spelling bee woes

My 9-year old came home yesterday with the Spelling Bee list.  The Good Old Fashioned Spelling Bee list.  Eleven pages of words – over 400 of them in total.  Oh, how I wanted to tell him not to do it, but he seemed so intent on it, I had to keep my mouth shut.  While I love these competitions and think that they can do a kid a world of good, especially when they win, they are pressure cookers and I just don’t think they are necessary.  Now, that said – and here’s the real reason that I hesitate to jump up and down with excitement for him – I won the Spelling Bee (the very same one) 26 years ago.  And he knows it.  He is such a hard worker, such a little nerd, just like his mama, and I don’t want him to feel like he has to follow in my footsteps.  It kills me to think that I might have set a bar for him, rather than allow him to create his own bar.  When kids are driven to meet standards set by their parents, it’s so limiting.  And I just don’t want that.  The worst part is that I think this is one of those times when I don’t have a say.  I think I have to let him do this and hold my breath.  On the one hand, I almost don’t want him to win…  but on the other – if he is going to do it, I want him to win it.  I don’t ever want him to feel like he’s “not good enough”.

I cringe at the thought of people saying “following in your mother’s footsteps, I see” or “son, you are a true Cullen.”  My son doesn’t need me or any kind of comparison to me to be amazing – he is smart, gorgeous, talented, athletic, funny, and yes, a total bookworm (he is, after all, my son).  I want him to figure out on his own what goals he will set for himself, what he will fight for, and I want him to earn his own victories.  And it’s not that he hasn’t done so already.  He has overcome more challenges than I ever did at his age… from being the shyest boy in his class to one of three class “citizens” in third grade;  from convincing himself he’d never be an athlete to coming in first place at two Kung Fu competitions, and being part of the winning team of last year’s baseball season.  He has come so far… he doesn’t need to add the Spelling Bee to his list of victories.  But, if this is to be one of them, then let this be not a shadow of what was mine many years ago, but rather, his very own accomplishment.  He is his own incredible person and deserves to always be seen for what he has done – all on his own.

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Even as a child, I would study the unexpected turns in my life and try to find the lessons in them. I am nothing if not reflective. As an American citizen raised in Sao Paulo, Dallas and Madrid, I am a classic adult TCK*. Perspective is key, and I look at everything through multiple lenses. It used to make my son crazy when as a boy he would press me for a firm stance on something and I would often answer “well, that depends…” I am a thinker and learner, writer and story teller, counselor and coach. After almost of quarter of a century in k12 education, I am now on sabbatical, taking some time to breathe, reflect, dream, explore life’s many gifts, and write. When I was around 8 years old, I starting writing down my dreams and these turned into stories. I have been blogging since 2010, have published several articles about the need for change in how and what young people learn, and I am currently working on a couple of manuscripts. One is a collection of motivational essays for women leaders in international education which I am co-authoring with my friend and colleague, Debbie Lane. The other is more of a memoir, a personal story about love, sacrifice, and hope. Hope and gratitude are common themes in my writing, my work, and in my life in general. Everyone has a story to tell. Thank you for taking some time to explore mine. I hope you’ll come back. *A TCK is a third-culture kid, someone who has spent a significant number of their formative years outside of their passport country. It is an experience that typically has a profound impact on the development of self and identity.

One thought on “spelling bee woes

  1. GOD!! I can’t remember anything pumping up my adrenaline in a grade school classroom more than a Spelling Bee. My love of words, both spoken and on the page, has been profound since they first entered my life. I remember losing an impromptu spelling bee in about third grade, to Timothy Brewer with the word “island”. I can actually see where I stand in the room and where he is and his guffaw at my miss. Silent “s”s became an annoyance and obsession.

    The only think I liked better was story time when our teacher would read to us. I was always MES MER IZED. Oh please, just one more chapter, one more paragraph, one more… word.

    But Kim! you say your son is a bookworm too so it’s quite possible that this is an exciting personal challenge for him. It may be an extra bonus that his mother competed and won when she was a girl his age.

    I believe since you openly express concerns that he is following in your footsteps that it should therefore be of no concern. (i would italicize those last two words if i knew how) You aren’t hanging it above his head – this is what I did you must do the same or better.

    What I love is that you even CARE enough to share a blog with us about it.

    Thanks & Love


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