Saturday, February 17, 2007


When I was a kid I hated spelling. Despite this, I managed to win an award for it. In first grade, the teacher offered an enticement to do well in the subject. Every year she awarded a trophy to the person with the best marks in spelling during the year. The winner, she told us, would have to have perfect marks in spelling all year. Then she showed us the trophy. It sparkled in the morning sun. I was taken in by the glint and glamor and studied my words every single week.

Since I am neither a naturally good speller nor particularly dedicated to scheduling myself, I often wonder who that six year-old was. I had learned that studying the words a few times during the week was all it took. The words didn’t really stay in my brain longer than the test though. After my first grade year, I slacked off a bit, allowing myself to miss words now and again.

Then came the fourth grade. Our teacher, instead of selecting her best spellers for the all-school bee, as had been tradition, had a mock spelling bee right there in class. I stood there as round after round of students were asked to sit down. I seemed to get only simple words. Instead of being astonished by my good luck as I were asked to spell words that were easy (like, literally, easy), I was terrified. I had to put in my best effort. I mean, the teacher wasn’t going to believe I couldn’t spell flower. But the list of standing students dwindled down to two and I was one of them.

I could picture myself on stage in front of the school making a mockery of the whole spelling competition. “Who does this girl think she is, spelling with the best and the brightest?” I could hear the judges saying when they heard my pathetic attempts at successful (or was it sucessful or succesful?) I had to throw it. There was no other way out.

“Your word is fudge.”

(But I KNOW that one)



“Fudge, f…u… (should I or shouldn’t I)….d-g….e, fuge.”

“I’m so sorry.” She was, I could tell.

The last kid watched me bungle it. It was obvious he knew that I had messed it up on purpose. He was, of course, incredulous that anyone could do that. So he spelled fudge correctly, seeming to exude the sweet and comforting concept behind the word with every letter. Now THAT was a spelling champion. I don’t know who was more happy about his victory, him or me. From that day on, I vowed that public spelling was behind me.

My youngest daughter is in the gifted program at her school. As such she has the task of learning difficult spelling words. She brought her spelling home last week as homework.

“What’s prostrate mean?”

“Oh that, I use that word every day. You should know that.”

“Mom, I need to do this for school.” Bam, completely ignored, shut-out.

My husband, the man I married for his vocabulary ability alone, gave a hand. “You don’t mean prostate, do you.”

“No!!” She knew it was a slight.

She knew what prostate meant?

He gave her a working sentence to illustrate the meaning of prostrate and she made up her own sentence for her homework.

A few days later, I was at the school popping popcorn for the PTA and ran into one of the teachers. She had a little gem about my daughter. I braced myself to hear it. The kids were giving each other the spelling test, she told me. The girl with the word list had mispronounced the word prostrate, substituting the word prostate. The kids didn't react to this, they just wrote out the word. Lolly was the only one overtaken by a fit of the giggles.

“Nobody understands my humor.”

“I do.”


“I like your humor.”

“The kids at school all think its dumb.”

My husband says they just don’t get it yet. It’s like telling the tallest girl in the class that being tall is just temporary. Though she knows that the other kids will catch-up, the tallest girl still thinks that her height is the worst thing in the world. She imagines herself growing at break-neck speed, her only option in adult life being the circus.

Lolly is like the tall girl but without the growth spurt. She’s the kid who, when adults make a comment that's some kind of disguised insult--sarcasm, understands what they meant and knows to feel insulted. While she may seem a bit socially awkward, somewhere in her head, she really knows what's going on. We tell her that the kids in her class will "get" her humor eventually. But, to Lolly, it’s the circus for her.

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