On Becoming a Spelling Bee Drama Queen.

We Callahans like Spelling Bees. There’s something so…objective about spelling, and yet so very challenging as well, because English is stupid. Every year at the beginning of the school year, I check the Scripps site daily for the release of the year’s list of 450 words. Because you can never be too early in starting your study process. 

And process is exactly what we have. I call out the words, the kids spell them, I write down (twice) the words they miss – once in my notebook, and once in theirs. They rewrite and study from their notebooks, and I use my notebook the next day to review the words they missed, then call out another batch of words. At the beginning of the year, the process is taxing on me, because Noah is an agonizingly slow speller. So I leave myself plenty of margin for what I call Patience Doodles – a skill every homeschool parent needs in spades.

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After five months of practice on the 450 words plus the extra word lists, it was time for the Homeschool County Spelling Bee. In Alabama, there are 67 counties – except when spelling bees are involved, in which there are 68. Each county has a county bee for public and private schools, but all homeschoolers in the state are shoved into Homeschool County.

(Which, as with previous years, I spent much time pondering what Homeschool County would look like, if it were an actual geographical location. So many Chick-Fil-As. The thrift stores are full of denim skirts from homeschool days past. The hair length is three times the national average. Every car has a CC sticker on it. And the entire county absolutely REEKS of Lavender and Thieves.)

This was our first time participating in Homeschool County, because in years past, we’ve had Regional bees, from which the top three go to Homeschool County. Two years ago, Ali got fourth place in Regional  (or, as we like to call it, First Place of No More Studying), but we’d never broken through to Homeschool County before. But this year, they cancelled regionals and compiled us all into Homeschool County, meaning that Ali and Noah would both get their chance to shine.

This was the first bee we’d participated in that was on a Saturday, which meant that Chris would get his first experience as Spelling Bee Dad. I explained to him beforehand that though the bee starts at 1pm, expect a lengthy amount of time set aside for explaining the rules. It’s best to be prepared for such things, and as he told me later, about halfway through the rules, he was super glad I’d warned him.

One of the rules is about an appeal. It’s always given as an aside, with a “we really hardly ever need these, and I haven’t seen an appeal in years, but if you find yourself needing to make an appeal on behalf of your student, go to the back and get an appeal form.”

Every time she states this rule I have a picture in my mind of Appeal Mom. She’s a total stage mom, the kind that yells at the teacher when her kid gets into legitimate trouble, and who is always convinced that everyone is out to wrong her kid. I mentally shake my head at her obnoxious entitlement. Good thing she doesn’t exist in Homeschool County.

We began the bee. As always, I wrote down every word with my own legend attached to it. The only reason I do all of this paperwork is to keep my own jitters at bay, my hands from shaking, and my heart rate down. Writing soothes me and keeps my stomach from cramping when it’s time for my kid to spell again. Oh – and I mark the homonyms because I like playing the game “what in the world is a homonym to that word?” in my head. One must have coping mechanisms.

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(Yes, I misspelled homonym the first time I wrote it on my legend. Yes, Chris caught it and giggled silently at me.)

Spelling bees are for first through eighth graders, all grades together. Noah, being in second grade, had only made it through studying the first 250 words. He spoke confidently and accurately, though, and was doing quite well. When it got to round five, I whispered to Chris “this is probably Noah’s last round.” But no – he spelled cardboard correctly, cheering me at the fact that he got as far as he possibly could have based on what he’d learned. As expected, he spelled out in the next round, came and sat down beside me and whispered “We never studied gangrene!!” 

Ali was still going strong. She had memorized all 450 words, and had studied quite diligently into the extra word lists as well. But I was still nervous – because panic and accidental mistakes are easy to make.

By round nine, there were only six spellers left. When it was her turn, she was given the word tetrarch. My eyes widened. My brain began spinning. I definitely did not remember that word on the lists. And I could tell she didn’t either. She asked for the definition. She quietly thought. And, completely without surprise to me, she spelled it incorrectly – tetrark. 

She came to sit down and I whispered, “Do you remember that word?” “No!” 

I did a mental checklist of all of the other words in the round. All the other words were straight off the word list, right around the 400s. I scanned the 300s and 400s. There was no tetrarch.

I had Chris re-scan them. He couldn’t find tetrarch. 

And, before I could consider my actions, I stood up and walked to the back of the room to get an appeal form.

The room let up an audible gasp. Or maybe it wasn’t audible. Maybe I just felt the mental gasp from everyone in the room.

Chris later admitted that he was shocked at my sudden turn into Appeal Mom, and had a Hamilton moment as he watched me gear up for my first duel…

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I whispered to the official that tetrarch wasn’t on the word list, but we clearly weren’t “off-list” yet (what happens when the 450 words are used up), as all the other words that round had been on the word list – I knew since I wrote them all down. She agreed that I should fill out an appeal form.

I did, and at the end of round ten, the pronouncer called me up to see my appeal form. I explained. She did a search on her computer and showed me where tetrarch was: Word #408. There it was, right there, on her computer screen.

I walked back to my seat and pulled out my folder again, and they started up round eleven. I found the right page and began scanning. 

And this is what I found:

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I DID NOT HAVE A WORD FOUR OH EIGHT.

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How even.

What even.

It just was not there.

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Without thinking, I stood up and walked to the back of the room. For an unprecedented, nay historic SECOND APPEAL.

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I took my laminated word list with me. The official, as I was, was dumbfounded. 

At the end of the eleventh round, upon seeing my Double Appeal Mom behavior, the pronouncer called for a ten minute break. The crush of guilt and shame at somehow becoming THAT mom overwhelmed me. So I very apologetically showed her my word sheet. She added herself to the count of dumbfounded individuals. I told her that I understood that too many rounds had gone by to let Ali back in, and would be fine with whatever they decided.

There was ten minutes of deliberation. Much discussion. Much look at that missing #408.

While we waited, Ali was both excited about being out and excited about being put back in, as she had a basketball game right after the spelling bee, and if she were out, she’d be on time. I asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and tell them not to worry with it? You can be done…” She looked at me like I was crazy. “NO WAY!!! I want back in if I can get in!!”

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And they decided that, since this was a Scripps Spelling Bee and that clearly Scripps had made a mistake, Ali should be allowed back in – but that she had to spell two words correctly, for rounds ten and eleven, to earn her spot. They explained it very well to the whole crowd, so that there were no misunderstandings as to why they were making an exception to the rule. She finished up her explanation with “And if you have a problem with this, don’t bother to appeal – you can only appeal for your own speller.” 

Boom.

Then,

“No pressure, Ali. Are you ready?”

I sat on my hands.

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She spelled her first word flawlessly. 

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But then her second word. Oh, her second word. 

This time, it was all my fault.

You see, I always look up the pronunciations of words that I don’t know, of which there are always plenty, like mille-feuille and recherché and netsuke. But if it’s a word I do know, and I’ve been pronouncing all my life, it doesn’t occur to me that I might be wrong. (And, for the record, I’m wrong a lot. So many words are “reading only” words and I find out years later that I’ve been saying them incorrectly in my head all my life.)

Her second word was Phaeton.

Go ahead – pronounce it mentally.

Did you pronounce it fay-TON?

Well, you’re doing it wrong.

The pronouncer pronounced it FAY-uh-tun.

Which, when spoken aloud, sounds nothing like fay-TON.

I cursed myself for my mispronunciation.

I cursed myself for not telling Ali “Now, your mother is a serial mispronouncer. If anyone says a word you’ve never heard, search your memory for other spelling words that are KIND OF like it to see if perhaps your mother has mispronounced it wrong all her life.”

And, as expected, she did not spell it correctly.

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So not only was I Double Appeal Mom, but I followed that up by being Hijacker of my Own Daughter’s Success Mom. If only there were a bee for that.

Epilogue:

…Ali was just relieved that she made it through the Spelling Bee without any (of her own) dumb mistakes, and she made it to her basketball game happily free of Spelling Bee anxiety.
…I was relieved when our beloved Spelling Club leader, Miss Melissa, got home and immediately checked her own word lists and also found that she was missing Word #408.
…And next year, we’ll definitely use those Scripps recordings for
ALL word pronunciations.
…Last night, Chris and I were watching a British Drama after bed. They referenced their fay-TON. I screamed “fay-TON!! fay-
TON!!! I’m just British, you see!!!” – it did not help regain anyone’s Spelling Bee Glory, but it also didn’t wake up any children, so we’ll call it a win.

The Ballad of Nearly Headless Noah, or How to Give a Kid Hair Stitches.

I have paranoid, careful children.

They get it from their father.

I mean, while growing up my family made fun of me for being too paranoid, but next to Chris, I’m basically tightroping across Niagara Falls every dang day.

Having such a careful family does much to mitigate our injuries.

(Other than mine, as I am not as careful when I sleepwalk. But that’s been a while, so there’s that.)

But every now and then, things go awry. And if things are going to go awry, of course they’re going to go awry at bedtime. Such was the case a few Saturday nights ago.

Noah was quite hyper right around bedtime. He was acting the fool in our bedroom while Chris and I were laying in bed taking a moment to zone out before the time came to put the kids in bed. 

…And we were doing the same after the time came to put the kids to bed – because bedtime is Chris’ job and sometimes Chris lets the kids stay up late.

(So obviously, we know who to blame for the forthcoming catastrophe.)

Noah fell purposefully on the (carpeted) floor laughing, but his laughs quickly turned into screams. It took me a couple wails to realize the changeover had occurred, at which time I hopped out of bed and sat down to comfort him, assuming it was just another one of those bumps.

It also took me a minute to notice that his head was bleeding. Somewhat profusely. Not quite dripping-on-the-carpet profusely, but definitely at the level of I-can’t-begin-to-tell-where-you’re-injured profusely. Apparently, his head had found the corner of the rocking chair when in downward motion.

There’s always one parent that is panicky in a crisis, and one parent that becomes more calm in a crisis. In my experience, the Panicky In A Crisis Parent is also the Let The Kids Stay Up Late Parent. So I took over the situation of calming the child and the husband and giving the husband jobs to do to keep him from bashing himself on the head repeatedly for not putting the children to bed two minutes earlier.

(The PIAC parent also constantly analyzes and optimizes every situation to mitigate unnecessary risk, while the CIAC parent has taken all of the ER trips in our 18 years of marriage (dang you, sleepwalking and avocado), so personal experience in a crisis helps.)

I waited until the crying subsided, checked for any signs of concussion (it was obviously a flesh wound and his brain was in proper working condition), ordered a comb be brought to me from my panicky servant, and carefully combed the hair away from the general bloody area, desperately trying to find the offending fault line.

I still couldn’t tell.

I took a picture of the now neater-brushed but still quite bloody head and texted it to two friends: a Pediatrician (that just so happened to be working in Children’s ER at that moment), and a nurse, hoping that one would check out my bloody pictures and tell me whether it was an ER-Worthy head bleed or not.

The Pediatrician called. He confirmed that there were no signs of concussion and said that he thought I could handle it with a bit of careful braiding (“Braiding??” I said, thinking of my son’s short and fine hair, and he said “Well, knotting would work.” Yes, as if that makes it easier.), but he was going to need to see the depth of the wound first – which meant I was going to have to wash that head.  

Thankfully, Noah had calmed down from the initial shock, and was even calmer still at the realization that me handling it saved him from the ER, so was impressively amenable to his head being flushed in the sink. He watched as the bright pink water went down the drain, adding his own squeamish commentary.

“OH! That is DISGUSTING!! That is the NASTIEST water EVER!!”

Wash,

Rinse,

More combing,

Another round of iPhone pictures and texts.

Yes, the Pediatrician definitely thought the cut was such that hair stitches could hold it in place.

“We even do them in the ER sometimes. You just take a little bit of hair from either side of the cut and tie it together. It helps if the hair is coarser…but try it and see what you think.”

So I sat in the floor with my son, carefully grabbing tiny tufts of his silky fine hair from each side of his bleeding brain crevasse, and began tying them together, therefore forcing the two sides to come together and join as one. But the second I let go of the knots, no matter whether I single, double, or triple knotted them, they immediately unwound themselves, reopening the Canyon of Blood.

I knotted. I reknotted. I thought. I sighed. And, uncharacteristically, Noah found himself full of gratitude and encouragement.

He rubbed my arm and said “Thank you for trying to fix my head, Mommy. I know you can do it.”

This kid did NOT want to go the ER and endure real stitches.

Chris suggested bobby pins, and found my stash. As I suspected, they didn’t have enough grip. I dug around in my hair supplies and found two hair clips, but Noah didn’t have enough hair to keep those in place. So Chris fashioned a thickener of rolled-up toilet paper, which acted also as a blood mop, and we placed it across the sealed crack, pulling the two clips, holding the ends of my two hair stitches, in the opposite direction.

It. Was. Perfect.

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Now all we needed was a device to keep it from coming undone in the night. Because by now it was 10:30pm and we would very much like to see our son in bed.

We borrowed a cloth hairband from Ali, and our masterpiece was completed.

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We had medically cobbled together our son, ALL ON OUR OWN. Albeit with some incredibly helpful expert advice.

The next morning, all was still in place. Not wanting to disturb the lovely healing process going on under that TP, we left the contraption in place – despite it being Sunday – and stuck a beanie (with light-up Christmas lights – which is very distracting in January) on top of the whole contraption. And we threatened him within an inch of his life against any movement in Sunday School other than raising his hand to say “Yes ma’am”, “The Bible”, or “Jesus”.

At the recommendation of the doctor, Noah’s lifelong dream of not having to wash his hair came true (at least for a week), and then we resumed normal life, other than us calling him Nearly Headless Noah on the regular.

Last night, upon the fourth washing of his hair, I inspected the situation and discovered that the scab was fully separated from his head and just hanging out in his hair.

So I sat him down and began carefully removing it, then placing the bits of scab, entwined with clumps of hair, in his hand. He was not nearly as thankful as he had been that first night. 

“Why do I have to hold the scab? It’s disgusting!!”

“Because I don’t have another hand. But you know if you put the scab under your pillow, the scab fairy will come.”

“Why bother? I know it’s you.”

“What?? Do I LOOK like a scabby fairy?!”

“Well you’re the Tooth Fairy so you’ve gotta be the Scab Fairy too.”

“Have you ever noticed that pepperoni looks like a scab? We should call it scabbaroni.” 

I finally got it all out, then inspected my unbelievable, gorgeous, lovely, stunning work. He had a small pink scar, perfectly aligned, with no lumps or bumps. I was definitely ready to be a brain surgeon.

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So what did our family learn through this experience?

…Hair Stitches are amazing and will save you hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours in ER visits.

…Put the kids to bed on time so no one splits open a head.

…And Pepperoni Pizza is not a recommended meal right before removing scabs.

To see allll the pictures of the whole process, click here. Bloody pictures are only for people who like that sort of thing.

The Difference Between Girls and Boys.

My birthday was last week.

As always, I woke up to an array of handmade cards from the children. Every year, they’re getting more detailed in expressing their feelings.

Ali created this lovely card,

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With these even lovelier sentiments.

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And even drew me a bonus picture.

Ali birthday drawing IMG_0703See Mom, that’s Dad away from the nest working and bringing home food.
(Note: He does bring home a lot of takeout.)
And that’s you, staying home with us and homeschooling us.

She checked all the boxes of creating motherly affection and warm fuzzies. She should consider going professional, hiring her skills out to other children.

Because other children can tend to be….otherwise inclined.

Speaking of, then I opened Noah’s card.

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I asked him if the three-eyed monster was supposed to be a portrait of me.

He laughed.

Then told me the monster’s name was “Momster.”

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It’s good to have a variety of personalities in your house.

I think.