Spelling Bees

Hi. I’m back for a little. I’ll take advantage of this bit of inspiration. It hasn’t been the best month.

In third grade–the very first year students were allowed to compete–I won my class spelling bee. It was an amazing feeling, representing Mrs. Campbell’s class in the school-wide competition. I got there feeling absolutely confident. The first few words were fine. On my third turn, however, I was given the word “sombrero.” (I don’t know a third grader who can spell sombrero, by the way.) I gave it my all, but I was stumped.


Everybody in that room winced, including me. I knew it was wrong. Hanging my head in shame, I walked to the loser table. My friend tried to make me feel better–she had messed up the spelling of “vegetable”–but nothing worked. I got back to class and wrote a scathing poem directed toward myself. It went something like “I cannot spell; I cannot spell; I cannot spell; I am horrible and I cannot spell for my life.” It didn’t matter that I had beaten everyone in my class. It didn’t matter that I was only eight and  competing with twelve-year-old, almost middle-school kids. The only thing that mattered was that, in my eyes, I had failed at the one thing I thought I was really spectacular at.

Fourth grade, I was class runner-up. I lost on the word “caustic” to the genius girl. It was disappointing. I secretly hoped she would be sick on the day of the bee, but I knew that was a terrible thing to wish. I ended up being sick that day, so I guess it was better that I lost. We didn’t have a spelling bee my fifth grade year–not that I can remember, that is.

I still clearly remember the sixth grade spelling bee. It was the worst bee I’ve ever been through. I started out feeling confident, but a girl (a former friend at the time) watched me from across the room, my every move, and snickered at me. By the time it was my turn, I was shaking and trying so hard not to cry. I was given the word “abolitionist.”


“That is incorrect.”

I knew I could spell that word. The teacher knew I could spell that word. Everyone in the class probably knew I could spell that word–I was the freak poet girl. But the fear had overtaken me. I’d lost. I wasn’t even close to winning–I was the second one out. Eyes teary, I shrunk back to my seat and did the same thing I’d done three years earlier–write a poem of frustration and defeat.

That was my last spelling bee.



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