Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Spelling "B"

My oldest son recently represented his fourth grade class in the finals of the school spelling bee. It was our family's first experience with this sort of thing. His younger brother and I sat in the audience and watched as the large group of students whittled its way down to a few true contenders. A voracious reader, my eldest calmly handled each word tossed his way. "Cartoon," said the teacher. "Cartoon," he replied. "C-A-R-T-O-O-N. Cartoon." Eventually the contest was down to the final three - he was the only fourth grader left, facing off against two upperclassmen.

"Clothe," said the teacher. "Clothe," said my son. "C-L-O-T-H-E. Clothe."

"I'm sorry, that's not correct," said the teacher. Murmurs went through the audience. People looked at each other, surprised. I thought he spelled it correctly, too. He was stunned. I asked for an explanation.

"'Clothe' has one 'o,'" said the teacher. "Not two."

I turned to the other teacher in charge of judging the contest. "I wasn't listening," she said. How nice for her - perhaps a few days of detention would help her listen better, I thought. And how tacky to admit ignorance in front of these kids during an event that was so important to them.

By this time he was in the audience sitting next to me, boiling over with frustration. "I said one 'o'," he growled. "Do they think I'm stupid?!" His little brother was hopping mad. "Do something, Mom!" he hissed.

Years ago, I was in a school spelling bee. "Been," said the teacher. "Been," I said. "B-E-E-N. Been."

"I'm sorry, that's not correct," said the teacher. She only heard one "e." I had to sit down, pissed off and angry.

This time, for my kid, I stood up and approached the judges, stopping the tournament. I appealed the ruling. But with no rulebook, and two teachers just blinking back at me, wanting to go home, it was hopeless.

So I gave up on the system and focused on saving my kids. "This isn't right," I said. "She should have been listening. It's not your fault, and I know it hurts bigtime. This doesn't seem like much at this very moment, but I'm very proud of you for handling this so well. "

That day stung for a very long time. Then he received a certificate for being a finalist in the Spelling Bee. We pulled the official-looking document out of its folder-
And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

A few days later, his teacher asked me to return the certificate for a 'good one.' I refused. "Years from now, when he's sweating a final exam in college, or worried about something at work, he'll have this framed document on his wall and he'll remember how some things, while seeming important at the time, are really just silly little things. And that's worth more than any spelling bee."

"Oh and by the way, next year, we're gonna participaNt, and we're gonna win."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Songs of Suburbia - the Lemonade Squeeze

Times have been tough here in this little town on the edge of Big Town. Unlike farm kids, poor suburban children have nothing decent to entertain them. The Wiis are worn out, the PS3's are played out, and still the doldrums whine. No hay to stack, no stalls to muck, no cows to milk at 5 am. Just sterile suburban boredom.

My neighbors' son has the shrillest, strongest vocal chords of anyone ever to come within my earshot and survive. A slight child of around nine with the attention span of a guppy, he is ninety percent vocal chords. Like a slender hot-dog-eating champ, he's so far from intimidating you'd never think he could blast away the competition like so many feeble rookies. Coyotes, crows, even the leaves on the trees flee his call.

One blissfully quiet Saturday morning, I was sitting in my kitchen reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee. This was my weekly golden time, my chance to recharge and recoup.

Suddenly a hideous screech simultaneously shattered the morning air and the carefully patched seams of my sanity. I thought the factory next door had blown sky high until I remembered there was no factory next door. The dogs cowered, the birds flew away, even the sun hid behind a cloud.

"LEMONADE!!!" came the shriek. Ye gods, it wasn't human. I cleaned up my spilled coffee and went to investigate. I figured it was coming from the north since the windows on that side of my house were rattling violently. Sure enough, the Loud Family's vocal offspring was parked in his driveway, 'marketing' his lemonade stand. Apparently business was slow and he couldn't afford radio advertising. I debated whether to give him twenty bucks just to go away. But the last time I did that, he kept coming back for more. Someday he'd make the Senate proud, but right now...

LEMONADE!!!" It was sucking the air from the sky and the blood from my veins.

The next day, the neighbors on the other side of the little lemonade salesman put a 'for sale' sign up on their house. Yes, really.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I'm In, Imus, I'm Out

"Nappy headed ho." Such cute syllables, almost singsong baby talk until you look at their history, their meaning, their meanness. Combined with the context, the timing, the reality... almost the perfect storm.

Why? What made that comment seem necessary, apropos or amusing to anyone at any time? I'm not a fan of being politically correct, but whoa. A true journalist wouldn't think of saying something so inept and inaccurate. A shock jock would have chosen an easier victim. So in this case, did stupidity rule? Ignorance is bliss until youtube gets ahold of you.

It's a mixed blessing - at least this issue came out so it can be discussed. The sad side is that this type of commentary is a daily occurence in many lives. And even more think it without voicing it.

After the initial shock, I started to notice that so many called this a racist issue. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were right on it. NAACP squawked immediately. But few mentioned the sexism. Feminist groups chimed in, but I wish they had the anger and fierceness of Al et al. If they did they'd risk being considered nasty overly aggressive bulldogs. The irony of feminism is that to appeal to potential converts, you must often walk a dainty line yet carry a fierce schtick. Remember Mel Gibson's alcohol-induced honesty? His anti-Semitic comments grossly outpaced the weight of 'sugartits.'

Does it matter what you noticed first? Yes and no. Does it make you think? Hopefully. The most interesting part of this issue is our own reactions. It's like a Chinese menu and shows us more about our culture, or lack thereof.

Imus was wrong because:

  • the Rutgers team doesn't have 'nappy' hair
  • he said mean things that hurt people
  • he said things that he should have only thought
  • he can't say 'nappy' because he's not black
  • he's not funny enough to get away with slurs like that
  • he's ugly and stupid

Leave Imus alone because:

  • he holds fundraisers for charities
  • he lets Democrats talk, and old white Republican fence-sitters listen
  • he's just saying what people wanna say but can't
  • he's a harmless old fool
  • he's ugly and stupid

Imus is Robin Hood, Everyman, and a sad, ignorant ass all rolled into one. Sixty years ago, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Amazingly, that barrier, and many more, are still here. But why even categorize the comments and barriers at all? When do we get to be simply shocked that someone called someone else such a nasty name? When do color, sex, religion cease to matter?

So many insults, so little crime. After the dust settled, Imus was asked what he had learned. "I've learned that there are some people you can't make fun of." What a crappy-headed schmoe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Annie Counter-Coulter

I'd like to welcome any Republicans we have here today. Please make yourself comfortable. We are all friends here. No need to identify yourselves - we'll understand if you'd prefer to remain anonymous. And no, no open bar. Sorry.

Discouraging isn't it? One minute you've got the world by the WMD, then 'poof!' - it all blows up like a bad burrito. Splinter groups start claiming to be part of your organization, doing wacky things in your name. I think Allah has the same problem.

We all know the Donkey Club planted loony viruses within your organization - Anne "Call Me Crazy I Crave the Publicity" Coulter...that zany meth-using gay/ungay religious dad.... You would never actively petition their support, at least in public. Besides, who ever could have predicted that cellphone cameras would become so inexpensive that even Democrats could afford them?

Anyway, welcome. But please observe the 3-drink minimum, proceeds of which will go to stem cell research, Hurricane Katrina victims, and the Veterans' Assistance Fund.

We understand your anger. You have every right to be upset. You've been uncovered, standing before the world with your pants around your knees, your Bush exposed. You paid good money for the right to lead this country, but everyone's laughing at you. As you so eloquently told your mom, it's just not fair. Not fair, not fair, not fair.

The media no longer fears you. There must be a law against that somewhere, some way you can mute them indefinitely. Perhaps someone at Guantanamo would know?

Anyway, we feel for you, we really do. Your spin has spun, your deal is done, and your budget, wait, OUR budget, is blown. And so, no open bar. Sorry.