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Phoebe's Bee

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yesterday morning, while Bill was waiting at the end of our driveway for the bus to pick Phoebe up, she told him that all her friends were asking her when she was going to get a PlayStation. "You can tell them it'll happen on the Twelfth of Never," Bill answered. He pointed out to Phoebe that she reads real books, draws, hikes in the woods, plays basketball, and was about to compete in a spelling bee--all pursuits that might be endangered or negated by such a purchase. NEVAHHH!
The spelling bee was last night. The list of words Phoebe and I had been drilling all week was barely scratched. Nobody had to spell polarimetric, waterloo, knightess, bioturbation, or sniggle.
It was clear to me that the kids all knew how to spell the words. What got in their way was nerves. And it was equally clear that many parents had a lot more invested in this than might be expected. The teachers and school principal were doing their best to be fair to the kids, giving them a break here and there, to loud comments from some of the parents. "Do you people even know what you're doing up there?" one father snorted. There were two lengthy disputes, which had to be settled by playing the tape recording of the word just spelled. I was amazed. It was just an elementary school spelling bee! You'd think that each child eliminated from a round were going to be thrown directly into a rattlesnake pit. Most contestants left the stage crying. Yiiikes.
Of course, I loved the whole event, for mostly the wrong reasons. There was drama, there were uncomfortable silences, there were murderous glances, there were charged particles flying around. Yessss! Real human drama is so hard to come by. Most of us color in the lines like good pupils. These parents were baaaad!
Despite forgetting the c in punctual, Phoebe eventually won the fourth grade division. Whoopee! She got a pencil, a ribbon, and an unbelievably homely trophy (show me a beautiful elementary school trophy, I dare you!) But she loves it, and that's the point.
. She got a little boost to her self-confidence, and I learned to cackle--no--sniggle-- silently. Liam was less than amused. "Fee, can I have your trophy?" he pleaded.
When she demurred, he plopped down in a chair, saying, "I hate fourth graders. They get all the trophies, and all the pizza parties, and kindergartners get garbage."

We left in a hurry for the 7 p.m. spelling bee, leaving our dinner plates on the table. Phoebe was too nervous to finish her turkey burger and lima beans. While we were gone, somebody else was coloring out of the lines. Any guesses who??


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