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Rita Chidinma: My Experience As A First-Time Spelling Bee Mom

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A few weeks ago, I had my first experience as a mum whose kids would compete with other children. It was a spelling bee competition for various age categories. Now, when you hear “spelling bee”, you might be tempted to say “Oh, it’s not that serious,” but you didn’t see the words in the competition manual, hehe.

They both participated in the 5-8 years category and we (I and their school) spent over a month getting them ready. My first child was so committed to the whole process while his younger brother, a free bird by nature couldn’t care less. I always found his reluctance to participate in the spelling practises funny because he reminded me so much of my childhood. Oh, I was very competitive as a child, but I had classmates who just couldn’t care less about being the best, winning or anything of the sort. I found the differences in attitude very interesting.

The competition day eventually rolled around and I was as apprehensive as my kids, haha. We got up early and started getting ready. I kept trying to hype them up. When we got to the venue and I saw other parents with their children, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were used to this or if they were also newbies like me. Why were they all looking so calm? I was internally reciting affirmations for my kids to win, hehe.

I took a seat with my youngest child (who wasn’t part of the competition) at the area designated for parents and, shortly after, the program commenced. This is not what you’re expecting to read but my 6-year-old got knocked out of the competition in the first round, and he had to submit his name tag and come join us, the audience. Meanwhile, I was giving my husband and sisters back-to-back updates via WhatsApp. I remember my sister being even more apprehensive than me who was live at the competition venue. We only had one horse left in the race (my eldest child) and we all wanted him to make it. 

Then came the promises from various quarters, “Lotanna, I will buy you this, I will send mummy money to buy you fried rice, chicken and orange juice.” “Lotanna I’m so proud of you, you have made us proud, I have sent your mummy money for this and that’, ha! And all these were happening during the short recesses before the spelling bee resumed. Oh, and their school headteacher also came and joined in the long line of promises from all angles.

He made it through the first, second, third and fourth rounds and the apprehension increased with each update I dropped on Whatsapp for my family. By this time, his younger brother who couldn’t seem to care less initially, became inspired and told me voluntarily that he was going to work harder next year and “win the gold medal”, which we humorously sealed with a high five. The competition got tougher and my son was eventually screened out in the fifth round when there were about 15 kids left for his age category, out of over 200. He cried on stage and my heart broke for him. So I simply stood up, went up there and gave him the biggest hug I could muster. He had made us all proud and I was especially proud of him because even though it was his first-ever competition, he gave it his very best.

His sadness eventually turned to joy as we left the venue and headed straight to Kilimanjaro restaurant to buy yummy things, as they fondly describe our restaurant outings. I listened to the conversation he was having with his dad as I was driving and I realised that the experience was as surreal for them as it was for me too. Here we were with a 7-year-old who was now old enough to hold phone conversations unassisted by anyone and go for competitions and do so well.

By the time we eventually got home, exhausted, stomachs and take-out bags filled with yummy things, he had happily announced that he would win the spelling bee for his age category in 2025, and we sealed it with a toast. Now that I’m no longer a newbie parent in terms of kids competing, I really can’t wait for the next experience. The adrenaline was worth it. Has your child ever competed before? Can you recall your first experience? What was it like?

Rita Chidinma is a Post graduate researcher at Federal University of Technology, Owerri with a passion for creative writing and fiction. She is a highly intuitive and deep thinker who uses writing as a means of self expression. In her free time she loves reading, writing and writing some more. She is a wife and mother to three kids. She can be reached on Instagram and Twitter (@theritzz_) or through email, [email protected]

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