The Rockwood Files: How to Be in the Bee

rockwood filesBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3     

There are a few things my oldest boy inherited from me that he’s not crazy about – the smattering of freckles across his nose, pale skin that sunburns when we walk past a running microwave and feet that stay at subzero temperature. The gene pool can be cruel at times.

But perhaps I made up for it a little by passing down my spelling skills. In an age of spell check and auto-correct, spelling is a lost art. But in elementary school, it comes in handy during the annual spelling bee.

Adam studied for the spelling showdown for about a week. His little brother Jack quizzed him on tricky words, giving him one Skittle candy for every word he spelled correctly on the study sheet. (In our house, Skittles have been unscientifically linked to increased brain power.)

On the big day, I wished Adam good luck and told him to take his time while spelling the words. Then Tom and I took a seat in the auditorium while spellers filed on stage. A teacher explained the rules and then, one by one, each kid took a turn at the microphone.

“Cloth” said the judge when Adam stepped up for his turn.

I held my breath and hoped it hadn’t been a mistake to skip over the easier words on the study list. We’d been so concerned about the long words that I hadn’t bothered to quiz him on shorter ones.

“C-L-O-T-H,” Adam said slowly and deliberately.

“That’s correct,” the judge said, and I exhaled in relief.

The rounds continued and the words got much harder. “Provincial,” “recipient,” “flirtatious,” “fantastically,” “recyclable.”

One by one, contestants left the stage after hearing the dreaded “ding” of the bell that indicates the word was spelled incorrectly. There were only two kids left standing, and ours was one of them.

Adam looked focused and excited. I, on the other hand, could barely stand to watch. And I regretted telling him to take his time as he spelled the words because every time he paused between letters, my breath caught in my throat and my heart stopped for a few seconds as I braced for the wrong letter to dash his hopes. Watching your kid in the final round of a spelling bee is a little like waiting for a bomb to be diffused and hoping like crazy that the right wire gets cut.

After several more rounds, the judge called this word out to Adam: “Empirical.”

Adam began the word with the letter “I” instead of “E.” The dreaded ding rang out. The other competitor spelled one last championship word to claim the title and the spelling bee was over.

But what happened in the next 30 seconds was the best part. As applause filled the room for the winner, Adam walked over to him and shook his hand in a move that made him look much older than his 11 years. It’s the moment I’ll remember most from the spelling bee – the one where he showed character and goodwill. When Tom and I finally got through the throngs of students and reached out to hug him, that’s what I whispered in his ear, how proud I am of who he is and not just what he can do.

Soon 8-year-old Jack walked up to us with tears in his eyes because he’d been rooting so hard for his brother to win. So we assured him this was a great moment and not one for sadness. Because when you do your best and lose with integrity and grace, it is most definitely a “win.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Author Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography