee because she thought I was such a good speller. I was a good speller. But I'm not a competitive person, generally, and I felt like she was spoiling something I liked to do on my own. (I read something recently about a person who, as a kid, liked to drink tabasco sauce, which became so exaggerated in importance that family members started giving her tabasco sauce as gifts and wanted to see her drink. The person wished the subject had never come up.)

The spelling bee was at the memorably named Raccoon District School near Centralia, IL. I practiced and practiced and did the best I could, but I didn't get far into the competition. Mom was disappointed, but my fifth grade teacher thoughtfully made sure I felt like I did my best.

Fortunately, unlike art lessons (and some other topics), it was something on which Mom didn't fixate as the years went by. She had unhappiness in her life. I feel like, if I dwell on things like this, I'm making the same mistake as she did: focusing too much on the things you wish were different about a loved one, and not celebrating the wonderful things. We feel our loved ones' shortcomings more keenly because they're so close to us, and those shortcomings may be our own, too.

The spelling bee nonsense gave me a preview of later lessons: celebrate and do the things you're good at; you can still value the things you're not good at; value people's opinions but don't follow them to the point that you get into an awkward situation; don't think that someone can make up for the happiness that you lack in yourself; sometimes the people who drive you the craziest are the ones you miss the most when they're gone. "Life" is an easy word to spell, but a long, rich process to figure out.

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