Crowning the New Spelling Queen



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.


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.

22 responses »

  1. Me too. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I read the arbiter’s words “Like she had a glow inside.”

    What a blessing to have a girl who lets the love of Jesus shine out from her, in many varying circumstances.

    Congratulations, Katie!!

  2. I think I would have needed an entire box of Kleenex for something like this. How wonderful for her! Hugs to Katie- she looks so grown up in these pictures and I love the shirt. What a blessing it is to see the deep desire to do the right thing coming forth from your young child!

  3. I teared up too! I was reading it to Chris trying to hide the fact that my voice was breaking. I’m so happy for Katie. What a wonderful accomplishment. I know how much it meant to you too. Way to go Katie…and Mom!!!!

    BTW, I would have done the same thing. Although, I don’t think Chase (now, at 6 yrs old) would understand the importance of the dilema/decision. But, who knows, had I explained it the way you did she might have suprised me and said the same thing Katie did.

  4. I am typing this with tears of joy in my eyes. Great job, Katie. You make us all proud of the lady you are becoming and the speller you are now. I am so happy for you and so proud.

    Great job, Trina. I feel your mother heart! She is a beautiful Spelling Queen.

  5. Congratulations to Katie! Spelling skills must be in the genes. 🙂

    And thanks for the encouraging post story. It’s so good to know that all the hard work of raising kids does pay off. You and Paul are great examples of that.

  6. Please congratulate Katie on her spelling win and, more importantly, on doing the right thing even when it may not have been the easy thing! I bet Jesus was proud, too! Great job!

  7. I remember spelling bees when I was a kid. We all lined up against the wall and when you misspelled a word you sat down. I had a lot of downtime.
    I noticed I was listed among the blogs that you like. I am honored.

  8. Wow. Kudos to you and Paul for raising her. It is indeed awe inspiring and often a little humbling (cuz we know it ain’t all our doing) when that light does come on.

    Great story.

  9. Pride in the moment is one thing when our kids hold up to the stress of competing, I know and understand. I have also found even more admiration for my kids when they act with character and integrity. I tear up on the drop of a hat during band performance, debate competitions, poetry readings, or whatever but my girls will make ball like a baby when they make the right the decision, act with kindness, or show me a little tidbit of the amazing women they will be one day.

    Congratulations, your daughter is a delight.

  10. i was looking for your e-mail but couldn’t find it. was wondering if you would e-mail me because i have some questions about asperger’s as someone who is trying to find some answers for our family.

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