Thursday, June 19, 2014

One Year Later: Throwback Thursday

I guess I should say something about this.

Today marks one full year we've been in Arkansas.

On June 17th, 2013, we stayed up well into the early hours of the 18th finalizing our packing - re-weighing all our suitcases, re-evaluating WHAT we packed, double checking all our documents, and eating chicken pakora and drinking Diet Irn Bru with family: Kate, Faisal, Adam, Andy and Marion. The girls slept on the one mattress still in our house. Jaguar, Scott and I slept on the floor on blankets getting taken the next day to the charity shop. The only things in the house besides that mattress and our suitcases were a few boxes of things to be delivered by Scott's parents to various places the next day and a few boxes of things the family was keeping for us until we would be able to bring it over to America at a later date.

On June 18th, 2013, Scott and I, our three kids, and Scott's mum Marion drove early to the airport with Scott's Dad, Kate, Faisal and Adam. We ate overpriced bagels in a coffee shop at the airport. We cried and hugged and said our last goodbyes. We boarded the plane and flew to America.

We should've arrived in Arkansas that night, but our flight had a problem. There were massive thunderstorms in Philadelphia, our port of entry. Our plane circled for a few nauseating turbulent hours, before running low on fuel. We were redirected to Baltimore to refuel, where we sat in an un-air conditioned plane on a hanger for an hour and a half, not knowing what was happening, everyone panicking about their connections. Fifinally we flew back to Philadelphia to an empty airport. Everyone who missed connections were given hotel and food vouchers.

We, however, with our twelve suitcases, had to wait for another hour or so in that empty airport, with staff giving us odd, suspicious looks, while Scott went through his Port of Entry Immigration procedure. Fifinally, he emerged from the immigration room with the final stamp of approval from the US government and a green card, and we lugged our suitcases and children (thank goodness Marion was traveling with us!) out to the curb to wait for a shuttle to take us to the hotel. We had to get twelve suitcases onto the tiny shuttle. It was almost midnight EST, which was 6am our body clocks' time. We'd been awake for over 24 hours.

We got to the hotel and unloaded twelve suitcases. We checked in. We took twelve suitcases up the elevator and rolled them down the hall to our two rooms, where we had to fit them all. Scott and I ordered dinner for everyone, our food vouchers barely covering the price of even half our meals. A glass of wine was almost $10. We managed to crawl in bed around 1am. We had to wake up at 4am to catch the shuttle to the airport to board our newly booked flights.

Three hours later, on June 19th, 2013, we woke up and rolled twelve suitcases down the hall, down the elevator, out the door and back onto a tiny shuttle. We took twelve suitcases and three children off the shuttle and into the airport where we waited in the check-in line. The woman did not have proof that we had purchased those six extra cases and thank heavens I'd shoved the receipt from the day before into my handbag, or she'd have made us pay another $600 to get them on the flight. We boarded a flight to Little Rock, Arkansas.

At about 10am, we arrived in our new home state. My mom and step-dad were waiting for us. With two extra adults to help us, we loaded twelve suitcases, three children and five adults into two cars. We pulled into my parents' driveway. We talked for a few minutes and then fell fast asleep.

We've been here one year. Within that one year, Scott and our children successfully immigrated to America, Scott got a job, I started a business and got a job, Fifi started a new school and Girl Scouts, Lolly started and completed a homeschool program, we got a house (rental) and a car, our kids played two seasons of soccer, Jaguar learned to walk and say a few words, we got two cats, made several friends, visited Seattle, WA, and countless other things that I'm sure will start popping into my head as soon as I hit 'publish'. It's been a long, eventful year. It's been really wonderful at times and really sad at others. Over all, we are happy. We know we made the right choice. While we have no intention of staying in central Arkansas forever, this is where we are right now, and slowly I'm learning to be okay with it, happy even.

It's been kind of an emotional few days as I've reminisced over what these days were like one year ago. We said a lot of sad goodbyes and a lot of excited hellos all in a matter of days. But when I think of where we've already come in just the space of 365 days, I'm amazed. Life is good. We are good. And it's only going to get better.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Special Things - Part 2

A few months ago, I posted some pictures of Special Things that Scott and I chose to keep when we moved to the US from Scotland. I promised a Part 2 of some other special things we kept. I've been waiting until I got a few of these things framed (the tea towels) before posting, but this weekend I went on a bit of a frame splurge and got them up. Now I just need to get frames for our family portraits, and I'll be just about done!

So first, the tea towels.

Technically, only the first one (the blue one) came over with us from Scotland. Only about six months before moving here, I became really good friends with Sheila. Our daughters were in the Gaelic nursery together and had become best friends. Since we were constantly getting the kids together after nursery (along with Robyn and Laura and their daughters), Sheila and I got to know each other really well. And I loved her to death. She was one of those people you just automatically click with and after only a few weeks, I felt like I could trust her with anything. It was really hard having to leave her after only just getting to know each other, really hard. She came over for weeks prior to our move to help me clear out each room of my house, take trips to the dump, and clean. Before I moved, she gave me a gorgeous tartan handbag (the kind I'd been wanting ever since I first visited Scotland with TMI, unbeknownst to her) and this blue Scottish foods tea towel.

Since moving, she's been the person I've kept in touch the most with, via cards and packages. Lolly and her daughter send each other drawings and little gifts all the time, and often we include a little something ourselves for each other. The red Tunnocks Tea Cake LOVE towel was one of the gifts she sent me. They are so adorable, I couldn't bear to use them, so I framed them. They are now in my living room.

The next framed item is also a tea towel. This one came from Robyn, another nursery friend. Like I said, our daughters all loved to play together and were best friends. Robyn knows I have a thing for moustaches, and she sent this to me after I moved here. So technically it didn't come over with us, but it's classified as a special thing that reminds me of her whenever I see it. It too was too nice to be used, so I finally framed it and hung it in Jaguar's moustache room.

Sorry about the flash, I didn't realize it had reflected so badly, but it's in Jaguar's room, and he's asleep, so no retakes tonight.

FYI, regarding all the tea towels, they are of such odd dimensions, no standard frame fit perfectly, so there is about six inches missing of each from framed image. Oh well.

Again, poor image, sorry. This is a painting I framed a while ago and have hanging in my living room. It's a painting of the Cloch Light House in Gourock, given to me and Fifi from my friend Debbie and her son who was in Fifi's class at school. I love it. I love all the things that remind me of Greenock (and Greenock friends).

Such as this.

In the previous post about special things, I showed a picture of two little angels from Mollie and Rosie, girls I childminded. This little tile was from them too for Jaguar. It's a painting of the Waverly, which can be seen (and ridden) along the Clyde past Greenock. The tile hangs on Jaguar's wall next to his birthday banner.

Also hanging in Jaguar's room, on the post of his bed, this little plaque was a gift from our friend from church Val when Jaguar was born. It was one of my favourite gifts. I was terrified it would break in the move, but thanks to about a meter of bubble wrap, it survived. Jaguar IS a real cute cookie, if you ask me!

Moving out of Jaguar's room and into the kitchen, I have this glass painting by our friend Lorna. Lorna was one of the first people I met, though it took a few years for us to get really acquainted (it happened once I started going to her church), and there is literally no one I know on this planet with a bigger, more selfless heart. And when Lorna's around, there's going to be laughter. I don't know anyone else who has so many random, weird things happen to her, but if it's random and weird, it will happen to Lorna. I mean, do YOU know anyone who on more than one occasion has found a stray sheep wandering around her living room?

Lorna used to invite the girls over for sleepovers at her house, and she always prepared really exciting adventures for them. Leaving Lorna was hard for all of us. The girls called her Auntie Lorna, because that's pretty much what she was. Lorna had started getting into glass painting, and before she moved, she gave us this treasure. It hangs above the counter in our kitchen. I love that she put in the effort of looking up the Arkansas state flag to add to the painting - along with the face magnets we used to have on our chores board that she glued to the airplane!

Fifinally, the last photo, also in our kitchen, my green and white pottery bowls and a card in a frame.

The card, which reads Children are the flowers of life was sent to us by my sister-in-law Rebekkah some time ago. I love homemade cards and usually keep them for a time, but this one was really beautiful. I loved it so much, it deserved to be framed. I found the white ornate frame which matched the ornate card so well, and put it in the girls' room in Scotland. It moved over with us and now decorates the top of my baking rack in the kitchen.

The three stackable bowls are possibly my favourite things ever. These were made by my dear friend Maria's own hands in her pottery studio. They were among her first pieces she made, and according to her, they have flaws, but I see only beauty. She gave them to me as a going away present. I decorated my entire kitchen around them. I use them for special occasions only, and the rest of the time, they keep my kitchen pretty. There are some matching green candlesticks in the living room too, but I need to find a new place for them; my cat knocked one off the shelf the other day and broke it. A little superglue will fix it, but I don't to risk any more breakages. These three bowls make me so happy, and I love telling guests where they came from. They always get a mention. I love that Maria is so talented. I am really proud to be her friend.

There are still a few other things scattered around the house, but most are in Fifi and Lolly's room, which I can't access right now (sleeping, yay!), so a Part 3 is still to come!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lightning Storm

Last night Scott and I stood outside for thirty minutes watching an incredible lightning storm about 25 miles away. It was so far we couldn't hear any thunder (but oh how thunderous it must've been where the storm actually was!), but the constant lightning was fascinating to watch. We even pulled the kids out of bed to come watch. It looked like the gods were warring. Or as Fifi put it, bombs going off.

I filmed a couple of minutes of it. My camera naturally couldn't capture the awesomeness of it, but I'll post the video anyway. Since there was no sound - just dogs barking and Scott and I Whoa!-ing, I've put the video to music. The song is called Tetrishead by Zoe Keating.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let It Go...

I've decided to work on being more laid back this summer. I'm going to follow Elsa's example and let it go.

About some things at least.

I mean, there are things I'm not laid back about, that, in fact, I'm cracking down on. Home cleanliness is one of those things. I've made a rule that the girls' bedroom must have nothing left on the floor at bedtime. Anything left on the floor after they go to bed gets put in a bag, and they have to earn it back. I extended that rule to the living room too. With three kids plus all the extra kids who are welcome to pass in and out of my house all summer, I cannot face constantly cleaning up after everybody. So far (it's only been a week), the rule has been well-kept by the kids. They go down and wake up to a clean bedroom every day. And now maybe the living room will be the same.

I've also returned to my Motivated Moms app and have been using it long enough now that I no longer really check it daily, but leaving my kitchen clean has become more of a habit. It's not perfect every day, but it's better than it usually would be. My laundry is usually kept up to date, and I'm keeping the inside of the van clean. These are not matters I want to be laid back on.

But letting the kids be kids and do kid things is an area I need to chill out in. Lolly, for instance, loves to cut up paper and glue or tape it into works of art. I never want to quench her creative side, but I go a little mental when the kitchen table and floor is covered in tiny bits of cut up paper and glue spots and broken crayons and scissors in Jaguar's reach. However this summer, I'm determined to worry less about it. As long as crayons and scissors are put away, I'm going to let it go. I'm lucky she keeps her art projects to the kitchen table like she's supposed to, right?

Jaguar is a total boy's boy. He loves to get dirty. Yesterday at the park, he found the dirtiest, most disgusting soggy wet patch in the mud and splashed around in it. Then he slipped and landed right in the middle of it. He was covered from shoulders to feet. He got back up and kept jumping and splashing. I could feel the germs and amoebas crawling all over his skin, but I kept my composure. I stripped him to his diaper for the walk back home, hoping no one would judge me for my half naked toddler walking home in the blazing sun. His clothes - shoes and all - went straight into the washing machine.

And Fifi has become obsessed with gardening. I love that. It also means her fingers are always caked with soil and her clothes are stained. I'm going to just go with it. She and Lolly have been 'collecting worms' too, and while the worm habitats they are creating with plastic ice cream tubs will NOT be permitted in the house, I'm not freaking out over all the dirt. I personally hate mud and dirt, but I am making the conscious decision to let them play in the dirt all they want. They can wash their hands with the garden hose before coming in.

The garden hose. I'm going to get laid back about that too. It's hot outside. And yes, water costs money so they can't just play in the hose all day, but they can play with it some. They can fill up the paddling pool and jump in fully dressed. As much as that makes my twitch - I hate being wet and having my feet covered in grass cuttings - I'm not going to stress out about it. They are having fun, and they can strip down and dry off before coming into the house.

This afternoon, the girls were watering their plants, and I told them specifically not to get wet, because it was almost dinnertime. A few moments later I heard a shriek, and Fifi was standing on the porch with a wet streak across her hair and shirt. I almost shouted at Lolly for getting her wet after me telling them not to when I observed that Lolly was thoroughly drenched. I looked back at Fifi.

'Lolly sprayed me!' she shouted indignantly.

'Well it's pretty obvious you sprayed her first, so no complaining!' I returned. I nearly added an admonishment for disobeying me, but I caught a glimpse of the delight in Lolly's face over being totally soaked, and the relief in Fifi's that I didn't seem all that mad, and I just let it go. The kids played in the hose until the table was set and the dinner was out of the oven. Then I made them strip down and handed them towels. But not before I snapped this photo.

While they ran to their room to put on dry pajamas, I dumped the sopping clothes in the washing machine. No harm done. We ate our dinner happily, and I figured the water play was as good as having had their evening bath.

I hate mud and I hate mess, but I don't want my kids to hate summer. I'm going to let them get dirty and have fun. I'm going to let it go.

...But they're going to learn how to clean up after themselves too!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Happy (Early) Birthday Video to Baby Jaguar

I was going to wait until Jaguar's 2nd birthday to post this, but I just finished it and love it too much not to share. Happy (one month early) birthday, son!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Is Public Shaming Effective?

I'm no model parent; I've done some crappy things as a mum. I've tried some techniques that I realized later were just no. I'd like to say children don't come with a manual, but actually, there are as many parenting manuals out there are there are Frank Zappa albums. Actually more. Gazillions more. And each manual has different instructions, and of course, each child has a different operating system, so really, we'd need a custom manual for each custom child our wombs produce.

So yeah, we try stuff out and some of it works and some of it doesn't. Some of it we keep using, and some we toss out with the pre-approved credit cards.

There are a million books, blogs, articles, religious texts, notes on paper napkins and wives' tales about the proper way to discipline and/or punish your children, particularly about harms/benefits of spanking, so I'll leave the spanking topic for another day (or never). Instead I'm going to mention the OTHER newly popular punishment technique that's currently en vogue.

Public shaming.

I've seen so many of these lately 'gone viral'. Remorseful, teary eyed children holding a sheet of paper with their crimes against humanity scrawled across. Then posted to the internet for all to see. I think I first saw this trend used to shame pets for ripping up couches and eating birthday cakes, in a cutesy, hilarious kind of way. It was cute when used on pets. But kids aren't pets.

Kids have dignity. They are self-aware. They have fragile reputations. They have a sense of shame and embarrassment. They have friends too immature to judge fairly.

And call me crazy, kids should also have some right to privacy and certainly for redemption.

When my kids screw up (which is, like, daily), they have consequences. Sometimes they get grounded. Sometimes they just get reprimanded. Sometimes they lose privileges. Sometimes they even have to confess what they did to their daddy when he gets home from work. But one thing they never have to do is discuss it with an uninvolved third party, like their nosy siblings or an uninvolved friend. When Lolly hears Fifi is getting in trouble and she runs through to ask excitedly, "What did Fifi do?!", she gets promptly told this is not her business.

I remember when Fifi was potty-training, I read somewhere that someone liked to hang out their child's peed-on bedsheets outside the child's window with the stains for everyone to see, to shame the child out of bedwetting. I thought this was so horrendous, I didn't even want to hang clean kids' bedsheets out on the washing line, in case people thought I was insinuating that my child had wet the bed.

Nowadays, with social media taking over the universe, I've started seeing things like the 'Get Along T-shirt' with two crying siblings stuck together in an oversized t-shirt. I guess it's not the get-along t-shirt that irks me (though really, is that gonna work to actually make the children friends again?) but the online posting of it. It's like a new, worse form of PDA - Public Display of Admonishment. Then I saw one of a woman shaming her pre-teen daughter for inappropriate texting - the daughter looking horribly embarrassed while the sheet of paper told all her junior high friends that she is an inappropriate texter. Not only is that ammunition for bullying and judging but an invitation to boys who like to inappropriately text to send her more inappropriate texts. Because she obviously likes it, dirty slut. And then I saw another one recently, a sign on a door saying "So and so can't play this week because they peed on the floor like babies!!" Now, I don't know if the boys were 5 or 15 but either way, now the whole neighborhood knows. Scratch that, the whole internet knows.

Why is public shaming the new "Parenting Done Right"? (By the way, can we destroy the phrase "parenting done right" please?) Here's how I see it.

No one is perfect. Duh, we all know that. When I screw up (which is like, daily), I thank Hollywood that I'm not on the Truman Show and no one actually has to know about it. I feel enough remorse and humiliation when I screw up. No, I know that it's my job to raise my kids and guide them to do the right things and discipline them when necessary. But as parents, aka humans, ourselves, we should try to relate a little to our own little humans. We know that we feel really crap when we do something wrong, and we can assume that kids can feel really crap when they do something wrong too, once they understand why it was wrong and who it negatively affects (whether it's someone else or the child him/herself). When we screw up, we have consequences too, but we would be livid if our screw ups were posted on the internet for all our friends, family and colleagues to see.

Imagine this. You've had a ridiculously stressful week at work. You've got more work piled up than you think you can deal with. In your stress and overwhelm, you forget to return a very important call. Your boss is furious. You feel like crap, because you knew how important that call was. You have to face your boss's fury and your own guilt. All day long you walk around with that bottomless hole in the pit of your stomach, horrified that you could've made such a stupid mistake.

Then your boss posts a note on your office door for all your workmates and clients to see; "Since Judy can't remember to return important phone calls to important clients, I am posting this note on her door to remind her to always follow up when she is supposed to."

Uncalled for, right?!

Or imagine you and your partner get into a fight. You say some really, I mean, really bitchy things that you didn't really mean, but were totally regrettable. Your partner then posts on Facebook, "Since Beth told me I'm a worthless piece of sh*t, I'm posting this so everyone knows what she really thinks of me."

Someone would be getting some seriously WELL-DESERVED choice words for that, am I right?

This morning, I was running late for the gym, thanks to my three precious offspring. I finally got all three kids in the car, only to discover that Lolly was wearing snowboots (it's June) to wear to her Kid Fifit gym class. Only because I was already late and frustrated, I yelled, "What is the MATTER with you? Seriously! Eejits!" I immediately apologized for calling them eejits; it was totally out of line. Plus, there was no reason for me to get so upset. (Also, I could've done much worse, and in times of extreme stress, I've had all out temper tantrums at them.) What if I'd lost my temper so much that I smacked her? I'm against smacking, so this would be pretty shameful for me to do, something I'd rather my peers not know about. And what if my kids were so angry that they wanted to *really* teach me a lesson for being a jerky mum? And they posted on Facebook for all my professional contacts, family members, and sanctimonious mummy friends to see: "Mom lost her temper for no good reason today and smacked me hard. All because I'd worn the wrong shoes." Totally freaking unfair, embarrassing and potentially incriminating. It would not be acceptable, would it?

So why then do we think it's okay to shame our kids like this?

It comes down to this: Shaming never did anyone any good. It never made anyone stop and think, "Hmm. I should change my behavior in the future." It only makes matters worse. It is lemon juice in an open wound. Correction and consequences help for future reference; humiliation just hurts and angers.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Who Makes Your Life Meaningful?

Okay, am I the only one who doesn't 'get' Google+ ? I mean, I rarely check it, and I never update it (besides shamelessly +1'ing each of my blog posts), and I certainly don't 'follow' any celebrities, but some reason, when I do have a look (to see if I 'get' it yet), I have photos of Usher hugging the Beibs and Mark Wahlberg posing all Mark Wahlbergish. And some person in a fabulously enormous wedding dress called Coco Rocha thanking her husband for giving her life meaning.

And it got me thinking how I'm either the least romantical person in the world or some kind of feminist, because, and don't take this the wrong way, my husband doesn't give my life meaning.

Please don't misunderstand me - my husband is the ROXORS. He is 100% - nah, 150% - too awesome to me. He is my all time best friend, a sexy hunk of a lover, and the only person I can spend all my time with (or, well, like 75% of my time with) without wanting to punch in the throat. I never get tired of him (or well, rarely) and I anxiously look forward to him coming home from work each day. When I hear his key in the door, I still get excited flutters. If he were to die or run off with his secretary or get abducted by aliens, I would LOSE IT. Like completely lose all my shit. ALL OF IT. I would cry all day into a tub of ice cream while every so often adding more hot water to the bath that I'd refuse to get out of. Like, he is my AWESOME.

But, well, I'd like to think my life has meaning with or without him. I'd like to think that there's something more to my purpose on earth than my man...

I'm sure this is just a phrase. It sounds super romantic and maybe just means it *feels* like my life would have no meaning without you... or something... compared to me *without* you, my life would have no meaning... or something. I really can't figure this one out, to be honest.

I could argue that NO life has intrinsic meaning - nihilism - but I'm too optimistic for that. I think we make our lives meaningful by the things we do and the people we affect. I'd like to think my life has meaning when I help someone, or by the way I raise my children who will hopefully carry on after I'm gone, or things along those lines. I think my husband and I make our own lives meaningful for each other by the way we treat each other and love each other and support each other. His life has its meaning, and mine has mine. I don't believe I make his life meaningful; how insulting! His life has meaning by whom he helps and supports and what he leaves for mankind. Part of what gives his life meaning is the way he positively influences me, and that's part of my meaning for my life too, how I affect him. We help each other grow into better people. But we don't give each other meaning.

I'm sure this Coco Rocha would agree with all of this and would say it's just a romantic expression. But maybe not. I know a lot of women (and men) who really believe their lives would be meaningless without another person. This is really sad. No one gives your life meaning. Only you can give meaning to your own life. So treat others well, leave a legacy in any small way you can and leave this planet healthy enough for the next generation to enjoy. And don't let anyone else define your life's worth.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

New Tattoos: Aheb = Love!

Last night I had a fun girlie night with my BFF Devon. Devon's one of those friends from high school that all through college and my years in Scotland, even though we didn't keep in touch directly, we could always pick right back up where we left off each time we got back together as if no time had passed at all.

We started out meeting at the gym where we went to a PiYo (Pilates/Yoga) class. I know that maybe doesn't sound like a typical 'girlie night out' thing to do, but we both like to work out, so it was fun! We followed that by a trip to Coco's, a Mexican restaurant and one of the only places in this county where you can get alcohol with your meal. I got a delicious strawberry margarita with my beef burrito.

And then...

We went and got my tattoo. :D

This apparently was Devon's first time in a tattoo parlour, let alone first time to see someone get a tattoo. When we arrived, she recognized the tattooist as a guy we went to high school with. Even upon arrival I hadn't totally decided which tattoo I was going to get, or where. I was wavering between:

this  or this.  

And I couldn't decide if I wanted it on my upper forearm, middle forearm or wrist. Then Devon came up with a different idea altogether.

I'd never considered my neck before, because I already have one on my back and thought it might look too stacked. But the size difference and the space between actually didn't bother me... I really liked it! I also decided on the second tattoo, because it was the one I've been planning on for years, and it's by the same artist as my other two tattoos and according to Devon, it looked more Arabic than the other (even though both are Arabic calligraphy designs for the same word, "love" or الحب).  The other one would've been fun, because it's the same one my dear friend Carol in Abu Dhabi has on her foot (that we were going to go get done together but never worked out), but I'm glad I chose the one I did.

Excited! In gym clothes!

Nervous! In a tattoo chair!

Deep breathing!

It didn't hurt nearly as bad as I remembered my other two hurting.
Possibly my pain threshold increased after childbirth?

Fresh tattoo. And frizzy workout  hair.

I love it! Or I could say 'ana uheb dhlekah' - I love it!

أنا أحب ذلك

(I also want to go back to University and study Arabic again. Can I, Scott, please please please?)

It was a fun girlie night. And now that I have my little series complete, I'm free to get anything I want tattooed next.  Yes, I'm afraid the three-tattoo rule is true; after your third, you just can't stop! Got two more in mind already, possibly three.  Just don't know where on my body they should go.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Spelling Bees Are Awful

Last week I attended Fifi's 1st Grade Play and Spelling Bee. The play was an adorable Mister Rogers' Neighborhood play, which I'm not gonna lie, had me welling up at a few places. Mister Rogers was a lovely man.

Following the play was a spelling bee. Now, I know spelling bees are a total thing so I'm probably in the minority with this, but after that day I decided spelling bees are awful. Watching it was, well, torture.

The top three class spelling bee winners from each 1st grade class made it to this public spelling bee. Fifi had come home earlier that week to tell me she had almost made it into the spelling bee, but she got knocked out at the very end, coming in fourth. At first I was disappointed for her - remembering my own similar spelling bee experience in fifth grade - but after watching the spelling bee that day, I was really glad she didn't make it.

Twelve 6-7 year olds stood in a line on the stage in front of all the mommies and daddies, grandparents and siblings, teachers and fellow first graders. They began the rote... " 'Dog'. As in 'I have a dog for a pet.' 'Dog'." Then the first child spelled 'dog', and so it went on.

The first round of words were simple three-letter words, which assumably was to allow each child to get through the first round perfectly. But nerves, and all those faces looking at them, and nerves... and, well, the last little child misspelled "hug" and had to sit down.

The next round was four-letter words, all with consonant combinations at the beginning like "drop", "frog" and "star". Most of the kids got their words right, but you know, nerves... one little child got his word wrong. He sat down. The next round was four-letter words with consonant combinations at the end like "sing", "fork" and "rock". And so on, round after round.

My original thoughts were, "Oh my gosh this is going to take forever." Until a little boy misspelled "knock", went to sit down and burst into tears.

My heart broke for him. Poor kid! I could just imagine how he felt, because I remembered that feeling so well. The humiliation of misspelling a word in front of all those people. Believing they all must think you are so stupid. All your friends seeing you fail. Your parents seeing you fail. The whole world seeing you fail.

After that, the words got longer and harder. "Because". "Although". "Choice". Kids started getting knocked out of the running much more quickly. And more tears fell down little cheeks.


When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to go to the spelling bee so badly. I was an excellent speller. I got 100% on all my spelling tests. I loved spelling words. We had our class spelling bee to determine who would participate in the school-wide bee, and it came down to just me and one other boy in the class, a boy who was a clown and didn't care about spelling bees, even though he was fairly smart, who didn't like school and was always disruptive. We spelled off word after word until I was given the word "balloon".

In my head I knew it was one of those words with a double letter. But was it a double O or a double L? The "oon" sound was obviously a double O so I spelled "Balloon. B-A-L-O-O-N. Balloon." The teacher shook her head and the boy took his turn. He spelled it right. He won the spelling bee. I lost.

I was devastated. Not just because of how badly I wanted to be in the spelling bee, but because of the humiliation. Everyone (I thought) thought I was stupid. Everyone else (I thought) could spell "balloon" but me. Even the teacher (I thought) was disappointed in me for making such a colossal mistake. I went back to my desk and cried into my arms. The boy even graciously came over and said, "You can take my spot. I don't want to go to the stupid spelling bee anyway." But it wasn't his choice to hand over his spot to me. He went to the school wide spelling bee, because he was the better speller.


Fifi's first grade spelling bee was coming to an end. One boy from her class was left, so we cheered him on (just as we cheered on all the children, correct spelling or not). When he misspelled his word and had to sit down, we could see the look of being totally crushed on his face. The remaining three children spelled off until there was a first, second and third place winner. Each winner got a medal, and the spelling bee was over.

The children were allowed to go see their parents. As I made my way to Fifi, I passed by nine crying children, who were hugging their parents, burying their shame- and disappointment-covered faces into their parents' shoulders. It was awful. I touched the shoulder of the boy in Fifi's class and told him how great he did. He looked up from his mom's lap with tear-stained cheeks, and barely acknowledged the compliment before a new flood of tears gushed.

I decided that day that spelling bees are awful.

Setting up children that young for public "failure" is cruel. While all the teachers and parents are thinking, "Great job, you did so good!", kids don't feel that. They only feel embarrassed, disappointed, and "stupid". Yay for the kid who wins, but all the others? It was heartbreaking seeing so many upset kids. I was glad at that point that Fifi hadn't made it into the final spelling bee. Misspelling her word in the classroom setting was a disappointment for her, but there were no tears. Yet had she misspelled a word in that setting, in front of all those strangers, I know for a fact she'd have been one of the criers. And trying to console her, trying to get her to believe she wasn't a failure in anyone's eyes or dumb or not a good speller would have been tough. I'm glad she was spared that humiliation.

Had I not been there, I'd have thought all that I've just said above was taking it too far, taking it too seriously. I'd have thought, "Competition is good. It's in the real world, and kids need to learn to deal with disappointment." But I was there, and I saw the faces and tears of those children, and I'm not taking it too far. I have decided that public spelling bees are AWFUL.

Kids will discover the real world soon enough. Can't we spend these early years building up their confidence first before letting the world try to tear it down?