new york city kid in arkansas
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Last week Huck began to crack, showing signs of middle school anxiety by occasionally dropping things and shouting, “I’m just too stressed out!” His brief tantrums are like tiny versions of mine, as if he’s a crank-pot in training without coming close to the master’s skills. I always get a secret kick out of his stress attacks because they’re so short-lived.  I’m positive as soon as he walks out the door he’s forgotten the upcoming piano recital, the Math Olympiad national test and the school spelling bee.  To be a true ball of stress, one needs to keep these problems in one’s heart at every moment. He’s not like that.

Thursday evening Huck and I sat down to study his words for the next day’s spelling bee.  The lights were low, as they usually are in our cozy living room, and because the font is small and because I’m 46, I could not exactly see the words, nor did I know how to pronounce most of them.  In order to read the words on the paper I had to take off my glasses, but to type the word into for the pronunciation I had to put my glasses back on.  This went on for a while with my blood pressure rapidly increasing. The word “prestidigitation” finally was the last straw for me, and practically throwing the paper across the dark room I shouted: “Turn on the lights!  This list is ridiculous!  Why would you kids need to spell these words?  Half of them are French!  I can’t even see in here!” It felt a little like George Bailey’s Christmas Eve tirade.

While I respect the idea behind spelling bees and the kind of children it attracts (wonderfully brainy, nerdy types that are my favorite), I have to wonder who invented such a tortuous idea.  Standing on a stage at a microphone spelling words out loud?  Why?  Why do we do this?  Why do we do this to our mothers who have to sit in the audience with no control, watching their babies under such unnatural pressure?  Why must we watch other mother’s babies fail and walk off the stage with their heads held low?  It’s my least favorite part of motherhood, but somehow I am always the parent who has to attend. Luckily I have my friend Padma always sitting next to me, sometimes squeezing my hand, always with the same nauseous feeling, because our sons are always among the last ones standing. In fact, her son Ravi got that awful word and spelled it with ease.

In the end Huck won the spelling bee with his best friend Ravi right behind him. As I let out a very long sigh of relief that it was over, that my stomach could return to its regular state, that my heart could stop pounding through my sweater, Huck ran up to me, plopped his big body onto my lap and handed me the gigantic packet of study words for the county bee in January.

Oh, God.


Aunt Jeni

December 18th, 2016

The description of you helping Huck study spelling words is perfect…oh the joys of parenthood! My stomach is in knots right now because Lily will be performing a solo ice skating number in 3 hours. Oh kids, stop making us so proud. CONGRATULATIONS HUCK! XOXO


December 19th, 2016

So proud of him!! Congrats, Huck! Why does the next bee have to be SO SOON??!!!

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