Desperado.

I live for spelling bees.

I only participated in one when I was a kid, but I remember relishing the thrill of competition. I’m also a fairly good speller (except for the word dilemma) and would greatly appreciate it if my children would join me in that vital pursuit.

Last year was Ali’s first round of spelling bees. We have a school spelling bee (just our homeschool cover school), and then the Birmingham District Homeschooling spelling bee. In Ali’s first ever spelling bee as a third grader (spelling bees are for 1-8th grade – so clearly I forgot what I lived for two years in a row), she placed 1st in her grade and 4th in the school and was elated at her achievement, even though she was one spot away from a cash prize. She decided she wanted to work even harder for the district bee, truly hoping to grab a cash prize. But alas, the district spelling bee’s Round One started in words past where we’d studied, and so she was out on round one, along with over half the kids that participated.

As soon as the spelling sheets came out for this school year, we began studying. We made it through all 450 words a few times through before the first bee, challenging my pronunciation abilities and forcing me to use the audio feature of dictionary.com to learn words such as a posteriori, recherche, netsuke (pronounced netskee), and more. And then there were the long words that were a delight to say, such as prestidigitation and supererogation. We loosely knew them all, but alas – Ali was self-admittedly too confident as a mature 4th grader, and spelled out of the school spelling bee at 5th place.

We trudged through the holidays, spelling and re-spelling reveille and sanctum sanctorum, in preparation for the district bee. I wasn’t super confident in her readiness for the harder spelling bee, but I encouraged her to go slow, picture the word in her head, and GO SLOW. The district bee was important, after all. The winners of that bee progressed toward Nationals.

The top three winners of the district bee get to go to the “Homeschool County” bee – there are 67 counties in Alabama, but homeschoolers don’t get to compete in their county bee – they all get thrown into the same pot called Homeschool County, then winners of the 67 real counties and the one imaginary Homeschool County compete against each other in the State Bee. I enjoy imagining what Homeschool County is like, and often find myself daydreaming about it…the stores lining the streets would include Denim Jumpers R Us and Minivan Superstore, the “playgrounds” would just be circular seating arrangements of children reciting the U.S. constitution in Latin, and all food inside county boundaries would be required to be gluten free and devoid of any devilish red dye.

(But I digress.)

My heart began beating heavily as soon as we entered the room for the district bee. My hands were shaking. I decided I needed to busy them so as to not take on more nervousness on behalf of my daughter. So I took her picture.

IMG_3905She unwittingly chose the only long skirt she had – it was SO Homeschool County of her. The sequins on her shirt, however, would definitely get her thrown into Homeschool County Jail. Where she could keep me company during my incarceration for having purple hair.

According to the seating arrangement, Ali was the third to last speller, and since I couldn’t take pictures of her to busy myself, I decided I’d write down every word used, match them against our study sheets, and see if all the words did indeed come from the 450 we tried our best to memorize. There had also been extra sheets of challenge words – some we’d briefly gone over – but 450 words is really an undertaking. Who has time to look at a dozen more sheets?

I began writing with each student, and then texting updates to Chris and a couple other friends waiting with bated breath (or wishing I’d quit texting them.) I created a system – dots on the left meant the student got the word wrong and was therefore out. I put Ali’s word in a square, and dots on the right meant the word had a homonym and therefore had its definition read with the word (during the last spelling bee, we the spectators had played “Who can figure out what the homonym is?” – a game that is harder than you might imagine.)

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Thankfully, the moderator started with much easier words this year. As soon as the first word was read, Ali looked back at me and smiled. There would be no Round One elimination for her this year.

The rounds kept going and Ali continued to spell correctly.

Round 7 was the frightening round – the one where the moderators took a minute to discuss amongst themselves, then shuffle papers – I knew they were going off-script. We had finished with the word list and were headed into uncharted territories.

With each new unstudied word, I just knew Ali would be out.

But then she spelled tortilla and popularity. My heart burst with spelling pride.

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There were only five students left by round 9, and Ali was giving then word “Hogan”, except that it was pronounced “hog-on”, and I didn’t even know how to spell it. Surely this would be the end. Ali paused, having no idea what a Hogan was (nor did I), and wisely asked for a definition.

“a Navajo Indian dwelling constructed of earth and branches and covered with mud or sod. It can also be pronounced ‘hogan.’”

Oh, this was the breakthrough Ali needed. Would she opt for guessing “hogan” or “hogon”?

She went with Hogan. And was right.

She made it through round 10, miraculously spelling acronym.

The field was now down to 4 – it started at 29 spellers. This was crazy. She was on a roll.

Then she was given the word Desperado.

She’d never heard it before, and after a moment of thinking, she spelled it desperoto.

She was out, officially 4th place, just two rounds before the bee was over.

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She and I were both shocked and excited that she’d made it so far, and not at all disappointed that we didn’t get to visit the magical land of Homeschool County as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers did. We quickly decided that 4th place was “The first place of No More Studying”, and celebrated by car-dancing to Spotify on the way home – something that’s surely not allowed in Homeschool County.

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And, for what it’s worth, when it comes to Desperado, Ali and I unanimously concur that Rihanna does it best.

The Inner Poet.

My daughter is the epitome of a cheerful optimist.

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She is nearly always happy, always pointing out the beautiful and amazing things around her, and is constantly looking to thank me for something or state how much she enjoys whatever it is we’re doing right then.

“Thanks for taking us on this run, Mom. I love running!”

“Doing laundry is the best, Mom. Thanks for letting me do it!”

“Thank you for allowing me to clean this toilet, mom. It’s so fantastic!”

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Although I appreciate her enthusiasm, because I’m a cynic at heart, I sometimes suspect that her cheery disposition is actually rooted deeply in her people-pleasing-oldest-child-personality and then multiplied by opportunism to capitalize on her little brother’s general lack of cheery disposition (and his being told to quit whining and/or arguing approximately once a second) in order to differentiate herself as The Favorite Child.

I believe this because the whinier he is, the cheerier she is. The more he says he hates something, the more she says she loves it.

It’s as if he left his lunch money in her room and she’s perfectly happy to collect interest on it.

But maybe I’m reading too much into her personality. Maybe she somehow missed all of my genetics and is genuinely the nicest person that ever lived.

Or maybe, deep down, she’s as cynical as I am. And is just WERKING it.

“Thanks for this English assignment, Mom. I LOVE writing acrostic poetry!”

Those are words that Ali spoke last week. Those words definitely never came out of my mouth, as I despise all forced attempts at rhyming or rhythm, mainly because I’m absolutely horrible at it. Like seriously – cannot write a rhyming verse to save my life. Additionally, I hated every English book and class that I ever knew. One time I loathed my English book so badly that I asked my Mom if I could finish the entire book that day and not do English for the rest of the year. She said yes, and I happily obliged.

(I didn’t learn much English that year, but I’ve managed to figure out the basics of the language in spite of my self-administered mini-term.)

But Chris is an excellent song-writer, so I thought that perhaps Ali has her father’s talent and love for the art.

She handed me her poem with excitement and glow.

“I wrote my acrostic poem about winter! Don’t you love it? It was fun to try and start all the lines with the letters W-I-N-T-E-R.”

I read her poem.

I giggled.

I read it again.

I giggled some more.

“It’s amazing, honey. Simply. Amazing.”

And at that moment I knew, deep down, in the places she doesn’t like to talk about, Ali had a hidden dark side, just like her mother.

Because Ali’s poem sounded just like April Ludgate had written it, and is best read with her fantastic monotone delivery.

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You go, Ali.

Keep being sunshiny and positive on the outside, but enjoy your Inner Evil Poet as well.

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The Politics of Poop.

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Noah has decided, with certainty, that he is a once-a-week pooper. He informs people this at random, and they are more educated for it.

But when that once a week time slot comes along, he’s as dramatic as 100 senators complaining about each other.

“I’m gonna need twenty minutes. Do we have twenty minutes?”

“No – we have to leave in 15 minutes.”

“That’s not gonna work!!!!”

Then when he’s in there…

“UUUUUUUUUGH!!!! AAAAAAAAAARGH!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEERN!!!”

And toward the end….

“I HAAAAATE WIPING. WHY WON’T YOU WIPE FOR ME ANYMORE???”

Growing up is the worst.

But Tuesday night he launched his most comprehensive bathroom campaign yet.

Of course the urge hit him up right in the middle of dinner, right after he’d finished eating everything he wanted to eat and right before he was forced to eat what he didn’t want to eat. His need to pass a new bill showed up just in time to conveniently filibuster dinner.

He disappeared to the bathroom, and we had time to finish our dinner, explain to Ali a full understanding of the three branches of government, watch the pre-show, the SCOTUS pick, and the post-show, all while Noah was commode camping.

(With various yells, groans, and sounds from the senate chamber interspersed into our dialogue.)

At 37 minutes, Chris got a bit fed up.

“What are you DOING in there??”

“What I always do in here…”

“What’s taking so long?”

“Pooping…”

“Did you actually poop or are you just sitting there?”

“I pooped…but it’s taking FOREVER to wipe.”

“You need to hurry up – you still have to eat your dinner!”

“Okay…”

“You’re wasting all your playtime in there – you know that, right?”

“Okay…”

Chris went upstairs to get a shower. Ali went upstairs to read Harry Potter.

At the 60 minute mark, Noah emerged with a deep sigh.

“Where did everyone go? To bed? Is it bedtime??”

“Go eat your dinner.”