“Mom! I made it. I’m in the spelling bee!” Number 1 was barely off the bus when he broke the news.
“Awesome! I was in the 5th grade spelling bee too, back in the day.” I replied.
“How did you do?” He prodded.
“This isn’t about me. Tell me more about your bee.”
As we trodded up our ridiculously long driveway, Number 1 proudly regaled me with the tale of how he brought orthographic fame to our family by securing one of the three spelling bee seats from his classroom. (Orthography-the conventional spelling system of a language. – Thanks Word-of-The-Day calendar.)
He was elated and I was in shock. My life has long been built around the mantra, “That’s why Jesus gave us spell check,” and his father is no orthographic star in either of his languages. (See that, I learned the word so I need to use it a few times. It’s not like orthography is something I can throw out daily, though I will try.) I have no clue how the offspring of such a union could be a spelling champ but the kid has aced every spelling test for the past couple years so clearly, orthography is his jam. (Seriously, I like that word.)
A few days later he came home with a packet of words that would be used and instructions for parents to come watch. I arranged to leave my school and sneak over to his for the event and began to nag him about studying the words. “I will Mom, I will.” Five days later, two days before the epic spelling bee, he remembered to look over the word list.
“Quiz me Mom?” He requested and because I’m both an overbearing Turkish mother by training and a teacher, I was all over that like hot butter on a pancake. We made it through the first column on the A’s and it wasn’t going well. By the next column on the B’s it was getting ugly and the C’s were an epic disaster. “I don’t know what’s happening. Why can’t I spell?”
I thought of possible explanations, alien abduction, brain sucking amoeba, a sudden and unexpected vengeance by his parental spelling genes, lots of things were possible. But I could sense his growing panic so I opted for pedestrian logic, “You might just be tired. Let’s work on it at breakfast.” Thankfully, he bought it.
At 6:00 a.m. while SportsCenter murmured in the background, we hit the list again.
“Physicist. Sheldon Cooper is a physicist.”
“P-y-s-i-c-i-s-t-s” He answered.
“Nope. Forgot the h.”
After about 4 more like that I saw the ship was sinking. There was no way he was going to master the packet of 300 words before the next day so I took a different approach, confidence building. “You know these, you’re just putting too much pressure on yourself.”
Reluctantly, he agreed. “Maybe you’re right Mom.”
I also thought it was time to share my 5th grade spelling bee tale of woe. “It was the spring of 1983 and I had a tragic, tragic mullet. I’d hoped to look like Joan Jett but I looked more like Joe Dirt.”
“Mom, what does this have to do with me?”
“Can it kid. We’re going in a time warp so ride along. I wore my best JC Penny jeans from their Pretty Pluss collection, polished my Earth Shoes and donned a brand new pink and mint green polo- collar with the collar popped, of course. I’d practiced my wordlist a million times and I was ready. I was going to bust that bee wide open. The stage facing a gym full of parents and the rest of Lincoln Middle School, was a bit unnerving but I was a winner. I sat on a metal folding chair in Row 2, poised on the edge of greatness. The first round was simple. The 30 of us on stage whizzed through round one words. Round 2 was equally easy and then it was my turn. I approached Mr. Renaud at the podium and prepared for my word. From behind his huge, early 80’s mustache he said, “Biscuit. Your word is biscuit.”
Easy-peasy. I loved me some biscuits fresh from the tube so I could nail this. “B-i-s-c-u-t, biscuit.”
“I’m sorry. That is incorrect.”
Hubba whaaaaaat? Wrong? I felt the redness fill my face as I took the walk of shame back to Row 2. Then I had to sit there, brooding in humiliation until Barbra Knowles took the title a full 700 rounds later. (Ok, maybe it was like 25 but it seemed like 700.)”
“Cool story Mom but what does this have to do with me?” My ingrate son asked.
“I’m just saying that no matter how hard you prepare it’s still luck of the draw. You might be completely ready but nerves take over and it’s done. But you know what? To this day I have never forgotten the word that did me in and I will always know how to spell biscuit.”
The next morning he woke up a nervous wreck and begged me not to come to the spelling bee. “Mom, if you come I’ll be even more nervous. Can we just call it good?”
Unknown to him I’d already arranged with another mom to have her take video in case I couldn’t get there so we were good. “Ok, but just remember, “Biscuit””
As I waved him away at the bus stop I again yelled, “BISCUIT!!!!”
Unfortunately, I received a text during period 2 that his reign was over. My darling offspring had also gone out on round 2. “Scenery” had brought him down. As he got off the bus I was ready to cheer him up. I had made a pitcher of conciliatory lemonade and was prepared to bribe him with an offer to jump on the trampoline with him. (Yes, this big busted mother loves her son enough to risk 2 black eyes from jumping if it would cheer him up.)
As soon as he got off the bus I exclaimed, “Scenery is your biscuit!”
Looking over his shoulder to make sure no one had heard, he whined, “MOOOOOM!”
“I saw the video and I’m sorry buddy. But now you understand my story right?”
“Not really Mom, I was kinda glad I got out early. I was so nervous.”
I continued trying to validate his performance, “Maybe you didn’t hear the word right. It’s a tough word.”
“Nah.” He brushed me off. “I heard. I just screwed up.”
It was becoming clear I was more upset about this ordeal than he was and perhaps that was due to my painful ‘83 flashback. “We all have our biscuits and now you have your biscuit too.”
He looked at me. “Mom, I’m going to need you to stop saying that.”
“Saying what?” I asked.
“Anything with the words your and biscuit. I think it means something other than what you think it means.”
As I snorted in uncontrollable laughter I agreed. Maybe talk of biscuits was best left out of conversations with one’s tween son. But I will continue to hold it in my pocket for the next time he’s upset, “Remember son, we all have a biscuit.” or if he’s sassy in the presence of friends and needs a little embarrassment to keep him in check, “Son, how about you tell your friends about your biscuit?”
Because we all have our biscuits, what matters is how you handle it.