Nee and the Spelling Bee

When Nee looked at the grade on her spelling test, she was horrified. She had correctly spelled 13 of the 20 words. Therefore, she would be one of her class representatives in the school-wide spelling bee.

Although Nee is an excellent speller, she hates speaking in front of an audience. Actually, she hates talking period. I think she would have preferred to receive a zero on her spelling test than compete in a spelling bee in front of the whole school.

When KayEm picked up the kids after school, she noticed that Nee was unusually subdued.

“What’s wrong, Nee?” KayEm asked.

“I have to be in the spelling bee.”

“Oh,” KayEm responded. “Well, I’m proud of you.”

“I don’t want to be in the spelling bee,” Nee said.

“It’s a privilege to participate in the spelling bee,” KayEm said. “I know you’re going to do your best.” Nee slouched down in the seat, crossed her arms and sat silently for the duration of the ride.

I tried to encourage Nee after I heard the news, but there was nothing I could do to make her enthusiastic about the Bee.

To motivate Nee, we watched the movie Akeelah & the Bee. No impact. Nee continued to resist and even refused to study her list of 225 words.

We ultimately had to resort to bribery. KayEm promised Nee “a special treat” if she applied herself and won the bee. I, however, knew my daughter’s heart’s desire: a cell phone and I dangled that carrot unabashedly.

With her mind set on a new cell phone, our once reluctant bee participant buckled down and got to work. A few of the words, such as “cat” were easy. But others were quite challenging (when was the last time you spelled anticoagulant without spell check?). KayEm and I drilled Nee every night. It was amazing to watch her spelling improve as she learned root words, spelling rules, and patterns.

On the night before the contest, KayEm and I tucked Nee into bed.

“Will you all still love me if I don’t win?” she asked.

“Of course, we will,” KayEm reassured. “We just want you to do your best.”

“You know we will always love you,” I said. “But don’t allow your fear to prevent you from excelling. You are a great speller and I know you can win.”

We prayed that night for Nee to have peace.

When KayEm went to wake up Nee the next morning, she found her already sitting on her bed. Nee’s anxiety kept her from sleeping soundly. She woke up at 5am, 6am and again at 7am.

“I’m nervous,” Nee said.

“I know you are,” KayEm said. “But try not to worry. You’ll do just fine today.”

The spelling bee started at 2:30 p.m. The students, teachers, and contestants’ relatives packed the auditorium to watch the twenty four spellers do battle on stage. Nee was the first contestant. She stepped to the microphone with confidence.

“Spell coffee,” said the librarian. KayEm panicked because we hadn’t studied that word with Nee. Fortunately, I drink copious amounts of the stuff.

“Coffee. C-O-F-F-E-E. Coffee,” she said. KayEm breathed a sigh of relief and Nee made it past the first round. Nee continued to spell words correctly and made it into the 2nd and third rounds.

In the fourth round, the group had thinned to 7 spellers. The librarian called Nee to the microphone again.

“Spell guidance,” she said.

“Guidance. G-U-I-D-E-N-C-E. Guidance,” Nee said. As the letters left her lips, Nee realized that she had misspelled the word. Disappointed, but not defeated, Nee exited the stage.

Later that night, we headed to Nee’s favorite restaurant, Taco Cabana, to celebrate her accomplishment

“So, Nee, that was a lot easier than you thought, right?” KayEm asked.

“No,” Nee responded. “I had butterflies in my stomach and almost threw up 5 times.”

“But just think, it’ll be much easier next year when you do it,” KayEm said. “You’ll know what to expect, right?”

Nee shrugged.

“You are going to try to enter the spelling bee when you’re in fourth grade?” KayEm asked.

“We’ll see,” she said before returning to her chips and queso.

“We’re proud of you, honey,” I said as I pulled her close to me. “And regardless of the outcome, we still love you.”

“So I guess I’m not getting a cell phone,” Nee said.

“Win the spelling bee next year,” I said. “And we’ll see…”

Stay Strong,

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at or on Twitter at

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