Monthly Archives: January 2009

Crowning the New Spelling Queen

Standard

spellingbee1

The spelling bee brought together all the private schools in the area.  Grade by grade, the spellers stepped forward to sit in a row of cold metal chairs beneath the glaring gymnasium lights.  Fourth grade started things off, drawing numbers and sitting in order, nervously fidgeting and kicking their feet while each awaited his moment to stand up and twist the letters of the alphabet into one of their numberless permutations.

In the stands, I was tense.  Not for the outcome, which didn’t concern me so much, but for Katie’s feelings.  Part of her struggle with Asperger’s is an occasional inability to cope with strong emotions, and I was afraid of how she would handle the losing part of competition.  Would she be overwhelmed and burst into tears of disappointment?  Or would she bear up with stoic seriousness until the round was over?  Although I had tried my best beforehand to prepare her for the possibility, I held my breath every time she stood to spell.

Round after round, she spelled each word correctly.  On a couple of them, she asked for a sentence or a definition.  The pronouncer told me later that as he watched her mull over each word, he could see the exact moment when the light bulb went on in her head.  She spoke the letters clearly and confidently, emphasizing each one with a jab of her finger, as if she could see the word hovering in the air in front of her.

spellingbee2

Finally, it was down to two.  Both girls did a wonderful job, but in the end, Katie was declared the winner.  A big grin lit her face and she did a silent herky of joy as the announcer congratulated her, then turned to me with an expression of amazed happiness that clearly said, “Can you believe it, Mom?”  The second place winner, who will be the alternate in the next stage of the competition, tapped Katie on the shoulder and, with the beginning of tears welling up in her eyes, graciously said, “You did a good job!”  “So did you!” Katie returned, and a cacophony of congratulations swelled around us.  For the rest of the day, Katie was a mini celebrity at school, delighted recipient of hugs and compliments everywhere she went.

I thought I couldn’t possibly be any prouder of her.

This morning she proved me wrong.

On the day of the spelling bee, the judges had explained the rules of elimination, including the procedure for having two spellers left in the competition.  At the moment Katie won, I had been expecting her to have to spell another word to claim victory.  When they suddenly declared her the winner, the attendant hubbub as I filled out papers and made proud phone calls to friends and family swept that detail to the back of my mind and I didn’t think of it again all day.  This morning, however, I woke up with it nagging at me, and wondered if a mistake had been made.

I dug the rule paper out of Katie’s desk and looked over it again, but it didn’t shed much light.  I paced and fretted, fretted and paced, until Paul urged me to do whatever it took to set my heart at rest.  I couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing Katie and somehow taking this victory away from her, but I knew that it was important to make sure everything had been done fairly, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be right to let it go without checking.  So I took the matter to Katie.

I explained to her that I was wondering about whether the administrator had made a mistake on the rules.  I pointed out the rule to her and told her what it would mean if we called the spelling bee officials to investigate.  “They may consider the results of the spelling bee fair and binding, or they may ask us to come back in so that you can replay the last round of the competition again.  If that happens, there is a chance you could lose, sweetie.  What do you think we should do?”

She only paused for a second.  Then she sighed a little and said, “Let’s call them, Mom.”

I thought my heart would burst.

As a parent, you always wonder if the lessons you are trying so hard to impart to your children are sinking in.  Treating others fairly, being honest in small things and large, doing what is right even when it is most difficult or costly–these are the hallmarks of integrity, and to see it blossoming in my child made the joyful celebration of yesterday pale into insignificance.

I pulled her up into my lap and told her that.  Later, we called the spelling bee arbiter and explained our concern.  He cleared up my misunderstanding of the rule and reassured us that Katie’s victory was well-earned and would stand.  He wished her good luck and reminded her to study.  He remembered her, he told me, for the smile that lit up her whole face when she got a word correct.  “Like she has a glow inside,” he said.

Yes, I thought.  Yes, she does.

May it shine on.

Prayer Request

Standard

I was going to write this whole big blog post about today’s historic inauguration of brand new President Obama (something along the lines of “hoping for the best!”), but events intervened, and now I find myself sitting here aimlessly clicking windows open and closed, wondering what in the world I can do to love my sweet, sensitive student who got out of bed this past Sunday happily anticipating her sixth birthday party only to have her whole world turn upside down when her father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

Please pray for my student (God knows who she is) and for her family in the difficult days and weeks and months ahead.  Pray for strength, for healing, and for God’s “peace beyond understanding” as they adapt to the new shape that life has taken.

And please pray for me, that I can make school a place of comfort for her when she returns.  Pray that I will know what words to say and when to say nothing at all.  And please, oh, please, pray that I can help her feel and know the bedrock truth of God’s love for her in this time when everything else is shifting beneath her feet.

Thank you.

Bits and Pieces

Standard

*Last night, after sending the kids to get their pajamas on, Paul and I settled down on the couch with our laptops to play a little World of Warcraft together.  Before long, out comes Caleb in his footie jammies, asking, “Can I sit with you guys?”  I patted the sofa next to me.  “Of course, kiddo,” I said.  Only then did I see that he was holding something in his hands.  “I have a computer of my own, see?” he exclaimed proudly.  He had taken a piece of orange construction paper, folded it in half, and drawn a keyboard and screen on it.  He sat back against the couch and set his “laptop” up on his knees to play, just like Mommy and Daddy.  How cute is that?

Dell and Crayola team up to create the ultimate in ultralight computing...

Dell and Crayola team up to create the ultimate in ultralight computing...

*Once, when I was a kindergartner in Michigan, I spent the entire recess getting dressed in my snowsuit and boots.  The teacher was going down the line zipping zippers and fastening gloves and tightening boot laces before sending each student to the playground, and I happened to be last in line that day.  Just as I was walking to the door to go outside, the bell rang and all the other kids came streaming back into the building, faces red with cold and laughing at their sledding adventures.  I burst into tears from the disappointment.

I hadn’t thought about that memory in a long time, until this year, when we came back to school from Christmas break with three feet of snow still on the ground.  Suddenly, the simple act of sending my students out to recess took on gargantuan complications, and it took me a day or two to realize that I had to make some adjustments in the procedure.  Now, I schedule ten minutes of class time before recess for getting into snowpants and hats and scarves and gloves and boots, and another ten minutes after for getting out of them.  (Yes, that’s twenty minutes of preparation for a fifteen minute recess, but such is life in North Idaho.)  Another lesson came from the K4 teacher in the room next to mine, who has been doing this for winters without number.  She doesn’t spend all that time on zippers and laces and stuffing tiny feet into puffy snowsuits like so many nylon-encased sausages.  Instead, she has a hands-off policy: she’ll talk a child through the process (“sit down and pull your snowpants on like you’re getting into a sleeping bag”, etc.) but she won’t do it for them.  As a result, her students get ready to go out all by themselves, and much more quickly than if they had to wait for her to get around to help everyone.  I started doing things the same way in my classroom this week, and it has helped immensely.

*Katie will be participating in the area-wide private school spelling bee next Thursday.  Knowing my proud history of spelling bee glory, her teacher has kindly invited me to come along and bear witness to the victories and defeats of the next generation of spelling wunderkind.  Kathy has agreed to take my class for a couple of hours in the morning, and I am looking forward to being there with Katie, either to share in her moment of triumph or to comfort her in her disappointment, as my mother comforted me.  Spell on, sweet girl!

*Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday.  What a joy it was to explain to my class why we celebrate the birthday of this remarkable man and the impact he had on American society!  His dedication to Christ’s teachings of love and equality burned through our national consciousness like a wildfire.  While we still have work to do to realize his vision of an America where men “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, he made some of the first mighty strides toward that goal, and planted that dream deep in the soil of our country’s soul.  The reverend knew, as many of us today do not, that the first rule of positive change is love.  We can’t get anywhere we want to go without it.

Let it Slow, Let it Slow, Let it Slow!

Standard

snowshovel

We are running out of places to put the snow.

I love snow.  Truly.  But the berms on the sides of our driveway have grown so high that I had to plant warning flags on the crests to keep them from being hit by passing helicopters.  I chased a couple of mountaineers off of one yesterday.  Fortunately, one of them dropped his copy of Into Thin Air as he scrambled away over the lunar-looking landscape, so now I’ll have something to read today as we enjoy our fourth snow day of the year.  Yes, fourth.  The two days before our two-week Christmas vacation were wiped away by a record-breaking snowfall and subzero temperatures, and yesterday and today have been likewise canceled in the interests of keeping staff and students safely off of the widening ice skating rinks that nature has constructed all over town where there used to be roads.

Not that I’m complaining.  I need the snow days for, well, shoveling snow.

In the past three weeks, we’ve gotten over sixty inches of snow, breaking our town’s previous 24-hour snowfall record (16 inches) by a good 9 inches along the way.  We’ve shoveled the driveway nearly a dozen times, and at one point Paul borrowed his dad’s roof rake to pull some of the heavily caked snow off of the roof.  While Paul has done the lion’s share of the work, I’m proud to say I’ve taken a fair turn at the shovel, fighting to keep our precious forty feet of driveway clear of piled up precipitation so that our coming and going could continue unabated.

In the seven years we’ve lived in Idaho, I’ve learned a few things from winter.  I’ve learned to drive on snow and ice: go slow, pump the brakes, turn into the slide, don’t panic.  I’ve learned to traverse the slick expanse of a frozen parking lot with the graceful, floating movements of an ice skater, carefully maintaining my center of gravity over steady feet, knowing that any sudden motions could land me flat on my back in a most painful and unladylike position.  I’ve learned which kind of gloves are good for playing in the snow and which kind are merely ornamental, useless after the chilly fall days have given way to more arctic climes.

But until this year, I was still a snow shoveling novice.

I thought I knew about shoveling.  In our apartment, the landlord plowed the parking lot, and we tenants took it in turns (when we felt like it and had the spare time) to shovel the thin ribbon of sidewalk that wound from our doors to the parking area.  Only now do I realize: in the world of snow shoveling, that didn’t count.

Now that we have a driveway to shovel, I’m a little better acquainted with this Northwest rite of passage that makes grown men cry and compels otherwise sane people to level firearms and hatchets at innocent snow plow drivers.

I learned that the different types of snow make a huge difference to the snow shoveler.  Our first couple of feet were light and powdery snow, easy to lift, despite it’s irritating habit of leaping onto the wind and blowing back in your face instead of settling sedately down on the ground.  When the weather warmed up, the snow grew heavier, more substantial, making a nice, satisfying “whump” noise as it landed and raising the shoveler’s heart rate a bit.  The worse snow to shovel is the pile at the end of the driveway that the snowplow leaves in its wake.  Having been partially melted and mixed up with road dirt and ice chunks from the encroaching berms, it quickly refreezes and takes on the consistency and weight of concrete, and digging it out requires a well-muscled back, a tough shovel, and a sense of humor.  There is some sort of natural law at work that causes the snowplow driver to arrive at the very moment that you’ve finally finished clearing your driveway.  If you know that and expect it, perhaps you won’t be the one picking up the hatchet.

I met a lot of our neighbors while out shoveling snow, because they were out doing the same.  We even had one neighbor come over with his snowblower and finish up for us on a day when the load was especially heavy.  Several people with four wheelers attached small plow blades to the front of them and made an attempt at clearing the street, knowing that the city plows wouldn’t come through for hours.  There’s a sweet sense of camaraderie in working side by side to beat back the elements for survival (or at least for the ability to get out and go to the McDonald’s drive-thru.)

Make no mistake about it.  Shoveling snow is hard work.  Sweaty, difficult, back-breaking labor that is guaranteed to help you burn off the extra helpings of pumpkin pie you ate at Christmas dinner.  It is one series of motions–scoop, lift, turn, throw–repeated over and over, like the programming of some factory machine.  Except this machine is breathing harder than Paul Revere’s horse and soaking wet from mingled sweat and melting snow.  It’s an odd sensation to be simultaneously so hot that you long to throw your scarf and parka off in a handy snowbank and so cold that you can’t even feel your fingers or the dripping end of your nose.

Yes, it’s a good workout, and probably the one thing that saved my muscles from complete atrophy over the gloriously slothful two weeks of holiday vacation.  With the local authorities urging everyone who didn’t need to travel to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles and snowplows, it was no trouble at all to devote ourselves to lazy indoor pursuits, like watching movies, playing games, and reading books.  Still, thanks to the ever piling and drifting snow, I went to bed every night with a new ache in a muscle I hadn’t realized existed until the moment I used it to toss a shovel load of ice up to the top of the steadily growing white mounds flanking our drive.

Nice neighbors, beautiful snow-covered vistas, a healthy workout–it wasn’t so bad.  I feel like shoveling snow was the last step of the makeover transforming this Georgia girl into a true daughter of Idaho.

But at this moment, I’d trade our car for a working snowblower.

***

The Northwest equivalent of prairie dogs...

The Northwest equivalent of prairie dogs...

Spelunking, Idaho style

Spelunking, Idaho style